Narendra Modi and Amit Shah led their party, the BJP, to an unprecedented victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. And their winning streak continues, as was seen in the recent Assembly polls in Maharashtra and Haryana. It was under the duo’s leadership that the party, which had been on the fringes on Haryana politics until then and had no prominent local leader, garnered a majority on its own and formed the government. In Maharashtra, it entered the fray after snapping ties with its longtime ally, the Shiv Sena. The gamble paid off as it emerged as the single largest party and went on to form a minority government.
The two stalwarts share a long political partnership in the saffron camp, going back at least two decades. Both of them had been attending RSS camps since their childhood and are said to have met for the first time at one such camp in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. While Modi came from a lower middle-class family, Shah had a more affluent background. As a young man, Modi is said to have left his family and wandered off to the Himalayas. Shah, on the other hand, joined his family business of share-trading and manufacturing of plastic pipes.
The two met again when Modi returned to Gujarat in the early 1980s. Shah, who was then a volunteer with the RSS, told him that he wanted to join the BJP. Soon, Modi introduced his friend to the then Gujarat state unit chief Shankersinh Vaghela. “I was sitting in the party office. Modi came to me along with a boy and introduced him as Amit Shah, an able businessman. He requested me to find Shah some work in the party,” recalls Vaghela, who went on to become the chief minister before quitting the BJP and joining the Congress. Shah was taken on board and gradually his closeness to Modi grew.
In the 1990s, the BJP began finding its feet in Gujarat and Shah’s career took off. In 1991, when LK Advani decided to contest the Lok Sabha election from Gandhinagar, Shah expressed his wish to take charge of the poll campaign. He assured Modi that he could ensure Advani’s victory even if the veteran leader did not attend a single rally. Modi was impressed and Shah was given charge of Advani’s election campaign. Advani won by a landslide and both he and Modi were quick to acknowledge Shah’s genius.
When Keshubhai Patel was the chief minister of Gujarat, Modi was desperately eyeing that post and took Shah into confidence. But the political equations in the state began to shift. Patel and the then BJP state secretary Sanjay Joshi managed to get Modi shunted out from Gujarat. In 1996, Modi was transferred to Delhi as national secretary of the party and was given charge of several states. But his heart was still in Gujarat and he kept track of the political developments back home through Shah.
Meanwhile, the BJP’s command over Gujarat had begun to wane under Patel’s leadership. The party was losing badly in the local body elections. The massive earthquake of 2001 proved to be the final nail in the coffin. The BJP
government drew a lot of flak for inadequacies in the relief work. There was frantic lobbying against Patel in New Delhi. Top leaders of the party feared that if Patel continued at the helm in Gujarat, the BJP would suffer severe losses in the forthcoming Assembly polls.
“Shah had managed to mobilise a wave of opposition against Patel on the behest of Modi,” says Gujarat-based political analyst Devendra Patel. Patel was eventually dethroned in 2001 and Modi was anointed the chief minister. This marked the beginning of a new era in Modi’s friendship with Shah.
In 2002, after the BJP won the Assembly polls in Gujarat, Modi appointed Shah as the MoS (Home). In fact, Shah was given charge of 10 ministries and became the most influential leader in Gujarat, second only to Modi.
Having proved his mettle in Gujarat, Shah was the obvious choice as the master strategist for clearing Modi’s path to the Prime Minister’s Office. Shah did not disappoint his ‘saheb’ and got him the top post. Modi returned the favour by ensuring Shah’s elevation as the BJP’s national president.
Modi has always stood by Shah. For instance, when several leaders were sceptical of the party going it alone in the Haryana and Maharashtra Assembly polls, Modi put his stamp of approval on Shah’s assessment that it was indeed the right way to proceed. On his part, Shah wanted Modi to address 30 rallies in Maharashtra. Initially, Modi was reluctant and asked Shah to reduce the number of rallies. But, when Shah refused, Modi changed his mind and obliged him.
As far as elections are concerned, no victory or defeat is final. It would be interesting to see what turn the Modi-Shah relationship would take in case the party fails to maintain the winning streak in the forthcoming Assembly elections, or if Shah is unable to ensure that Modi retains the top seat after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Translated from Tehelka Hindi by Naushin Rehman