If the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is a one-man army leading his party’s in-your-face, aggressive and expensive blitzkrieg for the 2014 general election, his most trusted lieutenant Amit Shah finds himself battling two FIRs and Election Commission notice for his alleged hate speech in western Uttar Pradesh.
Is there a method in the madness of wily Shah? Senior party leaders see it as a well-crafted poll strategy. While Mr. Modi would seek votes on the plank of development, security and good governance, Amit Shah would keep the hardline Hindutva plank alive by invoking epithets like Hindu pride, injustice and revenge.
The shrewd political strategist that he is, Mr. Shah knows that his hard-line rhetoric would help BJP consolidate its vote in an already surcharged election season in the State. The former Gujarat Home Minister has deliberately been handpicked by Mr. Modi to tailor the party’s electoral strategy in a State which accounts for 80 seats in the Lok Sabha. Uttar Pradesh is key to Mr. Modi’s mission of 272 plus seats to put a BJP-led NDA government in the saddle after May 16.
Dubbed a modern-day Chanakya and master strategist, Mr. Shah’s rapidly growing influence and stature in the party has catapulted him to the top echelons of the party. His influence can be gauged by the fact that the party’s top brass sprung into action to defend him within hours of the two FIRs being registered against him and a reply to the notice was also quickly sent to the Election Commission. A low-profile Gujarat State leader of the party in 1997, Mr. Shah won an Assembly by-election against all odds and kept away from limelight.
“He has been a humble, soft-spoken person who has firmly kept his feet on the ground. Though he is not a good orator, he is a good organiser and does not get drawn into power-play,” a party functionary said in Ahmedabad. He was handpicked by Mr. Modi who started imparting the skills of micro-management of political and electoral affairs. Party insiders say that Mr. Shah quietly worked in the cooperative sector in Gujarat and began establishing the BJP’s presence there. His arrest in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case resulted in temporary halt to his political career but relief came in the form of bail from the Supreme Court though with some riders.
His guru Narendra Bhai’s brilliant “event management” and organisational skills were acknowledged by the BJP patriarch L. K. Advani himself last week at the time of his filing his nomination papers from Gandhinagar. Mr. Modi groomed his protégé on the same lines and stationed him in U.P. last year, recognising that the road from Ahmedabad’s “Dilli Darwaza” to the national Capital’s “Dilli Durbar” passes through Lucknow.
Party leaders point out that some of the hard and controversial decisions in U.P. were taken by the BJP top brass on the basis of Mr. Shah’s key inputs — be it shifting of party veteran Murli Manohar Joshi from Varanasi to Kanpur, making Lalji Tandon vacate his Lucknow seat for party chief Rajnath Singh and sending Kalraj Mishra to Deoria in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Charting out Mr. Modi’s meetings and rallies in U.P. to working out booth-level strategy in the State, it was Mr. Shah who decided to take up the issue of Mr. Modi’s flight delay in Delhi and Bareilly with the Election Commission. Party leaders say that his electoral management skills were in full play in the past two Gujarat Assembly elections.
He was also campaign in-charge of Mr. Advani’s Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency in 2009.
Illustration: J.A. Premkumar