‘We are not a machine. We are on a mission to transform the nation'.
Sometime in 1982, a youthful and energetic worker of the Gujarat BJP, in charge of managing venues and logistics for party meetings and for ensuring that there was a sufficient supply of water and tea, had argued, in a letter, written to a senior leader of the state that a political party's office must have a library where workers can gather to read, ruminate, contemplate, strategise and replenish themselves intellectually and ideologically.
'The state party chief did not know me then by name', recalled Amit Shah, once narrating this episode in a candid conversation, 'I was there at the venue of a state executive meeting where senior leaders had gathered, and was busy, as always with helping in arranging the logistics, tables, water, curtains, chairs etc, when the chief suddenly announced that he had received a letter, from a young worker asking for setting up libraries in the state and district party offices. A worker called Amit has written this letter, Amit, Amit.' Shah raised his hands, 'I thought he was looking for me for some more work that needed to be completed, and so I raised my hand, which is when he brought out my letter and began reading it out before the entire state leadership. Some thought he was wasting time, some others found the idea interesting as they gradually understood its deeper ramifications.' Possessed with a habit of 'swadhyay', (self-study), a trait he had developed very early in life, Shah saw its necessity in a political system and party which claims to have evolved through a robust intellectual and political movement and which had put together a well-defined and well articulated ideological basis to sustain it over the years.
A party whose workers don't read and reflect, and fail to keep themselves abreast with the latest intellectual and political trends across the world, who don't seriously examine, internalise, restate and contextualise their ideological formulations and positions, is bound to end up as a machine, and eventually wither away, Shah has consistently argued.
'We are not a machine, rather we are on a mission to transform the nation, to transform politics, governance, to articulate a new narrative of the nation – Rashtra – itself and to work so that India can again regain her rightful position in the comity of nations', is his constant and ceaseless strain throughout the nationwide tour that he has currently undertaken – for the organisation's ideological and organisational re-energisation. 'I may sound repetitive', he once thought aloud, 'but these basics, these fundamentals, have to be reiterated so that they penetrate the mind and thought process of a larger cross-section of our workers, in the long run it is bound to motivate them.' His unequivocal call to reject the politics of dynastism, casteism and of vote banks has also invigorated the ordinary workers, as it has thinkers and analysts who have called for a major directional shift in Indian politics in terms of narrative.
Interestingly, in an overall political system which had largely given up on deeper ideological anchors, found them to be either convenient alibis or irritating roadblocks, which felt that an intellectual quest within a political set-up may eventually lead to political marginalisation of the aspirant leader and the party, Shah's triune emphasis – intellectual/ideological replenishment through study, look upon the party not as a mere machine for elections but rather a mission for societal, national and political transformation and finally work to supplement the Herculean efforts now underway under the Modi dispensation so that Bharat can once more be on the ascendant – is significant and symbolic, more so because Shah himself is perceived to be a master of realpolitik. But this is what essentially sets Shah apart from many others; his unerring sense of realpolitik is not based on a rejection of the deeper fundamental of politics that keeps a genuine political movement alive and evolving. His last three years at the helm and the transformation it has brought about in the party, the effect of his actions and indefatigable political peregrinations on the overall mindset of the workers is being gradually perceived. The stone is rolling down much slower in this Sisyphus struggle to transform Indian politics; it will perhaps one day cease to roll down altogether.
Over the years Shah himself continued to be a voracious reader, assiduously built up his own library and three years ago when he was finally handed over the wheels of the BJP, after a long political journey from the grassroots, a journey full of challenges, opportunities, pitfalls, crevices, which not only prepared him into a formidable political personality of our times but also into a creative and action oriented political thinker, he did not forget his letter of 1982. Among the projects and departments that he initiated for taking the party to the next level, Shah instituted a Library department, encouraged the creation of a digital library portal of rare books and motivated the formation of libraries in states across the country. He continues to take personal interest in the initiative and goes about inaugurating these. Workers are surprised, intrigued and enthused when they see the national president of the party, inaugurate a library, take time to see the books by walking across the reading room and all of a sudden pull out one and start pouring over it completely absorbed.
That is the quintessential Amit Shah, a capacity for originating a transformative idea and also the ability to work it out is what defines him, the last three years of his leadership of the party has repeatedly proved that.
(Views are strictly personal.)