BJP president Amit Shah completes his three years in office tomorrow, a period that saw the party rapidly expand its base and clinch states like Goa, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh through some astute political manoeuvres despite lacking majority. Seen as a master strategist and workaholic, the BJP leader is considered Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alter ego, and the two have together given the saffron party political sinews it could hardly even imagine before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
A blend of Modi’s mass appeal and Shah’s organisational skills and sagacity has resulted in BJP having 13 states under its belt and it is in power in five more with alliance partners.
Under Shah’s watch, the BJP and its allies won a thumping victory in Uttar Pradesh, pocketing 73 of the state’s 80 Lok Sabha seats. The wily Gujarat leader, a five-term MLA, was then in-charge of the BJP’s campaign in the key cow belt state. “There’s no question mark on his performance. I don’t see any challenge to the BJP till 2019 if nothing dramatic happens,” said Sanjay Kumar, director of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). He termed Shah’s three-year tenure as “superb” and pointed out that under him the BJP has been able to form governments in states even where it lost.
As the 52-year-old leader from Gujarat begins his fourth year at the helm of the party’s affairs, he is also set to make his debut in Parliament as a Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat. Shah was appointed the party chief in July 2014 following the induction of his predecessor Rajnath Singh into the Modi cabinet but the BJP’s national council ratified the decision on August 9 that year.
If growing public support for a party is a measure of its chief’s popularity, Shah is the most successful BJP president. Party leaders are quick to point out that under him the BJP has not only won most elections it contested, it also saw its vote percentage rise even in the polls it lost, like in Bihar.
Barring Bihar and Delhi, where it had to eat a humble pie, the BJP juggernaut rolled on as it formed its maiden governments in Assam, Haryana and Jammu and Kashmir. Under Shah, the BJP jettisoned its oldest saffron ally the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and contested Assembly polls on its own, emerging as the single largest party. The two parties are again together now, both in the state and at the Centre.
BJP sources, however, cite the party’s win with unprecedented margin in Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections this year as probably his biggest electoral achievement. Coming as it did in the wake of the demonetisation exercise, which was used by opposition parties to corner the central government, the victory put to rest any doubt over Modi’s charisma waning and brought the BJP to power in India’s politically most important state after a gap of 15 years, they said.
“The party has expanded in all parts of the country. Shah has worked to live the vision of Jana Sangh (earlier incarnation of the BJP) founders like Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Deen Dayal Upadhyay who wanted the party be a ‘party of all Indians’,” a leader said.
In states like Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and Manipur, the BJP has tasted power for the first time. In Goa, where it finished second after Congress, Shah despatched Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, a canny practitioner of realpolitik, to cobble together a majority and form a government with smaller parties. In Arunachal Pradesh, the party under Shah engineered mass defection by 33 of the 43 MLAs of People’s Party of Arunachal Pradesh, and formed its own government. The party also notched more than ever vote share in local bodies polls in Odisha, Kerala and West Bengal, states which Shah has marked out as it as the next potential growth regions for the party during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Shah has put in place a well-oiled mechanism that ensures the government and the party work in sync. He has used the party apparatus to create awareness about various programmes of the Modi government including ‘beti bachai beti padhao’, ‘namami gange’, ‘ujjwala yojna’ and the one for crop insurance to tackle agrarian unrest.
The BJP also claims to have become the largest political party in the world under him by enrolling over 11 crore members. They credit his decision to meet the common man and the party’s office bearers on the first and third Monday of every month, and efforts to communicate directly with functionaries across states among reasons for enhanced cohesion in the organisaiton. “If the party president is himself undertaking a nation-wide tour of 110 days, pasting posters on walls and interacting with workers and common voters at the booth-level, then it energises the entire organisation,” a senior party leader said.
On an average, Shah has travelled 541 km daily as he held rallies and other programmes in virtually all parts of the country, he said. With the BJP set to face coming elections, including the next Lok Sabha poll, under him, Shah has announced that the party’s golden era will arrive when it rules across the country from “panchayat to Parliament”.
Under him, the BJP, once considered a ‘Brahmin-Baniya’ party, has reached out to the backward classes and dalits, a strategy that paid rich dividends in the UP Assembly elections.