He’s set to be announced as Rajnath Singh’s successor as president of the Bharatiya Janata Party at a time when the party looks more buoyant than it has for many years now. Here’s all you need to know about the Amit Shah.
Amit Shah burst on to the electoral scene in Gujarat with an unexpected win from the Sarkhej Assembly seat in Gujarat in 1997, but he had been rising steadily through the ranks for several years.
The rise inside the BJP
Born in Mumbai in 1964 to a business family from Gujarat, Shah joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as a youngster. Shah was in college in Ahmedabad when he met Narendra Modi around 1982, then a promising young RSS pracharak.
Already associated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (BJP’s youth wing), he joined the BJP in 1986, a year before Narendra Modi. Shah worked in various organisational capacities before he got the ticket for the Sarkhej Assembly by-election in 1997. Shah’s first assignments in the BJP were as an activist with the BJP’s youth wing, the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) in 1987. He rose gradually to hold posts including ward secretary, taluka secretary, state secretary, vice-president, and general secretary in the BYJM.
He won the seat from Sarkhej in 1997 and continued to represent it for three more terms before shifting to Naranpura in 2012. These three terms included a huge victory in the post-Godhra election 0f 2002. Modi won his first election that year, but it was Shah’s margin of over 1,50,000 votes that stole the show for the state BJP. In 2007, Shah would retain Sarkhej with an even bigger margin.
The Modi-Shah ‘dream team’
The Modi-Shah partnership matured in the 1990s. In 1995, after Keshubhai Patel became chief minister, the BJP had its best ever opportunity to wipe out the Congress in Gujarat. From isolating political rivals within the BJP to luring rivals from other parties and especially the Congress, from using local industrial associations to cooperative institutions, Modi and Shah both made huge contributions to the growth of the BJP in the western state.
Keshubhai appointed Shah as chairman of the Gujarat State Financial Corporation (GSFC), allegedly at the behest of Modi who was then the chief minister’s closest ally in the party. The GSFC is considerably powerful among local industries, and Shah was able to leverage his skills as an organiser, strategist, fund-raiser and more during this period.
Years later, Modi would go on to serve as chief minister of Gujarat, keeping the post for over 12 years. During this period, Shah handled as many as 10 departments as minister at different times, including the all-important home department. Shah has managed portfolios including Prisons, Law and Justice, Civil Defence, Excise, Prohibition, Home Guards, Police Housing, Transport, Gram Rakshak Dal and Legislative Affairs.
The modern-day Chanakya
Keeping a low profile wherever possible, he has been called a modern-day Chanakya and master strategist, but the soft-spoken man is also known to answer calls from party workers himself and engage in long conversations to resolve any issues.
The BJP’s unprecedented victory in UP — 73 seats out of 80 — may have been partly due to skilled caste calculations, candidate selection, the Modi wave, the tireless campaigning and more, but a large contribution to the win was also the average party worker’s enthusiasm. In one media interview, a senior BJP leader in the state was quoted as saying he had not seen such a buoyant cadre since the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. At least one reason for this enthusiasm is Shah who is known to be accessible to party workers and cadre. In the nearly 11 months he spent in Uttar Pradesh as state in-charge ahead of the general elections, Shah is believed to have personally met large numbers of leaders from every district.
The Uttar Pradesh campaign was Shah’s trial by fire. From having to assuage the egos of senior party leaders denied tickets to travelling across the length and breadth of the state, Shah hit the ground running ever since he took charge on 12 June 2013. He devised strategies – including the booth-level management that reaped rich rewards — that will certainly become fodder for academic research and political imitators alike. Thousands of committed activists were assigned one polling booth each, and were assigned the responsibility of reaching out to each and every voter whose name featured in the electoral roll for that booth. In most areas, workers were exhorted to meet each voter not once, but repeatedly.
That kind of micro-management was not his only strategy. Even in February 2012, when Shah travelled through UP during the state’s Assembly elections, he had reportedly begun to target specific socio-economic groups who could be lured away from Akhilesh and Mayawati. Caste calculations would play a significant role in strategy and in candidate selection. Even in the mid-1990s, while Modi and Shah set about the task of seizing control of organisations such as the cooperatives and the industrial associations, Shah was known to have an unusual understanding of caste considerations.
Amit Shah the accused
Shah will be the first BJP president to have serious criminal cases pending against him, including in the trial stage. While he is an accused in the alleged extra-judicial killings of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife and key witness in that case Tulsiram Prajapati, he was exonerated in the Ishrat Jahan case. He was also embroiled in controversy in 2013 when reports emerged of the government snooping on a woman architect at the behest of ‘saheb’. Former Dy DGP DG Vanzara’s recorded comments about the involvement of kaali daadhi and safed daadhi (the Gujarat Crime Branch’s codenames for the then chief minister and the then home minister of the state) in the killing of Ishrat raked up a huge controversy too.
Shah has dismissed these charges as a political conspiracy, claiming that the UPA was using the CBI for politically motivated investigations.
Shah’s past came back into headlines when the Modi government blocked the nomination of former Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium to the Supreme Court. Subramanium alleged that the government’s action was motivated by his role as amicus curiae in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case.
PM Modi’s real no. 2
It was always amply clear who was going to be the second most powerful person in the country once Narendra Modi is sworn in as prime minister. This was apparent even during the Lok Sabha election campaign, long before Shah’s name was tossed about as the likely successor to Rajnath Singh. The Jaitley-Rajnath-Gadkari troika pale in significance in comparison to the years of mutual trust and partnership that the prime minister and his once deputy in Gujarat have forged over the decades. In that sense, what post Shah holds — before news emerged that he was in the reckoning for the party president’s post, it was widely rumoured that he may contest the by-election from the Vadodara Lok Sabha seat that Modi gave up — is of little consequence. Shah would have remained Modi’s closest confidante regardless of whether he was given a Cabinet berth or a Parliament seat or a big party post.
Modi trusts Shah implicitly, and more than anybody else. The idea of Modi contesting from Uttar Pradesh began to be bandied about as early as late-2012 and in June 2013, barely days after Modi was declared the leader of the BJP’s 2014 campaign, Shah was despatched to Uttar Pradesh, the state that everybody knew would be the foundation of a future BJP victory. It would be another three months before Modi was declared PM-candidate, and another six months before it became absolutely certain that the PM candidate would himself contest from UP. Nevertheless, Uttar Pradesh with its 80 seats was always going to be the biggest challenge for the BJP. With such high stakes, the fact that Shah was entrusted with UP was early confirmation of Modi’s choice of lieutenant-in-chief.
It all but inevitable that he will be the man in charge of the next BJP grand plan: total domination in strongholds, and steady expansion in areas where the party has only a marginal presence. There are Assembly elections coming up in critical states including Haryana, Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir and Maharashtra and there is widespread agreement within the party and in the RSS that Shah is the best man for the job.
With his elevation now as party president, Shah’s first priority will be the Assembly polls in Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Haryana, Maharashtra and Delhi. There are also bypolls to a dozen Assembly seats in UP, as well as to the Lok Sbaha seats vacated by Modi (Vadodara) and Mulayam Singh (Mainpuri). Those who know Shah believe he will look for a clean sweep. He is expected to announce a new team with three general secretaries leaving for government duty — Ananth Kumar, Dharmendra Pradhan and Thawarchand Gehlot. Two spokespersons, Nirmala Sitharaman and Prakash Javadekar, have also to be replaced as they have joined the government.