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Do Modi-Shah Posters Represent BJP’s Plan B in Bihar?

Appearance of Modi-Shah posters hints that Amit Shah may be the fall guy in case of defeat in Bihar, writes Ajoy Bose

Updated
Politics
5 min read
Do Modi-Shah Posters Represent BJP’s Plan B in Bihar?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be BJP’s mascot in the ongoing Assembly polls in Bihar, but it is party president Amit Shah who has emerged as the real political boss, calling the shots in the BJP’s high octane campaign in the state.

The stature of Shah is palpable even as one enters Patna airport which is completely plastered by giant hoardings and posters of him along with Modi. Significantly they are depicted almost as brothers-in-arms in these posters. Similar billboards dot the entire Patna skyline, dominating market places and flyovers as well as railway stations.

BJP’s main political opponent, the JDU-RJD-Congress Grand Alliance complained this week to the Election Commission that the hoardings and posters at public places owned by the government like the airport and railway stations were a violation of the electoral code of conduct.

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Strategy Behind Modi-Shah Posters

Regardless of whether this complaint is upheld, what is more relevant is why Narendra Modi has decided for the first time since his meteoric political ascent to share equal space on a publicity billboard. BJP insiders and local political pundits in Patna roll their eyes, smile slyly but fail to provide a direct answer. The fact that there is no other face from Bihar or a national leader of the BJP on the hoardings except that of Modi and Shah, emphasises the latter’s importance in the election campaign.

The stature of Shah is palpable even as one enters Patna airport which is completely plastered by giant hoardings and posters of him along with Modi. (Photo: The Quint)

It has also been noted that while other party leaders and central ministers are in attendance at the Prime Minister’s election rallies across Bihar, Amit Shah has not been seen on the dais except at Gaya where the former announced his famous 1.25-lakh-crore package. Instead, Shah has been running almost a parallel campaign, touring the state frenziedly, holding a plethora of election meetings even in remote hamlets, sometimes as many as three a day. However, as a local journalist pointed out snidely, the big difference between the meetings of Modi and Shah were that the audience attracted by the latter was a tiny fraction of that of the former.

Snapshot

Plan Behind the Poster

  • Billboards in Patna feature both PM Narendra Modi and Amit Shah
  • The appearance of such posters leads to speculation about why the PM would want to share equal space post his historic win in 2014
  • Diktat by the RSS ensures the entire BJP leadership falls in line behind Amit Shah
  • Projecting Shah alongside Modi may hint at who will take the blame in case of a defeat in Bihar
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Lalu-Shah Take Potshots at Each Other

Not surprisingly, the larger than life projection of Shah has also made him a target for his opponents. The BJP president’s obvious corpulence has provided the irrepressible Lalu with ammunition for jokes and jibes. People in Patna recalled how at the very first big Swabhiman rally of the Grand Alliance at the end of August the RJD leader regaled his audience with a stand-up comic performance describing Shah’s ordeal inside a malfunctioning lift in a Patna guest house some months ago. He has repeated this story at various rallies time and again over the past several weeks on each occasion taking much delight in alleging that his political rival was far too fat to travel in a lift. In fact, these days Lalu does not even bother to take Shah’s name but refers to him by gesturing with his hands in front of his stomach drawing peals of laughter from the crowd.

Lalu Yadav has been taking potshots on Amit Shah repeatedly at his election rallies. (Photo: PTI)

Incensed at these repeated personal taunts Shah has directed a whole barrage of insults at the RJD leader. This war of words has forced the Election Commission to lodge FIRs against both leaders for using language that violates the Peoples Representations Act and IPC sections. The colourful language included Shah calling Lalu “chara chor” or fodder thief and the latter hitting back at the former with “narbhakhshi” meaning cannibal.

Diktat from the RSS

Another muted but perhaps even more intense rivalry generated by Shah is with JD(U) leader and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s chief political strategist Prashant Kishore. Kishore had earlier helped Narendra Modi with his Lok Sabha campaign but parted company because of a reported turf battle with the BJP president after the government was formed. Kishore was openly contemptuous when asked how he planned to counter Shah’s meticulous grassroots preparations and voter mobilisation strategies.

Oh come on you media people exaggerate Amit Shah’s capabilities far too much! I can bet you anything that he does not know the name of even half the district level blocks in Bihar!
— Prashant Kishore, JD(U) Strategist

Veteran RSS leader Dattaraya Hosabale who has been looking after Bihar for the past several years has cracked the whip on all party leaders to fall in line behind Shah. (Photo: PTI)

Those close to the Bihar party leadership say that the real reason for virtually no local resistance to Shah’s overweening authority was that the RSS had given him a complete carte blanche to do what he wanted for the Bihar polls. Veteran RSS leader Dattatreya Hosabale who has been looking after Bihar for the past several years has cracked the whip on all party leaders to fall in line behind Shah and there was no question of anyone defying the authority of the mentor organisation. Interestingly, the only two BJP leaders to have spoken in discordant voices so far – former Bollywood star Shatrughan Sinha and former Home Secretary RK Singh – do not come from the Sangh Parivar.

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Projecting Amit Shah at the same level as Modi and that too before the elections would enable Shah to take responsibility in the event of the party’s defeat in the polls.(Photo: the Quint)

Amit Shah: BJP’s Wall

Indeed such is Amit Shah’s clout in Bihar today that local leaders may have deliberately projected him with the same importance as Narendra Modi on election hoardings in a bid to flatter the former. On the other hand, another more intriguing possibility is that the billboards of the duo which have only sprung up in the past fortnight as the BJP fortunes have somewhat dipped, points in the opposite direction. After all, projecting Amit Shah at the same level as Modi and that too before the elections would enable Shah to take responsibility in the event of the party’s defeat in the polls.

Surely the loyal lieutenant of Narendra Modi for so many years would have no problems in taking the political bullet to shield his boss!

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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