New Delhi: Batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar had a tip for opener Yashasvi Jaiswal: “Every bowler will give you a clue about what he’s going to bowl next. You have to concentrate and catch that clue.” The 18-year-old went on to become the leading scorer in the just-concluded Under-19 Cricket World Cup.
Most politicians in India didn’t have a Tendulkar to give them tips when Home Minister Amit Shah started his bodyline bowling at them, mixing aggressive nationalism and Hindu-Muslim narrative with Narendra Modi’s development pitch — and personality cult, of course.
On Tuesday, though, Shah looked like a shadow of himself as yet another opponent demolished his famed bowling. He had much at stake in this innings. His reputation as an organisation leader and master electoral strategist had taken some beating in the past year in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Jharkhand assembly elections.
Even though Shah had technically handed over the reins of the BJP to J.P. Nadda last month, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in Delhi could have salvaged his reputation. It would have been his last hurrah. It would have proved that Shah had the ability to deliver results for the party even if people had started voting differently in the Lok Sabha elections (read, for Modi) and in the assembly elections.
Delhi election was also important because it was the first time Shah was the chief campaigner, with Modi in supporting role. The home minister addressed close to 50 big and small meetings in the run-up to the elections and directly supervised the poll preparations, with Nadda acting like his under-study.
The issues that the BJP was contesting on were also directly associated with the home minister, especially the nullification of Article 370 and the Shaheen Bagh protests against Citizenship Amendment Act. Shah was already being hailed by party colleagues for fulfilling Sardar Patel’s dream of one united nation.
A win in Delhi could have proved Shah’s mettle as the true successor of the incumbent captain, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who could singlehandedly demolish the opposition. Delhi election in 2020 was to Shah what 2002 Gujarat assembly election was to Modi. The latter emerged as a mass leader then and went on to become the Prime Minister in 2014.
Shah’s lack of variation
So, what went wrong in Delhi? The problem was that Shah was maintaining the same line and length without any variation in his bowling election after election — hyper-nationalism, Hindu-Muslim binary and opposition-bashing for its projected minoritarianism and lack of patriotism.
Batsmen like Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav, who were made captains of their teams even without having played first-class cricket, were unaware of the changed power play rule under the Modi-Shah regime, which did away with field restrictions. These batsmen sought to match Shah’s well-calculated belligerence with mindless aggression and went for the hook shots, only to get caught on the boundary or end up in a political infirmary with bruised noses.
The first batsman to ‘catch the clue’ in Amit Shah’s bowling was Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who successfully ducked to avoid his short-pitched deliveries by sticking to his local governance agenda and steered his party to victory in assembly and parliamentary elections in 2014 and 2019.
But most others couldn’t (care to) understand Odisha CM’s counter-strategy until Prashant Kishor defected from the BJP camp to build on Patnaik’s model and help regional leaders such as Capt Amarinder Singh in Punjab, Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and, finally, Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi.
As Shah’s bowling lost all surprise elements, it was only a matter of time that other politicians would see through it. Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra, Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Haryana, Bhupesh Baghel in Chhattisgarh, Kamal Nath in Madhyaa Pradesh and Hemant Soren in Jharkhand did exactly that. And now Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi.
So, where does Amit Shah go from here? He had had a tremendous run in politics for five years since 2013 when he had taken the party to its peak — in power in 21 states and at the Centre. He is sure to handhold his successor, Nadda, in scripting the BJP’s revival in states when it is on the downward slope. He is and will remain the most powerful minister and the putative successor of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. To that extent, the Delhi election fiasco was just another aberration.
But Shah will always regret not ending his innings as BJP president (though, not technically in Delhi’s case) on a high. In the coming weeks and months, he will also be working on developing some variations in his bowling, for sure.