Rumours of Amit Shah contesting from Gandhinagar were in the air. But still, the announcement came as a surprise for some as Shah is already a member of the Rajya Sabha and everyone expected that since he is the BJP's star poll campaigner, he won’t tie himself up at one place.
But a careful study shows that there are multiple reasons behind Shah’s decision.
One of the main reasons for Shah to contest the Lok Sabha from Gandhinagar is to add weight to the BJP campaign to win maximum Lok Sabha seats from the Prime Minister's home state. The party apparently hopes that roping in a heavyweight in the state electoral arena would serve that purpose. A source close to Shah said, "Amitbhai's entry into the state electoral arena is calculated to give real josh to the state BJP and RSS force — which is aiming to win all the 26 Gujarat Lok Sabha seats like last time."
Further, to justify his own muscular image, Shah reportedly thinks he has to be a Parliament member via the Lok Sabha and not the Rajya Sabha — and particularly so for when Shah’s term as party president ends and he possibly enters the Narendra Modi cabinet post-elections. He is expected to get either the Finance, Defence, Home, Health or Rural Development portfolio in the event of a BJP victory in the 2019 polls.
When in Gujarat, Shah once sought the Rural Development portfolio to show his prowess at handling a portfolio which was important for society and the state, but considered low-priority in the popular politics of the day. At one time, Shah was handling 17 portfolios for Modi in Gujarat and handling almost all of them with a good degree of efficiency. As Gujarat Transport Minister, he had turned the Gujarat State Transport Corporation — a perpetually loss-making entity — into a profit-making one.
Amit Shah has decided to enter Parliament through the Lok Sabha now. Are there long-term factors behind his choice? (Source: IndiaToday.in)
Shah’s thinking is also driven by the questions that many ask behind Modi’s back, as to why most of his important cabinet ministers, from Arun Jaitley, Piyush Goyal and Dharmendra Pradhan to Nirmala Sitharaman, are from the Rajya Sabha. Shah perhaps wants to address this question by entering Parliament via the Lok Sabha. And just like Varanasi is seen as safe for Modi, there can’t be a safer seat for Shah than Gandhinagar — a seat where the BJP has never lost since 1989.
Even when LK Advani resigned from the seat on moral grounds for a while in 1996 — following his name figuring in a case of accepting illicit money (from which he was acquitted later) — a relatively simple BJP candidate, Vijay Patel, a lawyer by profession, defeated the Congress’s star candidate, Rajesh Khanna, by 60,000 votes. So, it is possible for Shah to win Gandhinagar by going to the constituency only once or twice during the election period while campaigning for the party across India.
Shah’s decision is also due to local Gujarat issues.
After Vijay Rupani was selected as a successor to Anandiben Patel as Gujarat Chief Minister, in place of senior Minister and now, a Deputy Chief Minister in the State Cabinet, Nitin Patel, the pro-Patel reservation leader, Hardik Patel — who has just entered the Congress — had accused Shah of depriving a Patel, terming him as 'anti-Patel' and charging Shah with eclipsing Nitin Patel’s chances.
Hardik Patel had termed Amit Shah 'anti-Patel.' Therefore, winning a 'Patel-seat' like Gandhinagar will be crucial. (Source: Reuters)
It was a vicious smear campaign as Shah has all along been elected with Patel votes as an MLA of the Patel-strong Sarkhej constituency in the past. Even his daughter-in-law belongs to the Patel community. But Hardik had, to some extent, succeeded projecting Shah as 'anti-Patel' in some sections of the community, using the Vijay-Rupani-Nitin Patel episode. Gandhinagar has a very high number of Patel votes, both in its rural and urban pockets — and Shah possibly wants to correct this false image created by his political rivals by winning from a ‘Patel seat’.
And lastly, Shah is only 55 years of age — he remains a long-term player looking to his ability to manage the party as well as elections, which he amply demonstrated in the way the BJP won the last Lok Sabha polls in Uttar Pradesh, and the subsequent Vidhan Sabha elections in both Uttar Pradesh and Assam. His understanding of core Hindutva issues, woven around the RSS's view of cultural nationalism and national security, is also very deep. And therefore, he is rated highly within the RSS.
He has also played a key role in the formulation of the Modi government's flagship schemes — the latest being Ayushmaan Bharat. So, somewhere in his heart, Shah must also be picturing — and quite legitimately — a larger role for himself in the post-Modi era, perhaps a decade down the line. Plus, Modi himelf could be aiming to groom him towards this.
Clearly, Shah’s decision to enter the Lok Sabha, even while being a Rajya Sabha member, doesn’t come as a surprise for those who know the contours of long-term political strategy-making.