All eyes on Shah’s first full term
The 51-year-old BJP chief, Amit Shah, is all set to get his first full term. The party’s parent organisation, RSS also seems to have given the nod and the announcement is expected very soon as Amit Shah completes his present term on January 23. His new term will end in January 2019, the year of the next Lok Sabha polls.
Amit Shah was given credit for the 2014 Lok Sabha victory and the subsequent Assembly elections in Haryana, Jharkhand, and Maharashtra. He was touted as the man of strategy until his decline began when the BJP lost the Delhi Assembly polls in February and Bihar in November 2015. The fact that he is getting another term shows that his mixed report card did not affect his chances of continuity. Amit Shah is still the most trusted man of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and as long as he has this confidence nobody can touch him. In any case, he is only completing the rest of the term of Rajnath Singh and has not had a full term yet.
What does a second term mean to Amit Shah? It is clear that with the full backing of the PM as well as the RSS, even the murmurs within the party will die down once he is declared elected. In the past 18 months since he took over, he has run the party his own way while some in the party felt that he was high-handed. He managed to sideline the old guard including L.K. Advani, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi and Yashwant Sinha but was unable to check the discordant voices of Shatrughan Sinha and Kirti Azad.
Secondly, it signals the continuity which might be good for the organisation. The challenges before Shah in his second term are formidable and tougher than his first term. While he continues to enjoy the support of key members including the Prime Minister, there is a need for Shah to reinvent himself and change his style of functioning. He may have to be more flexible and more tactical than he was before and mobilise support from all sides.
Secondly, the BJP is at a disadvantage in seven states which go to polls this year and next year. His immediate test is huge with five states including West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry going for polls in the summer. UP and Punjab go to polls in 2017. The Congress is ruling in Assam and Kerala while Trinamool Congress is ruling in West Bengal, AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and the NDA ally AINR Congress in Puducherry. The BJP is not a big player in any of these states. It is trying to expand in West Bengal. The party will be happy if it can get a few more seats in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In Assam there is a possibility of doing well with a winning coalition. So this is not going to be a super year for the BJP and the party should be happy if it can gain some bonus seats. But the year 2017 is crucial for U.P. and Punjab goes to polls. The preparations have to begin in 2016. After all the 2014 success was mainly due to its stellar performance in UP and Bihar. In UP the BJP won a whopping 73 seats out of 80 in 2014 but since then lost ground in almost every poll from the local bodies to by-elections. Amit Shah may have to re-work his strategies but the challenge is how far he will go and to what extent he would compromise.
Thirdly, and more importantly, it also depends on how much he keeps the trust of Modi in the new term. So far there is no doubt that he is the most trusted man, which is evident from the way Modi insisted on getting him a second term.
Fourthly, will the Modi-Shah duo change their attitude to the old guard and restart dialogue with them or seek their guidance and if so to what extent. There is no doubt that the old guard tried their best through the back channels with the RSS to put a spoke on Amit Shah’s continuance but did not succeed.
Fifthly, what kind of strategy will the BJP adopt in the coming years? Is it going to be a more liberal or a hard line or a combination of both? Uttar Pradesh is critical for the BJP and the party seems to be returning to the Ram temple issue eyeing the 2017 state assembly poll. From April 15 the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is starting a Ram Mahotsav in which VHP and Sangh activists are expected to visit 1.25 lakh villages with statues of Lord Ram.
Above all, Shah has to choose his new team which will be able to create confidence in the party and the cadre. This will be his immediate test. So far, he had succeeded in his membership drive and made the BJP overtake the Congress emerging as the single largest party in the world. His organisational skills have come in for praise. Amit Shah has to make sure that his image of a “doer” continues in his second term. If the BJP wants to come back in 2019, preparations have to begin from now on. The skills lie in overcoming obstacles and for this, the Modi-Shah duo needs not only a good strategy but also luck.
(Views expressed are personal)