As expected, Amit Shah was elected BJP president unopposed Sunday for a full term. But L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, two former party presidents who are now members of its Margdarshak Mandal, stayed away from the colourful ceremony attended by central ministers, chief ministers of BJP-ruled states and party office-bearers.
Sources claimed Advani and Joshi, who were always present whenever the party elected a new president, were not informed about the programme at the BJP headquarters. But others in the party said Shah would be meeting Advani, Joshi and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to “seek their blessings”.
Along with Yashwant Sinha and Shanta Kumar, Advani and Joshi stunned the BJP leadership on Diwali eve when they issued a statement targeting Shah and his team for the party’s rout in Bihar.
The BJP, the veteran leaders said, was being “forced to kowtow to a handful”, that its “consensual character” had been “destroyed” and it had been “emasculated” in the last year.
Although the BJP leadership said there would be more discussion in the party before decision-making and that members of the Margdarshak Mandal would be consulted, no meeting or talks have been held so far. A BJP leader, considered close to the veterans, said the party’s reluctance to invite them for the Sunday ceremony showed “there is not likely to be any change in Shah’s style of functioning”.
Incidentally, the Margdarshak Mandal, formed after the 2014 Lok Sabha victory, has never met. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh are its other members.
Shah’s predecessors Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, M Venkaiah Naidu — they are all Union Ministers now — were the first to greet him after his election for a three-year term was announced. Narendra Modi, chief ministers of BJP-ruled states and the party parliamentary board proposed 51-year-old Shah’s name for the post. Avinash Rai Khanna, the chief electoral officer, said 17 nominations were filed for Shah.
Modi, who was not present on the occasion since he was in Chandigarh with French President Francois Hollande, will attend the parliamentary board meeting likely to be held on January 28. Within minutes of the announcement, Modi tweeted: “Congratulations to Shri @AmitShah on being elected BJP president. I am confident the Party will scale newer heights under his leadership… Amit Bhai combines grassroot-level work & rich organisational experience which will benefit the Party immensely.”
Party workers, who had arrived from different parts of Delhi and other states, distributed sweets, burst crackers and danced to drum beats at the BJP headquarters which had been decorated with party flags, saffron cloth and fresh flowers. A group of children dressed in saffron robes blew conch shells as the nominations were filed.
Senior leaders showered praise on Shah. “He is the most capable person and a good strategist. He has organisational ability. Under his leadership, we have recorded notable victories,” Naidu said.
Rajnath Singh said: “There was only one nomination and that was of Amit Shah. I believe the reason behind it was the unanimous decision of party members. I congratulate him and I have full faith that the party will perform tremendously under his leadership.”
Criticised after the BJP’s rout in Delhi and Bihar, Shah has a tough time ahead. The biggest challenge will be Uttar Pradesh where assembly elections are due next year. “Among the states where elections will be held this year, the party has hopes of government formation only in Assam. But whatever gains we make in the other states — West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu — will be his achievement,” a party general secretary said.
According to another party leader, Shah has to successfully complete the “modernisation” of the party. “He has to take it forward. He has extended the ideologisation programme, part of the membership campaign, to train 16 lakh people for party work. His concept is to create an ideology-centric party with members who are not power hungry,” the leader said, adding that he also has to ensure there is “perfect coordination between the party, government and the Sangh”.
2015 ended on a happy note though for Shah. On December 30, a special CBI court in Mumbai discharged him from the alleged fake encounter killing cases of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kauser Bi, and Tulsiram Prajapati. The cases were clubbed and transferred from an Ahmedabad court to the Mumbai court in 2012 following a Supreme Court order. There is no appeal pending against him in these cases.