When Bhartiya Janata Party president Amit Shah filed his nomination papers to contest the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha seat, previously held by party patriarch LK Advani, it seemed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s closest aide was shedding his image as a backroom poll strategist to lead from the front.
Dubbed the “Chanakya” of politics, Shah has been the party’s second-in-command since 2014, but is now emerging from Modi’s shadow and assuming charge of a higher profile, with the spotlight firmly on him.
Political observers had predicted a bigger role for Shah soon after his Lok Sabha candidature. So, it came as no surprise when the BJP’s campaign song for the assembly elections featured just two faces from the party – Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
With the resounding victory of the party under Shah and his recent induction into the Cabinet as Home Minister, the BJP chief is now seen as the natural successor to Modi. Modi has also reconstituted the Cabinet Committees, in an exercise which reflects the special importance given to Home Minister Amit Shah, who has been made part of all the eight panels, while Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is a member of only two.
Significantly, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, which makes appointments to key positions like CVC and CBI Director, consists of only Modi and Shah.
Shah’s appointment may be seen as the reward for BJP’s spectacular win in the elections bagging 303 seats on its own.
While Modi is the face of the BJP, Shah is the master strategist behind the scenes, akin to the Vajpayee-Advani relationship. Modi is the party’s primary vote-catcher while Shah is the one stitching up alliances and looking after party affairs.
Shah has become a familiar figure in the country by campaigning extensively across the country and appearing in media interviews. His rise also comes at a time when many senior BJP leaders like Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj are withdrawing from politics. Although Shah has been in national politics since 2013, it is his entry in the Lok Sabha that will launch him as a leader of the masses.
During the elections Amit Shah addressed more rallies than Prime Minister Modi, emerging as a good orator while also drawing flak for the provocative content in his speeches. Political pundits believe Shah’s entry in the government is the BJP’s first step towards putting in place a succession plan.
Modi will be well over 73 years in 2024 while Shah will be just turning 60 years old. With the party retiring septuagenarians, it is unlikely that Modi will contest in 2024 and Shah’s entry may lay the ground for the transition of power in five years’ time.
Born into an affluent Gujarati family in Mumbai in 1964, Shah lived and studied in his paternal village Maansa in Gujarat until the age of 16. Upon completion of his school education, Shah's family shifted to Ahmedabad, where he became an active member of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS). In all his years in politics, Amit Shah is yet to lose an election.
He joined the BJP in 1984-85 and since become its president. Shah became a loyalist of Modi as both were associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) since their early age. During his tenure as Minister in Gujarat, Shah held several portfolios including that of transport, police, housing, border security, civil defence, gram rakshak dal, Home Guards, prison, prohibition, excise, law and justice, parliamentary affairs and the coveted Home Ministry.
Shah has transformed the profile of the BJP, which for a long time was seen as a party of forward castes in the state. He also strengthened the so-called rainbow coalition by striking a pre-poll alliance with smaller regional outfits. The BJP under Shah has proved to be an election-winning machine.
Shah’s leadership in the high-profile Home Ministry is expected to usher in a certain decisiveness and an iron-hand approach to terror, insurgency and secessionism.
While former home minister Rajnath Singh had given a free hand to security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, resulting in heavy casualties among terrorists, Shah is expected to be proactive and lead from the front.
With his appointment as the Home Minister, Shah's policy in J&K will be crucial. Security and development initiatives are likely to be pushed in J&K ahead of the Assembly elections in October-November this year.
Shah's role will also be significant in bringing clarity on how the Centre wants to address the issue of Article 35A in J&K. Besides, Shah will face the challenge of keeping up pressure on terrorists and ensure an incident-free Amarnath Yatra.
Completion of the NRC exercise in Assam within the deadline, set by the Supreme Court, is also an immediate challenge. Also, he faces the task of getting the Citizenship Bill passed by the Rajya Sabha, while ensuring that it does not cause unrest in Assam and other north-eastern states.
Under his leadership, central forces can be expected to make further inroads into Maoist bastions, while placing no premium on talks with insurgents where their demands impinge on sovereignty or constitutional parameters.
Even though Shah has emerged as the second most powerful person in the country, he is not seen as competition or an alternative to Modi yet. Neither does Shah enjoy Modi’s popularity with the masses nor does he pose a threat to him given that he owes his political career to the prime minister.
After masterminding the 2014 victory, Shah was called the "man of the match" by Modi before he went on to become BJP president. Now, as the party’s ultimate man for all seasons, Shah does not seem too far away from getting the nation’s top job.