Expressing confidence that the BJP will better its 2014 Lok Sabha tally, its president Amit Shah has predicted that the saffron party will win over 55 new seats, propelled by its focus on national security and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal across the country.
Shah also scorned Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra for their criticism of Modi for attacking their father late Rajiv Gandhi, asserting that “they cannot run away from their past however much they try”.
In an interview, Shah, who is at the helm of the ruling party since 2014, talked about various aspects of the high-stakes elections, where a fragmented opposition is taking on the BJP-led NDA, which hopes to retain power, riding on its nationalism and development planks.
The BJP had swept to its maiden majority in 2014 by winning 282 of 543 Lok Sabha seats.
Asserting that the BJP will get a majority on its own, 54-year-old Shah said he has succeeded in his plan to expand the BJP’s base across coastal and eastern states, where it has been traditionally weak.
The party will win more than 23 seats in West Bengal and 13-15 seats in Odisha, he added. The BJP had won two and one seat in these two states respectively in 2014.
After taking over as BJP chief, Shah had also identified 120 seats spread across the country as potentially winnable. The party had lost them in 2014.
“The BJP will win more than 55 of those constituencies,” he added.
Asked if the BJP will be able to repeat 2014 feat when it had swept north and west India, he said some seats may go this way or that way but his party will get an overall majority.
With top Congress leaders slamming Modi for his sharp attack on Rajiv Gandhi, Shah questioned: “why he or Jawaharlal Nehru cannot be criticized simply because they are from the Gandhi family.”
“Did the Bofors scam not happen under him (Rajiv Gandhi)? Did the Bhopal gas tragedy accused not to escape when he was in power? Why should there not be a debate over these issues? Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra cannot run away from their past however much they try,” he said.
Modi had dubbed the late prime minister as “bhrashtachari no 1”, drawing ire of several top Congress leaders as well as other opposition parties.
The BJP president also mocked Rahul Gandhi over his claim that Modi should pack his bags, and said let May 23 come and “we will see who gets to pack his bags”. The counting of votes for the seven-phase general elections, which will end on May 19, will be on May 23.
With national security being the central theme of the BJP’s campaign, Shah said nationalism has been his party’s inspiration since its inception.
He claimed that people were feeling safe and proud under Modi’s leadership following surgical strikes and Balakot air strikes in Pakistan which, he added, has been waging a proxy war against India since 1990 through terrorism but India was “a little soft” in dealing with it.
“After 2014 surgical strikes and air strikes, people now feel safe and proud. They stand with the Modi government like a rock on this issue,” he said.
Asked how much the national security issue is helping the BJP in the polls, he said it is benefitting his party and added that it is for political pundits to evaluate its real impact.
“For the BJP, nationalism, national security is not a matter of electoral loss and win but an issue of belief,” Shah said.
He rejected the opposition’s criticism that the BJP is politicizing the valour of armed forces, saying his party has put before people the work of his government.
The Modi government took the decision and the armed forces carried out the action, he said.
To a question, if the BJP is looking at regional satraps like KC Rao and Naveen Patnaik, chief minister of Telangana and Odisha respectively, as potential allies after polls, Shah said they are welcome to join the ruling National Democratic Alliance but asserted that the saffron party will get a majority on its own.
With five phases of the general election over, he also reiterated his claim that the BJP will win more than 73 seats of the 80 in Uttar Pradesh it had won in 2014 along with its ally Apna Dal and not less.
Asked about the strong social arithmetic in the favor of Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance in the largest state, Shah shot back, “You people look at arithmetic. I look at people’s sentiments and they are totally with Modi.”
To a question as to what issue was resonating most among the public, he said issues are different in different parts of the country but people everywhere are voting in the name of Modi.
Over 50 crore people believe that for the first time they have a prime minister who thinks about them and have improved their lives, he said.
They also feel that Modi has secured the country and ensured that its economy remained the fastest growing for five consecutive years, he said.
For the first time in three decades, Shah said, the price rise is not an issue in the opposition’s campaign and that is a credit to the Modi government as it has kept inflation under control.