For all said and done, the 52-year old Amit Shah is all set to enter the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday when Gujarat legislators would vote to elect their representatives to the Elders’ House. Going by the party-wise strength in the Gujarat Assembly Shah and Union Minister for Textile Smruti Irani are sure to return. This will be the second term for Irani while Shah who can easily be described as one of the most successful BJP Presidents, is coming to Parliament for the first time. Shah has also ensured that rival and top Congress strategist Ahmed Patel has a tough fight in his bid for a fifth Rajya Sabha term. Considering the zeal, energy and enthusiasm of Amit Shah many must be wondering what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has in store for his closest confidante and effective Number Two. Will the six-year term of Shah curb his youth-like activities of taking up nation-wide tours, dining with Dalits and taking on the opposition parties, particularly the Congress and its number one family, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
The moot question is, will Shah join Modi’s cabinet? A reshuffle is long overdue with important ministries being held as dual charges. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is doubling up as Defense Minister while Dr Harshvardhan holding Environment as an additional portfolio and Smruti Irani handling Information and Broadcasting after Venkaiah Naidu was named the BJP’s choice for Vice President. This means, there are important vacancies to be filled in urgently. After Shah’s nomination for the Rajya Sabha was announced, many in the party felt he would be made Defence Minister once elected. But according to sources within the BJP, Shah had been offered an important ministry by Modi when he was sworn in as PM. However, the two jointly decided that it was vital for him to become the BJP President. Modi’s faith in Shah has paid off in ample measure as the duo has pretty much wiped the floor with the opposition in one state after another. Shah’s war cry of “Congress-mukt Bharat” (Congress-free India) has turned into a mission of “Congress-mukt Bharat” (Congress-free India), a truly frightening prospect in a democracy but one which he is carrying out with missionary zeal. It seems unlikely that Shah would relinquish the post of the Party President, but will instead use the public pulpit provided by the Rajya Sabha to build a national profile for himself as a hardline BJP leader who can take on the opposition with aggression and expertise.
Party President – A King-Maker?
Some political pundits, close to the inner ring of the BJP do believe that Shah will take over as Defence Minister and Modi will entrust the party to J P Nadda, I don’t think it will happen. “Why would you give up the second-most powerful position as the kingmaker – as seen in the case of the anointment of Yogi Adityanath – to take the job of a mere minister?” The final decision will be taken only between Shah and Modi. They enjoy a near perfect partnership and understanding, extremely unusual in politics and utterly unlike the relationship between Atal Behari Vajpayee and his deputy L K Advani, which was marred by a certain degree of distrust. Modi and Shah work in tandem and play ‘well-rehearsed orchestra.
Those who know Shah and his style of politics and strategy know that he loves the cut and thrust of politics. He has detailed game plans ready for the upcoming election in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh; other key states will also vote before the big one in 2019. Not content with nearly wiping out the Congress from North India with Punjab being the lone exception, Shah is now working to ensure that the BJP repeats its record haul from Uttar Pradesh (73 of 80 seats) and Bihar (31 seats) in the 2019 elections. Having newly conquered Bihar with a coup and Nitish Kumar, the fire-brand party President also wants to handle the new tricky ally himself to ensure that the BJP is in a dominant position in the next Bihar state election due in 2020. While all this indicates that Shah will continue as BJP President, both Modi and Shah enjoy taking the media and their opponents by surprise.
Whether the nomination of Ramnath Kovind for the post of President or Yogi Adityanath as UP Chief Minister, both also have exhibited their penchant for secrecy. Their well-orchestrated plans frequently stump even senior leaders of their party. They largely consult only each other, but with the RSS and Mohan Bhagwat always in the loop. But that’s the extent of the discussions. Shah carries out Modi’s bidding in the party and the comfort they share will be hard for any other president to replicate. Shah’s dream job has always been to serve as Chief Minister of Gujarat; yet, while he ensured that old rival Anandiben Patel was removed, he could not replace her since he had the rest of the country to win for the BJP. The mission is singular: to make the BJP the dominant pole of Indian polity and ensure that it has a stake and a presence in all parts of India. Even in the state like Gujarat, which could have enabled a determined opposition to put up a good fight, Shah has check-mated the Congress by orchestrating its dissension and strife, leaving it enfeebled.
‘Mission 150’ for Gujarat
Modi and Shah have now set a ‘Mission 150’ for Gujarat. As a part of the ambitious task, Shah told the BJP cadre that they should fixate on Mission 400 for the general election – that is the scale and sweep of his dreams for the BJP. He has turned the party into a formidable fighting machine, forever in aggressive campaign mode. Shah’s entry in the Rajya Sabha, where the government will remain in a minority for some time, will be sweeter with the 10 MPs that he has added to the BJP’s kitty – these are Nitish Kumar’s Rajya Sabha MPs. Therefore there is a large room to believe that while a cabinet reshuffle is on the cards, Shah will continue to be the Party President and the nightmare of the opposition parties, particularly of the Congress shall continue at least till 2019.
The author is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS)