Second to None: Amit Shah’s Political Engine
Amit Shah was sworn in as an Union Minister after PM Modi and Rajnath Singh in the new cabinet on Thursday, 30 May.
With the task of galvanising the BJP's organisational machinery to craft a return of the Modi government done, party president Amit Shah is set to combine his astute political mind with his delivery skills to help his mentor, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, implement his governance agenda in the next five years.
Modi’s decision to bring Shah into his cabinet signals that he will now play a more crucial role in the government, effectively the go-to man for the prime minister, several party leaders believe.
However, Rajnath Singh will remain the official number two in the government, as made clear by him being the first minister to take oath after Modi.
For a second consecutive, the Modi wave has battered our shores, as it had five years ago. This time, however, most who watched the seas couldn’t gauge the sheer size of the wave that would wash over them and engulf the nation. By the end of it all, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had won 353 of the 542 Lok Sabha seats – a clean sweep by any standard.
There were two Leviathans pushing this wave: Narendra Modi himself and his number two, BJP President Amit Shah.
Shah had given BJP workers a seemingly audacious target of crossing 300 seats – an initiative he called “Mission 300 Par”. But as the dust settled, it was evident that Shah and his party had achieved their target.
The victory, aided by the BJP’s unprecedented performance in West Bengal, Odisha and the Northeast, cemented the 54-year-old party president’s position as the undisputed king of India’s political terrain.
Nurturing the BJP+
Despite the BJP having 282 seats in the Parliament, Shah took care not to neglect any of its allies – even smaller parties like Apna Dal. He also created the North East Democratic Alliance along with regional allies like the Naga People's Front, Sikkim Democratic Front and People's Party of Arunachal, which is part of the reason why their alliance made a considerable dent there.
The BJP also put considerable effort into increasing its own brawn. In the 2014 elections, it had 4 crore party workers which nearly tripled by 2019 to more than 11 crore. This went a long way in helping the party reach its goal of “reaching every booth”. Amit Shah later announced that their ‘Mission 2019’ had begun in 2016. The party had never really left campaign mode.
In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the hotbed of caste politics, Shah pitted caste against caste, sharply polarising the vote. Considering that the BJP was poised to suffer heavy losses in UP, the polarising helped minimise the damage. The result was that the BJP lost only nine seats compared to its 2014 tally.
At the same time, Shah made astute use of religion. By putting forward leaders like Sakshi Maharaj, Yogi Adityanath and Pragya Thakur, the BJP could rapidly switch the narrative from caste vs caste to all Hindus being united under a common banner when faced with other religions.
“A Hindu can never be a terrorist. They have fabricated false cases to frame her (Pragya Thakur). It was a conspiracy for vote bank politics.”Amit Shah earlier this year
In other instances, Shah made the party alternate between the rhetoric of nationalism and development. By using incidents like the Balakot air strike, BJP leaders could instantly drown other issues in nationalistic fervour.
Addressing a press conference on 17 May, Amit Shah had shed some light on the groundwork that the BJP laid to ensure a resounding victory:
“We started our exercise on 16 January (2019) and held over 150 booth and cluster meetings. There were 29 Lok Sabha committees that oversaw 482 sub-committees, which held over 4,030 meetings to discuss the campaign. In the 120 seats never won by the BJP, across 13 states, 3,000 full-time workers worked for more than three years.”
“We set up 161 call centres with 15,682 callers who reached out to the 24.81 crore beneficiaries of the various programmes run by the Modi government,” he added.
Shah also organised a series of focused campaigns:
“Mera booth sabse mazboot” (My booth is the toughest) was an event in February in which Modi interacted with millions of BJP workers, volunteers and supporters. The BJP claimed it was the world’s biggest video conference.
Youth conferences were held in nearly 500 constituencies. Party workers held large-scale bike rallies in 3,800 Vidhan Sabha constituencies and put up lotus flags and banners on their houses. In parallel, 15,682 callers from 161 call centres managed to call nearly 24.81 crore people.
The “Chowkidar Chor Hai” (the watchman is a thief) phrase, initially coined by the Opposition, was flipped and converted into the “Main Bhi Chowkidar” campaign in which party leaders and supporters added chowkidar to their usernames on social media websites (particularly Twitter) as a badge of honour.
A Personal Mission
Initially an RSS student leader, Shah first joined the BJP in 1986. In 1991, he worked on LK Advani’s Lok Sabha campaign for the Gandhinagar constituency. Four years later in the 1995 bypolls, he was tasked with running Yatin Oza’s campaign who was contesting the Sabarmati seat against the then-deputy chief minister Narhari Amin.
“Shah sees nothing other than politics. Those close to him say that he spends very little time on his family and social interaction.”Yatin Oza
By the time Modi became the chief minister of Gujarat, Shah had already handled several portfolios. As the president of the BJP, he now stands unopposed within the party. He worked on the party from within, increasing recruitment and acquainting the workers with the party ideology, down to the booth level. The effects of this were plain to see when the BJP toppled the Left in Tripura, who had been entrenched in the state for 25 years.
In the 2019 elections, Shah travelled 1.58 lakh kms, more than any other leader. He held over 161 rallies (Modi held 142) and visited over 312 Lok Sabha constituencies.
(Translated by Viraj Gaur. Click here to read the original article in Hindi.)
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