NEW DELHI — At the helm of the world's largest political party is a man many consider the architect of its new organisational strength. As the Bharatiya Janata Party marks a year in power at the centre, its president Amit Shah, arguably one of India's best political strategists, has his work cut out. His singular and rather ambitious goal is to see the party win the 2019 general elections while his mentor and Prime Minister Narendra Modi tries to stop the vicissitude of the Indian economy.
In an interview with India Today, Shah touches upon several prickly subjects, including the contentious ban on beef, BJP functionaries who have shot off their mouths in recent months and building on the thumping election win and taking the party to new heights.
Shah also states that riots have happened in India before and they don't necessarily affect the fabric of society. Here are some excerpts from the India Today interview.
Riots se koi nahin darta hai ji, bayan se kya darega
Shah is asked if the party has lost control over its functionaries such as Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, V.K. Singh and Giriraj Singh, who have made incendiary statements in the media over the past few months, and he maintains that although restraint is needed in public conversations, statements will not stop the developmental work the government has undertaken.
He goes on to elaborate.
"Riots se koi nahin darta hai ji, bayan se kya darega (No one's afraid of riots, why would they be afraid of mere statements?). Riots have happened across the country, but it hasn't ruptured society. They get back and live together for years. There should not be riots. But society has weathered that. So there is no question of statements disrupting society. But people should not make such statements," Shah says.
On the controversial beef ban
Shah says one should draw the line between what is a food habit and sentiments referring to the ban on beef in two BJP-ruled states of India. Although, a national ban on beef would need consensus, he says.
"Everyone should respect each other's sentiments."
"My party believes that this is under the guiding principles of the Constitution. We believe that cow slaughter should be banned. Wherever there is a BJP government, we have banned it. Everyone should respect each other's sentiments. If it requires some changes, one should do it. There is a difference between food habits and someone's sentiments. I personally would not like to hurt anyone's sentiments. This is not about food habits but sentiments," he says.
The BJP claimed a massive victory in the 2014 general elections, roaring back to power winning 282 seats. It was also the biggest victory by any political party since 1984, when former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had won 414 LS seats.
Shah, a meticulous and astute planner, is credited with laying the groundwork for that success, made possibly by his boss Modi. But he does refer to the disastrous Delhi election soon after, that gave the Aam Aadmi Party a majority, and says "BJP has taken it very seriously and the changes required in our strategy and our administration are being made."
On the GST Bill, Shah says the original BJP stand was always that the states "should be compensated for the losses because of GST."
"We have sought to address most demands of state governments through the 14th Finance Commission and by ensuring compensation for GST. Had it been agreed earlier, GST would have already been in place by now," he says.
Read the entire interview here.