Millennium Post

Modi completes the formality

9 August this year marked the end of Vajpayee-Advani era and the beginning of a generational change in the BJP.  The two had dominated the party for decades, seeing highs and lows. The Modi-Amit Shah duo is in complete control after the party’s national council endorsed Amit Shah’s appointment as the BJP President. Shah, at 49 is the youngest of the BJP chiefs and has emerged from backroom boy to front rank leader. Modi is now in complete control of both the party and the government as Amit Shah is his chosen general. The Modi- Shah relationship goes as far back as 1985 when Modi first met him at an RSS camp and took a liking for him.

With his proximity to Modi it was almost a foregone conclusion that Shah would become the party chief but there were some doubts till the last minute as the RSS was hesitant. There were two problems with Shah’s candidature. One was that he also hails from Gujarat and the second he was facing three criminal cases. Ultimately it was left to the past president Nitin Gadkari to bring round the RSS leadership.

Modi chose Shah for various reasons. The first is that Modi could not think of a better candidate than Shah to lead the party after Shah organised the massive BJP victory in the Lok Sabha polls in Uttar Pradesh. Second his elevation would bring the end of the Delhi caucus, which had been ruling for decades. Third, Shah would be useful in getting rid of the dead wood in the party and infuse new younger blood. Fourth, Shah knows the mind of Modi and together the duo can experiment new ideas. Moreover, with the BJP chief and the PM on the same wavelength, the party and the government will not be pulling in different directions as it did earlier.

 Shah has a tough job ahead and faces challenges from within and outside. The two main challenges are to consolidate the gains from the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and expand its footprint in the rest of the country apart from the Hindi heartland. He also has to be a bridge between the party and the government.

The first challenge will be the assembly elections in four states of Haryana, Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand in the next few months. Spelling out his strategy for the campaign at the national council meeting Shah said, ‘It is very important that BJP comes to power in all four states.’

The second is to keep up the momentum after the massive 2014 victory. Shah must also ensure that the party further gains in Assam, West Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Kerala besides northeast. This expansion is the key to the future of the BJP.

The third is to ensure smooth relationship with the RSS. The parent body was not very enthusiastic about the choice of Shah because of his criminal cases but ultimately gave in. The RSS also does not want the complete control of the party and the government in one man’s hands. The RSS leaders fear that this centralisation of power may marginalise the RSS as it happened in Gujarat earlier.  An indication to this came with the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat expressing displeasure at all the credit being given to Shah, observed ‘some people are giving credit to the party while others are giving credit to some individuals for the victory.

But the organisation and the party were there earlier too, and so were the individuals. What happened then? It is the people who wanted change during the elections, who brought the party to power.’ Modi-Shah team should learn a lesson or two from the Vajpayee era when there were frequent clashes between Vajpayee and the Sangh, mainly over economic policy and the Ram Temple. The acrimony reached the height when the RSS leader Dattopant Thengadi refused to accept the Padma Bhushan during Vajpayee regime.

Significantly a couple of days before Amit Shah became the President last month, two equally important appointments were made. Ram Madhav and Shiv Prakash, both RSS pracharaks, were deputed to the BJP to coordinate between the BJP and the Sangh.  So building a bridge between the RSS, the BJP and the government could be one of the most challenging tasks for Shah.

The fourth is dealing with the old guard. Although leaders like L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi have accepted the present situation where they have been sidelined, they still have some clout, which they can use if things sour for Modi and Shah. The old guard is biding time.

 The fifth is alliance politics. In Maharashtra the BJP needs Shiv Sena. Amit Shah’s remarks about Bharatiya Janata Party leading the next government in Maharashtra have ruffled feathers in Sena camp.  Even in Haryana, Bishnoi is a little upset about the seat sharing.

 The sixth is the growing clout of regional parties. Although the BJP got a majority, regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik had done exceedingly well in their respective states in the Lok Sabha polls. Even in Delhi the BJP should be worried about the Aam Aadmi Party. Shah as the new BJP President has to meet all these challenges effectively.

As for Shah, nothing succeeds like success. His speech in the BJP national council was full of optimism. The ambitious speech enthused cadres giving the impression that the power duo – Modi and Shah could deliver. ‘We have to get into the habit of winning’ were his words to the party. Time will tell whether UP was a fluke or Shah has it in him to deliver. IPA
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