Saheb’s man

Print edition : August 08, 2014

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Amit Shah after his election as the BJP's president in New Delhi on July 9. Photo: RAVEENDRAN/AFP

With the elevation of Amit Shah as the BJP’s president, Narendra Modi’s control over the party is complete.

THE elevation of Amit Shah, 50, as the national president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) marks a decisive shift at different levels of the polity. To start with, it is bound to alter the organisational parameters of the BJP dramatically and redefine the roles played by the other constituents of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar, the Hindutva ideological conglomeration, of which the BJP is a part.

The leadership changes in the BJP and the processes that will unravel as part of the redefining of the roles of the Sangh Parivar constituents are expected to strengthen certain developing streams in the national polity even while advancing certain new thrusts and nuances. A keen discussion has begun at different levels of the Sangh Parivar outfits over the prospective developments and the impact it will have on the national polity in the short, medium and long term.

A senior Lucknow-based RSS functionary told Frontline that the primary political objective would be to consolidate and strengthen the gains made in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. “We have been successful in developing a winning and potent political mixture that has brought together a new concept of the development of the nation along with giving primacy to the Hindutva ideology.

“At the core of Amit Shah’s elevation is the thrust to consolidate and strengthen this successful political and organisational formula. His individual organisational role in developing this in the Hindi heartland States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar is rated as non-pareil. Hence, at one level it is an acknowledgement and recognition of this specific role played by him in the 2014 elections. But, there are other messages in this elevation that will unravel in due course. Put simply, with Amit Shah’s elevation what we are witnessing in the Sangh Parivar is a verve and enthusiasm to once again launch path-breaking new initiatives to reach out and spread in new geographical and demographic areas just as it was done in the latter part of the 1980s when Lal Krishna Advani was party president. The RSS had lent pracharaks [full-time bachelor activists] such as Narendra Modi, K.N. Govindacharya and Sanjay Joshi to the BJP at that time. It was nothing short of a generational change in the party set-up and all of them had played a crucial role in the path-breaking political operations. Under Amit Shah there will be new initiatives for the new times.”

The RSS has decided to depute two of its young but long-standing pracharaks to the BJP for this operation. They are Ram Madhav, who was until recently the RSS spokesperson, and Shiv Prakash, a Sangh Parivar activist hailing from western Uttar Pradesh who acted as a key aide to Amit Shah in the State. Sangh Parivar insiders, including the Lucknow-based RSS activist, point out that Amit Shah, Ram Madhav and Shiv Prakash have already begun their consolidation work and are working on their outreach plans even though the team will formally start functioning only by the end of July. Indications from Sangh Parivar insiders are that the new organisational regime has identified Dalits and Most Backward Classes (MBCs) as the demographic areas that would require consolidation and spanning out. The geographical areas that would get special attention include Odisha, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

In both the demographic as well as geographical areas, the BJP recorded gains in the parliamentary election. While the gains were decisive in many demographic areas, especially in States such as Uttar Pradesh, the identified geographical areas did not result in decisive gains. The plans, apparently, are to give the kind of organisational and political push that will lead to this.

Sangh Parivar insiders as well as political observers point out that Amit Shah’s elevation and the generational change that is expected in the organisation mark the complete domination of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the party.

The Delhi-based political observer Sheetal Singh said: “Throughout the election campaign, outgoing party president Rajnath Singh had sought to assert that he would retain the organisational position. The projection was intended to retain for himself the role of an alternative power centre in the new ruling dispensation. But by getting Rajnath Singh to join the Union Ministry, Modi upstaged that plan. With the elevation of Amit Shah, he has got a party president who refers to him as “saheb” [master] in unambiguous terms and has a proven track record of being an obeisant aide. It is also no secret in the Sangh Parivar that the deputation of Ram Madhav and Shiv Prakash are as per the wishes of the Prime Minister. The message of all this to party veterans and apparatchiks ranging from Advani to Murli Manohar Joshi to Sushma Swaraj and even Rajnath Singh is simple: ‘Your time of glory is over’.”

Of course, all sections of the RSS and the Sangh Parivar will not be happy with the way things are developing. But, as insiders point out, there is no question of dissent, at least at this point of time, given the mass support that Modi enjoys. Many Sangh Parivar insiders are of the view that the effects of Modi’s ascent are such that even the RSS Sarsangachalak, Mohan Rao Bhagawat, is overshadowed within the Hindutva combine. Madan Das Devi, who is older than Bhagawat and is part of the six-member RSS core committee, is considered closer to the Prime Minister and the new dispensation in the BJP. Naturally, his stock is on the rise within the Sangh Parivar and outside too, some party insiders say.

As things stand, Modi reigns unquestioned in all the organisational formulations, whether it is the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, the BJP or the larger Sangh Parivar. He has his trusted commanders in the government, the party and the RSS in the form of Arun Jaitley, Amit Shah and Madan Das Devi respectively. Suresh Soni, Jaitley’s close associate in the RSS and its sah-sarkaryavaha in charge of the BJP affairs, forms another key component of this grouping.

The rise of this grouping has clearly overshadowed the power centres in the BJP that Bhagawat has been trying to promote since 2010. Nitin Gadkari, the Nagpur-based former BJP president, was Bhagawat’s clear choice for the Prime Minister’s post until the latter half of 2013 when Modi emerged as the unquestioned leader through a series of clever and imaginative moves. Bhagawat and Gadkari would want to strike out against the new “Gang of Four” in the ruling dispensation at an opportune moment. But most Sangh Parivar insiders who spoke to Frontline have little doubt that they will not be able to marshal forces at the moment.

“It is a moot point whether they will be able to accrue enough strength to assert themselves any time in the future. For Amit Shah is known to be the kind of organisational man who brooks no effort to raise forces against him,” Sheetal Singh said. He also added that the rise of Amit Shah would mean harrowing times for regional BJP leaders such as Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh. Chouhan is considered to be close to Advani and Raman Singh to Rajnath Singh. Vasundhara Raje was a loyal supporter of Modi, but has differences with him now because her son Dushyant was not accommodated in the Union Cabinet.

A close non-political associate of the BJP president said Amit Shah’s future plans included reconstituting all positions in the national party, replacing as many as 15 State BJP presidents and appointing special conveners in all the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies. The conveners will start preparing for the next elections right away. Clearly, the new party president is working to a medium- and long-term plan even while addressing short-term concerns. Of course, the murder charges against him in the Sohrabuddin and Tulsi Prajapati cases are a potential threat to his political ascent. But a large number of his associates and supporters are not bothered about this.

“Which politician does not have a criminal case against him in the present times? And which investigative agency has succeeded in punishing politicians?” says the associate of Amit Shah. His observation that at best this [murder cases] will give periodic talking points to opposition party leaders finds great acceptance with Sangh Parivar insiders. The refrain in the references to the cases is that Amit Shah and the BJP will easily brave the challenges posed by them, especially because Amit Shah is in a position of phenomenal political strength. Clearly, the party, which former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee described as “a party with a difference”, has become a party with a huge difference, albeit in an inverse sense.

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