Amit Shah, India's new-age Chanakya: How the 2019 election results will prove the title for the BJP President

Working on the foundations of the development reforms begun by PM Modi, the BJP president has transformed the face of electoral politics in India, with a precision that is commendable.

 |  17-minute read |   18-05-2019
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“An invincible determination can accomplish almost anything and in this lies the great distinction between great men and little men,” said Thomas Fuller.

If there is one politician in India who is a living testimony to what Fuller said, it has to be the BJP president, Amit Shah, who has given invincibility a whole new dimension. Shah has earned the enviable epithet of being named the new-age Chanakya, after the prolific scholar, statesman, strategist, philosopher, economist and adviser to the Mauryan empire in 4th Century BC, who has till date, remained an enigmatically inspirational character.

amit-shah-690_051719010351.jpgFormulating Strategy: Amit Shah is the new-age Chanakya who has helped BJP win state after state. (Photo: Reuters)

Shah’s stellar rise to prominence as the party’s national president in July 2014 is likewise a story of sheer grit, determination, excruciating hard work, an acutely keen understanding of India’s socio-political landscape and an in-depth understanding of the regional equations at play, across the length and breadth of India.

Success in the Uttar Pradesh results in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, apart, under Amit Shah’s indomitable leadership, the BJP continued its streak of successes in legislative assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand and Assam in 2016, including a landslide victory in state elections in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, not to forget storming to power in Gujarat for the sixth time in a row, amid huge anti-incumbency.

A strong debut in Manipur for the BJP, and the spectacular victory in Tripura in 2018, where the BJP dislodged an utterly incompetent Leftist (CPI-M) government which had ruled Tripura for over two decades and still done virtually nothing to uplift people from the morass of poverty, are ringing testimonies of how Amit Shah ensured the BJP’s ascent in the Northeast, completely annihilating the Congress, which incidentally, by December 2018, had been electorally wiped out of the eight beautiful Northeastern state, in totality.

tripura-690_051719011312.jpgCongress-Mukt Northeast: The BJP managed to dislodge the Left from Tripura and the Congress from other NE states. (Photo: PTI)

That the BJP won 76 of the 82 seats in local body polls in Sonitpur district in Assam, all the four seats in the Agartala municipality and also won all the 11 municipal councils that went to polls in December 2018 in Tripura, thereby winning 66 of the 67 seats in the Tripura civic body elections — with the CPM and Congress candidates forfeiting their deposits on most seats — indicates, in no uncertain terms, that the decimation of the Congress and the Left in Northeast is complete with no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’. The Congress faced a crushing defeat in the Assembly polls in Mizoram in December 2018, despite trying its best to polarise voters on religious lines, but the BJP’s ally, the MNF, won handsomely.

Chanakya’s work ethic has always been about getting his hands “soiled on the shop floor”, as management gurus would put it, rather than armchair steering.

It is this passionate, personal involvement, right up to the booth and panna-pramukh levels, that has catapulted Amit Shah into being among India’s finest master political strategists, where the zeal to win is based on the strengths of the BJP, and not on the weaknesses of the opposition, which has, in any case, fumbled and faltered, sans any cohesive development agenda or grassroots organisational structure, besides the added ignominy of blinkered vision, marred by an unhealthy Modi-phobia.  

Shah’s Chanakya-niti is about putting into practice what Chanakya preached. Chanakya ended the concept of king as demi-god and preached that an effective ruler is only one who follows the constitution or the legal handbook. Having risen up the ranks by dint of his patience, intellect and political acumen, it has not come as a surprise that Amit Shah has always had strong reservations about ‘parivarwad’ culture or dynastic politics, nurtured by the Congress establishment.

amit-690_051719011519.jpgBit by Bit: Amit Shah's moves are marked by large-scale planning and minute detailing, right down to the local booth worker. (Photo: India Today)

Chanakya was of the view that if a king has only one child who is not mature enough to rule, the reins of the state should then be passed on to someone from outside, someone who is capable of it. Shah, by reinforcing what Chanakya said, brilliantly shifted the political narrative to dynastic politics, something which sections of a left-leaning media always shied to take note of in its misplaced loyalty towards the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

Pitted now against Amit Shah and his formidable cadre is a flaky coalition of opposition parties, who fancy themselves as grand alliances or ‘Mahagathbandhans’ — but have failed in the past, and have an even bigger reason to fail in 2019, poised against the political structure of the BJP, which is a strong, disciplined, cadre-based party, led by an equally strong person in Amit Shah, who personally knows the names of most key booth-level workers across the length and breadth of the country.

Opposition alliances in India are, in fact, tried, tested and failed ideas.

“It’s an experiment where policy gets killed and the longevity of the government is of a few months,” as stated by Arun Jaitley, one of the most erudite voices within the BJP. Jaitley added that while there was nothing inherently wrong with coalitions, equally, the nucleus of the alliance must be “very large”, with smaller groups aligned around them, like in the case of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had 183 MPs supporting him during NDA-1 and the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had the support of 282 MPs, when the BJP-led NDA-2 came to power in May 2014. 

Modi came and re-wrote India’s political narrative with his no-nonsense style — and Amit Shah, in turn, ensured the invincibility of the BJP in election after election, with a persistence that is rare. The fact that grand alliances and gathbandhans have been self-defeating is evident from independent India’s political history. For example, the National Front (NF) was a coalition of political parties led by the Janata Dal, which formed the government between 1989 and 1990 under the leadership of NT Rama Rao, popularly known as NTR, as president of National Front and VP Singh as convener.

The coalition’s Prime Minister was VP Singh, later succeeded by Chandra Shekhar. The parties in this front were —  Janata Dal at national level, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) of Andhra Pradesh, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam of (DMK) Tamil Nadu, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) of Assam, and Indian Congress (Socialist).

They were supported from outside by the Left Front and the BJP. The leader of the Opposition, P Upendra, was a general secretary of the front at its formation. In 1991, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha became a part of the front. The TDP split in 1995, with a minority faction siding with NT Rama Rao, and the majority faction choosing to side with Chandrababu Naidu.

The front collapsed before the Lok Sabha elections of 1996, when the National Front tried to rope in both DMK and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), resulting in the DMK walking out. After NTR’s demise in January 1996, Janata Dal stood by Rama Rao’s widow Lakshmi Parvathi, while Left parties formed an alliance with Chandrababu Naidu, once again showcasing the pitiably fractious nature of a failed NF.

After the 1996 elections, Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, DMK, TDP, AGP, All India Indira Congress (Tiwari), Left Front (four parties), Tamil Maanila Congress, National Conference and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party formed a 13-party United Front (UF). This uninspiring coalition formed two governments in India between 1996 and 1998. The Prime Minister was first from Janata Dal, HD Deve Gowda, later succeeded by IK Gujral, after both VP Singh and Jyoti Basu reportedly declined to become the PM, or rather, were not allowed to get the top job on their own terms. Both governments were supported from outside by the Indian National Congress under Sitaram Kesri. Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP, to my mind, a political opportunist and a fickle, fair-weather friend to none, served as the convener of United Front.

The Congress — dangerous when in power, and desperate when out of it — in its typical style, revoked its support to Deve Gowda amid growing discontent between the coalition and the Congress. It compromised to support a new government under IK Gujral, who was Prime Minister from April 21, 1997-March 19, 1998. Following the collapse of the Gujral government, again let down by the wily Congress, fresh elections were called — and the United Front lost power and the little credibility that it had. 

main_mamat-speaking-_051819104009.jpgBengal CM Mamata Banerjee has posited herself as a national leader. But she has no impact outside of Bengal. (Photo: PTI)

In March 2018, chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee and her Telangana counterpart, K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), called for a coalition, urging all regional parties to form a ‘Federal Front’ for the 2019 General Elections. While Rao indicated his support for a non-BJP and non-Congress coalition, Banerjee, despite all her rabble-rousing bravado, is just a regional satrap, who has on umpteen occasions apparently failed to even attract decent crowds at a rally in the national capital, or anywhere outside her home state of West Bengal.

Also, Banerjee’s abysmally poor track record in terms of law and order, riots in Kaliachak in Malda, Basirhat, Dhulagarh and Raniganj in Asansol, her inability at handling the Rohingya crisis, with rampant infiltration of illegal Rohingyas and Bangladeshis reportedly getting shelter in Bengal with the Trinamool Congress’ (TMC) patronage, her reported appeasement of minorities, with no serious development agenda, the worrisome radical Islamisation of large tracts of Bengal within Burdwan, Malda, Uttar Dinajpur, Murshidabad and North 24 Parganas turning into crime dens, have made her hugely unpopular. This was evident from the Panchayat and Zilla Parishad elections held in the state in May 2018, where she had to cede substantial ground to the BJP, which won close to 6,000 seats under the astute Amit Shah, who has personally been at the forefront of things and built a strong cadre-based presence in this eastern state.

Also, in the 2017 UP Assembly election, the SP and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had garnered about 22% vote share each. On the other hand, the BJP polled about 40% of the votes. In the by-polls, with SP-BSP coming together, their vote share got doubled and surpassed that of the BJP. But the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-polls are isolated results that cannot be replicated at the national level.

Again, for example, while the SP, BSP and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) came together to field Tabassum Hasan, who won the Kairana Lok Sabha bypoll, post-that, the three parties never came together in any meaningful measure. True, the BJP’s vote share came down from 50.6% to 46.5% in Kairana — but on a standalone basis, the SP, BSP and RLD were nowhere near coming to even halfway close to the BJP.

tabasum-690_051719011823.jpgTabassum Hasan won the Kairana by-poll but but on a standalone basis, SP, BSP, RLD were nowhere near halfway close to the BJP. (Photo: PTI)

Even, for instance, in 2015, in the Bihar Assembly election, the Janata Dal United (JD-U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Congress had formed the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance) to defeat the BJP — but in less than two years, the RJD and JD(U) drifted apart. An important point to be noted here is that though the BJP won just 53 of the 157 seats it contested, it polled the highest percentage of votes at 24.4%, while RJD polled 18.4% of the votes cast, JD (U) polled 16.8% and Congress 6.7% in the 243 member Bihar assembly.

In Bihar, while Yadavs constitute 14% of the voters, Muslims are 17%. Kurmis, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s caste group, who comprise four per cent of the voters, too voted for the grand alliance in 2015. But with RJD and JD(U) having a fall-out with each other, and the BJP and JD(U) coming together, it is advantage BJP in 2019.

Coming back to UP, Yadavs and Muslims form the mainstay of the SP. While Yadavs constitute 15% of the state’s total votes, Muslims form 18%. Dalits, who constitute about 21% of the state’s population, are the main vote bank of the BSP. Hence, combined together, the SP-BSP combination (Yadavs + Muslims + Dalits) constitutes about 54% of the state’s population.

In the by-polls, it was this arithmetic that helped the SP-BSP partnership score victories in Gorakhpur and Phulpur.

However, 2019 will be an electoral battle, fought on national issues — and in UP, a large section of the OBCs had preferred the BJP over others in the 2017 Assembly polls. That trend should continue. Also, in the Lok Sabha, it will be a vote for the excellent work done by PM Modi, whereas state polls and by-polls have a completely different context to them.

While the opposition parties won the by-polls, BJP won the Assembly elections in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Tripura, and was also the single-largest party in Karnataka. In fact, in Karnataka, the BJP increased its vote share by a massive 16.3% to 36.34%, becoming the single-largest party with 104 seats — versus the 40 it got in 2012.

The Congress, with 38.14% vote share, in contrast, saw its tally reducing drastically from 122 seats in 2012 to just 80 in 2018, despite attempting to divide voters on religious and communal lines by trying to create a wedge between Lingayats and Veerashaivas, while its shaky coalition partner, the JD(S), saw its tally coming down from 40 to 37, with vote share too reducing by 1.9% to 18.3%.

That the Congress-JD(S) combine is an unholy alliance only to keep the BJP out is no secret, and it is only a matter of time before former CM Siddaramaiah’s apparent greed for power gets the better of him in toppling Kumaraswamy’s fragile government. That Siddaramaiah lost the Chamundeshwari seat speaks poorly of the Congress track record in the state.

It would be fair to say that, in effect, in bigger elections, where larger and more complex factors are at play, the grand alliance has always failed to deliver.

Ironically, the Congress candidates even forfeited their deposits in Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-polls. The Congress did not win a single by-poll, even in Bihar, where elections were held for one Lok Sabha and two Assembly seats in 2018.

congress-690_051719012148.jpgWaving goodbye? Congress candidates lost their deposits in Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-polls. (Photo: Reuters)

Even if the opposition unites, it will collapse under its own weight post-elections — and therefore, grand alliances are simply a waste of time and political space as these experiments have failed repeatedly in the Indian context. Also, joining a coalition under the leadership of any other party or leader may not be acceptable to the Congress, given Rahul Gandhi’s prime ministerial ambitions. This is likely to jeopardise the efforts of the opposition to come under one umbrella against the BJP. That Rahul Gandhi’s ambitions for the top office in this country are hopelessly misplaced is another story altogether.

Also, from 1995 to 2017, for about 22 years, the BSP and the SP have remained sworn political adversaries, taking turns at assuming office in Lucknow. Hence, it is highly unlikely that the two parties will bury the hatchet to form an anti-Modi coalition for too long. This alliance of opportunism is transient and comes with a very short expiry date. Congress, which was reduced to a sorry seven seats in the UP Assembly polls, has little say in the state of UP and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is in any case a classic example of too little, too late.

With Uttar Pradesh clearly out of the reach of any grand alliance, the BJP’s chances of repeating the stellar 2014 Lok Sabha performance are very bright.

True, while caste equations and political arithmetic are undoubtedly important, eventually, in any election, more so a General Election, the vote is, above everything else, for good governance, political stability and a national leader who invokes confidence and a sense of well-being — all of which Rahul Gandhi does not, and Narendra Modi does. That is where the BJP scores, as it has the best of both — the strategic genius of Amit Shah and the phenomenal track record of Narendra Modi in the last five years, who, as the Pradhan Sevak, has delivered on every development metric, cutting across caste lines and ideological alignments, to ensure that 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas' is a reality every Indian can be proud of.

Sections of a left-leaning media that has been quick to write the obituary of the BJP post-losses in the state assembly elections in December 2018 has got it completely wrong.

In Rajasthan, for instance, the BJP, which swept the 2013 Assembly polls with a vote share of 46.05% and 163 of the 200 seats, saw a 7.25% dip in vote share in 2018, with its tally down to 73 and a vote share of 38.8%.

Congress, in 2013, had secured a far lower 33.71% vote share and had only 21 seats to show for it. In 2018 again, the Congress vote share at 39.3% was just 0.5 per cent more than that of the BJP. What this means is that when the BJP won Rajasthan in 2013, it won with a handsome majority in a clean sweep, but when the Congress won in 2018, it was a very tight contest, with the Congress barely managing to reach the finishing line to be able to form the government. Even a two per cent higher vote share for the BJP would have meant a clean sweep by the party in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Again, in Madhya Pradesh, after being in power for 15 long years, the BJP still got 109 seats — only 5 less than the Congress — but secured 41% vote share, 0.1 per cent higher than the Congress. The Madhya Pradesh elections should have been a clean sweep for Rahul Gandhi and his party, had there been any truth to the concocted agrarian distress stories which were recklessly promoted by the Congress cabal. The BJP, in fact, won 7 out of the eight seats in Mandsaur, the epicentre of the agrarian belt in Madhya Pradesh. Also, overall, BJP won almost 49,000 votes more than the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and in Rajasthan, it polled 1.35 crore votes overall — just a notch below the 1.37 crore polled by the Congress, despite the anti-incumbency against the erstwhile Raje government. That clearly established the fact that, firstly, there is no Congress resurgence or Rahul wave. Secondly, the Modi magic is completely intact and Narendra Modi remains the most powerful and popular leader by miles, with no challenger in the foreseeable future.

magic-690_051719012404.jpgThe Modi magic is completely intact across India — and will translate into a massive 2019 BJP victory. (Photo: PTI)

Coming back to the so-called 'grand alliances', the fact that they are doomed — more so when Congress is at the helm — is best demonstrated by the recent debacle of the Mahakutami, an alliance of the Congress, CPM, Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS) and TDP in Telangana, which faced a complete rout in the state in the December 2018 Assembly polls, with the Congress getting only 19 seats in the 119 member strong assembly. Just days before the results were announced, the Congress was confident of winning 75 seats and was looking at a truck with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) — which itself was reduced to barely 7 seats.

Those predicting a revival for the Congress in 2019, from its embarrassing score of 44 in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, are in for a rude jolt. Between 1996 and 2004, in every General Election, the Congress, on average, has won just between 135-145 seats and never crossed the 145 mark. In 2009, it did win 206 seats — but that was due to the 59 seats it got from Uttar Pradesh and an undivided Andhra Pradesh. In 2014, the tally of 59 from these two states however came down to a lowly four seats, and given the pathetic performance of managing just seven seats in the UP Assembly polls in 2017 and being routed in Telangana (carved out of the erstwhile undivided Andhra Pradesh) too, the Congress has simply no chance of coming anywhere close to its tally of 145 in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls — much less a score of 206, which it got in 2009.

After a clinical and objective analysis of the road to 2019, it is a no-brainer, therefore, that the BJP-led NDA is slated to come back to power with a stupendous 300-plus seats on the back of remarkable economic reforms carried out by the Modi dispensation, which have transformed the lives of every strata of society. This is backed by the indefatigable genius of Amit Shah, who has truly transformed the face of electoral politics in India — with a precision that is both enviable and commendable.

Also read: Anurag Thakur: BJP, unlike Congress, does not believe in pushing one face, one family. But NaMo represents welfare to countless many

Writer

Sanju Verma Sanju Verma @sanju_verma_

Author is an economist and chief spokesperson for BJP Mumbai.

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