July 14, 2014

NEW PRESIDENT, NEW CHALLENGES

CHALLENGES BEFORE AMIT SHAH AS HE IS APPOINTED BJP PRESIDENT

Courtesy: In.Com
Indeed the BJP fought hard and won a memorable victory in the 2014 General Elections. After being out of power at the Centre for a decade, the saffron outfit made a strong comeback; in fact with 282 seats, it registered the best tally for a single party in the last three decades. A large credit for this splendid performance should rightly go to PM Narendra Modi; the former Gujarat CM used his 'no nonsense, pro-development' image to the full advantage; first he re-energized the cadre and then projected himself as the only viable alternative to a nation that was simmering with anti-incumbency and waiting for an opportunity to teach the 'corrupt' Congress a lesson that it is unlikely to forget soon. Of course while the victory was a collective effort on the part of the saffron party, rather the NDA and the entire Sangh Parivar, one of the heroes of this victory is Modi's trusted lieutenant and former minister in Gujarat cabinet - Amit Shah.

The controversial politician who was even jailed briefly for his alleged involvement in the Sohrabuddin 'fake' encounter case was deputed by Modi to Uttar Pradesh as soon as he was appointed as the head of the BJP's campaign team for the big polls last year (Link). And boy, the move proved to be a master stroke, isn't it? In about an year that he spent in the 'mother of all states', Shah used his political acumen to completely re-organize the local party structure; he cut anti-Modi elements within the saffron camp like Vinay Katiyar to size, entered into alliances with smaller outfits and social organizations, gave 'provocative' speeches (Link) and even chose candidates. His hard work paid off; the BJP and its partner - the Apna Dal (AD) won 73 of the 80 seats from Uttar Pradesh even bettering its previous best tally of 50 odd seats at the height of the Ram Janma Bhoomi agitation way back in 1991 (Link). As such, after former President Rajnath Singh was sworn in as the Home Minister in the Modi cabinet, there were no surprises as the master strategist was appointed as the president of the BJP earlier this week.

Hailed by many, especially in the Hindu right wing as a modern day Chanakya, Shah has been rewarded for the brilliant result that he got for the party in the big state. Winning over 90 percent of the total seats in a vast and diverse state like UP wherein voting patterns are massively influenced by factors like caste and religion is no small task. Now let me throw in some statics that will help you comprehend the magnitude of Amit Shah's achievements. The BJP in UP won more seats than what the UPA won across the country. Of the seven seats that the NDA did not bag here, five went to the Yadavs and two to the Gandhis. I understand that certain segments do have strong reservations against him, especially considering his alleged role in 'communal' activities in the past. However, rather sadly, the standards in our politics are so low that it is very difficult to find politicians with a 'clean' image. Moreover, knowing that the new PM likes to work with people close to him, there is little doubt that the appointment has his blessings too. After all, the two have been close since the early 80s when they worked as pracharaks for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Politics is tough business and there is no time to rest on past laurels. And probably few know it more than Amit Shah. Though results of the General Polls may still be fresh in the minds of BJP leaders and its supporters, the Gujarati leader knows that his work is cut out. While the saffron outfit and its allies may have a big majority in the Lok Sabha, the government is still far away from the halfway mark in the Upper House. This makes the upcoming state elections extremely crucial, after all a vast majority of the members here are elected by members of the state legislature. In the next six months, at least three states - Maharashtra (Link), Haryana (Link) and Jammu Kashmir (Link) will go to the polls. One has to remember that all three are presently being ruled by the Congress and its allies. Amongst them, the three account for 28 of the 250 seats in the Rajya Sabha. To add to them, there are a few other states that may see snap polls anytime soon. The Delhi assembly has been in suspended animation for over eight months (Link); the Uttarakhand government is looking shaky after the defection of Pauri MP Satpal Maharaj to the saffron side after being side-lined in the Congress for long (Link); the JMM-INC alliance in Jharkhand is on a sticky wicket and the drubbing that the allies got in the General Elections has made the matters worse. Shah has to make sure that the momentum from the General Polls is taken forward and the party and its coalition partners win each of these states.

Another thing at the top of Shah's priority list is expansion in the East and the South where the party has largely been an insignificant player. In fact, the new president has made this pretty clear via twitter a few days after settling in his new role. A hallmark of the saffron outfit's stupendous victory earlier this year was that the BJP did extremely well even outside its traditional base in the Hindi heart land. While we all know that Modi magic played a key role in this, it is up to Shah & Co. to make sure that this win helps them carve out a solid vote bank for the BJP outside its 'comfort zone'. After winning all three parliamentary seats in Jammu and Ladakh regions of J&K, the saffronists are expected to at least double its last tally of 11 seats in the state assembly which will make it a sought after ally for the Mufti-led PDP in case of a hung assembly. The rout faced by the Left Front in Bengal (Link) and Kerala (Link), plus the improvement in BJP's vote share here has given a big fillip to the local party organization. In the coming years, one should not be surprised if these two states feature high in the party's future plans. In Tamil Nadu too, the outfit's ability to put together a rainbow alliance (Link) and then win the Kannyakumari parliamentary seat has shown that it is carving out a space for itself in state politics. Surely, this is an opening that Shah would like to capitalize on. The good will earned in Telangana (Link) over the BJP's support to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh can be leveraged to its advantage and you can bet that this will surely be a part of the new president's agenda. On similar terms, the good show put up by the BJP in Haryana, Assam (Link) and Arunachal Pradesh (Link) in the last General Elections provides a golden opportunity for Shah to consolidate the saffron party's position here too.

While the margin of BJP's victory may undermine the role played by its allies in 2014, one has to realize that the BJP cannot afford to break its friendship with any of its existing 20 odd partners. Although the Modi mania worked in the General Elections, there is no doubt that the allies (Link) are important in state elections. Moreover, retaining existing friends and looking out for new ones will only further isolate its nemesis - the Congress. With the Maharashtra elections just around the corner, all is certainly not well between the BJP and its oldest ally - the Shiv Sena (SS). There were rumors that the local BJP leaders wanted the high command to scrap its existing seat sharing arrangement with the SS with some even suggesting a tie-up with Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). The new president has to make sure that its 'Mahayuti' that swept the western state earlier this year remains intact and all differences with Uddhav Thackeray's outfit are sorted out at the earliest. Also, greater co-ordination is required with Paswan's LJP after the consolidation of anti-BJP block - the JD(U), the RJD and the Congress considering that Bihar assembly completes it term next year. Also, it is in the interest of the saffron camp if the half rainbow alliance in Tamil Nadu is intact, at least till it can get AIADMK in the NDA, which in itself is an arduous task. Also, it is extremely crucial to have at least working relation with other big regional players including K Chandrashekar Rao's TRS, Jaganmohan Redddy's YSRCP, Mufti's PDP and Badruddin Ajmal's AIUDF.

Challenge Number 4 will be pacifying the seniors who were unhappy with Modi and Rajnath Singh for not considering their views during the course of the 2014 polls. Now that the BJP is back in the government after a gap of 10 years with that record shattering win, it will be a good for the party if Shah manages to placate the old guard. With his vast experience in Indian politics and in the functioning of the government, Lal Krishna Advani or Murali Manohar Joshi are assets that the outfit cannot afford to sideline. Also their connections with other political parties can prove to be helpful to break deadlocks in the Parliament. Meanwhile, there were reports that Jaswant Singh was keen to rejoin the saffron camp after his rebellion against the party in Barmer ended in a flop show. Getting Jaswant and his son - MLA Manvendra will send the right signal. We all know that popular southern movie star Pawan Kalyan played a key role in the TDP-BJP aliance's victory in the state as well as parliamentary polls. If the new president can somehow manage to get Pawan to merge his Jan Sena into the saffron fold, the party will be furthered strengthened in Andhra. Also Kalyan's mass appeal will help to reduce its dependence on Chandrababu Naidu. Besides, like Narendra Modi did a few months back, Shah should make an attempt to get back former BJP leader Babulal Marandi (Link) back into the party. Though he had rejected Modi's offer earlier, the rout his party faced will certainly force the JVM chief to reconsider his decision. Also, ahead of the Jharkhand assembly polls, it will further improve BJP's electoral prospects.

In the big win that the BJP won this summer, it is easy to forget that the party won just 31 percent of the total votes. In other words, considering that the NDA as a whole got about 40 percent of the votes, every 6 out of 10 Indians did not cast their vote in favor of Modi. The learning that Shah can draw from this is that in spite of being the largest political party in India in terms of numbers, the BJP is still not acceptable to many Indians. There are many who continue to associate the outfit with right wing fundamentalism, accusing it to be a party of 'Hindus' in general and 'upper castes' in particular. This also keeps a sizable chunk of the political spectrum from doing any business with the party. It will indeed be interesting to see how the Gujarati leader combats this 'perception'. Though it is good to promote 'meritocracy', Shah has to be more practical. Considering our diversity in terms of religion, caste and gender while taking decision, especially during ticket distribution will help. Another worry for many 'liberals' is that the party will be under pressure from its 'bosses' in Nagpur to promote the agenda of the RSS. Again, it is but imperative for Shah to let the RSS top brass know that it is under no obligation of either the RSS or any right wing organization like the VHP or the Bajrang Dal. Measures such has increasing the representation fo women inside the party and promoting internal democracy will also do a whole lot of good for the saffron outfit.

Born into a middle class Gujarati family in Mumbai, Amit Shah has climbed up the ladder of success only through his hard work and dedication. A Modi loyalist since the early 80s, he has excelled in every challenge that has been thrown at him be it the decimation of the Congress hold in rural Gujarat, turning around the fortunes of the Ahmedabad District Co-opertaive Bank or leading the party to an emphatic win in UP. While he has been rewarded for the results that he got for his party, heading the BJP will truly be a test of character for Modi's Man Friday. All his actions will be scrutinized and controversies will be created where none exists. Will he succeed in his latest assignment..... Well, only time will tell!


IMAGES

(1) Courtesy: In.Com
Original: Amit Shah Photos (Link)