New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s powerful national president Amit Shah finally made his transition from party politics to an active role in government, being sworn in as a cabinet minister Thursday in a glitzy ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
After Narendra Modi was sworn in as prime minister for the second term, Shah, his confidant of decades, was the third person to take oath, behind senior BJP leader Rajnath Singh.
Shah, known to be powerful, razor-sharp and cut-throat ambitious, has had a dizzy rise in Indian politics, but not without a generous share of controversies.
He made his national electoral debut in this election, contesting and winning the Gandhinagar seat. He had joined the BJP in 1986, a year before Modi.
While Modi, technically his junior, may have surged past him to first become the chief minister of Gujarat and then PM, there is little doubt Shah has emerged as the second-most powerful person in the party, its chief strategist and one that even a leader as popular as the PM needs to have on his side.
Backbone of the BJP
If Modi is the face of the BJP, Shah is the backbone. Having led the party as president since 2014, and through some of its sharpest electoral victories, he has made himself fairly indispensable to this avatar of the BJP.
The controversial leader is known for his no-qualms, often even crude, brand of politics, and crafty manoeuvres.
Shah’s power is evident from the fact that it was his phone calls that informed restive party leaders about their inclusion in the cabinet.
A party man through and through
Like most others in the party who have risen to top positions, Shah, 54, also began his political journey being involved with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — the BJP’s ideological parent.
Part of the RSS’ student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), he joined the BJP in 1986 and was soon handling L.K. Advani’s campaign in Gandhinagar. Advani was then among the top leaders of the party.
In the 1990s, Modi and Shah together engineered the BJP’s sharp rise in Gujarat, following a combined strategy of building a strong ground leader base, expanding the party’s presence to rural areas and slowly taking control of the powerful milk cooperatives.
Along with Modi, Shah’s rise was also inevitable. He went on to become the home minister of Gujarat, later expanding into a national role when he became the BJP’s youngest president, and perhaps its most astute election brain.
In fact, his nomination as Gandhinagar candidate, a seat represented by BJP veterans like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani, was symbolic of the passing of the baton.
A controversial leader
Shah’s political innings has been a potent cocktail of a steady rise through the ranks, electoral success, and a whole bunch of controversies and legal entanglements.
From allegations of orchestrating extra-judicial killings to accusations of harassing police officials and snooping on a young woman during his tenure as Gujarat home minister, the list is fairly long.
The leader from Gujarat has even served time in jail, in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh alleged fake encounter case, when was charged with murder, abduction and extortion and arrested in July 2010. He got bail from the Gujarat High Court three months later, but was exiled from Gujarat for two years with the CBI expressing apprehension that he would influence witnesses.
He was absolved of all charges in December 2014.
The ‘Snoopgate’ scandal and his treatment of police officials as Gujarat home minister have added to Shah’s dubious past.
While these may have added as speedbreakers, Shah and his political career seem to have emerged fairly unscathed.
Amit Shah’s politics is brazen, aggressive and the kind that would perhaps stop at nothing.
Thus, he refers to illegal immigrants as “termites” and claims they would be “thrown into the Bay of Bengal”. He is happy defying courts on issues that he feels can benefit his party — from Ayodhya to Sabarimala and the National Register of Citizens. And he has no qualms likening Wayanad in Kerala to Pakistan.