The Man Modi Trusts the Most

Naren­dra Modi’s clos­est aide is un­der­go­ing a per­sonal makeover to win Uttar Pradesh for

India Today - - INSIDE - By Uday Mahurkar

Naren­dra Modi’s clos­est aide is un­der­go­ing a per­sonal makeover to win Uttar Pradesh for BJP and the man he owes al­le­giance to.

Two frames hang­ing on the wall of Amit Shah’s of­fice, at his spar­tan home in Ahmed­abad’s Naran­pura locality, leave no il­lu­sion about his Hindu na­tion­al­ist cre­den­tials and his po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions. They are of Adi Shankaracharya and Chanakya— one a sym­bol of Hindu cul­ture, the other a mas­ter of state­craft. Shah, 50, re­calls how nearly a cen­tury ago, Sri Aurobindo, while serv­ing as an of­fi­cer with leg­endary Vado­dra ruler Sayajirao Gaek­wad, vis­ited his grand­fa­ther at their man­sion in Mansa near Ahmed­abad and left a note on what the du­ties of an ideal king should be.

It is no sur­prise then that the BJP na­tional gen­eral sec­re­tary un­der­stands state and po­lit­i­cal craft bet­ter than most. It has el­e­vated him to the man­tle of the man who holds the key to Naren­dra Modi’s mind. It has also got him his most dif­fi­cult as­sign­ment yet— win­ning the po­lit­i­cally volatile Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 polls for

BJP’S prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date. Shah, Gu­jarat’s min­is­ter of state ( MOS) for home from 2002 to 2010, is an ac­cused in the 2005 Sohrabud­din fake en­counter case, and spent three months in Sabar­mati jail. BJP ac­cuses Congress of us­ing CBI in fake en­counter cases to get back at Modi and Shah. There are sug­ges­tions he’ll be called for ques­tion­ing by CBI in the Ishrat Ja­han case, but Shah is un­ruf­fled.

In his Delhi BJP of­fice, next to that of party chief Ra­j­nath Singh, he tack­les dozens of ticket- seek­ers and other party work­ers from Uttar Pradesh. Whether his re­sponses are pos­i­tive or not, he gives rea­sons for them to all.

Shah’s pol­i­tics is shaped by the grass­roots. In his dur­bar, de­voted but small- time party work­ers get more time than pow­er­ful favour- seek­ers.

Swantradev Singh, the gen­eral sec­re­tary of BJP’S Uttar Pradesh unit, says: “In just four months, he’s un­der­stood state pol­i­tics bet­ter than most. He’s al­ready iden­ti­fied the malaise in our unit.” Even as he plans Modi’s ral­lies in the state, Shah, who as­sumed charge of the state on May 19, has toured it for over 50 days and vis­ited 40 of the 80 con­stituen­cies.

Shah, who comes from a busi­ness fam­ily, first met Modi at an RSS shakha in Ahmed­abad in 1980. But it was only af­ter the two joined BJP in 1987 that they got closer, im­pressed by each other’s abil­ity to think out of the box, which made them stand out amid reg­i­mented RSS guys. He moved to Ahmed­abad for his grad­u­a­tion and stayed back to start a busi­ness in PVC pipes. Later, he shifted to share trad­ing, which he con­tin­ues to do till to­day. His wife Sonal, 47, is a home­maker, and son Jay, 25, an engi­neer.

What im­pressed Shah early on was Modi’s in­sis­tence, against the will of se­nior lead­ers, that BJP should reg­is­ter ev­ery ac­tive mem­ber and re­move bogus ones. It has since be­come

BJP’S big­gest strength in Gu­jarat. Both learnt at the feet of then RSS leader Lax­man­rao Inam­dar, who is con­sid­ered Modi’s guru. “Naren­drab­hai’s at­tempt to build a strong party foun- da­tion im­pressed me no end,” says Shah. Since 2002, when Modi be­came chief min­is­ter, he has de­pended on Shah for his po­lit­i­cal strat­egy.

How­ever, the task he has been called upon to dis­charge now is oner­ous. Modi wants Shah to win the state, but by fol­low­ing Deen­dayal Upad­hyaya’s in­clu­sive na­tion­al­ism. This means he has to woo mod­er­ate Mus­lims while not push­ing BJP’S core Hindu vote bank away. It would mean de­sist­ing from the VHP brand of Hin­dutva in the party’s stance on the Muzaf­far­na­gar ri­ots, sell­ing it in­stead as ap­pease­ment pol­i­tics of Sa­ma­jwadi Party ( SP), Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party ( BSP) and Congress. As Shah puts it: “It is the mi­nor­ity- ap­pease­ment of pseudo- sec­u­lar par­ties that is hurt­ing Mus­lims the most. The na­tion is wait­ing for a new brand of pol­i­tics free of ap­pease­ment. Its sym­bol is Naren­drab­hai.”

In an al­ready po­larised at­mos­phere, Shah has to walk a tightrope. But Modi is de­ter­mined to do the im­pos­si­ble: Win on the ap­pease­ment- free but in­clu­sive plank of “de­vel­op­ment with­out dis­crim­i­na­tion”. Shah is busy coin­ing slo­gans ex­plain­ing to Mus­lims that job reser­va­tions promised by Congress, SP and BSP will be pos­si­ble only from the 27 per cent cake re­served for

OBCS that in­cludes back­ward Mus­lims

or Pas­man­das. OBCS form 36 per cent of vot­ers and BJP hopes to ap­peal to them as well, af­ter booth- level struc­tural changes that Shah ef­fected.

Since 2007, Mayawati’s pol­i­tics— of club­bing up­per castes with BSP’S Dalit and MBC vote banks— had thrown BJP in dis­ar­ray at the vil­lage and booth lev­els, as sup­port­ers left the party in droves. Even as they were hi­jacked by other par­ties, lit­tle at­tempt was made to fill the vac­uum. It had reached a point where there weren’t enough work­ers to drag com­mit­ted

BJP vot­ers to the polling booth. But now Shah has re­formed booth com­mit­tees with pre­cise caste rep­re­sen­ta­tion to bring back a sense of bal­ance.

BJP hopes th­ese com­mit­tees will be the back­bone of its fu­ture pol­i­tics.

Shah claims there is a pro- Modi wave in the state. He says be­tween 35,000 and 75,000 pre­vi­ously un­de­cided vot­ers ap­pear strongly com­mit­ted to Modi this time in al­most ev­ery Lok Sabha con­stituency. This is apart from the tra­di­tional BJP vote the party is hop­ing to bring back. But Shah tones down his op­ti­mism when in­ter­act­ing with the state lead­er­ship, lest they be­come com­pla­cent. As he ad­dresses the state BJP or­gan­i­sa­tion com­mit­tee in charge of plan­ning Modi’s ral­lies, he ap­pears cagey: “Peo­ple won’t come to Modiji’s ral­lies on their own, but we are work­ing to a plan. If any­one comes on their own ac­cord, it will be a bonus.” But while talk­ing to a na­tional BJP func­tionary in­volved in the state, he doesn’t hide the fact that this time BJP hopes to put up its best per­for­mance since 1989- 91, be­cause of Modi’s pres­ence.

Says Shah: “The feel­ing against Mayawati is yet to die. The Akhilesh ( Ya­dav- led SP) gov­ern­ment is al­ready fac­ing voter ap­a­thy, sur­passed only by a feel­ing of anti- in­cum­bency against the Cen­tre. The an­swer to all such prob­lems, from cor­rup­tion to se­cu­rity to strong lead­er­ship and de­vel­op­ment, is Modi alone.”

Shah is also try­ing to root out nepo­tism in ticket dis­tri­bu­tion, which is the bane of ev­ery party in the state in­clud­ing BJP. Ad­dress­ing a meet­ing of party work­ers in Agra, he said: “This is your bat­tle for sur­vival. If you can’t win in spite of Naren­dra Modi, BJP will be gone from UP for­ever.” As Gu­jarat MOS for Home, Shah had brought down the crime rate sub­stan­tially, mod­ernised the state po­lice by link­ing all po­lice sta­tions online with the DGP’S of­fice, helped float the po­lice and se­cu­rity train­ing school Rak­sha Shakti Univer­sity, and In­dia’s first foren­sic sci­ence univer­sity.

How­ever, Shah’s al­leged in­volve­ment in the fake en­counter cases soiled his im­age. He is an ac­cused in the fake en­counter deaths of Sohrabud­din ( 2005) and Tulsi Prajapati ( 2006). In the first case, CBI ar­rested him in July 2010 on the charge of plan­ning the staged en­counter with po­lice. He man­aged to get bail af­ter two months.

Many be­lieve Shah’s essen­tially po­lit­i­cal brain left a legacy of in­fight­ing and bit­ter­ness in Gu­jarat Po­lice. The res­ig­na­tion let­ter of jailed

DCP D. G. Van­zara tar­geted Shah on the same, though he de­nies the charge. Another neg­a­tive trait is his style of func­tion­ing. Says a source close to Modi: “Had Shah been more com­mu­nica­tive, he would have had a greater stand­ing and could have avoided the fake en­counter charges.” Shah is said to have be­come more ap­proach­able since tak­ing charge of Uttar Pradesh.

It is as an elec­tion strate­gist that he ex­cels. BJP’S vic­tory in the De­di­a­pada As­sem­bly seat in Gu­jarat last De­cem­ber is proof of his skills. With many Chris­tian trib­als in the con­stituency, he chose a Hindu can­di­date with a Chris­tian wife who had de­fected from Congress. It brought Hin­dus and Chris­tians to­gether and won BJP a seat it had never won be­fore. It is the rea­son why Shah acolytes be­lieve Congress is plot­ting to keep Modi and Shah apart. It has not worked. They are made for each other.

M ZHAZO/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

BJP NA­TIONAL GEN­ERAL SECRETARYAMIT SHAH

AMIT SHAH WITH MEN­TOR NAREN­DRA MODI, BJP’S PRIME MIN­IS­TE­RIAL CAN­DI­DATE

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