With just months to go for the assembly elections, what do you make of the situation in West Bengal?
The Trinamool Congress has lost confidence. The party is finding it difficult to keep its house in order. People have lost confidence in Mamata Banerjee.
Do you feel a wave in your favour?
Yes, it is there across the state, but it is dormant in some parts. Like in Birbhum and even in Kolkata, where we had lacked organisation till recently. But we are working hard and have almost overcome the hindrances.
So Birbhum and Kolkata are your problem areas?
No longer. Look at the response to [Union Home Minister] Amit Shah’s road show at Santiniketan. I [have not been able to spend] much time in Kolkata. In Birbhum, the TMC leaders are more violent. So, it took time for us to get a grip [there]. But now, things are changing as I am giving more time to these places. Look how our party men were attacked in Kolkata. This means the TMC is alarmed.
Who do you think will swing the votes in your favour? Any specific community?
I think the major boost would be from women who are coming out in large numbers. Also, urban people have been influenced by the election result in Bihar, which showed that the BJP is the only alternative.
Why would women vote for you?
That is because, in urban areas, the Modi government’s [schemes like] free ration, gas distribution and direct money transfer are paying dividends.
But Kolkata has not accepted the BJP’s ideology in the past.
My [small] tea-meetings [have turned into] political rallies. People are forcing me to ride horses in Kolkata.
Even so, do you believe Kolkata will accept the BJP?
Kolkata was a fortress for the Jana Sangh during [the time of] Syama Prasad Mookerjee. He received a huge mandate here before and after independence.
But he did not have a strong organisation.
It takes time. Do not forget that Dr Mookerjee fought against a man like [Jawaharlal] Nehru.
So the BJP is better organised today?
Even Mamata Banerjee did not have [a strong] organisation despite being a mass leader. In 2004, she won one Lok Sabha seat. But, in 2011, she came to power. We all know how she [did that]. Organisation can be strong only if you work hard. In 2019, we bagged 2.3 crore votes [in the Lok Sabha elections] while Mamata won 2.47 crore. This time we will cross three crore and she will go below two crore.
Does that mean you will get more than 200 seats?
Yes. We are working on that.
That is easier said than done.
Not at all. In the 1980s, we had 4 per cent of the votes; in the 1990s, this was 10 per cent. In 2014, we reached 17 per cent. After I took charge as state party president, we crossed 35 per cent in the 2018 panchayat elections. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, we crossed 40 per cent. So, you can see the trajectory.
Why do you think the BJP is becoming more popular in Bengal?
People are finding us on the ground against the corrupt TMC. We are aggressive and have been guarding people against the TMC’s torture and corruption. We are always standing by our party men who are [trapped in] false cases or attacked by the TMC. From fighting their cases to giving them medical treatment, we have taken on all their responsibilities.
Your aggression has invited intense criticism. Many people have said your speeches are hard to digest.
They do not have to digest it if they cannot. I cannot smile after cremating my party men. More than 130 people of my party have been killed during my presidency. I speak in the language they (opponents) understand and I would continue till the BJP forms government. Is Mamata a good person? Have you forgotten what she did in the past?
So, you want to do the things you are accusing her of?
No, not at all. I want to mean that this is the language she understands. The killers of my party men would face terrible days once we come to power.
But you do not have the support of the Muslims, who make up 30 per cent of the electorate.
We have made major changes in our organisation to address that. Muslims are coming to the BJP for the first time.
Why do you say that?
Because they are the biggest beneficiaries of Modi’s pro-poor plans; we never differentiate on the basis of caste, creed and religion while giving government benefits. Take my word for it, Muslims have a different mindset this time. In Murshidabad, a large number of Muslims have joined our party.
Is the triple talaq bill a reason for this perceived shift?
Partially, yes. The women are favouring us.
Will they vote for you?
Some women will face talaq if they vote for the BJP. But then, a large number of Muslim votes will not go to the TMC this time. And many would vote for us. Young Muslims have had a big change of heart this time. They have understood Mamata’s game plan. I am not saying that they would vote [for us] en masse, but there will be change.
But the BJP in Bengal is accused of being anti-Muslim.
Not at all. Confusion has been created around [the issue]. They did not vote for us because Muslim religious leaders in Bengal are fanatics and radicals who are mostly Urdu-bhashi (speakers). But, Bengali Muslims are liberals and good human beings. Earlier, rural Bengali Muslim women used to be like Hindu women. They used to wear saris, not burqas. But because of the fanatics, they have had to change.
Are you making a distinction between Muslims in Kolkata and Howrah, and the rest of Bengal?
Yes, I told them (rural Muslims) I went to Dhaka and I was stunned. There, Muslim women do not wear burqas; they wear simple saris. In Kolkata, you will see posters of Mamata wearing a hijab. But in Dhaka, [Prime Minister] Sheikh Hasina would not be seen in a burqa or hijab even though she is Muslim. Mamata should learn from Sheikh Hasina at least.
You won a good number of seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But Modi was the face then. You have no face at present.
Did we have any face in Uttar Pradesh? We got [more than] 300 seats there. We never projected any chief minister candidate unless we went to the polls with a chief minister. People are looking at me and, if they feel I am fine, they would accept me as a face. If you need a face, look at me.
Would you like to be chief minister?
I am not here to become chief minister. My first task is to win the election. I have been elected [state] president of the party two times. I never thought [that would happen]. I would shoulder any responsibility the party gives me.
Your critics accuse you of not having any plan other than Mamata-bashing.
At the national level, we have taken hard decisions. And we will do that in Bengal as well. Why do people have to go to Gujarat and other states for investment? [Bengal] is a place for corruption. From birth to funeral, there is corruption everywhere. Look at the administration. Those who used to gamble and play cards are today heading state sports bodies.
Will you change that?
Yes. We will not use party leaders to fill such positions. We will bring in experts.
But you are inducting people from the parties you criticise.
Yes, but are they (defectors) doing the same here? If they deviate from the rules, you can ask me questions.
Will they influence your policy?
You will see, and then you can ask me.
What will be the BJP’s industrial policy for Bengal?
Law and order is a must for that. Land sharks and syndicate raj have to be stopped. People would not come to invest under this corrupt regime. People criticise me for saying we will convert Bengal into Gujarat. Tell me, how could Sanand become an [investment] destination, but Singur could not? Farmers do not want to give their land to the government as they do not trust it.
What will you do?
We will acquire barren land and create infrastructure. More roads, airports and railway stations. We can change Kharagpur, Purulia and other places near Kolkata. The police are not protecting industrialists in Bengal today. Why would industrialists come here? The TMC government gave away a lot of land to chit fund owners. We will acquire that and give it to industrialists.
Will you acquire fertile land for industries?
Not at all. Why should Tata be given fertile land? It was a big mistake. We will never give fertile land to businessmen. If farmers [want to do so] we will have no objection. We will advise them to go to [other] farmers in that case.
Mamata Banerjee has used direct cash transfer to give people money for their daughters’ weddings and higher education.
She is doing it for [votes]. So it has not worked. She is not the first person to [offer such schemes]. Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh did it earlier. [If welfare is the motive,] why is she not allowing Central schemes?
Will you also use schemes for a political purpose?
I have no problems gaining electoral dividends. But you cannot play politics while giving people such facilities. Bicycles given to students are damaged. Students and families had to pay a share of the money they received to local leaders. Bicycle orders were given to leaders, not to government agencies. We will review all such projects.
Many in your party say that you are honest but have an autocratic attitude. Apparently, even the party’s youth wing chief cannot work independently.
I am the state president and I have to work within the rules. Discipline is everything for us. The party system has to be maintained. The party’s youth wing has to consult the mother party while naming its [district committee members]. In the RSS, I never broke the rules. Discipline is supreme. The BJP is the BJP. Otherwise, it would soon be the TMC.
Former state party president Rahul Sinha rebelled after being dropped as national secretary.
Yes, he was shocked. It is natural. He repents his action.
Ram Madhav was also removed, but he did not rebel.
All are not the same. Even I would feel bad if I am removed from my post.
Would you rebel?
Not at all.
There is a demand for President’s rule in Bengal from within the BJP.
The demand is natural and justified. The Congress demolished three of our governments after the Babri mosque demolition. A Muslim governor in Madhya Pradesh refused to sign the recommendation [for President’s rule]. But he was called to Delhi and was forced to sign it.
Do you want President’s rule?
No. I have told the party leadership and I have learnt that they have understood my point.
After Suvendu Adhikari’s exit from the Trinamool, do you see others leaving? Will BCCI president Sourav Ganguly join you?
The bleeding has started and there will be more damage to Mamata in the coming days. She made everybody’s life miserable in Bengal. As far as Sourav Ganguly is concerned, we want him to join us. But it is up to him.
Finally, why did you not get married?
Being an RSS man, how could I do that? I am not vegetarian like my friends in the RSS. I love to eat small fish, but no meat. But I am a bachelor as I belong to the RSS. Yes, many former RSS leaders joined the BJP and got married. I have also joined the BJP, but my life’s philosophy will remain the same.