Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday said the BJP is confident of doing well in this year's general election despite the party's recent losses in state polls. "There is no reason for low morale in the BJP. The BJP has confidence in the people and the people have confidence in the BJP," PM Modi said in an interview to news agency ANI on the New Year.
"In 2019, if there is one party which the country trusts and is connected with the people, it is the BJP," said the Prime Minister in the interview in which he tackled criticism on subjects ranging from demonetization and Goods and Services Tax to the RBI chief's exit and the Rafale jet deal.
Brushing away questions raised about the party's prospects following the setback in the assembly elections in the three heartland states, he said these were a "set of persons" who echoed a similar narrative even in 2014.
"People will decide if they want to support those who loot even if they come together. It will be janta (people) vs gathbandhan (alliance)," PM Modi said.
The prime minister's 95-minute interview set the tone for an election year after the ruling BJP lost three big states in the party's biggest poll setback since PM Modi took office in 2014 and in a considerable boost to the Congress, the opposition and its allies ahead of the national polls due by May.
"In Telangana and Mizoram, nobody gave the BJP any chance or even thought that we would form government. In Chhattisgarh, a clear mandate was given, the BJP lost. But in two states there was a hung assembly. Fifteen years of anti-incumbency was being fought by our people. We are discussing what was lacking," he said, adding that winning or losing was not the only yardstick.
But for the national elections, he said he had faith in the country's voters.
To opposition comments that the "Modi wave is over", he remarked, "When they say this (Modi wave/Modi magic) ...that means people are admitting Modi wave."
He added: "Experts will say all kinds of things, to defend their position and drive their narrative. But we should never underestimate the political understanding of the common man."
Asked if the polls were heading to a US Presidential-style contest between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, he said: "I believe this election is going to be a contest between those who fulfill and take forward the aspirations of the people and those who stop these aspirations. There is experience of 70 years. The public is the decider".
Asked if the opposition alliance that's being discussed could be an alternative, the Prime Minister said, "They still speak in different voices. Who are these people? They are looking for each other's support to save themselves... They hold each other's hand, so that they are saved. That is the game".
Taking aim at Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi, the PM said the "first family" of the country is out on bail and facing charges of financial irregularities. "The family that was once considered the first family of the country, that ruled the country for four generations, has to walk around on bail, that too on charges of financial irregularities. That is a big thing," the Prime Minister said.
Responding to a question on whether the recent elections were proof that the BJP's goal of a "Congress-mukt (Congress-free) India" was not materializing, PM Modi said: "Even Congress people say Congress is a soch (thought), a culture. That culture is casteism, dynastic politics, undemocratic, nepotism. Congress represents this culture. When I say Congress-mukt, I want to rid the country from this culture and this sort of thinking. And I have even gone to say that Congress too needs to be free of this Congress culture."
On demands within the BJP and from allies like the Shiv Sena for an ordinance or special order to enable a Ram temple in Ayodhya, PM Modi made it clear that a decision cannot be made unless the judicial process is over. "Let the judicial process be over. After the judicial process is over, whatever will be our responsibility as the government, we are ready to make all efforts," he said in a statement that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - the BJP's ideological mentor - has called "positive".
PM Modi also tackled criticism of the 2016 demonetisation and said it was "not a jhatka", that people were warned about depositing their black money.