He is considered the operations man of the BJP. The driving force behind the steady rise of the party across the country. Considered a political Chanakya, he was in Mysuru recently on his last leg of campaigning.
My interview with Amit Shah, the President of the BJP, was scheduled for 8.30 pm at Hotel Radisson Blu Plaza. When I got there, the lobby was filled with BJP workers— some of whom, instead of talking elections, were busy making boastful claims of being close to Amit Shah.
As I waited and chatted to a few politicians, the interview time had passed. I finally got my chance at 12.15 am! As I sat with Amit Shah along with another journalist to interview him, I was surprised Shah looked so fresh. Just as I was about to ask what keeps him alert at this hour after a long day of election campaigning, I got my answer — a cup of black coffee arrived to which he added some water to lighten it and the interview began…
By Vikram Muthanna
Star of Mysore (SOM): Why should Karnataka choose BJP?
Amit Shah: I will look at your question in a different perspective. For five years, Siddharamaiah government has ruled Karnataka and there is not a single reason why people should vote for Congress again.
To give you statistics, firstly, more than 3,500 farmers have committed suicide due to agrarian crisis and lack of support from the government. And there has been a rapid and steady increase in farmers’ suicides in Karnataka. On the contrary, in Maharashtra there is a 42 percent decrease in farmers’ suicides after we assumed office.
Secondly, Bengaluru has been handed over to N.A. Haris, K.J. George and Roshan Baig. Law and order machinery has collapsed and you can see examples of powerful people attacking innocents at hotels and politicians attempting to set fire to documents in government offices. I don’t think that people of Bengaluru and Karnataka will forget such incidents and take them lightly.
I feel that the Congress government has not fulfilled any aspirations of the people in any parameters like development, implementation of Central schemes or extension of the strong base and image that they had got in Bengaluru.
When you compare Congress government in Karnataka with the NDA government at the Centre, the Centre has pumped in over Rs. 3 lakh crore to Karnataka, Rs. 2.19 lakh crore in the 14th Finance Commission and Rs. 80,000 crore under different schemes and programmes initiated by the Centre like the Metro Rail in Bengaluru, Railway lines, Roads, MUDRA Bank scheme and urban transportation. I have not included the Rs. 17,000 crore that has been allocated for sub-urban Railway.
SOM: Congress has claimed that the BJP manifesto is just tokenism and they have rated it 1 out of 5. What is your take on that?
Amit Shah: See, Congress will never appreciate BJP manifesto and how can they praise my manifesto? I have given you statistics in my manifesto and I have set goals and laid the path to achieve the statistics. Please find me just one statistic from Congress manifesto. What the Congress has done is tokenism.
SOM: You have changed certain names of Congress schemes and programmes in your manifesto. Like Anna Bhagya has become Anna Dasoha and Indira Canteen has become Mukhyamantri Annapurna Canteen.
Amit Shah: The loopholes in these schemes will be eliminated and re-implemented in a proper way. That is why we have renamed them. If a scheme or programme is good and is benefiting people, why scrap it? We don’t believe in such politics. The loopholes in the schemes will be rectified and implemented in a new way.
SOM: Initially, the Karnataka election was on the plank of development. Now it’s based on caste. Like the Veerashaiva-Lingayat issue…
Amit Shah: Tell me who brought the Lingayat issue? Don’t generalise. Whose fault was this? It was Congress that raised the issue for political gains. Please print this. And also mention what BJP has done on this.
SOM: But all political parties are caught in the Veerashaiva-Lingayat chakravyuha.
Amit Shah: We are not caught in any chakravyuha. Congress tries to create such chakravyuha in States and miserably fails to succeed in every State. Why are you asking me this question? You are asking Rahul Gandhi’s question to me.
SOM: CM Siddharamaiah has stated that the BJP has an understanding with the JD(S). He even said H.D. Kumaraswamy (State JD-S President) has met you. And you also have asked for proof. Your comments?
Amit Shah: I have not asked, Ananth Kumar (Union Minister) has asked for proof. If the CM has proof let him declare it. Otherwise stop making such statements. And the CM has literally stopped making such statements.
SOM: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that voting for JD(S) is like wasting a vote.
Amit Shah: Modi has not said like that. He has said that JD(S) is not in a position to dethrone the Congress as they operate in limited area. And this is a fact too. He has said that those who want Congress out must vote for BJP.
SOM: Now PM Modi suddenly has praised JD(S) Supremo and former PM H.D. Deve Gowda and this has led to presumption that it’s politically motivated?
Amit Shah: There is no politics in this. If a person speaks nice about another person, where is politics in this? We don’t do such politics. What is wrong in praising someone? And our candidates are fighting in every constituency.
SOM: You have tweeted without naming anyone about people going abroad and discussing about Tipu Sultan…
Amit Shah: No, not like that. See today Pakistan has heaped praises on Tipu Sultan. I have just drawn a similarity between the Congress and the Pakistanis. Even here too Tipu Jayanti is celebrated. Their mentality is the same.
SOM: Unlike Rahul Gandhi’s Congress which you have faced in the North, in the South it is Siddharamaiah’s Congress which is considered stronger?
Amit Shah: Siddharamaiah’s Congress?! He has been in Congress for what ?…5 years? 8 years?
SOM: As a politician, how will you assess Siddharamaiah?
Amit Shah: As a politician I don’t need to assess him. But as a Chief Minister…he has failed, he is a disaster.
SOM: How do you compare your campaign in Karnataka to the North.
Amit Shah: See, in politics there is no such thing as South India and North India. There is only language differences and the politics has its own DNA. And it goes according to that.
SOM: Corruption was the biggest plank when BJP got into the campaign mode in Karnataka. But you have given tickets to such candidates who are accused of corruption…Like the Reddy brothers in Ballari.
Amit Shah: Even now, corruption is the biggest issue. Tell me what accusations our candidates are facing…Tell me one case and one FIR…There is not a single case against them and nothing has been proved.
SOM: What about (former CM and BJP’s CM candidate) B.S. Yeddyurappa?
Amit Shah: Even with Yeddyurappa, not a single case has been proven. In the pending case, if the Karnataka government has not appealed, how can I tell the government? Rahul Gandhi has to tell. If the government had appealed, the Supreme Court would have cleared Yeddyurappa’s name by now and you wouldn’t have got a chance to ask this question. That is why the Karnataka government is not appealing in the Supreme Court because they know the case will be dismissed. They very well know that the case will not even be admitted in the Supreme Court.
SOM: When Prime Minister Modi had come to Mysuru in 2014, he had said that the Centre would like to improve Mysuru tourism and make it as good as Paris. Does the BJP have any plans for Mysuru city?
Amit Shah: You must ask Yeddyurappa, but from the party side we have dedicated a chapter for tourism in our manifesto. I have travelled across Mysuru during the last three months. There is a huge potential for tourism in Mysuru and it has a very rich culture. Even Karnataka has very rich culture and it is perhaps richer than any other State in the country. People who get elected have to formulate tourism-centric plans and programmes as there is good scope.
SOM: You visited Varuna for the first time after Yeddyurappa’s son Vijayendra was denied a ticket from there. How did you feel? Does the party candidate have the support of the BJP workers there?
Amit Shah: Yes, the candidate has the support of BJP. It is not just Vijayendra whose ticket has been denied. There many aspirants who have not got tickets. There were at least 15 to 20 claimants in each seat.
SOM: Last time you changed three Chief Ministers. This time, will you be more stable?
Amit Shah: This time, there is no government at the Centre that destabilises and throws off State Governments.
SOM: But the Lingayat community feels the BJP will betray Yeddyurappa again…
Amit Shah: See, this is a misinformation spread by Congress. We have declared that Yeddyurappa is our Chief Ministerial candidate. The question of betrayal does not arise. And the party is staunchly behind Yeddyurappa.
SOM: Then will it be a five-year mandate for Yeddyurappa?
Amit Shah: Yes. Absolutely. And there is no confusion.
SOM: Congress, during its rule in Karnataka, neutered the Lokayukta and created the Anti-Corruption Bureau. If BJP comes to power, will the party strengthen the Lokayukta?
Amit Shah: Absolutely. We have mentioned this in our manifesto.
SOM: But Lokpal has not been appointed by the Centre where BJP is in power.
Amit Shah: The Centre is not the only body that is involved in the process of constituting Lokpal. We can take the initiative. There is the Chief Justice of India, leaders from all political parties will be there. Mallikarjuna Kharge (Congress leader in Lok Sabha) does not even come to the Lokpal meetings.
SOM: Southern States are facing the problem of river water sharing. As the President of a National party, what is your view?
Amit Shah: It is not only the question of Southern States. It is there everywhere. There is a set mechanism and the States have to follow. The problem is when the mechanism is violated, States go to the courts and the issue prolongs. As the case is in the Supreme Court, it is better not to comment.
SOM: So if BJP wins in Karnataka do you think the Cauvery water issue between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu will be sorted?
Amit Shah: Naturally. Wherever BJP government is in power, things have been smooth. Like Narmada water dispute. Where is the dispute now? The dispute between Maharashtra and Gujarat over Tapi river water sharing has also been solved and there was not a single protest.
SOM: Now, we have to ask you some question in lighter vein. People say they have never seen you laugh…
Amit Shah: No no, of course, I laugh… main hasta hunji. Laughs.
SOM: Some BJP leaders mentioned that you are on a weight-loss spree after being told to do so by the PM.
Amit Shah: It is not like Modi has said it but I have indeed reduced. Because of my weight, I was facing some health issues. It is right that I have reduced 30 kgs, but this is not for public consumption and it is my personal issue… Laughs and asks (why you ask these things).
SOM: But you can be a role model to many as you have reduced so much of weight…
Amit Shah: There are many things where I can be a role model (laughs…)
SOM: People call you Chanakya. Interestingly, you have been the President of Chess Association. You like chess and is there any similarity between chess and politics?
Amit Shah: Yes. I was the Chess Association President and at that time, we did an experiment where playing chess was made compulsory in primary schools of two districts in Gujarat. This experiment gave good results as the children developed good IQ. Chess is such a game where a person acquires the skill to formulate strategies and the game sharpens one’s mind.
Amit Shah is shrewd, there is no doubt. He also has an air of “will do whatever it takes to win.” But he is also calm, collected and aware of the machinations within the BJP. And yes, Amit Shah knows his pawns, their abilities and how to move them to win. But can this Chanakya beat the strong “Siddharamaiah Congress” that has no anti-incumbency? We will know in five days.