One must give it to 91-year-old Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patriarch Parkash Singh Badal to recognize BJP president Amit Shah as the rising star of the BJP after its indomitable leader Narendra Modi as their National Democratic Alliance sweeps back to power in 2019.
Before Amit Shah filed his nomination from Gandhinagar on March 30, he received a call from Badal saying that as the BJP has to prepare for the future, he should call all the NDA allies for a show of strength before he files his papers. The 54-year-old BJP president instinctively rebuffed the idea and wanted to go with 11 of his supporters to file his papers for the Gandhinagar seat.
But Prakash Badal prevailed on Shah, personally called up PM Modi and got a whole rally-cum-road show organised for Amit Shah with Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in tow. Clearly reading the political signs, Badal insisted on speaking first at the rally and set the agenda for the ascendency of Shah as the leader in the BJP pantheon. The run-away victory in 2019 elections has just underscored the point. Amit Shah has arrived.
A political fighter to the core, Shah had requested the BJP election committee to allow him to fight from Amethi against Congress President Rahul Gandhi even as he promised to give him a tough fight. However, former party president and Home Minister Rajnath Singh prevailed upon him to fight from safer confines of Gandhinagar so that he could spare time to consolidate the party’s best seats.
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Shah’s biggest strength is his political astuteness combined with humungous reserves of energy, which are second only to PM Modi.
As an example of how his day looked like in the run up to the national election, Shah participated in an unusual Kolkata road show at 6 pm on May 14. He then addressed a meeting of intellectuals in Rajarhat at 8.30 pm amidst a slew of interviews, boarded a charter flight to Varanasi at midnight, held a meeting with Railway Minister Piyush Goyal at Amethi House in Kashi and then returned to Delhi by 6 am. He held a press conference on the Kolkata roadshow violence at 10 am and then went back to Uttar Pradesh for his usual five-rallies-a-day schedule.
On his way to Chandigarh about 10 days earlier, Shah had in an informal interaction with Hindustan Times said that some in his party may think of him as a loony but he expected the BJP to win around 23 seats in West Bengal and around 63 seats in Uttar Pradesh. While many armchair strategists thought the BSP-SP will overcome the BJP in UP and the Trinamool will comfortably retain Bengal, Shah obviously had other plans. Clearly, his predictions are not far off the mark.
Cut to 2014. After Modi took over as PM and Shah as party president, both knew that they had to win over eastern India to balance any losses from north and west of India in 2019 as the BJP held optimum seats in these parts. When the October 2, 2014 Burdwan blasts exposed the TMC to allegations of links to the Bangladesh-based Jamait-ul-Mujahideen (JMB), it provided Shah with an opportunity which he utilized to the optimum. Shah had told Hindustan Times back in January 2015 that the BJP’s time had come in Bengal because of corruption by the TMC leaders and the worsening internal security situation in the state.
Just as Shah discovered Himanta Biswa Sarma as the leader of the BJP in the North-East, he pushed strongman Kailash Vijayvargia and the suave Sidharth Nath Singh as BJP faces in West Bengal. After Singh became a minister in the Yogi Adityanath government in UP, Shah put his best poll teams into action with Sarma being brought in from Assam and other teams from Gujarat. Although the intellectual face of the BJP was led by Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta and Anirban Ganguly, Shah knew that he had to take on mercurial Mamata Banerjee on the Trinamool’s terms and stake claim. The strategy worked with West Bengal chief minister taking the BJP bait to the full and ending up alienating large sections of rural and urban Bengal.
Even though Shah focused on eastern India, Uttar Pradesh remained his principal focus as he knew that the state was critical to BJP victory. For anyone sitting at Lal Bahadur Shastri airport in Varanasi, this was quite evident as a Club one Falcon Charter jet used by Shah was seen going up and down the runway at all hours. Three helicopters and a 737-200 Air Force jet carrying PM Modi were on a similar routine. Today, the BSP-SP grand alliance has been cut to size with the BJP crossing the 50 mark in Uttar Pradesh alone. The BJP has made serious inroads into Bengal and now the target will be the 2021 Assembly elections.
When Modi filed his nomination from Varanasi on April 26, the senior Badal told Shah that the prime minister should not be casual about Kashi and leave the constituency to his voters. He suggested that PM Modi should address another rally in Varanasi closer to the May 19 polls. Much as both Modi and Shah respect Badal senior, it wasn’t a suggestion that PM Modi eventually accepted. He left the Varanasi election to Shah and his women supporters.
May 23, 2019 14:12 IST
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