Q.You played sports when you were young. Does that background help you now in taking decisions and running a political party?
A. Yes. I was a running champion and won both sprint and long-distance events. I was also a swimmer and was Bihar No. 4. I even swam across the Ganga in Patna six times. In both politics and sports, it is necessary to focus and be consistent. You also have to wait for opportunities, so you need to be patient.
Q. When you took over as BJP president from Amit Shah, the party had already won two back-to-back general elections along with several major assembly polls. What priorities did you set out for yourself when you assumed charge?
A. My thinking process is a little different. I believe I should give my best to whatever is given to me. I am a very content person and believe in my own ability to deliver. Generally, people think they will do this, this and this if they come into a certain position. I believe in continuity of things. So, after taking stock and strengthening the existing structure, you scale up. I never thought I had become president because there was a need for change. Amit Shah had put in five long years of effort, which yielded results. My responsibility was to push things forward in the same manner. We became the world’s largest political party under his presidentship. My responsibility was to connect with the new members and turn supporters into workers. I was not starting a new project, only taking it forward. That was my priority. He (Shah) brought the booth system to the page (of the voters’ list). I am trying to see the page gets converted into a committee.
Q. What does page getting converted to a committee mean?
A. It means each page should have a committee (which can canvass among those voters). That way, while we are going forward, I am strengthening the structure he has put in place, that is the continuity part. In the same way, the issues he had raised in different states had to be further strengthened, which we did. Amitji had experimented in Bengal for the past three to four years, and those experiments had shown results. Why should I have started my own experiments? So, we further strengthened [what we had]. When we work with team spirit, the results are good, there is continuity and effectiveness, and no confusion among the cadre. Our party has always run on a particular sanskar and sanskriti (tradition and culture).
Q. Continuity apart, what are your other areas of focus?
A. The agenda has been set by Amit Shahji himself, [he has laid down] the areas we have to work in: West Bengal, Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala. These are the states that present an opportunity for expansion, so we need to strengthen our organisation here and at the same time revitalise and strengthen ourselves [in places] where we already have a presence. This is part of our comprehensive planning. Secondly, our party has grown manifold, so our support system also needs to improve, as does the quality of research on last-man delivery, the role of a political party beyond politics and how comprehensively we can shape the country’s polity. We’re working on all these aspects.
Q. How have the technology and data analysis changed your party? Does it give you an edge over other parties in the electoral arena?
A. As far as the information and research part is concerned, technology is a very effective tool and helps a lot. But when it comes to delivery, ultimately it is the human factor. You cannot substitute the human element with a technological one. For, it is the people who do the work, and their fighting spirit, which is the essence. For example, the Congress too does a lot of research, but it has nobody to implement it or the intention to do so. So, intentions are important, as are the people who want to deliver, and their belief in it.
Q. What advice did Amit Shah give you when you took over?
A. We have known each other for years, so there was no specific advice as such. He told me that since I knew his interest in the party, he would be there anytime I needed him. Frankly, I never felt alone or that I had to deliver on my own. There is so much support I get from the party.
Q. Which of Shah’s qualities have you learnt from?
A. I wouldn’t use the word learnt, but there are certain things I admire about him: his immense insight, strategy and planning. He will pull out 10 dimensions to any development or problem, its different angles. He gives deep thought to things.
Q. What advice did Prime Minister Narendra Modi give you when you became party president?
A. I have been interacting with him for 30 years and whatever advice he has given me has been worth learning from. For example, he regularly pushes us to think 20 years ahead. I have also not seen a leader as thoroughly organised as he is. The smallest problem is addressed, for which systems are developed so that it can be understood and things are worked out accordingly. From anticipating things, to analysing their root cause, to taking people along and vision many such wise things come from him.
Q. Coming to the current round of assembly elections, the BJP relies heavily on Brand Modi to boost its chances. Can the party win without him?
A. There is no doubt that PM Modi is acclaimed as a statesman and someone interested in nation-building not just across the country but internationally. It is our as well as the party’s responsibility to utilise this as best as we can. Fortunately, Prime Minister Modi is totally a man of the organisation. He takes great interest in scouting for talent and grooming them over a period of time. He doesn’t prepare the party just for today, but also for the future. The opportunities that the BJP offers to its cadre to be chief ministers or leaders is unmatched by any political party. Whenever I take any issue to him, he always encourages me to look for good, young talent to give opportunity to. He always enquires about how many youth there are or how we are encouraging rural women and the opportunities we are giving them. You say we rely on him but let me make it clear that he is completely a party man. Whenever we have asked him to campaign, say, even for 15 meetings, he has readily agreed.
Q. Like Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Narendra Modi too has become a national icon. The question now being asked is: after Modi, who?
A. At this point in time, Modiji is strong enough, he is in full in command, he is going to continue for long and we have to support him. And the party is growing accordingly. For us, it is an opportunity to best utilise this and work under his leadership.
Q. What are the stakes for the BJP in the current five assembly elections?
A. Every election is important. It is our resolve to fight every election with all that we have and in full measure. We see every election as a challenge. We fight aggressively. The game plan is to win. That is our priority. In West Bengal, for instance, we are winning.
Q. What makes you so confident of winning Bengal?
A. The way we have strategised, the way Amit Shahji has strengthened the organisation and the way Prime Minister Modi has raised issues that have exposed Mamata. People in Bengal were supporting her only because they thought there was no alternative. Now they regard the BJP as an alternative. The TMC brought terror, tollabazi (extortion), the politics of physically liquidating political opponents. We are committed to making Bengal fearless and free of terror.
Q. Does that strategy include polarisation of votes in the state as we are currently seeing?
A. We never go for polarisation, the Congress and other Opposition parties do. We didn’t ask Mamata to get off from her car and have young boys arrested for chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram’. We didn’t ask her to give a holiday on Muharram and impose curfew on Ayodhya day. We didn’t ask her to halt Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja. She herself did it, and now during elections she is going around with religious bells in both her hands. We are consistent. We are not speaking against any community. Isn’t it our responsibility to highlight a wrong and bring it to society’s notice? Our agenda is development. And development for all.
Q. There is a decline in Muslim representation in the BJP in elections. We saw what happened in UP.
A. Wherever we get the chance, we try to give them nominations. They are also sent to the Rajya Sabha, made MLCs, given ministries. Our problem is that many of them don’t win elections. We have given tickets to Muslims in West Bengal. If the electorate makes them victorious, we will be giving them important positions for sure.
Q. Mamata is a clear leader for the TMC but we still do not know who the BJP’s CM candidate is. Will it make a difference?
A. It does not make a difference, as we saw in the Uttar Pradesh assembly election in 2017. Those who support us, believe in our ideology and admire the BJP’s stand on local issues and see PM Modi as their leaderthat is what matters. During the last assembly poll in Uttarakhand, people voted for PM Modi despite it being a local election. People voted for Modiji in Maharashtra and Haryana, not in the recent round, but the last time when there was no clarity on leadership. We have already said that in Bengal, the chief minister will be a son of the soil.
Q. You have a sitting CM in Assam, yet you haven’t declared him your chief ministerial candidate.
A. The declaration happens only when we don’t have a leader. If (Prem Kumar) Dhumalji was chief minister, he was also our chief ministerial candidate. If Sarbananda Sonowal is our chief minister in Assam, he is our leader there. All posters project him. He had to be projected in the previous election as there was no leadership and it was also a matter of strategy.
Q. On the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), you seem to have one stand in Assam and another in Bengal. Why the duality?
A. We have the same stand in both states. I said very clearly in the manifesto release programme in Assam that it is a central law. It is to be enforced both in letter and spirit. Why should we play politics with it? The CAA was passed in the national interest.
Q. The TMC accuses West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar of abusing his powers and of being a handyman of the BJP. You seem to be following in the footsteps of the Congress when it comes to pliant governors.
A. No, he has never done that. Dhankharji is legally and constitutionally very sound. He knows his role, his place. The style of functioning the chief minister practised did not come under the constitutional ambit, so she had to be reminded time and again [by him]. Had the governor done any wrong, they would not have spared him.
Q. One has lost count of the number of TMC MLAs who’ve joined BJP. If you come to power, how will you ensure you do not become TMC 2.0, plus Hindutva?
A. Those who have come to us have rejected the TMC culture. They were not happy there, so they came here. Our system is so strong that they are now working within our system. It is our confidence. It is our party’s inbuilt system, so we are not worried, those who come to us can mingle and be accommodated within us.
Q. Does it not disillusion your cadre that they do all the hard work for so long and some outsiders come and walk away with the spoils?
A. We have a system that ensures we talk to all. You have to deal with a person who has put in 20-30 years with full sensitivity. We need to take care of all. We take out past statistics and discuss their winnability and show them why we are doing what we are doing. In politics, we have to make sure we enhance our party, enlarge it, without compromising on our basic principles. All this is done in a family. This is a natural process. We have to move forward, and our cadre understands that.
Q. In Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, too, the BJP has been expanding inorganically by taking in defectors from other parties. Isn’t it difficult to mould them into the BJP culture and not cause disunity?
A. My personal experience is that they have left their respective parties because their working system was unscientific and they were dejected by it. They find themselves in a much better position in our party because our system of functioning is very scientific. When they come to us, they are surprised. They say that for 30 years, we did not get the kind of respect or position we get here. So, it is a two-way effort, they are happy and the BJP also builds capacity. It is such a well-knit, scientifically-established organisation that anybody who joins us is much happier.
Q. The BJP was once seen as a principled party; now, there is a Congress-isation of the party. It is willing to break other parties to come to power at any cost.
A. Not at all. Tell me, how have our resolutions, principles and working style been diluted in the past 5-6 years? Where have we compromised on our original ethos? Nowhere. And those who have come have accepted this system. Our system is such that all are accommodated, there is no problem at all. Others can learn from it.
Q. The Congress alleged its MLAs were paid money to topple its government in MP. An attempt was made in Rajasthan too. Isn’t the BJP being opportunistic?
A. No, it is not. A bad craftsman always blames his tools. What was Kamal Nath doing in Madhya Pradesh that made 19 [Congress] MLAs come to us? Why blame us? You can accuse us, but the truth is you are unable to take care of your flock. Your members are leaving you and coming to us because maybe you are not respecting them. They are happy joining the BJP and we have not made any compromises. The BJP is a big family, unlike the Congress where 3-4 family members are running it, which makes it difficult for others to realise their aspirations. Here we are taking care of crores and crores of party workers and keeping them within the system. This cohesion is our strength.
Q. Despite its big wins in the general elections and in states, the BJP remains insecure. Why does the party pursue each state election so aggressively to capture power?
A. It is because we have gained in basic strength which we can now translate (into power), so why waste time? If we want to change and make India progressive and have a dynamic leader like Narendra Modiji, then why should the party sleep? We have to take advantage and make sure we can bring change to the common man at the grassroots level. People have been saying that the prime minister’s pro-poor policies, such as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, Ujjwala Yojana and Saubhagya Yojana, to empower people at the grassroots in the past six years have been much more than any previous government. You need to understand the huge empowerment of the poor that has taken place. That is why the poor and women vote for Modiji.
Q. The BJP has appropriated the Congress’s pro-poor plank and has simultaneously announced a push towards privatisation in the recent budget. So, what ideology does the BJP stand for?
A. Firstly, its basic principle was integral humanism, which covers everything. Then it was translated into Antyodaya, or last-man delivery. So, practically, wherever we had chief ministers, we had the Antyodaya programme. The Congress kept talking of ‘garibi hatao’ but did nothing. What does garibi hatao mean? Poverty resolution, eradication. We empowered the poor. There was no provision for food, we started the Antyodaya Anna Yojana; there is no drinking water, we are finding solutions; if there were no schools in villages, we built them. During Atal Bihari Vajpayeeji’s tenure, we launched the Sarvashiksha Abhiyaan to open up schools in India’s remotest parts. All these were part of the Antyodaya programme. Now, we are taking it forward with ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas aur Sabka Vishwaas’. This is our target. We are looking for solutions and strategies to achieve it and can’t be stuck with one idea. There is no point in being rigid. Or divide it (development) into watertight compartments. You can’t be progressive if your mind is fixed.
Q. What justifies the current push towards privatisation?
A. There should not be double standards. If we are talking of privatisation now, it is because there are times when the government needs to intervene and there are times when it needs others to take things forward. So, what is the problem if there is privatisation of industry? Or if there is a public-private partnership? A river does not follow the same course everywhere, it has to keep flowing. Our intentions are clear: the country must move forward. All our efforts need to go into making that happen. We have to enhance our existing capacities, these could be in government command or with private players, but we have to take everyone with us. Even investors from foreign countries are welcome, but FDI must come on our terms and not be detrimental to the nation.
Q. Already, several RSS-affiliated organisations have objected to privatisation. How do you propose to dissuade the opposition from within?
A. We have set out the principles and the roadmap is fixed. On the way, if someone has some confusion, it is our duty to rectify that. We will move ahead democratically and not in a coercive manner while engaging with them. And we will move forward like a family.
Q. The recent reshuffle in the RSS organisation has seen a generational shift. Will this help relation with the BJP?
A. Our communication (with the RSS) is perfect. Having generational shifts is a continuous process in our organisations, and we ensure it happens smoothly.
Q. The Modi government faced fierce resistance when it tried to open up the farming sector to private capital. Do you think the party failed to effectively communicate with the farmers?
A. It is not so, we did communicate. The people who are protesting have different reasons. We will see how to address their apprehensions and objections. Till now, those agitating against the farm laws have not been able to articulate what is wrong with them. We have asked them what is wrong with the law, and are ready to make corrections. They are insisting the laws be repealed altogether. This argument itself means they don’t have a counter. When some people [with vested interests] come together, they build up an environment [of distrust]. We will see how to deal with it. Whenever you introduce reforms, status quoists take time to understand it. Let it happen.
Q. Where does the government stand on the farmers’ issue currently?
A. The government is ready to have whatever discussions needed. Like we said, we will hold the laws till then. We have asked them to bring their own proposals and come for discussions whenever they wish. Our stand remains.
Q. NDA ally Akali Dal walked out of the cabinet and the alliance saying that they were not consulted on the farm reforms?
A. Not just Prime Minister Modi, successive governments have had consultations on the subject for the past 15 years. These farm reforms are not a one-day affair. Many committees and commissions have been set up, and reports published. All parties were consulted. It was their (Akali Dal’s) political call. Some people succumb to pressure. They may have thought that Amarinder Singh would create trouble for them in Punjab’s politics. And they had their own reasons for that. We respect that. We didn’t ask them to go. It is also not true that they were not consulted. Everything was done in a crystal-clear manner. All cabinet notings were prepared, discussions took place on all matters and the PIB (Press Information Bureau) released the detailed note on the cabinet’s decisions after all discussions. At my residence, we had a meeting of 30 ministers for three days, to chalk out the plans detailing the reforms and how we will implement them. Everyone accepted it.
Q. Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal has alleged that the NDA has had no meetings recently and the BJP has been taking unilateral decisions without consulting its allies, including on the farm reforms.
A. We are very much talking to our allies. There have been four meetings of NDA leaders after the 2019 [election], two physical meetings before the  budget and two virtual meetings.
Q. With the BJP becoming all-powerful, is the NDA becoming irrelevant?
A. No, we respect all our allies, and see to it that they are accommodated as far as possible. We need to move ahead and grow. BJP has 303 seats, but we have maintained the spirit of NDA. We will not let our large heart shrink for our friends and allies.
Q. The BJP became the senior partner in the alliance with JD(U) in Bihar under your presidency. But now there is dissonance between the two coalition partners. What are you doing to resolve it?
A. We will use a human approach. We are confident that with talking, we can resolve all miscommunication and misunderstanding. Secondly, there are some people who have vested interests. During the entire stretch of the Bihar poll, people kept asking me if we would make Nitish Kumar the chief minister if we got more seats than the JD(U). I’d tell them, we will. I’d say, even if we get 100 per cent seats (BJP contested 110 of 243) seats, we will make him chief minister. We are people who value commitments made to allies and friends.
Q. When are JD(U) members expected to join the Union cabinet?
A. We had made them an offer during the formation of the second Modi government. That offer is still open. It is their internal affair and they need to take a call. We will be happy to take them in.
Q. Will there be a reshuffle or expansion in the Union cabinet soon?
A. This is the prime minister’s prerogative. We are in the middle of a few challenges first because of Covid and now because of the vaccination programme. Even in Parliament, there is restrictive seating. The prime minister will take a call on it (cabinet changes).
Q. What is your game plan for the south? What is your assessment of the BJP’s chances in the southern states going to the polls?
A. The southern game plan is also to win. We have a positive agenda and we will try and bring all the nationalist forces on a common platform, whosoever wants to be a part of nation-building. In Tamil Nadu, we are contesting 20 seats and we will do well. We have a good adjustment with our ally AIADMK, and the NDA will win there. We will form the government in Puducherry, where we have nine seats, the AIADMK four and the NR Congress the rest. In Kerala, we will put up a good show. Last time, we had one seat, now we will grow. In Telangana, the civic elections have shown that the BJP has emerged as the principal opposition party against the ruling TRS.
Q. What about the Sasikala factor in Tamil Nadu? Will she make a difference?
A. It’s for the AIADMK to decide, it is their party’s affair. People approached us [to align with Sasikala] but we said no. We are with the AIADMK and will go with them only.
Q. Why did the BJP push out the Congress-led government headed by V. Narayanaswamy just a week before the election in Puducherry?
A. We didn’t do anything. He couldn’t save his own house.
Q. A serious situation has developed in Maharashtra with the state police commissioner making allegations against the Maharashtra home minister. Where does the BJP stand on this issue?
A. I believe politics without morality is detrimental. The day this government was formed, I said unholy alliances will not produce holy results. I stand by it even today. The Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) was an alliance of three greedy parties to make the BJP sit in the opposition benches. What else can one expect from such allies? They have been caught extorting Rs 100 crore. They will never mend their ways.
Q. Is the BJP likely push for president’s rule in Maharashtra?
A. We believe in democratic systems. We are a principled party. The MVA are sinking their own ship.
Q. Your new CM in Uttarakhand, Tirath Singh Rawat, made a controversial statement about women wearing ripped jeans. What do you have to say?
A. We always take it very seriously. I take care of it personally. I have told many of them to stop doing such things and have given them advice. Sometimes, such things are said unintentionally, sometimes they are intentional. But the process of rectification is ongoing.
Q. Why did the party change the leadership in the state, with the assembly poll just a year away?
A. We need to work at a far greater speed, that’s why new people are given a chance to work. We will use his (Trivendra Singh Rawat’s) services as well.
Q. What is your strategy for the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly election?
A. We have undertaken organisational strengthening in UP and will win there.
Q. Will there be a change in leadership before the election as in Uttarakhand? Or will Yogi Adityanath continue as CM?
A. We are fighting under his (Yogi Adityanath’s) leadership. Our parliamentary board will take note of the situation and discuss such things at the appropriate time.
Q. Coming to foreign affairs, what are the party’s views on the ongoing border issues with China and Pakistan?
A. We are very sensitive and very strong on border issues. We have been very clear about it. All scientific approaches for sealing the borders are taking place, the morale of the police and paramilitary forces has been taken care of, the army has been given full authority as far as securing the borders is concerned and it has also produced results.
Q. Pakistan has recently made some overtures on the LoC. Can we move forward in our relations with Pakistan now?
A. Our external affairs minister is very competent to speak on this issue. Our party position, in general, is that yes, without compromising our national interests, friendship with our neighbours is fine, but it is for the prime minister to take a call on this matter.
Q. Can we expect assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir?
A. That call too will be taken by the prime minister. There are also some issues related to delimitation. A call will then be taken accordingly.
Q. Will statehood be restored to J&K?
A. PM Modi had already made a statement on this. He will take a call as to when it is to be done.