To say that Amit Shah is politically ruthless is an understatement & halting Patel’s comfortable walk-ins into Rajya Sabha — he had done so for four consecutive terms since 1993 — would have been, by proxy, the cruellest assault so far on Cong president Sonia Gandhi.
Irrespective of whether they are dwijas (twice-born) or not, Hindus have two birthdays — the first according to the tithi (Hindu calendar), the second according to the Gregorian calendar. Amit Shah’s tenure as BJP president also has two anniversaries: July 9, when he took over from Rajnath Singh in 2014; and August 9, when BJP’s National Council ratified his elevation the same year.
But his two-fold political ascendance to BJP’s helm has not affected his unifocal approach to managing the party, and pushing it to heights most colleagues had doubts it would ever reach. Though ‘Operation Defeat Ahmed Patel’ came unstuck on late Tuesday night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi signalled that the setback was already a thing of the past.
As assembly polls in Delhi and Bihar demonstrated, Modi and Shah are guided by the belief that tomorrow is another day.
Early on Wednesday, Modi tweeted a congratulatory message, tagging Shah, a colleague and faithful understudy for three and-a-half decades, on his completion of three years at the party controls.
Back in 2014 when names for the next BJP president were being bandied about, few betted on Shah. Many felt that after a PM from Gujarat, it would not be politically prudent for the party president also to be from the state. Second, criminal cases that jeopardised Shah’s political career and led to his departure from Gujarat still dogged him. Shah’s appointment could give strength to adversaries’ claims that Modi’s development agenda was mere lip-service.
However, the matter was more or less settled after Shah singlehandedly delivered the unprecedented tally from Uttar Pradesh in 2014. Shah was selected for personal tenacity, organisational ability and the political messaging of Modi’s coronation.
After assuming charge as party president, Shah ensured that BJP did not display the dual facet that had been visible during the campaign when the central office often worked at cross purposes with the campaign centre based in Gandhinagar. Shah understood such a divergence would be damaging. The membership drive Shah launched not just enabled BJP to emerge as the largest political party but also conveyed that it did not encourage shortcuts to powerful positions.
Having risen in the party from the early 1980s, Shah was aware of the disadvantages of the collegiate system of functioning that was the BJP’s characteristic.
He was unapologetic about the need for a certain amount of centralism, and was prepared to face accusations, in the wake of the Bihar debacle, of destroying the BJP’s consensual style of politics. But with more than a little help from RSS and Modi, he tided over the crisis, and in January 2016 was given a fresh tenure after completing the remaining period of Rajnath Singh’s term.
To say that Amit Shah is politically ruthless is an understatement. Relentless pursuit of power is his credo even if that means ideology taking a back seat. The key to Shah’s success is his ability to forge a relationship of mutual respect between party and government.
Does Shah have a chink in his armour? In plotting Patel’s defeat did Shah err by failing to keep the exuberance out? After all, he had all but cooked Patel’s goose were it not for the two rebel Congress MLAs who had displayed their ballots.
Shah undoubtedly played a key role in giving shape to Modi’s ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’. His personal election to the Rajya Sabha notwithstanding, Shah has been denied the icing on the cake to celebrate his third anniversary as party president. How quickly he learns from this failed mission will determine if the surge forward can be sustained.
Only three Muslim members have been elected to the Lok Sabha from Gujarat. The first, a woman elected in 1962, is lost in history. The second, Ehsan Jafri, died a tragic death in the 2002 riots. The third, Ahmed Patel, had his political life hovering in and out of ICU for pretty much the whole of Tuesday till it received a fresh lease of life.
As close aide of four Congress bosses over more than three decades, Patel mastered both the underhand and overhand strokes that his bête noire, Amit Shah, struck against Patel. The latter almost succeeded, if not for overplaying his hand.
From when Prime Minister Narendra Modi made little effort to eject Ahmed Patel from his comfort zone, and perhaps even indulged him — the two share a tailor — why did the BJP leadership embark on the audacious plot to defeat Patel? One could be Shah’s reported belief that Patel was instrumental in harassing the Modi-Shah duo with court cases during the UPA’s tenure.
But a more logical reason would be that defeating the Congress president’s political secretary would have dealt a body blow to Congress. After all, halting Patel’s comfortable walk-ins into Rajya Sabha — he had done so for four consecutive terms since 1993 — would have been, by proxy, the cruellest assault so far on Sonia Gandhi. After this, the only ‘personal agenda’ remaining would be to try defeat Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in the next Lok Sabha elections.
A hatchet man for long, Patel ironically used no tools of offence when he first entered Lutyens’ Delhi. An apocryphal story has it that Patel first became part of the coterie in the All India Congress Committee during the Rajiv Gandhi era for peanuts. Literally. Rajiv was, apparently, fond of Gujarati namkeen, especially big peanuts from Bharuch. When Patel discovered this, he plied his boss with a ready supply of salted peanuts.
An original Sanjay Gandhi loyalist who won three consecutive Lok Sabha polls from 1977, Patel ended up losing the same seat twice because of Gujarat’s changing politics from 1989. His first loss was due to the tide against Congress, and the second in 1991, he was swept aside by the cascading Hindutva wave.
After that, he worked his way to become close aide to successive Congress leaders. Consciously choosing to stay away from ministerial berths, he made a habit of delivering what his boss wanted. When asked by Rajiv Gandhi to make preparations for the Nehru Centenary in 1989, as secretary of the Jawahar Bhawan Trust, he initiated Amitabh Bachchan in patronising Gujarat’s ‘cause’ Rs 2.5 crore were raised by Bachchan’s concerts, and the proceeds were used by the trust for drought relief in Gujarat.
Ahmed Patel remained a core member of PV Narasimha Rao’s party team, and despite disagreements over the latter’s handling of the Babri Masjid demolition, he did not join rebels like ND Tiwari, Arjun Singh and Madhavrao Scindia. Yet, when Sonia Gandhi wanted Sitaram Kesri to make way for her elevation as Congress president, the ‘bhatija’ (nephew), as Kesri called him, was among those leading the charge. When Rao died, he ensured that the former prime minister’s family gave up their insistence for his cremation in Delhi.