What I think about Amit Shah (and how he has rebuilt BJP)
India Today cover story reveals the inside story of a 'new BJP' under its party president.
- Total Shares
When Amit Shah took over as BJP president in August 2014, there were nine BJP or BJP-led governments in the states. Today, there are 18.
Thanks to the vast network of committed RSS workers, Shah has been able to convert Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma into votes, transforming the BJP into a smart, sharp electoral behemoth. Now it must become a 21st century organisation run on scientific lines, one that can win polls as smoothly as run governments.
But to understand the new BJP, we have to rewind to the era before the Age of Modi. Their first taste of power was in 1977 when the mish-mash Janata Party coalition of 12 parties defeated Indira Gandhi’s Congress post-Emergency. In that, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (as it was known then) found not one but two leaders - the flamboyant Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his one-time fellow film critic from the RSS newspaper, The Organiser, Lal Krishna Advani.
(India Today Editor-in-Chief's note for cover story, The Shah of Strategy, for October 9, 2017.)
After the disintegration of the Janata Party government in 1980, the duo recrafted the Bharatiya Jana Sangh into the Bharatiya Janata Party and gradually built the party’s presence in the Lok Sabha from two seats in 1984 to 182 in 1999 when Vajpayee helmed a BJP-led coalition that lasted a full term for the first time. In this period, they took the Indian political landscape away from the commonly accepted notion of secularism with the highly emotive Ram Janmabhoomi campaign between 1990 and 1992. However, they lost the 2004 General Elections under their slogan of India Shining. An overconfident BJP misread the public mood and for the next decade, the party could not get its mojo back.
All that changed in 2014 with the rise of Modi as their prime ministerial candidate. His high-powered campaign energised the party and the RSS cadre. The message was not Hindutva but development, for which the scam-ridden, paralysed Congress had no answer, and for the first time in its history, the BJP won a majority on its own. The result: not merely a Modi-fied BJP, but a BJP that has become the principal fulcrum of Indian politics, seemingly replacing the Grand Old Party. Or so Amit Shah, the creator of this powerful election winning machine, would like us to believe.
India Today deputy editor Uday Mahurkar, who has watched Shah’s working closely, often accompanying him as an observer to party meetings, says five principles underline Shah’s "BJP Reloaded", chief among them being:
Of the 1,650 political parties in the Indian political arena, BJP is the most ideologically driven.
Prime Minister Modi is leading one of the cleanest governments ever while the UPA had left a scam-ridden system.
The government’s poverty elimination drive is unparalleled with Jan Dhan, Ujjwala, Mudra, Stand-up India and Jeevan Raksha insurance schemes.
India’s image is recast internationally.
The party has still managed to retain its internal democracy, where a booth-level worker can also become party president.
In this new BJP, Shah leads by example, travelling constantly, listening to party workers in open forums, focusing on ideological rejuvenation, and on the long term. It is also a BJP that now wants to concentrate on nation-building rather than merely winning elections, at least if we go by what the prime minister said at this week’s party national executive. That the BJP has to go beyond elections and become an instrument of mass participation.
The idea is to create a new, more ideologically-driven party member, as adept at managing booths and organising rallies as he or she is on social media and TV. This is his vision for creating a modern political party geared to winning elections and transforming India in its image.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. In my 42 years in this profession, I have not met a more politically astute, ruthless, result-oriented, hardworking politician in India. Like his leader, he lives and breathes politics. Also, both have far-reaching ambitions.
With Shah’s guile and Modi’s charisma, they are a lethal combination and a powerful force to reckon with.
(India Today Editor-in-Chief's note for cover story, The Shah of Strategy; October 9, 2017.)