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 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?
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