Amit Anilchandra Shah turned 56 on October 22 and it’s fair to say that he has become the second-most powerful man in Indian politics after PM Narendra Modi. Critics have often stated that if 2014-19 was a Modi show, 2019 onwards has been a Modi-Shah rule. Amit Shah has played a key role in BJP’s current domination of Indian politics, dubbed a modern-day ‘Chanakya’ for handing state after state to the BJP since 2014.
In fact, Shah’s most iconic image has him sitting on a sofa with two portraits behind him – of Veer Sarvarkar and Chanakya.
He had said: “I admire Savarkar because he was a staunch follower of the ideology of Hindutva. Chanakya because he was, matlab, knowledgeable. His sutras are eternal. Economics, politics, the problem of governance are all there.”
In some ways, Shah is an amalgamation of both these figures, showing Savarkar’s ideological clarity and Chanakya’s scythe-like strategy.
Modi-Shah – BJP’s winning tag team formation
If the BJP’s foundation stone was put down by the duo of LK Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then it’s not an exaggeration to say that its current dominance is the product of the Modi-Shah reign. What began with a Rath Yatra became a nationwide boom as the saffron sun stretched over the entire nation.
Amit Shah raised winning elections in a messy democracy like India into an artform. At the time of writing, BJP currently holds the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
It’s also in power in Bihar where Nitish Kumar is CM, was robbed out of its verdict in Maharashtra where Sena turned its back, and is in alliance with the CMs in the North-East states, where BJP didn’t have a presence at all before 2014.
It all began in the 80s when a 17-year-old RSS Pracharak in Ahmedabad met a 32-year-old RSS worker in Ahmedabad and despite the 15-year gap, the partnership that would rock Indian politics was born. Modi switched to BJP in 1985 and Shah followed in 1986.
Their deep bond was observed when Shah was jailed in 2010 in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case. Modi was aghast, like a man who had lost a limb.
Their first assignment was the 1987 Ahmedabad municipal election which Modi delivered, and was then elected as organising secretary of BJP’s Gujarat unit. Shah’s rise corresponded with that of Modi. As one observer pointed out: “Modi is the visionary, Shah the implementer.”
In fact, there were critics within the BJP who felt that Shah’s rise would be detrimental to the party. He wasn’t part of the 2014 cabinet but was elevated to BJP President in 2014.
Conquering UP In 2014
That was by the dint of the party’s 2014 performance in Uttar Pradesh where Amit Shah managed to deliver 71 out of 80 seats in a state where BJP’s previous high was 58.
Inheriting a ‘comatose’ organisation where BJP hadn’t been in power in 17 years, there wasn’t one homogenised plan for the state where BJP only managed 17% votes in 2009. Even Shah knew BSP-SP leaders were more popular at the state level. Shah conducted day-long meetings with candidates who’d lost, trying to understand the cause of their defeat, hell-bent on not repeating it. Realising that SP-BSP leaders were more popular at the state-panchayat level, Shah decided BJP must contest local elections too, after not doing so for two decades.
Tickets were also given to people from across the caste matrix, including OBCs, Brahmins and Thakurs.
He also convinced then BJP President Rajnath Singh to let PM Modi contest from Varanasi. Not only is Varanasi the midway point of the tract comprising Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, it’s also the holiest city for Hindus. The place to attend Moksha was the perfect constituency to signal the end of Nehru’s India.
Becoming BJP President
As Modi became the PM, BJP’s Central Parliamentary committee unanimously made him president in 2014, and he was re-elected in 2016. Under him BJP won the states of Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand and Assam, losing Delhi and Bihar.
He was instrumental again in 2017 as BJP smashed the caste dynamics of UP to emerge as the single largest party. BJP also won in Uttarakhand, Manipur, managed to hold on to Gujarat despite massive anti-incumbency, picked up Tripura and also formed governments in Nagaland and Meghalaya. Ahead of the 2019 elections, Shah had asked for 300 plus seats, which sounded outrage, but BJP delivered 303, the first party to cross 300 since 1984 when Rajiv Gandhi managed 404 seats.
Arvind Kejriwal had warned before the 2019 elections – much the delight of BJP fans – that Amit Shah would become Home Minister. That prediction turned out to be true as Shah reprised the role he had taken in the Gujarat cabinet.
As Home Minister, he oversaw the implementation of one of BJP’s top three core promises – Article 370 Abrogation. It did so by first getting rid of PDP and then raising Article 35 A as a Dalit rights issue. Then came the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation Bill for the 10% marginalised.
With it came the rider, that the Governor could act as the Local Assembly if there wasn’t a functioning one. Co-incidentally, Governor Satya Pal Malik's fax machine stopped ‘functioning’ on a holiday, and he couldn’t get the letter stating NC and PDP had joined hands.
It was a fax paus (so sorry) that changed the state’s politics forever.
Abhijit Iyer Mitra in his Daily O column called it 4D Chess noting: “What happened in Parliament today was not some badly thought-out electoral promise but the culmination of a 4D chess game that Amit Shah had conceived of in 2014, while his opponents were playing Tic-Tac-Toe and were busy posturing. In the end, it turned out game, set and match Amit Shah, with the Muftis and Omars none the wiser as to how a man they don’t consider their social or intellectual equal ran rings around them.”
While one can debate the implementation of the order, there’s no denying that Amit Shah again showed his detractors and fans why he’s earned the ‘Chanakya’ sobriquet.