Amit Shah From The Frontline

Amit Shah

From The Frontline

In It to Win It: 3 Years of BJP’s Youngest Chief

Marya ShakilMarya Shakil | News18.com maryashakil

Published: Septembr 13, 2017

Chanakya, who is believed to be the greatest Indian strategist ever, had one lesson for all his disciples: “Never share your secrets with anybody. That will destroy you sooner or later.”

Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah follows this lesson in letter and spirit. “Kisi Prakalp ki safalta uski gopniyata par nirbhar karti hai (A project’s success depends on its secrecy),” is an oft-repeated phrase in 11 Ashoka Road, New Delhi – the BJP headquarters he lords over.

No wonder Shah’s decisions surprise not just the masses but also those who used to be considered well-entrenched in Delhi’s circles of selective leaks and gossips.

Amit Shah goes deeper into a matter and as the PM has said, he has brought back the core values which have been the mainstay for us since the Jan Sangh days.

— Ravi Shankar Prasad

“Shah doesn’t believe in the old-style politics of obliging people or of keeping leaders in good humour. He is a man on mission who wants to convert the popularity that the BJP has earned under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi into consolidation of votes and to make BJP a truly pan-India party,” said a top BJP leader.

Shah believes in leading from the front. In his 36-month tenure as BJP president, he has travelled 5,68,940 km, covering 325 out of 680 districts. He has attended 575 rallies and events, and chaired 2203 organizational meetings.

SHAH THE STRATEGIST

He considers organization as something larger than a team. A leader privy to the restructuring at 11 Ashoka Road told News18 that when Shah took charge, he didn’t replace the staff of the president’s office. And unlike popular perception, there is just one person from Gujarat in the current office of the party president who handles Gujarat affairs for him. When Shah took charge, he dismantled cells within the party organisation, which were functioning as silos. Instead, he carved out 19 departments and 10 projects to ensure smooth and effective functioning. These departments, his close aides say, were to give a message that “a party with 11 crore members must have a robust organizational and scientific methods of functioning”.

  • Amit Shah Rally in West Bengal

    National President of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Amit Shah visits party worker's home in slum area at Chetla in Bhabanipur in Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's constituency in Kolkata, on 26th April , 2017. (Photo by Sonali Pal Chaudhury/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Another key message was: “Party ki sanskriti ko badle bina party ke kaam kaaj ka aadhunikaran. (Modernisation of the organization without changing its basic tenets).” This is visible in the way the departments have been designed. For example, there is a department on good governance, policy research, documentation, party journals and publications. Emphasis is also on training and feedback.

Among the 10 projects being undertaken is one on office modernization and district office construction. By 2017, every district in India will have a BJP office. Such is the drive that even in Lakshadweep – a small Muslim-dominated union territory in the Arabian Sea – Shah held a booth Vistarak meeting in the third week of May. Shah has also ensured that party leaders and ministers also hold booth-level interactions.

Shah believes in leading from the front. In his 36-month tenure as BJP president, he has travelled 5,68,940 km, covering 325 out of 680 districts. He has attended 575 rallies and events, and chaired 2203 organizational meetings.

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told News18, “Shah goes deeper into a matter and as the PM has said, he has brought back the core values which have been the mainstay for us since the Jan Sangh days. We have to go to the booths and hold reach out programmes at all levels. He has tightened the organizational nuts and bolts.”

In the last week of April, Shah started the project of spending three days in all big states, two days in small states and one day in each union territory. In all, he will be spending 95 days, travelling over 2 lakh km. His booth Vistarak plan began in West Bengal, a state which ebbed Modi wave in 2014. Kailash Vijayvargiya, BJP’s national general secretary and in-charge of Bengal, recalls his meeting before Shah undertook this yatra. “He asked me — sabse kathin kskhetra kaun sa hai? [Which is the toughest region] And then he said, let’s begin from there,” said Vijayvargiya.

We are strengthening at the booth level and it would be wrong to look at Shah’s BJP as an election winning machine. It’s the one that’s doing politics with a mission of achieving greatness of India.

— Vinay Sahasrabuddhe

Shah holds a review meeting on West Bengal every three months and sets goals for the next three months. “Banjar bhoomi mein bhi woh hariyali karte hain [He can turn barren land into an oasis],” said Vijayvargiya. His conversation with Shah was brief: “He called him and said the organisation is weak in Bengal and he wants to build the party from the ground up.”



PLAYING ON FRONT FOOT

Another interesting aspect is that Shah doesn’t believe in having a core team. He relies on different people for different jobs. “It neutralizes the negative impact of having a coterie,” said another BJP leader.

When asked, a top BJP leader explained Shah’s style of picking people for various jobs with an example. “Once Shah picked a little known Sunil Bansal, who was in ABVP and had first worked in Rajasthan and Delhi. Shah sent Bansal to oversee the implementation of his plans in Uttar Pradesh before the Lok Sabha elections in 2013. His micromanagement gave us 71 MPs,” he said. Bansal also played a key role in delivering the UP state assembly polls for BJP in 2017.

  • Amit Shah at a Press Conference

    BJP President Amit Shah during a press conference at BJP Headquarters, on November 5, 2015 in New Delhi. (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Besides Bansal, Shah’s trust in Ram Madhav as in-charge of strategically crucial Jammu & Kashmir and North East has earned dividends for the party. Madhav is seen as the man behind BJP’s turnaround in Assam. The party is in power in Arunachal Pradesh, is part of the Nagaland government, and it managed to wrest control of Manipur. In the first week of May, Shah travelled to Tripura and launched a scathing attack on Manik Sarkar government. Soon, six Trinamool Congress MLAs rebelled and joined the BJP.

Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, party vice-president and Rajya Sabha MP, feels Shah’s BJP is much more than a ruthless election-winning machine. “We are strengthening at the booth level and it would be wrong to look at BJP as an election winning machine. It’s the one that’s doing politics with a mission of achieving greatness of India.”

There can be no denying that Shah has taken BJP to heights it has never seen in its four-decade history. Political analyst Neerja Chaudhury said, “Shah is unlike the usual politician we have seen. He is hard working, driven with killer instincts, his hunger for power makes him a formidable foe for the Opposition. One may disagree with his approach, but his performance will ultimately be judged by how he has delivered.” When Shah arrived in Delhi, the BJP had government in 7 states, now that number is 18.

Like Modi, he doesn’t take rest and doesn’t let us take rest.

— A BJP leader

A DAY WITH SHAH IN THE FIELD

At 1pm it’s 36 degree Celsius in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. At the Terminal 2 of Biju Patnaik International Airport, BJP workers are waiting patiently for the party president. This is Shah’s third visit to the state in six months, the first was for the BJP national executive meet that happened soon after the party’s Uttar Pradesh victory. Out of 150 Lok Sabha seats identified by BJP as its target territories, 62 are in Odisha and Bengal. Straight from the airport, Shah and his team head to the state guesthouse where he will stay for the next 3 days. First on Shah’s schedule is a meeting with district presidents and other state leaders.

At Kushabhau Thakre hall, Shah is seeking accountability and giving management lessons. “What is the status of grading the booths? And what’s happening with local-level meetings? Learn to distribute the work and the art of getting things done,” Shah tells partymen.

Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who has worked closely with Shah in multiple state elections, told News18 in Odisha, “Shah is a taskmaster and that is his style. He is very methodical and has redefined political activism within the party. Gone are the days of leisure and enjoyment.”


Political analyst Nilanjan Mukopadhyay said Amit Shah has been a very different BJP president, the kind that BJP has never had. “Amit Shah has been able to bring in a kind of cohesion between the party and government, which was non-existent when Vajpayee was the PM. Earlier, BJP and government were often at loggerheads; whereas now you have synergy between the two. This speaks volumes on the way various differences have been handled within the Sangh Parivar,” said Mukopadhyay.

On Day 1 of his Vistarak Yatra, Shah addressed a group of retired professors, teachers and lawyers at Pall Heights Hotel in Bhubaneshwar. His focus was on comparative study of political parties. Hemant Parekh a doctor from Odisha, who was present at the meet, said, “Our CM is disconnected from the ground, he doesn’t step out to interact. The BJP is making an effort.”

LESSER KNOWN SIDE OF SHAH

Sahasrabuddhe recalled how six months ago Shah had asked him to suggest some books on Maratha history. “I went to the Parliament library and picked 12 books for Shah, of which, half of them he returned within 2-3 months. He is a keen student of history and also reads on literature and culture.”

Only a few people know that he maintains meticulous diary before calling it a day. And amid his packed schedule, Shah never forgets to FaceTime with his one-year-old granddaughter. He prefers to take a regular flight and not a private plane for his party visits. He stays at government guesthouses and holds meetings in party offices.

BJP MP Bhupendra Yadav, who has worked closely with Shah for over 7 years, said Shah plays pakhawaj (a classical instrument).

  • Amit Shah at a Book Launch

    BJP National President Amit Shah and Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari during the release of a book ' Bhavishya Ka Bharat' authored by Nitin Gadkari, at Maharashtra Sadan on August 14, 2015 in New Delhi. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

As Shah has entered Rajya Sabha, a sense of panic has set in among the MPs, some of whom were recently pulled up for defying the party whip during the OBC Bill, which left the government red-faced as the Opposition managed to push through some amendments. A junior minister, who was reprimanded for being absent, told News18 that he didn’t leave the Parliament for five days after the matter.

The man who catapulted brand Modi has a unique relationship with the PM. “Like Modi, he doesn’t take rest and doesn’t let us take rest,” said a party leader. Someone who has seen generations of such pairs, from Nehru-Gandhi to Indira-Kamraj to Chandra Shekhar-VP Singh had an interesting observation to make: “Their equation is about perfect mutuality; nation has seen several pairs, but this one is about trust, confidence and respect.”

'I Don’t Think About Future, I Just Keep On Working'

Marya ShakilMarya Shakil | News18.com maryashakil

Published: Septembr 13, 2017


BJP chief Amit Shah, under whose leadership the party has won nearly every election, in a rare freewheeling interview tells CNN-News18’s Marya Shakil about the secret behind his success and his grand plans for the party. Excerpts:

You said that at the age of 13, you had done a comparative study on politics. What made you enter politics and when did you decide?

I said I have been a student of politics since I was 13 years old and I believe in comparative analysis of everything. I have always been a Sangh Swayamsevak. My focus was not to enter in politics, but to be in public life.

The BJP already has 11 crore members. What next for Amit Shah?

I don’t have a personal agenda. The party had an agenda of taking BJP to every booth in the country. There are many states where the BJP is in power. Under PM Modi, we want India to have higher respect.

If I had thought about the future, I would not be where I am right now. I have achieved this only because I never thought about the future. I just keep on working, and I try and fulfil whatever responsibility the party gives me.

In three years of your party leadership, what have been the biggest achievements?

The party now works together. Even in the government, there are members of the party who work relentlessly under the guidance of our PM. Taking a cue from Modi’s aura, our party has moved from strength to strength. It’s a collective effort.

You have given the party Mission 350. In Odisha, you have spoken about 120 seats. Many might term it as an ambitious plan.

Mission 350 is a term coined by the media, not by me. But yes, it is certain that the party wants to expand in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Bengal and North-East. We are doing our groundwork well and I am sure that we will achieve electoral success in these states.

  • Amit ShahCV

    (Graphic by News18 Creative)

As the head of the ruling party, where do you think the Opposition is failing?

Politics in India has always been governed by three aspects — caste, nepotism and appeasement. Now, however, under the able leadership of Modi, India has seen a tremendous development and change. The three aspects I mentioned have been dumped by the citizens of the country. BJP has always focused on performance-based politics and on the basis of this, democracy has a new vision and direction. This is the reason why we have been successful. We have only concentrated on performance, nothing else. There have been controversies, but we have never been affected by it. We have our eyes firm on the target. Making politics of performance the central point in Indian polity has been our biggest plus point. And I would like all parties to follow this performance-based politics than any other aspect.

Isn’t strong Opposition very important for a healthy democracy?

Of course, it’s necessary. But then I can’t make the Opposition, the people do.

You have shown a keen interest in Odisha and West Bengal. Do you think Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee are challengers?

If at all, there have to be challengers, they have to be performance-based and I don’t think Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee pose a challenge to the BJP. The states they rule are still two of the most backward states in the country.

With reference to West Bengal, we are seeing BJP events being cancelled, permissions being denied for use of auditoriums, etc. How do you read this?

I think not giving permission to the Opposition or letting them speak at events might be her habit. But such acts don’t work. Starting from Indira Gandhi, many leaders have tried to suppress voices but it has not happened. I will go to Bengal for sure and conduct an event.

Where is the BJP lacking in Odisha and Bengal? Do you think it’s also important to project a face?

The party’s strategy and the face for these two states will be decided when the elections are near. There will be discussions at the Parliamentary Board level and then things will be taken forward. As far as shortcomings are concerned, I think they are much less now. If you look back at the previous polls, BJP has been at third or fourth position. Now, in both states, it is the principal opposition. Also, I’m seeing anti-incumbency in both states, which is favorable to the principal opposition.

But if the civic poll results are anything to go by, Mamata Banerjee seems have a loyal voter base.

Analyze it minutely. There has been a growth in the BJP’s base in the state. That’s a big development, brushing aside the TMC and Congress. And also, let’s not forget how elections are conducted there — there’s so much rigging. Mamata has left behind the Communists in terms of rigging the elections.

In Tamil Nadu, do you see Dravidian politics as a big challenge?

Even in Tamil Nadu, we are trying to bring focus on development and transparency.

You have said that by 2018, all north eastern states will be with BJP and its allies. Take Sikkim, for example. In the last 35 years, they have never voted for a national party. How do you look at that?

As far as Sikkim is concerned, as part of North-East Democratic Alliance, the ruling party there is a part of NDA and therefore working in tandem with us. So, we are all together anyway. NEDA was created by us for the north eastern states and all NEDA members are with us on this.

There is always some speculation on the equation between BJP and RSS. How would you define it?</p>

The equation is as it should be. The BJP and the RSS have the same equation that a nationalist party should have with the largest nationalist organization. And it is a good equation.

There is perception that you have changed the language of politics. The way you announced President Ramnath Kovind and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu’s candidature, it was seen as surprise by many political observers.

The BJP has always functioned like this — from the party and its office. This might be the first time that we have a complete majority as far as President and the Vice President are concerned. That said, the BJP has always worked like this. BJP has always worked from the party office and not from any leader’s house.

What are you reading these days?

I am reading a book on history. It talks about times starting from the origin of Earth right till the modern Indian history.

Vistaraks: General Shah's Army for 2019

Tushar DharaSumit Pande | News18.com @sumitpsumit

Published: September 13, 2017

In the run up to Uttar Pradesh elections early this year, BJP President Amit Shah asked a Union minister from the state, who was dropped in the recent reshuffle, to prepare for zila panchayat elections. It was a proposition fraught with risks. Samajwadi Party was in power and political parties in government tend to have an upper hand in local body polls.

“But then the party president was looking at it as an opportunity to test waters and expand base in the run up to the high-stake battle in UP,” reminisced the former minister in a chat earlier this year.

Any other BJP president would have probably played it safe. Or even wouldn’t have taken the trouble of managing local body polls. Not Amit Shah.

Under Shah, the BJP is a voracious political animal with an insatiable appetite to expand. It has the hunger to succeed as it aims to replace Congress as the natural party for governance — both at the Centre and in the states.

Though it is a fact that Shah is building the new-BJP on bedrock laid by millions of anonymous workers who toiled for decades when power was a distant dream. When cadre betrayed an uneasy diffidence about their political preferences; when it would take none less than a senior leader like L K Advani to publically implore karyakartas not to be “apologetic about ideological moorings”.

  • Modi adressing BJP workers

    General view of BJP Karyakarta Sammelan addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at DLW Ground on December 22, 2016 in Varanasi. (Photo by Adarsh Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

It no doubts helps to be the President when your party is in power at the Centre with a majority of its own.

But in the last three years, BJP as a political institution has shown unconventional streaks both within and outside to surprise many of its staunchest adversaries.

It has brought what Congress leader Jairam Ramesh calls an existential crisis for the Grand Old Party. It has mellowed down a rather un-flappable Mani Shankar Aiyer to introspect. Gone is the swagger of January 2014 when he famously predicted that ‘Chaiwala’ Narendra Modi will never be PM in the 21st Century. “But if he wants to distribute tea here, we will find a place for him,” quipped Aiyer.

There is a reason why the opposition in general and Congress as the main protagonist in particular are showing signs of nervousness. Because BJP as a main pole in the polity under Modi-Shah today is both unpredictable and unsparing. It is a party which is daring to think big. It is aiming to breach frontiers which were hitherto considered beyond reach. And most importantly, it is matching its intentions with rigour and discipline on the ground.

There is a reason why the opposition in general and Congress as the main protagonist in particular are showing signs of nervousness. Because BJP as a main pole in the polity under Modi-Shah today is both unpredictable and unsparing.

You just have to travel 30 kilometers from the Capital on the National Highway-24 to make sense of it all. On Minakshi Road in downtown Hapur, Shishupal Sagar is the first one to reach the district party office.

He’s been handpicked by BJP and appointed to groom the party for the next general elections in the district which is part of Meerut Lok Sabha constituency. It has a relatively high percentage of Dalit votes.

The thirty years old bachelor hails from Swar in Rampur district and started his political career as district Scheduled Caste morcha chief of Rampur.

“I used to work as a foreman in a factory by night and do party work during the day. And then I was asked to oversee BJP preparations in Sambhal Assembly segment during vidhan sabha polls,” says Shishupal.

He will now work fulltime for the party’s expansion till 2019 general elections. “We do not coordinate with anyone else but the top party brass in Lucknow. That is general secretary organization,” he says. He reports directly to Sunil Bansal, Amit Shah’s close aide currently on deputation from the RSS.

  • Shishupal Sagar

    Shishupal Sagar. (Photo: Sumit Pande)

How difficult it is to convince voters, especially Dalits in a milieu when Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party is seen as a natural choice for the community? “Not really,” Shishupal counters. “We lost Sambhal in the last Assembly polls. But we were able to win over a substantial section of Dalit voters in the constituency by sheer tenacity,” he says.

Like Shishupal, there are thousands of such fulltime vistaraks who are quietly on deployment across the country, preparing for the next election. Whenever it happens, at whatever level— from nagar panchayat to the parliament.

This expansion programme is Shah’s brainchild. It is a unique scheme which Shah has brought to the BJP’s regimen. This is his silent army digging trenches for the next big battle.

More than three lakh vistaraks would be fanning out across the country in the next two years to expand the party and prepare for the next big challenge in 2019. 3,70,000 to be precise. A majority will devote a fortnight in a constituency. Some will work fulltime for six months. Around 600 poorna-kalik vistaraks will oversee preparations till the next Lok Sabha elections.

I used to work as a foreman in a factory by night and do party work during the day. And then I was asked to oversee BJP preparations in Sambhal Assembly segment during vidhan sabha polls.

— Shishupal Sagar

For instance, 27-year-old Anmol Saxena is a management graduate who has left his job to work fulltime for the BJP. He comes from Chandausi in Western UP and has been assigned to work in Noida parliamentary constituency. Saxena is the eyes and the ears of the BJP in Noida, operating quietly out of a single room in an outhouse owned by BJP district secretary Yogendra Choudhery in Barola village.

“It is important to segregate organisation from government, now that we are in power in UP,” he says.

Far from dusty lanes of Hindi heartland, Bangalore Central MP PC Mohan was asked to devote at least 15 days for the expansion of the party — to take BJP and its ideology to areas outside his own constituency.

Shah himself is traveling to all provinces this year as a part of this program. In Amit Shah’s BJP, processes and procedures, schemes and program are implemented and monitored at all levels. From the grassroots to the top. From Shishupal Sagar and Anmol Saxena to Shah himself.

The concept of vistarak as an instrument of ideological expansion is something which Shah has adapted straight from the RSS’ manual. While pracharaks are fulltime workers bound by lifelong vow to celibacy, vistaraks can come from any walk of life — any swayamsewak for that matter, bachelor or married, retired or working — who devote a certain period every year to Sangh.

There is bound to be some attrition in North, central and western provinces where we have already peaked. The idea is to win new seats to offset losses elsewhere.

— A senior BJP leader

The flexibility attributed to vistarak thus, vis-a-vis that of a celibate pracharak makes former an ideal model in human resource mobilisation. The emphasis under the program is as much on ideological expansion as it is on booth management.

If recent Assembly polls are anything to go by, mobilisation of miscellaneous votes has been the hallmark of Shah’s strategy in first past the post system. In Uttarakhand for instance, Congress’ vote share increased by a less than 1% as compared to the last Assembly. A close look at final data shows BJP was able to mop up votes from smaller parties to consolidate its position and win a three-forth majority.

For 2019, senior party leaders says BJP is eyeing 120 Lok Sabha seats it lost in 2014 general elections. “There is bound to be some attrition in North, central and western provinces where we have already peaked. The idea is to win new seats to offset losses elsewhere,” says a senior BJP leader.

Special emphasis is on areas where BJP has failed to cross the threshold to convert votes into seats. Shah is looking East, towards Coromandel coasts. In Tamil Nadu BJP is working on a plan to fill in the vacuum created by Jayalalitha’s death. An alliance with a united AIADMK will be better placed to take on DMK-Congress combine. In Kerala, it is aiming to emerge as the main opposition to the Left Front. In Karnataka, a second home run to Siddaramaiah would chock Congress of resources before the next general elections.

Recently, Shah’s surprise nomination to Rajya Sabha has in a way completed the transition of Modi-Shah duo from Gandhinagar to Delhi. In a BJP Parliamentary Party meeting, PM Modi told MPs that leisure days are over. The message was loud and clear to everyone present in the room — from senior ministers to absentee lawmakers who go missing from the Parliament despite repeated reminders. That Amit Shah is here. And he is here to stay.

(More News18 Immersives)