Chanakya’s re-incarnation during Rajya Sabha polls


1The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah’s recent election to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat is being touted in political circles, especially within the BJP, as a preparatory exercise for his induction into the Union Cabinet at a senior level. Some experts point out that Amit Shah’s election was characterized by the political rivalry between BJP president and Congress’ war horse Ahmed Patel and the contest boiled down to a rather ‘personal’ battle, with each of the party strategists’ prestige at stake.

Congress leaders accuse the BJP, particularly Amit Shah, of deploying money power and muscle power along with other underhand means to ensure the defeat of Ahmed Patel. According to some media reports, Shah, on his part, pulled all stops to try and derail Patel’s bid for a fifth term in the Upper House and in the end, ironically, it was Shah’s personal involvement in the operation that proved to be the party’s undoing with the EC invalidating the votes of two Congress defectors since they had shown their ballots to the BJP president.

Undoubtedly, Amit Shah, following his election to Rajya Sabha from Gujarat, has reportedly quashed the speculation that he will join the Union Cabinet; nonetheless, many BJP leaders and experts hope for an active role to be played by Shah in the Upper House as well as in the Modi Government in coming days. As per media reports, BJP leaders view Shah’s presence in the Upper House as an opportunity to smoothen coordination among BJP allies; adding political weight to the BJP and afford an opportunity for Shah to enhance his national presence as a policy person.

As per media reports, several BJP leaders opine that the Rajya Sabha term would be useful for Shah to make the “right interventions” in policy decisions, legislation and even the debates, and his presence will enrich the BJP in the Upper House. One independent observer opines that Amit Shah’s entry into Rajya Sabha signals the imminent assertive politics of BJP and the NDA in the Upper House. Some experts opine that Rajya Sabha membership affords an opportunity for Shah to enhance his image as a national leader because thus far his voice was always heard as BJP president, but being an MP would add more weight to it whereby he can gradually bring up his image as a policymaker, rather being just a party man.

While crediting Shah with having made BJP the largest political and almost invincible party and reduced rivals to “also-rans”, many observers opine that he is yet to be acknowledged as a tall political leader who earns respect cutting across party lines. His entry into Rajya Sabha will help him to interact with Parliamentarians, become more accessible to MPs, and he will be able to coordinate with NDA partners. His presence will have a great impact on the number-game in the Upper House.

Shah’s elections the Rajya Sabha has triggered speculation about him joining the Union ministry’ especially in the wake of ongoing buzz about possible ministry expansion as many ministers are currently holding multiple crucial portfolios in the National Democratic Alliance government.

Undoubtedly, on his part, the BJP chief Amit Shah has said he is happy being the party president and ruled out joining Narendra Modi-led NDA government at the Centre; nevertheless, some experts opine that Shah, Modi’s closest confidant, was given the Rajya Sabha nomination to pave the way for his induction into the Union ministry. He is expected to allotted slot two in the hierarchy with the in-charge of Defence Portfolio or Home Ministry in the ensuing cabinet reshuffle.

Architect of BJP’s victory

Amit Shah is hailed as the chief architect of BJP’s electoral victories from the parliamentary elections of 2014 to the expansion of BJP’s presence and influence into unexplored areas in the country since 2014. During his three-year tenure as president of the BJP, with the exception of suffering electoral debacle in Delhi in February 2015 and in November 2015 in Bihar assembly elections, the party has also recorded unprecedented victories in other states. Undoubtedly, these couple of defeats had been embarrassing for the BJP top brass and some senior BJP leaders like LK Advani had raised doubts about Shah’s credentials as party head; however, subsequent victories silenced the critics and earned the appellation of ‘Chanakya of the BJP’ for Shah.

Some experts opine that perhaps one of Shah’s biggest accomplishments lies in expanding the BJP beyond its traditional strongholds. It registered a debut victory in Assam in 2016, and now has governments in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. Shah has also led the party to unprecedented victories in Maharashtra and Haryana. In The emphatic Uttar Pradesh victory has also been the latest feather in Shah’s cap.

Some experts attribute this dramatic change in BJP’s electoral fortunes to a membership drive that Shah undertook after taking charge as the party president. BJP’s membership crossed 100 million in 2015, the highest ever and it was the first attempt to transform the BJP into a mass-based political party. The BJP’s political dominance, furthered with Shah’s tenure at the helm, made it the first party since the Congress in 1993, to be in power (either alone or in alliance with friendly parties) in 18 states — the BJP had never tasted power in seven of them — besides being at the helm in the Centre.

Political pundits also attribute Shah’s success as the culmination of efforts at building an organizational structure for the party through rallies, and public and private meetings. According to media reports, Shah has been part of 800 organizational meetings at various levels for election micro-management in 16 states and 575 rallies or public meetings across the country over the last three years. With 1,350 MLAs and 330 MPs in its kitty, it’s the largest political entity in the country today.

Through his persistent hard work and dogged commitment, and his out-of-the-box thinking, Shah, as some experts point out, has changed the old mindset about the BJP, which was used to be referred to as the party that engaged only in “baithak”, “bhojan” and “vishram”, and has taken the party to the level where no Opposition party or coalition is in a position to challenge its supremacy.

Currently, Shah’s efforts are focused on expanding the BJP’s presence in a new set of states where it has never had a prominent presence: West Bengal, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, and for the bigger picture, on making the party ‘invincible.’

Many observers concede that Amit Shah is already (un) officially No 2 in the government, so his induction into the Union Cabinet may not be a surprise. Amit Shah and Prime Minister Modi enjoy a near perfect partnership and understanding, extremely unusual in politics and utterly unlike the relationship between Atal Behari Vajpayee and his deputy L K Advani, which was marred by a certain degree of distrust. Both work in tandem and play ‘well-rehearsed political orchestra’ and some experts argue that the possibility of gradual ‘ease-out’ of ‘Advani Bhakts’ from the party cannot be ruled out in near future.

Many experts feel that even after being inducted into the Modi Government, Amit Shah may not give up his job of “Adhyaksh-ji” (President), but will instead use the public pulpit provided by the Rajya Sabha to build a national profile for himself as a hardline BJP leader who can take on the opposition with aggression and expertise.

Undoubtedly, Amit Shah is hailed by BJP supporters as the re-incarnation of proverbial Chanakya; nonetheless, many experts regard his election to Rajya Sabha as a victory and loss for him. Shah won for himself a Rajya Sabha seat Gujarat, making his debut as a parliamentarian, on the other hand, he lost on his home turf the reputation of a leader who knows the art of winning even the hardest of political battles.