With the elevation of Amit Shah as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s grip is complete on both government and party. Two Gujaratis now control India’s biggest political party. This brings to mind the time, a century ago, when two other powerful Gujaratis, Gandhi and Jinnah, guided India’s then biggest political party.
Reports say Shah is being rewarded for delivering 71 out of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh (UP), but I disagree and I will explain why later.
Before the elections, Shah was Modi’s former minister of state for home in Gujarat, a portfolio he held for about a decade. During this time, he was charged in a case where a man, Sohrabuddin Shaikh, was wrongly accused of terrorism and murdered. His wife Kauser and a witness, Tulsiram Prajapaty, were also both murdered. All of this was done, according to their confessions, by the Gujarat police under Shah, and the case is currently being tried by a court.
Despite the charges, Shah was appointed BJP president by his party’s 13-member parliamentary board, which includes LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi, who are opposed to Modi’s accumulation of power, but today are powerless themselves.
The outgoing president, India’s home minister, Rajnath Singh, said Shah had Advani’s ashirwad (blessings). That is all the power that Modi has allowed Advani — giving ashirwad to and applauding Modi’s actions. One television show I was on after the appointment, described Shah as a “political mastermind” and “organisational genius”. This, I think, was stretching it a bit.
Modi himself has not credited Shah with the success in UP, and nor is he likely to. The prime minister is not the sort of man who shares credit. In this case, I think he is justified. It was a huge Modi wave that swept through North and West India. In UP, the party performed exceptionally and posted historic gains. But it also performed exceptionally and posted historic gains in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. In the first two states named, the BJP took every single seat. If Shah’s genius is to explain Modi’s success in UP, then we must look for local factors in the others also.
When we look at Amit Shah’s record in governance, these qualities of genius are not immediately visible.
If there is one blemish on Modi’s record as chief minister, it is Shah’s running of the home ministry. Even Modi’s most devoted fan will admit that things did not work out well here. I am not talking about the things that secularists usually complain about, which is the mismanagement of the riots (which happened before Shah took charge), the failure to properly investigate and prosecute those who did such damage to fellow Gujaratis. Or things like the persecution of honest police officers, who tried to stop the violence. I mean things like an anti-terror chief, who is himself in jail for murder. And the arrest and prosecution of several top-level officers for mischief under Shah’s nose. Those who are cruel will also point out that Shah could not even snoop on a young girl competently without getting caught.
So, while he may be good at some things, to think of him (or to believe Modi thinks of him) as a brilliant manager is not quite right. Shah is where he is for one reason alone: his loyalty to Modi.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is enthusiastic about Modi’s project of a new India and the direction of the government. The RSS’s brightest young star, Ram Madhav, an engineer by training and its most visible face, has joined the BJP.
Advani used to call the BJP “party with a difference”. One of the differences was that it was not a party of chamchas, like the Congress. Indira, Rajiv and Sonia all had chamchas, or sycophants, around them in posts of power and influence. These people only held ministries because of their proximity to the leader.
In the BJP, it was different. But perhaps, no longer. Modi was parachuted into the Gujarat chief minister’s post in 2001 because the party was divided. One faction was called Hajuriya, meaning those who do ‘ji huzoor’ all the time. It seems that the Hajuriyas have now taken over the party in Delhi.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2014.
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