What is Amit Shah’s biggest contribution to the Bharatiya Janata Party? This question is going to be debated for days and weeks to come as he steps down as BJP president in a few hours. There are bound to be many answers.
To me, his biggest contribution to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and also to Indian politics, is his attack, though launched unwittingly or inadvertently, against political hypocrisy. Let me start with an example. Can you think of any BJP president who would publicly describe the BJP as the “political arm” of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)? The Sangh has always maintained it has “no connection with politics”. But Shah chose to put the record straight on his own website. It gives details of how it was during his days in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) in 1980s “that BJP emerged as the political arm of RSS…”.
Shah is known to call a spade a spade. Did you ever hear him describe the BJP as “the party with a difference”, something his predecessors would do with so much aplomb? No, to him, gaining power was the be-all and end-all of politics, and he spent every moment of his five-and-a-half years in the BJP president’s office in that single pursuit. If it involved using the government at the Centre to dismiss elected governments in states or using central investigation agencies, so be it. If it involved wholesale trading of opposition leaders—say, in Arunachal Pradesh where Pema Khandu crossed over with 33 MLAs to form a BJP government—or to artificially create a ‘pro-BJP wave’ to swing fence-sitting voters, so be it.
Exposing the ‘secular’ brigade
Everything is fair in love and war, as they say. For Amit Shah, politics is like a war in which he takes no prisoners. Not that his predecessors didn’t do it because they thought the BJP was a party with a difference. Not because they didn’t want to stoop to the level that the Congress did to attain or retain power. Nah, Amit Shah’s predecessors simply couldn’t. They lacked his guts, gumption and chutzpah.
There was a time when then BJP chief Venkaiah Naidu had to sack D.P. Yadav from the party because of his criminal past. But Shah had no qualms sharing the stage with Yadav at public meetings in Haryana in 2014.
Assam Congressman Himanta Biswa Sarma, once accused of corruption by the BJP, would soon become Shah’s trusted lieutenant in the northeast.
Leaders of the Congress and other traditional opposition parties were shocked by the sheer audacity of Shah’s moves. They weren’t expecting him to abandon what they and the BJP leaders of yore considered virtues of morality and probity in public life. Here was a man who was ready to match their guile with guile, and sin with sin, in power games.
Congress members cried in anger—and in helplessness— accusing Shah of unveiling a “communal agenda”. But they wouldn’t come out in support of the Muslims. Shah’s aggressive and unapologetic Hindutva has taken a toll on them and the so-called ‘secular’ brigade.
When Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad joined Muslims at Delhi’s Jama Masjid to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, these ‘secular’ parties gnashed in anger, frustration and helplessness. They couldn’t join Azad, however much Shah would like them to.
Azad was trying to emerge as a new claimant of Muslim votes and the secular camp had to be upset. When Priyanka Gandhi Vadra visited the homes of the victims of police brutality during anti-CAA protests in Uttar Pradesh, she was accompanied by tika-wearing Brahmins. Have you seen any prominent politicians showing up at the Shaheen Bagh protest? Amit Shah must be credited for exposing the hypocrisy of this ‘secular’ brigade, which is confused about whether to wear a tika or a skull cap. The more they hate Shah for their dilemma, the more he loves it. Check out his website. It proudly displays critical news clippings that a normal politician would tear apart.
From juggernaut to paper tigers
Shah has also “Congress-ised” the BJP — high command culture, undermining of mass leaders — check with former chief ministers Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Chouhan and Raman Singh — promoting mediocre Delhi darbar people, culture of sycophancy, lack of internal democracy, premium on loyalty to The Leader and not to the party, you name it. But, is anyone complaining?
It’s beyond the scope of this article to cover the whole gamut of Shah’s contributions to the BJP, but an analysis of his tenure can’t be complete without dealing with the elephant in the room.
If you were to google ‘Chanakya + Amit Shah’, you would get over 6,00,000 results. So much has been the debate on his ‘genius’ as a political strategist. But if we call him Chanakya, who is Chandragupta— Prime Minister Narendra Modi? Does Modi owe it all to Shah who he had declared the ‘Man of the Match’ of 2014 Lok Sabha election?
In 2014, when the BJP came to power at the Centre, ‘Modi wave’ was seen as a decisive factor and so was the strong anti-incumbency sentiment against the Manmohan Singh government. Shah’s ‘genius’ as an election strategist became a kind of folklore as the BJP started winning one assembly election after another—taking the tally of BJP-ruled states from seven in May 2014 to 21 in mid-2018.
The BJP under Shah was seen as a juggernaut. Although reports from the ground clearly indicated that it was the continuing ‘Modi wave’—people’s desire to give the PM a mandate in states to rule through his political regents—Shah got the credit for making the BJP an indomitable fighting machine.
With the BJP losing five states in the past one year, the aura of invincibility around Shah as the master strategist is coming unstuck, with much-hyped booth-level workers and panna pramukhs also proving to be paper tigers.
Amit Shah was also credited for changing the BJP’s image as a Brahmin-Baniya party by co-opting a sizeable chunk of OBCs and Dalits through various alliances; the assembly elections have seen most of those newcomers vanish. Modi’s popularity, as the 2019 Lok Sabha election showed, hasn’t dwindled, but the BJP’s has.
Modi has evidently been the X-factor in the BJP’s march to glory. When the history of modern Indian politics is written, it would be Chandragupta who would be credited for making Chanakya what he became.