Uncertain electoral prospects have the BJP top leadership in a tizzy, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his close aide Amit Shah, and the desperation was manifest in his speech at the executive meet of the party in Delhi.
Though the senior leaders continued to eulogize and repose faith in Modi’s leadership, they took the extraordinary decision to let Shah continue as party president till the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This made it abundantly clear that he is the real boss; his writ runs and no one is there to challenge his authority. Now the future of the party is in the hands of Shah.
Though the session tried to enthuse the leaders to meet the Congress challenge, it also sent the message that Shah would be the electoral face of the party, not Narendra Modi. This implies a major shift in strategy and tactics. Usually the senior leader, or the leader who is likely to head the government in the event of the party winning the elections, is projected as the face of the party for the election. In 2014 the party had presented Modi as the prime ministerial candidate.
Earlier in the day, it was decided to postpone the organisational elections till after the Lok Sabha elections next year. This obviously meant that Shah would head the party during the Lok Sabha elections. His current term is to expire early next year. At the closed-door meeting of the national executive, Shah observed that the “fragrance” of the BJP’s governance and the “charisma” of Modi would help the party come back to power with bigger majority after the 2019 elections.
Usually it is the leader who defines and sets the electoral agenda but this time it was done by Shah. He said while Narendra Modi is making India, the Congress is breaking India. He asked the cadres to puncture the Congress claim that it was anchoring the Mahagathbandhan. Shah also told party cadres: “P Chidambaram and company should be challenged with facts in your hands about our achievements on the economy, GDP, GST etc. The performance of our government since 2014 should be “the base of our pitch for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections”.
One thing is clear that the party is scared of the waning image of Modi. The leadership has come to accept the new narrative in political circles that Modi has miserably failed to provide a direction to the economy and has also ‘destroyed’ the institutions of democracy. If he gets a second term the country will be completely ruined.
The challenges before Shah and Modi are enormous. While they have to put the façade of facing the Congress onslaught, they have to dispel the fear of losing the game. The first step in this direction was Shah trying to convince them that Opposition unity was an “eyewash” and not a reality. He urged them to forget their internal differences and present a united face for the next seven months and focus only on the “lotus” and “Bharat Mata”. This is a clever move by Shah to prevent senior rebel leaders from fishing in troubled waters.
A section of the leaders are also contemplating coming out of the party and floating their own forum just ahead of the declaration of polls. In fact, some of them have been in touch with some opposition parties. They are waiting for the right opportunity. The entire effort of Shah has been to appease the Hindutva brigade of the RSS and keep the elite and urban middle class in good humour. His reference to “urban Naxals”, a term that has divided civil society in the wake of the police crackdown, is purely an attempt to win over the urban middle class.
During the four year rule the upper caste and urban middle class has been feeling frustrated and let down as, according to them, the government was not concerned about protecting their interests. The upper caste agitation is manifestation of this estrangement. They feel that the rights activists and secular forces have been the main hindrance to their progress. Significantly Shah came out in support of the Maharashtra police’s action on the issue of urban Naxals. The move to silence intelligentsia is attributed to Shah, who has adopted a combative posture. This is evident in his advice to build a larger campaign narrative against Congress and other opposition parties for supporting “urban Naxals”.