Modi’s closest confidant says, “… My image has been created without even knowing me.”

On Wednesday, as the seventh phase of polling was under way, Amit Shah, closest confidant of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, and party general secretary, seemed relaxed and hopeful. He had just cast his vote and was watching television with his wife, Sonal, and son, Jayant, at home in a quiet neighbourhood of Ahmedabad. Mr. Shah opened up to Poornima Joshi on the sudden bitterness in the election campaign, the prospects of finding future allies for the BJP in such an atmosphere and his relationship with party president Rajnath Singh. Excerpts:

The Hindu: The BJP started off with the development plank, but now the campaign seems to have degenerated into personal attacks and bitterness. What has changed? It seems to have suddenly become “Modi versus all” …

Amit Shah: Development is still the main plank of our election campaign. On the whole, I don’t think even two per cent of the volume of the campaign contains personal attacks or slights. But the media picks up only on that two per cent in its eagerness to create the illusion that the campaign has somehow been debased. I watch every political leader’s speeches very carefully; I don’t think they are interested only in attacking each other. That is not true. So far as “Modi versus all” is concerned, that has been the case right from the beginning. They [rival leaders] are becoming more voluble as the campaign focusses on their respective States; their insecurities are now coming to the surface.

But tell us, why is Mr. Modi focussing his attacks more on the Gandhis than on the regional players, who, whether it is Mamata Banerjee or Lalu Prasad, are far more militant in their attacks on him and the BJP.

This is because the UPA [United Progressive Alliance] is the ruling coalition at the Centre. But it is not as if he is not attacking the SP [Samajwadi Party] and the BSP [Bahujan Samaj Party] in Uttar Pradesh and Mamata in West Bengal. The frontal attack would naturally be more focussed on the Centre. These things happen in elections. What is so new about them?

The BJP is a democratic party. We are not a family-run business. We try and evolve a consensus on everything.

But the regional leaders seem far more vocal in their attacks on Mr. Modi than he is on them. So is it a deliberate attempt to soften up the regional players for post-election tie-ups?

That is not true. He is highlighting the lack of development in every State and targeting everyone responsible. Our target is 272+ for the NDA [National Democratic Alliance]. We are working towards that. There is no other strategy.

What about Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa? She has suddenly become very vocal. We would have thought she and Modi had a good relationship …

You will find the answer to this question in the election results, even in Tamil Nadu where the BJP’s vote share is rising. I don’t want to say anything else.

We would like you to elaborate on it. Do you mean she is raising her pitch because she feels threatened by Mr. Modi?

I told you I would not say anything more than what I had already said. Let the results come out.

You don’t think this pre-election posturing will continue after the elections?

Every party presents its side in the campaign. But everyone respects the mandate. Let the mandate come. That has been my experience. Once a party gets the mandate, every other party respects that.

You have been handling Uttar Pradesh affairs for the BJP, and one could see what has happened in the western region of the State. The BJP seems to be benefiting from the communal polarisation in the region. But in the eastern parts, the party’s campaign doesn’t seem to have picked up. So unless there is Hindu-Muslim discord, your party does not do well … is that so?

In the eastern parts, I am sure you went there when the campaign had not even begun. But I would ask you to make a trip now; the atmospherics are completely different. It is a one-sided election, there is a wave. This Hindu-Muslim issue that you are raising, I would say your perspective is warped. It is not about Hindus and Mussalmans. It is about administrative collapse and absolute mishandling of the situation. The people are angry with the State government for allowing the situation to go out of control …

But the BJP’s involvement

Again, I would ask you to examine the situation not on communal lines but from the people’s perspective. The people are voting in a certain way because there is anger against the government, among both Muslims and Hindus. The riots happened because the government did not respond to the situation. The police action was driven by vote-bank politics. They did not handle the situation properly.

The BJP is a democratic party. We are not a family-run business. We try and evolve a consensus on everything.

Okay, let us forget western Uttar Pradesh for a while. Let me ask you about whether people are responding to the BJP because of Mr. Modi’s personality or his development agenda? Tell me specifically about Uttar Pradesh, whether caste and communal polarisation are the only factors in the election?

We will get the maximum number of seats from U.P. this time. I can promise you that. It is a one-sided election in the BJP’s favour.

What are the problem States for the BJP?

In the southern and the eastern parts, we traditionally suffer from organisational weaknesses. This problem does exist.

In the southern parts, what are you expecting from the alliances that have been forged, especially in Tamil Nadu?

I am hopeful. I think we will do well. I think our vote share will increase exponentially. There is a possibility of getting a good number of seats.

How many seats are you expecting?

Let me not start counting seats because I haven’t really travelled in southern India. My information is not based on primary sources. I am only telling you what I have learnt from the people who are working on the ground. I can’t cite a figure based on telephonic conversations.

Mr. Rajnath Singh says Mr. Modi had nothing to do with your assignment as election in-charge of Uttar Pradesh. We find it difficult to believe, especially given your proximity to Mr. Modi …

He is absolutely right. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are loyal soldiers of the Bharatiya Janata Party. We do what the party has assigned us to do. I am a general secretary of the BJP and the party president asked me to manage elections in U.P. It was his decision. Who goes where, who takes charge of different States is an organisational matter. It is purely the prerogative of the party president. Narendra Modi has nothing to do with it.

Tell us something about this newfound proximity between Mr. Rajnath Singh and Mr. Modi.

Look, Modiji is our PM candidate and Rajnathji our party president. There is harmony and good coordination between them. It is a good thing for the party. I believe this coordination is the reason for our campaign to have picked up so well.

On the national scene, do you think people still look at you with distrust? Do you think it is necessary to win over the liberal intelligentsia who are suspicious of you?

I have never done anything in my life to win over anyone. I do my job with the honesty and integrity that I have and leave judgment to others. I think this impression that you talk about, it has been created without knowing me. I believe once people get to know me, my work, they will begin to see things in a different light.

A section of the media believes you will be the second-most powerful man if Mr. Modi becomes Prime Minister. You must be happy about it?

This impression is not correct. Mein zamini star ka karyakarta hoon [I am a ground-level worker]. I am a general secretary of the BJP like so many others. There are so many leaders in our party. What I mean is, forget number two, I am nowhere in the pecking order. Frankly, I am embarrassed about it.

But how do you feel about your position in the party hierarchy? What is the basis for this impression?

They say these things because I am in charge of U.P. It is a critical State. That is why some hype has been created.

You are from outside Uttar Pradesh. Did that pose a problem?

I never had any problem. I hail from the organisation. So I know how common functionaries work. I am an RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] Swayamsevak [volunteer], I have been with the ABVP [Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad] and I draw inspiration from these roots. They have shaped my functioning and my entire life. It is not just me and Narendra Modi who come from the RSS. Rajnathji also comes from the RSS. We all belong to the same family.

Is there a division in the party’s ideological agenda and the development plank of the party? The Ram Mandir is mentioned very late in your manifesto?

The manifesto reflects our agenda. There is no difference between the ideological line and development agenda. And what is the problem in mentioning Ram temple in the last pages? If we had mentioned it in the front page, the media would have made an issue about that as well. You might be suffering from a perception problem. We have no such confusion.

The BJP is a democratic party. We are not a family-run business. We try and evolve a consensus on everything.

But you can’t deny differences in the party over the articulation of your agenda. That is why the manifesto was delayed so much that you released it on a day when polling was going on in some States?

The BJP is a democratic party. We are not a family-run business. We try and evolve a consensus on everything. This time too, we evolved a consensus, everyone voiced their opinion. That should not be construed as a difference of opinion. Yes, the manifesto was delayed. I wish it wasn’t, but when we did release it, everyone had endorsed it. Everyone was on the dais when it was released.

You claim everyone is satisfied and everything resolved. Why is BJP leader Sushma Swaraj not campaigning then? Have you succeeded in placating her?

What do you mean by that? What is the problem? Sushmaji is contesting an election. She will campaign after her own election has concluded. Even before that, she has been campaigning in various States. Just because you people choose to portray some trumped-up reality, it doesn’t mean there is no truth. Sushmaji is campaigning and she will campaign. There is no problem.

What about veteran party leader L.K. Advani? What role would he have if Mr. Modi becomes Prime Minister? It is difficult to imagine him working under Mr. Modi …

I am a small fry. How can I comment on Advaniji’s role? Advaniji’s role will be decided by Advaniji himself. The parliamentary board will decide. How can I comment on that?

What about you? If the NDA comes to power, will you join the government or work in the party or organisation?

About my own prospects, all I can say is that the party has taken every decision that was ever taken in my professional life. But if you ask me, or more important, if the party asks me, my priority will be to work for the party.

So you are against joining the government if it is formed?

I am not against anything. All I am saying is that my personal priority is to work for the party.