Shah Drives ‘Saheb’ to Success

Abdul Hafiz Lakhani (Ahmedabad) for BeyondHeadlines

As India puts faith in Moditva, one can see this election as a battle between brains of both national parties – BJP and Congress; PM candidate Narendra Modi got Amit shah – a trusted man and master mind for BJP particularly in UP, while Congress yuvraj and Gandhi scion Rahul Gandhi failed in his western style of running the party. His advisers do not understand the pulse of Indian people. Here  is the analysis of the strategies of parties.

Shah Saga

Amit Shah, 50, plump and bald, could be mistaken for an ordinary shopkeeper in Ahmedabad. What sets him apart from other are his cold eyes behind a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. His easy smile doesn’t always reach there. That’s because ‘Amitbhai’ is constantly measuring up people and issues for his ‘Saheb’.

It’s for his past that his friend and boss entrusted to him his future. Narendra Modi sent his Man Friday to reorganize a bruised and broken BJP in distant UP, the state with 80 seats. If he delivered UP, NaMo’s march to Delhi would be unstoppable. The phenomenal victory is as much Amitbhai’s, and anoints him for much bigger responsibilities. Many say hisde facto power will be second only to that of the PM. Just as it was to the chief minister’s.

Shah is a frugal man. For the past many years he has bathed only with warm water and no soap. He reportedly coped easily with Sabarmati jail, where he spent three months for his alleged role in the Sohrabuddin Shaikh and Tulsiram Prajapati fake encounter cases. Shah was arrested on July 25, 2010, and granted bail on October 29. But, it was only after a prolonged legal battle in the Supreme Court that he was allowed to return to Gujarat.

His arrest had put a question mark on his political career, but when he was fighting for his right to enter Gujarat, Modi convinced him to use the ‘vanvaas’ as an opportunity. Go to UP, he told him, set that house in order. From February 2012, Shah started making friends there. So when the crucial assignment came, he could hit the ground running.

JP leaders say Shah was one of the few ministers Modi listened to. In Gujarat, Shah handled a dozen portfolios including home, law, prohibition and jails. Though a junior minister, he was on every important committee of the state. From being Modi’s eyes and ears, Shah became his most trusted adviser, the driver of most of ‘Saheb’s’ political strategies.

The foundation of what’s termed the ‘Jodi No. 1’ was laid almost 25 years ago. Shah comes from a business family with RSS leanings in Mansa in rural Ahmedabad. At CU Shah Science College in the early 1980s, he was active in the ABVP, though he never made a mark in student politics. After graduation, he started his own printing business.

Modi joined BJP in 1986 and became state general secretary in 1987. Shah was one of the young leaders whom Modi soon took under his wing. The bond has held firm. Others like Haren Pandya and Sanjay Joshi were to ‘betray’ Modi later, but never Amitbhai.

Shah made his electoral debut in 1997, when he was given a ticket for, and won, the Sarkhej by-election. He has won the seat four times since. After dislodging Congress in cooperatives, he was set to capture another Congress bastion, the Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA), when Modi told him to step aside for him. Like a good team player, he willingly sacrificed his wicket for his captain.

Gandhi Scion

After the Congress tasted its worst-ever defeat since Indian Independence, angry party men did not directly attack party vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Instead, they decided to target his advisors for the decimation at the hustings.

Party leaders are convinced that the foreign-educated experts who comprised Rahul’s team with their hifunda concepts — ranging from candidate selection to campaigning techniques — are the ones who have landed the Congress in the present crisis.

Sources pointed out that Rahul is so obsessed with those who have foreign degrees that he insists on filling his inner circle with such people — be it Kanishk Singh, Kaushal Vidyarthee or Sachin Rao. Nothing wrong with their degrees except that they have brought along concepts that are not relevant to the party.

Party leaders feel that it is high time Rahul get rid of his non-performing advisers and scholars who never contested elections — be it the IIT-educated Jairam Ramesh or the Harvard-educated professor Mohan Gopal — and instead choose men from the rank and file.

“Rahul may derive intellectual stimulus in the company of intellectuals, but we have to get a response from the street for our politics. That has not happened in the last 10 years that he has led the Congress,” said a Delhi Congress leader. He said the IIT-trained Jairam brought in a lot rhetoric, and that was all.

“Jairam was coordinator for the 2014 elections and has now led the party to doom. The Harvard-educated professor Gopal is good with micro- level analysis, but he does not know how to connect with electoral politics. The result is that Rahul is at sea when it comes to dealing with real politik,” said a Congress Working Committee member.

Jairam is particularly being held responsible for egging on Rahul to pursue hit-and-run politics in Niyamgiri, agitate against the Posco plant in Orissa and not offer any alternative to the local people.

“What did we gain from such politics? Rahul offered no alternative development model to the local people. He backed something and ran off,” pointed out a Congress leader. While Jairam has blamed the Congress collapse on a communication failure by “sherpas”, professor Gopal took a philosophical view of the rout.

He told: “Whatever the electoral outcome, social realities are not going be changed with one election. What the Congress stands for is going to matter. When the BJP had two seats, they had the same Hindu agenda as they do now when they have a majority.”

Party leaders are confident that just as Digvijaya Singh got turfed out of Uttar Pradesh after the drubbing in the UP assembly polls, Rahul will similarly show the door to his advisers. “Rahul’s grasp of India is far superior to that of Modi’s. Our only problem was political packaging — while ours was a disaster, the BJP did a fine job with Modi. This election anyway was not Rahul’s. The next election will be a Gandhi election,” said a confident aide of Rahul.

Will Rahul go for a major overhaul of the organization? Will he pick a new team soon? Not everyone is confident that Rahul will immediately go in for a reassessment. “After all, the next elections will take place after five years. Why should we rush?” asked a senior All India Congress Committee functionary. CWC member Anil Shastri, however, cautioned against expecting a “big churning”.

“Such a churning is not Congress style. Old guards in the party will not let Rahul have his way,” he said. Just days before the results, Shastri had tweeted about how Rahul should have become the PM some time in 2012 to arrest the downslide in the party.

Professor Sudha Pai of JNU also said that Rahul would have been able to provide effective leadership to the Congress had he joined the government. But some warn that no one should take Rahul for granted. Some time back he had warned that he would abide by the wise words of seniors only till 2014. “Now that the polls are over, he will completely unleash his plans,” a source said.

Modi’s Strength

Modi and his strength since strategy formulation is his key strength, he prefers bureaucrats over politicians, since the former bring discipline to their work. Modi works through bureaucrats and would do so in Delhi. He does not believe in decentralisation and hence the PMO will be the biggest and the only power centre. Modi believes that every good leader has to be authoritarian.

For instance, when Modi discontinued the system of sending Cabinet meeting agendas to the ministers’ residences, there was much opposition. Modi quelled dissidence with an iron hand. In Gujarat, ministers who come for Cabinet meetings find the agenda on their desks. They also must leave the Cabinet meeting room empty handed. Talking to the media without his permission is prohibited.

A BJP minister recalls how one day 16 cabinet ministers were all taken to IIM, Ahmedabad for a full day workshop on governance. Modi sat through the entire session, watched his ministers, and did not utter a single word. Attendance at the workshop was compulsory. But his no-nonsense approach endears him to bureaucrats. They are accountable only to Modi and often enjoy greater power than ministers.

Modi is also indebted to the bureaucracy for reshaping his political image. After he accorded freedom to babus to invent, create and re-invent policies and delivery mechanisms, they presented him with efficient ideas to extract benefits from central schemes. While he has famously fallen out with IPS officers, there haven’t been more than two bureaucrats who have been publicly unhappy with him in 13 years.

Unlike Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu or West Bengal, Gujarat bureaucrats have extraordinarily steady and stable tenures. From A K Sharma to Girish Murmu, D J Pandian to K Kailasnathan (now retired) Modi gives long rope and stable tenure to bureaucrats. “It gives us opportunity to showcase our best performance”, a bureaucrat says.

It is not known at what point in his political career Modi first dreamt of being India’s prime minister and started working towards it. However, even his bitter rivals saw a spark in him. Haren Pandya, his one-time protégé turned adversary, would introduce Modi as the “man who is going to be a very big shot.” This was in the early 80s when Modi was a nobody.

Though for a brief while Modi was mesmerized by L K Advani’s leadership and vision, his icons have always been Shinjo Abe, Lee Kwan Yew and Deng Xiaoping. Modi’s thrust for physical infrastructure comes from Kee Kwan Yew and Deng’s model of development.

East Asia has had a deep influence on Modi and in Delhi his endeavor would be to put India and its economy at par with China and Singapore. While there are concerns that Modi may follow an extreme rightwing approach, those who know him closely say he is very flexible. He wants a long innings and considering India’s diversity, he would want to place himself at the right of centre.

Modi has already chalked out a series of reforms and would want to be known as a reformist. He is keen on initiating state-of-the-art defense manufacturing in the country. River linking is another of his pet dreams. Modi will try to usher in reforms and base his prime ministerial tenure on developmental agenda. In case that does not work, Hindutva would always be handy.


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