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3-min read

OPINION | Reminiscent of Vajpayee-Advani Bond, Why Amit Shah May be Modi's Shadow in New Govt

The Modi-Shah binary may limit upward mobility, but then, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani did so from the inception of the BJP in 1980 to 2004.

Bhavdeep Kang |

Updated:June 1, 2019, 11:00 AM IST
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OPINION | Reminiscent of Vajpayee-Advani Bond, Why Amit Shah May be Modi's Shadow in New Govt
Amit Shah joined the new cabinet of PM Narendra Modi as Home minister (Photo: PTI)
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The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah binary scripted the BJP's expansionism in the first phase of the NDA. The second phase marks a shift of focus to government. Shah has been inducted as Home minister, but his importance in the Prime Minister's scheme of things goes far beyond his portfolio. The two have been joined at the hip since the election results, heralding big and bold decisions.

What of the Six Sigma electoral machinery crafted by Shah? With every last one of the BJP heavyweights either in the government or hors de combat, the party has much less heft. Can it function as efficiently in the upcoming assembly elections as it did in the past five years, without the benefit of Shah's formidable managerial skills, ruthless efficiency and commanding personality?

Even more intriguing is the question of how the post-electoral hegemonistic control over government and party exercised by the PM and Shah, will affect the RSS-BJP-NDA dynamic. In the last five years, a system of consultation and coordination between the RSS and government was instituted and functioned quite effectively, alleviating fears that Modi would outgrow the sangh.

The RSS intervened occasionally but strongly on matters of policy, such as the short-lived Land Acquisition Ordinance. Although several RSS-mediated appointments were widely criticised, it was also seen as a leavening force.

Cabinet formation appears to have been a collective exercise, prima facie indicating that the existing system will continue. RSS number two Suresh 'Bhaiyyaji' Joshi drew up a list of names which were duly conveyed to the PM. The final shape of the council of ministers was arrived at after discussion, with the PM naturally having the last word and Shah making the calls to the select few. This spirit of accommodation is likely to be carried over to the government.

The question is really about how much influence the RSS will choose to exercise over the selection of the BJP president and office-bearers now and in the future. The PM was the RSS choice of prime ministerial nominee in 2013 and maintains an umblical attachment to the mother ship. You can take a pracharak out of the RSS, but you can't take the RSS out of a pracharak.

Shah, who started his political career with the ABVP (and is not a pracharak), is already being described as the PM's succession plan, should Modi choose to retire from politics at 75, six years from now. However, it may be too early to speculate on a post-Modi scenario and where Shah fits into it. At 54, he has a good 21 years to go. Already seen as the de facto number two, he is the youngest of the first-rung leaders and indeed, younger than many of the second-rung leaders.

The Modi-Shah binary may limit upward mobility, but then, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani did so from the inception of the BJP in 1980 to 2004. Advani is credited with having created a strong second rung, a task which now falls to Shah.

In Modi's first term, Arun Jaitley was a power centre in government, while Shah was busy building the party and conquering new territories. The PM appeared to rely heavily on Jaitley, at least in the initial years. But even at his most influential, the ailing BJP leader did not enjoy the kind of clout that Shah now does.

He may have joined the Cabinet, but in all likelihood, Shah will be tasked with managing the aspirations of the allies, mediating disputes, troubleshooting, strategising elections and generally functioning as the PM's right hand. Between them, the PM and Home minister have oversight over the regulatory agencies, which may well give sleepless nights to some opposition leaders.

To say that Shah has emerged from the PM's shadow is not entirely correct. He is the PM's shadow. Many, in fact, see him as the shadow PM.

(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)

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