Union minister Amit Shah addresses a public rally ahead at Bali Ghai School Ground in Medinipur (ANI photo)
Some 120 km from Guwahati, Udalgudi was the venue of home minister Amit Shah’s poll rally where he sought another term for the BJP government. A snag in his chopper delayed his departure and led to a road journey back. On the way, he spoke to TOI’s Akhilesh Singh on why he sees BJP doing well in the assembly polls to five states. Excerpts from the interview:
BJP has been exuding confidence about its prospects. But in West Bengal, the party is against a formidable adversary in Mamata Banerjee and faces the challenge of an inadequate organisational base and a chunk of the electorate, the minorities, not voting for BJP.
Who says we don’t have an adequate organisational base? We have formed committees in 85% of booths in the state. In Lok Sabha polls, BJP won 18 seats and lost three by a margin of less than 5,000 votes. Twenty-one seats means 50% of the electorate. This when very few were ready to believe that BJP could win those many seats. There is no such scepticism now about our ability. After 18 Lok Sabha seats, confidence in BJP has increased manifold. I’m fully confident that we will win more than 200 seats.
In Assam, you have the burden of being the incumbent. Again, BJP faces adverse demographics and Congress has tied up with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF. They have also roped in your former Bodo ally.
Congress’s alliance with Badruddin Ajmal will be the principal reason for its defeat. Before BJP formed the government in the state, Assam was known for agitations, terrorism and infiltration. Congress can’t contain infiltration with the help of Ajmal, people of the state know this. In the last five years, over 2,000 armed ultras have surrendered. The state, which used to be under curfew for months, has not witnessed one stretching more than 7-8 days in the past five years. There has been peace in Assam for the past five years.
We have made Assam free of infiltration, lawlessness and terrorism, and now we have pledged to save it from floods. Do you realise that where we are speaking right now, in the heart of Bodoland, more than 5,000 people were killed during Congress rule? However, we signed the Bodo agreement after which peace was restored. What Congress could not do in 60 years, BJP has done in the past five. Five bridges on Brahmaputra have been constructed in the period. We have set up NID, agricultural research institute and, also, a cancer hospital. It was BJP which conferred the country’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna, on Bhupen Hazarika. The ‘karmbhoomi’ of Sankardev and Kaziranga were once known for infiltration, which is now a thing of the past.
Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra have been visiting tea gardens frequently. The garden workers play a decisive role. Do you see an erosion in BJP’s support base?
Tea garden workers are strongly with BJP as the Modi government cares about their welfare. Rs 12,500 is given to pregnant women from a worker’s family. All benefits are being sent into their accounts directly and so they don’t have to pay cut money. The Modi government has announced Rs 1,000 crore for several welfare activities for tea garden workers. We believe in delivery and performance. If someone (Rahul, Priyanka) comes for ‘tourism’ and ‘photo ops’, it’s a different matter. It(Congress) has nothing left in Assam and Bengal. BJP will win more than 200 seats in Bengal and form a full majority government in Assam. For Rahul Gandhi, a tour of Assam is nothing more than a picnic. For a party which ruled over four generations of Indians, and whose leaders have done nothing for daily wagers and labourers working in the tea gardens of Assam, to talk about labourers is actually a laughable matter.
In Tamil Nadu, you are handicapped due to your alliance with AIADMK which has been in office for 10 years and has seen defections. Similarly, in Kerala, despite a steady increase in vote share, you have only flattered to deceive so far. What about Puducherry?
In all three states, BJP’s number of seats will increase and NDA will once again form government in Tamil Nadu.
BJP has promised swift implementation of CAA in West Bengal, but in Assam, it has been seeking to de-emphasise the law saying it is not an issue. Why this dichotomy?
CAA is a national law… we have mentioned it in the Bengal manifesto as TMC had announced that it will not implement it.
Congress and Left have an alliance with the Furfura Sharif cleric. CPM has justified it saying the alliance is necessary to defeat a ‘communal’ BJP.
As I have already said, these alliances will be the reason for Congress’s defeat. And I fail to understand this party’s definition of ‘secularism’. Congress has an alliance with Ajmal in Assam, in Bengal they have Furfura Sharif Peerzada, and Muslim League is its ally in Kerala. It is for the people of the country to see who is ‘communal’ and doing politics of polarisation.
BJP has turned ‘appeasement’ into one of its key themes in West Bengal and Assam. Mamata Banerjee is saying it is part of BJP’s divisive and polarising politics.
We have been raising issues which concern the common man. If raising issues of the people is polarisation and divisive, I have nothing to say about such a definition. Mamata Banerjee should first answer why she had banned Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja. Why curbs were imposed on celebrations which are intrinsic to Bengal? On the other hand, we have a positive message to convey; that is, there should be no ban on religious activities. There should be freedom to celebrate festivals. We have no objection to Ramzan or Christmas celebrations either. But we have issues with the kind of politics which seeks to ban Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja in the state.
What do you think are the other factors which form the basis of your confidence about BJP’s prospects in Bengal?
The biggest factor is the Modi government’s agenda of development. The PM’s vision will strike a chord with the people of Bengal. Lakhs of people are coming to Modi’s rallies and that tells a lot. Besides, if you make calculations based on BJP’s performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, you will get the answer. The people of West Bengal are contesting the polls. They have made up their mind to dump the 10 years of misrule under Mamata Banerjee. More than half of TMC has already quit the party.
You have attacked the role of Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata Banerjee’s nephew, in the affairs of the state government and Trinamool. What about the possibility of the offensive turning counter-productive since Mamata has spoken of ‘outsiders’ attacking Bengal’s daughter?
I have said several times and reiterate that Mamata Banerjee wants to make her nephew chief minister of West Bengal, whereas PM Modi has taken a pledge to restore the glory of the state and develop it as ‘Sonar Bangla’. It is for the people of the state to decide whether they want to see her nephew taking over as chief minister or the realisation of the dream of ‘Sonar Bangla’ under the guidance of Modi. Look at our party manifesto, it speaks not only about welfare and infrastructure but also about culture and heritage. People of the state are forced to pay cut money for work, which has been justified by Mamata Didi. This corrupt practice must come to an end.
There have been protests over ticket distribution. Workers say a large number of ‘outsiders’ were accommodated. On the other hand, a couple of candidates returned the ticket after going public about it. TMC says BJP does not have suitable candidates for all 294 seats.
TMC and Mamata Didi will get the answer on May 2. As I have said, we have an organisational base across the state, right down to the booth level. This has been achieved after several years of hard work and planning. There might have been a few incidents of unhappiness but BJP is a cadre-based party and believes in discipline. The entire party is together.