In his first interview in several months and after recovering from Covid-19, Union Home Minister Amit Shah told News18 Network Managing Director and Group Editor-in-Chief Rahul Joshi that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would win the upcoming Bihar elections hands-down and that Nitish Kumar would be the chief minister irrespective of which party in the alliance wins more seats.
In a nearly hour-long wide-ranging conversation held in his home city of Ahmedabad, Shah discussed a range of issues beyond Bihar elections — from the tensions on the border with China to Kashmir and the politics around the government’s farm reform bills to the situation in West Bengal.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Over the last few months there has been a lot of concern over your health. How are you now?
I am doing perfectly fine. I’m fit and carrying out all my duties. Firstly, I want to give all citizens my heartfelt wishes for the Shakti Parv of Navratri that’s starting today. This festival is celebrated as Shakti Puja with great fervour, especially in Gujarat and Bengal. I also appeal for cautious festivities. People must follow government advisories seriously during this time so that we can defeat Covid-19. Do worship the goddess but also maintain physical distancing, wear masks and sanitise your hands.
I had interviewed you exactly a year ago on this day. You had then said you would fight the Bihar elections under the leadership of Nitish Kumar. That statement raised many eyebrows. Many said despite your statement, the BJP would fight the elections alone. So how do you compare 2015 to 2020: from fighting Nitish to contesting under his leadership? What are your expectations? How many seats do you think the alliance will secure in the elections?
Since the day we formed the government with Nitish Kumar, we had decided we will fight the 2020 elections under his leadership. This is a unanimous decision of the BJP. I had said it as BJP chief and after that Nadda ji has also said this. I am saying it again that Nitish will lead the state and PM Modi is the supreme leader of the NDA. I am putting an end to the rumours and hereby say that Nitish Kumar will be the next CM of Bihar.
Even if the BJP secures more seats than the JD(U)?
There is no room for doubt. The NDA will win with two-thirds majority and Nitish Kumar will be the chief minister of Bihar.
So this is your prediction? Nitish will be the CM even if the BJP secures more seats than the JD(U)?
Some commitments are made publicly and we have to honour them.
In this election, Chirag Paswan has become a central issue. Initially he was with you, then he wasn’t. Some say he is still with you. He recently said if he rips open his chest, everyone will see Modi ji in his heart. If that is the case, why is he fighting elections alone and contesting 143 seats?
Only Chirag Paswan can answer why he is not fighting with us. Firstly, I offer my deepest condolences on the demise of Ram Vilas Paswan who fought for social justice and contributed to national politics for over five decades. On the issue of Paswan fighting independently, the BJP and the JD(U) offered the LJP the seat share they deserved multiple times. We held negotiations many times and I myself spoke to Chirag several times over the seat distribution.
How many seats did you offer the LJP?
I would not want to declare what our negotiations were. But, it was a given that with the JD(U) forming an alliance with us, the seat share of the BJP and LJP would be reduced. However, we couldn’t come to a consensus and we had to part ways. The statements made by Chirag Paswan against our alliance partner Nitish Kumar have created ripple effects in the parties. It was a tough situation for us and we still did not break the alliance. It was Chirag who finally made the announcement.
Is there a possibility of a return to the alliance?
We will see what the situation is after the elections. Currently we are strongly fighting against each other and every worker of the BJP will give his best to ensure that we emerge victorious on any seat where HAM, JD(U), VIP or BJP is contesting. And workers of other alliance partners will do the same wherever BJP is fighting. The NDA is moving ahead in a disciplined manner and I believe we will achieve great results.
Do you believe their (LJP’s) exit will affect your vote bank?
There is loss and pain in losing an ally but when the situation is not under your control you can’t do much. We were approached by VIP that has support of backward groups and Manjhi ji also came, and we have formed a strong alliance. The people of Bihar have realised who is responsible for breaking the alliance.
Are you saying that there is a possibility of Chirag Paswan returning to the fold?
I have not said that. What I am saying is we will see what is the situation post the elections. I am confident that we will win the elections with two-thirds majority and form the government with Nitish Kumar as the chief minister.
Many people have been asking why the BJP does not contest the Bihar elections alone.
We have to see how much the party has grown and expanded at the grassroots level. Nitish Kumar has always been a part of the NDA. Initially it was the Samata Party led by George Fernandes. Then it was Sharad Yadav. After that it was Nitish Kumar. He is an old ally. So, there is no reason to break this alliance. Yes, there was some unresolved issue because of which we parted ways once but even that was for the betterment of the alliance as Nitish joined us again. It is not right to fight for expansion; there is a coalition dharma which we have to follow and we have lived by it so far. We want to continue the vikas (development) that has occurred under the leadership of Nitish Kumar. This is a double-engine government with PM Modi on top and Nitish at the base working towards making Bihar a developed state at an impressive pace.
You are going to the public comparing your 15 years to the 15 under Lalu Prasad Yadav. What is it that you are conveying to the people?
It is not just about the 15 years under Nitish vs Lalu’s leadership. I can give an easy assessment of that right now. But it is also about the growth and development under the Modi sarkar. It has not even been 10 years since Modi became the PM and in the six years of his tenure so far, he has brought electricity to over 60 crore poor, including many of them in Bihar, and also toilets, cooking gas, Rs 5 lakh health insurance card. We have introduced multiple initiatives to improve the overall standard of living. Narendra Modi has empowered the poor of India instead of just making empty promises An economic package of Rs 1,25,000 crore was also given by us. Even though we lost the election we ensured that the package reached its beneficiaries on the ground. The package was used for infrastructure to railways to petroleum to electricity to Ganga bridge projects to industries to agriculture. Additional funds were also given to Bihar and Nitish Kumar has led the development drive in the state over the last 15 years. I want to quote some figures. Under the 15-year Lalu Prasad rule, Bihar’s economic growth rate was 3.16% and today it is at 11.20%. Can you imagine that?
We are one of the fastest-growing economies.
So under whom did we become the fastest-growing economy? It is under the NDA government. Lalu gave a budget of Rs 23,000 crore, whereas now it has been increased by Rs 2 lakh crore to Rs 2,23,000 crore. This is a huge increase for the state where revenue generated is less. Five per cent rise witnessed in agriculture growth rate. From only 18% of the households having electricity, we have ensured 100% households are electrified. From only having 37% proper roads, the state now has over 80% of proper infrastructure. All these numbers show that there has been vikas in Bihar. For the first time since Independence, the people of Bihar have witnessed growth under the NDA. For the first time in 50 years there will be a Ganga bridge in Bihar…not just one bridge, but several. There is development across all sectors. And under Lalu’s leadership it’s not just that development had stalled, but extortion had become an industry, cow fodder was being gobbled up, there was humongous corruption and there was complete breakdown of law and order in the state. The winds of change have come in the last 15 years under the combined leadership of Nitish Kumar and PM Narendra Modi. So instead of JD(U) or BJP making a comparison between the two rules, perhaps RJD should bring it before the people so everyone knows what development is.
But Amit ji there are other statistics too. If you look at the socio-economic indicators, Bihar is at the bottom of the Human Development Index, the unemployment rate is very high, and it has one of the lowest literacy rates. How will you counter the anti-incumbency wave along with these issues?
You always have to look at what you were given while conducting a comparative study. It is easy to build a house on a flat piece of land but more difficult if you have been handed a 50-foot hole in the ground. It takes time to bring vikas to a state which was lagging from all directions. Nitish Kumar and PM Modi set the priority on empowering people, improving the living standard of the common man and bring clean water, electricity and sanitation to the state. How can investment come without infrastructure. Of course, there is work to be done. Bihar was left as a BIMARU state by Congress and RJD. A lot is required. Only the Nitish-Modi combine can bring the people of Bihar out of the darkness, and BJP with a coordinated effort of the central and state governments. If state is busy fighting with Centre, how will the people grow? Therefore, you need a government like NDA which works with and not against the Centre with vision of development and that will be beneficial for all.
When Lalu Prasad Yadav came in power, the M-Y, Muslim-Yadav, vote bank was behind his success. It still amounts to 30% of the electorate in the state which is a big factor in Bihar elections. You have also created a voting block of upper caste-OBC-ABC to counter Lalu, and that is more than 30% of the electorate. These elections are happening amid Covid-19 and there is anti-incumbency as well as the migrant labour issue. Do you think your calculations might misfire?
As far as your analysis is concerned, I think you should visit Bihar once to understand the situation better. I have spoken to a lot of BJP workers who are working in the state, both in villages and the urban centres. The central government has distributed free foodgrains to the poor from March 2020 till Chhath festival. The people of Bihar can never forget this. CM Nitish Kumar arranged, paid for travel, accommodation, food and medical facilities of migrant labourers. Bihar has 96% recovery rate that is probably the highest in the country. In a state like Bihar where the medical infrastructure was in a shambles some years back, this is a big achievement. I don’t think handling of Covid-19 in the state will go against Nitish Kumar; rather it will work in his favour. The state government has spent Rs 54,000 crore, all the poor people have got money in their accounts through PM Modi’s Jan Dhan scheme. Rs 6,000 has been credited to the account of each farmer by the Centre and even the Divyang have been given financial aid and that money helped people during Covid. This sensitivity of the central and the state governments during Covid times has helped people in fighting the crisis.
As per reports, BJP’s internal surveys have revealed that there is still a Modi wave in Bihar despite anti-incumbency. Surveys have also shown that the BJP might end up getting more seats than the JD(U).
The Modi wave is not just in Bihar but in the entire country, and not just the BJP but even our alliance partner JD(U) will benefit from it. We are contesting on almost equal number of seats and I am sure Nitish Kumar will become Bihar CM again.
People say that when you lead any elections, you have an A team and also a B team. Asaduddin Owaisi’s party is also contesting the polls in Bihar and will end up dividing the Muslim votes and helping your coalition.
I don’t consider any party as B team, C team. India is a democracy and every party has a right to contest elections. Why just Owaisi, there are many other parties contesting the Bihar elections, like Kushwaha’s party, Pappu Yadav, Yashwant Sinha. Everyone can contest elections. But the people of Bihar have made up their mind. I have spoken to a lot of party workers in the past few days and I am confident of a victory. Even all the party surveys are pointing to a BJP-JD(U) win.
Sushant Singh Rajput’s death is also a factor in these elections and it has become a Maharashtra vs Bihar fight. Do you agree it is an issue in these elections?
I don’t know how much this is an issue and, even if it is, we are not the ones to be blamed. It would not have become an issue if the Maharashtra government would have handed over the case to the CBI in the first place. There were doubts right from day 1 in the case. It was the Supreme Court that handed over the case to the CBI and asked them to probe. I strongly believe that in cases of unnatural death, a proper, legal and neutral investigation must be carried out.
Do you think Mumbai police was in a hurry to close the case?
I don’t want to comment since the matter is sub-judice and the CBI is probing the case but the popular perception in the case was against Mumbai police.
One of the gravest issues that the country has faced in the past some time is the situation at the LAC. There has been a lot of speculation. I want to ask you that has China entered our territory and do you think there will be a solution soon as military and diplomatic level talks are going on?
We are trying to find a solution at the military level as well as diplomatic level. I don’t want to comment much on the issue but want to reiterate what PM Modi has said on the matter. We are aware of every inch of our land and no one can take it from us.
So you are saying there is no question of anyone entering Indian territory?
I will reiterate… We are completely aware of every inch of our land on the borders and no one can take it from us.
China doesn’t consider Ladakh and Arunachal as parts of India. Do you think it’s time for India to change its policy towards Tibet and Taiwan?
I think this is not the right platform for such issues. This is a complex issue and has far-reaching repercussions. Defence minister Rajnath Singh and the external affairs minister, Jaishankar ji, have already spoken on it in Parliament and that is enough. Talks are on and we are completely aware of our rights and will protect our land at all cost.
Chinese premier Xi Jinping recently told his army to be war-ready. What will be your message to him?
I don’t want to comment on this. Every country is always war-ready. Armies exist only to give a befitting reply if any country tries to encroach across borders.
Should the Indian Army also be ready for war?
I am not saying this in reference to the comment made by Xi Jinping. Our army is always ready, otherwise that standoff would not have happened.
Amit jion the one hand there is tension with Pakistan at the LoC, and now China has also opened a front at the LAC. China and Pakistan seem to be allies to each other. How will we keep ourselves battle-ready on two fronts?
Our leadership and army are competent to give a befitting reply. No one can take India, a country of 130 crore people, for granted and we have a lot of International support. I agree it looks like we have enemies on two sides but it won’t be an easy task.
Rahul Gandhi in one of his statements had said China has encroached 1,200 km of our land and, had there been a Congress government, they would have been thrown out in 15 minutes. What do you want to say on that?
Rahul Gandhi has no data or facts. The Congress has no right to talk like this as it was during its regime that China occupied our land. I want Rahul Gandhi to give details of that to the public. In the 1962 war, when Rahul’s great grandfather was PM, China occupied our land.
Are you saying the current India-China standoff is because of the 1962 war?
I am not saying that. Whatever the reason, we are fully equipped to give a befitting reply. PM Narendra Modi is working day and night to solve the problem. We will take all measures on diplomatic and military level. But the Congress party has no moral right to raise this issue.
China looks at the world in a bipolar manner with it on one side and the US on the other side. In fact, in recent years, Australia, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and even Taiwan have been facing its belligerence. Is India trying to get like-minded countries together and find a solution to this problem?
China and India share different kinds of relationships with different nations, but as far as we are concerned, we are determined to protect our borders.
Let’s talk about Kashmir. The last time you had said that two things are needed in Kashmir: development and trust. And now they have a new L-G, Manoj Sinha. What is your roadmap for Kashmir and by when do you think the situation will get normal there and development will get priority?
As far as law and order is concerned, the situation is normal there. A lot would have happened on the development front but the efforts were hit due to Covid-19. I think Manoj ji is doing a good job there and is working for grassroots development there. Schemes like Ayushman Bharat, water supply are happening at a fast pace there. We have restarted some infrastructure projects and within the next five months the difference will be visible. Covid had slowed things down there but now fast-paced development is happening.
It is understandable that Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have come together for restoration of Article 370 in Kashmir but now P Chidambaram has also said that it’s Congress’s stand that Article 370 should be restored in Kashmir. What are your thoughts on it?
The Congress was against the abrogation of Article 370 even in Parliament but I would like to request Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to endorse Chidambaram’s statement so that the people of the country can know their stand.
But he has spoken as a Congress leader only.
Still, I feel the Congress chief and Rahul Gandhi should repeat it.
Amid delimitation in Kashmir, what is the roadmap for statehood to Kashmir?
I can’t specify any time, but PM Narendra Modi had spoken about it and even I have said in Parliament that statehood will be given and this is our promise.
You are saying it won’t take long.
I don’t think it would take long but development is the priority.
You are saying it won’t take long but development is high on agenda…Some Hindu organisations are talking about Krishna Janmasthan in Mathura. They are demanding that the mosque built by Aurangzeb there should be demolished and a temple should be constructed. What is the stand of your party on the issue?
Our party has no stand on it. Some organisations have moved to the court with this demand. We are not a party in the court on this issue and I don’t want to comment on it
So, this is not an issue for you like Ram Janmabhoomi?
Ram Janmabhoomi was our agenda and we ran a movement for it. All the organisations who are fighting for Krishna Janmasthan have moved forward on their own. We are not a party to it and I don’t want to comment on this.
Recently, after the Assam government stopped funding to madrasas, the Congress made an issue out of it and questioned the government spending on Kumbh. What is your stand on it?
I think it’s about modernisation. I have asked for details, once I get it then only will I be able to comment on the issue.
I have asked you about the BJP and Shiv Sena alliance earlier also. You had said that BJP never wanted to part ways from the Shiv Sena as they’re an old ally. However, currently the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal have walked out of the coalition. Do you see this as the NDA crumbling and losing political relevance?
There are over 30 parties in the NDA. We haven’t cut ties with anyone, neither Shiv Sena nor Akali. These two parties decided to leave us.
Do you think these parties can return to NDA in the future? Will you join hands with the Shiv Sena again? Are the doors open?
I can’t predict what will happen in the future but they are currently stuck on the farm bills.
So the doors are not shut by the BJP?
Since there is no such request, there is no question of keeping the doors open.
So, you are not decided against ever allying with them in the future?
Their sole agenda is the farm laws. I want to tell the whole nation that the opposition is misleading the farmers of India. The reforms allow farmers the freedom to sell their produce outside mandis registered under the state Agricultural Produce Market Committees. This does not mean that the mandis will be shut. Two myths being spread for political reasons is that mandis will be shut, and that MSP will be removed. Neither is true…Can anyone show me where the bill talks of ending MSP? This is just an effort to mislead the farmers. In fact, we have taken the recommendations of the Swaminathan committee which will lead to increase in MSP for the farmer. The farmer should have the option of selling his produce wherever he wants whether online or offline. If the price being offered by a private buyer is lower than the MSP, the farmer will obviously go to APMC to sell. And e-mandis are coming up; farmers can check online what rates are being offered where. Under the new bills, a farmer can opt out of a contract whenever he wishes. The contract is binding for the company and not the farmer. Instead of informing the farmers about the reforms, Congress, Akali and others are busy doing politics. All these agitations are not for farmers but for their own political reasons. The farmer of India is well educated and can see what’s going on. Rahul Gandhi tweets a lot. He should make a comparison and tweet what MSP was available to farmers and what quantity of produce was bought under UPA and now under the Modi government.
Some middlemen are also raising concerns over the Bill over how they will be incurring losses.
The money will go directly in the pockets of the farmer and not middlemen. I have said it repeatedly that the Narendra Modi government takes decisions that not just look but are beneficial for the people. This decision will uplift the status of an Indian farmer.
These are bold reforms and some are comparing these to the 1991 reforms.
Even in 1991 no one had the courage to implement these agricultural reforms. This decision will bring vikas to over 70 crore Indians.
How will you break down the bills to the farmers of Punjab and Haryana?
The agitation in Haryana and Punjab has ended now. The farmer is selling his produce at the MSP.
This is not an issue in the Bihar elections?
I want to ask you a broad question and then a specific one. The incident that occurred in Hathras is not exclusive to the area. Rape and law and order continue to remain one of the most important issues across the nation. Do you think there is a need for larger police reforms?
Yes, we cannot deny the need for reforms. But a rape incident occurs in Hathras and also in Jaipur. Why is it that only Hathras gets politicised? It is highly unfortunate to give political colour to a tragic event. The accused were nabbed that very day and are currently in police custody.
But there was midnight cremation of the victim.
An investigation has been launched on the matter. A committee has been set up and erring officials have been suspended. The whole case has now been transferred to the CBI. There should be no politics over a tragedy.
Will you accept that there was mishandling by the UP government?
I believe that the government took the right decision by constituting an SIT and based on its report appropriate action will be taken.
In Maharashtra where the BJP and Shiv Sena are in a constant tussle, governor Bhagat Koshyari recently wrote a letter to the CM challenging his secularism. How do you look at this statement?
I have read the letter and the governor has made a passing reference on secularism. However, I believe the governor should have perhaps chosen his words better.
I want to come back to the Sushant Singh Rajput case because the media narrative around it has become so shrill. It keeps running for several hours every day. There has been a media trial. It was certainly an unfortunate incident, but the way it’s being covered, even as the government has been doing some great work in the past several months…this story is being run for over 10-12 hours a day. How do you see this and what do you think the media needs to do?
I think you can answer this better than me. I believe there should be no media trial. Yes, when there is something inconsistent it is the responsibility of the media to raise it. However, it is completely incorrect to rake up an issue for the sole purpose of TRPs. Someone sitting in the car, getting out of the car, taking their right foot out…This will be obstructing justice if we take away the attention from the actual case and focus on petty issues.
Besides the question of Sushant’s death being a case of suicide or abetment to suicide, another case has cropped up which is the alleged Bollywood drug nexus. How do you look at this issue?
We should delink drugs from Bollywood and focus our energies on eliminating the usage of narcotics. The problem is much beyond Bollywood. I want to assure you that under Modi government drug traffickers and drug peddlers will not be spared. The nation will witness a major reform in combating the drug menace. NCB will reveal the truth in the Bollywood case but it is incorrect to link it to one particular sector.
So you’re saying that corrective action needs to be taken regardless of the status of the person involved?
I believe that no one should be spared.
I want to focus on West Bengal now. How do you see the current situation in the state?
There is a complete breakdown of law and order in the state. Following the Amphan cyclone, the administration got busy in misusing the relief fund. No proper action plan was made against coronavirus. Corruption is at its peak, law and order is in a shambles, infiltration is rampant, and there is a bomb-making factory in every district. It is a very worrying state of affairs and the most concerning is the brutal attacks on the opposition leaders in the state. I believe that such targeted political killings do not occur in any other state, not even in Kerala
What are your expectations for the upcoming elections?
We will give a strong fight and bring change. I am confident that we will form a government in Bengal under the leadership of PM Modi.
Do you have a CM face for West Bengal?
We can decide on the CM face later. But the people of Bengal want to remove Mamata Banerjee from power.
Some BJP leaders involved in West Bengal have demanded President’s rule in the state. What is your opinion on this?
The situation is so tense that such a demand has been made. We will act constitutionally after receiving the West Bengal Governor report. Making a demand for President’s rule is justified given the situation.
Turning the focus to Tamil Nadu now. Will you join hands with Rajinikanth for the upcoming elections?
There is still some time before we take a decision. Rajinikanth has not yet decided on his political entry.
You have introduced some changes, are talks with Rajini on the cards?
Yes, we are constantly bringing changes as we have to strengthen our party. We have fought two elections with AIADMK in alliance.
There has been a huge backlash over a Tanishq ad which was later withdrawn. Do you feel that the social harmony in India is deteriorating because of some people?
The social harmony of our country cannot be affected by such small incidents. The social fabric of India has endured the testing times of British Raj and the Congress. It’s not going to break. I believe that we must avoid any and all kinds of over-activism.
So you are condemning the over-activism of a select few?
What is your message to the nation being a corona warrior and survivor?
I only want to say that till there is no medicine or a vaccination, we must follow PM Modi’s appeal of wearing a mask, regularly sanitise hands and maintain social distancing. Only this will ensure our victory against this virus. Under PM Modi’s leadership India is among the top three best nations in the global fight on parameters per 10 lakh of infections, death and recovery rate . If we follow these recommendations then only we can overcome this disease. The festive season is upon us and I humbly request everyone to follow the safety guidelines.
According to you, by when can we have a corona vaccine?
We have to follow the international standards and till they are not fulfilled we cannot introduce a vaccine. Only the ICMR can decide whether a vaccine is ready for usage.