Decoding three years of the Shah of BJP
New Delhi: On Sunday, Amit Shah completed three years as the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It was more than just a coincidence that this personal milestone for Shah came about 15 days after Nitish Kumar’s challenge to Narendra Modi folded and he joined the ranks of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
The moment captured the substance of Shah’s tenure at the helm: the relentless efforts of Shah combined with Modi, both organic and inorganic (as it happened in Bihar), in spreading the BJP’s electoral footprint nationally. It has established unprecedented dominance. As a graphic published in Mint showed, the BJP, is the first party since the Congress, to be in power in 18 states—in seven of them it is the first time the BJP is in power—besides being at the helm in the centre.
This makeover has an underlying science and Shah, as the party president, owns bulk of the credit. Tirelessly and unmindful of humiliating reverses in Delhi and Bihar, he has pushed the party to test its limits. Logs maintained by the party reveal that as the president, he has travelled nearly 560,000km across the country in the last three years, undertaken 303 outstation tours, visited 315 of the 680 districts including 300 overnight halts.
The foundation to this dramatic makeover of the BJP’s electoral fortunes is the membership drive that Shah undertook after taking charge—it crossed 100 million in 2015, the highest ever. More importantly, it was the first attempt to transform the BJP into a mass-based political party. Before the launch of this campaign, the BJP had only 35 million members—yet it had succeeded in winning 171.6 million votes to etch its audacious win in the 2014 general election.
Alongside the Shah-Modi combine accelerated the social re-engineering of the party, especially in the choice of new legislators from outside of the traditional pool of upper castes, they had first initiated ahead of the 16th general election. Insiders attribute this to be the key to the party’s success, both in the Lok Sabha and assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh—a state where caste matters. While it won 71 seats in the Lok Sabha polls, it was the winner in a staggering 312 of the 403 constituencies in assembly elections.
“The BJP got 34.4 million votes in Uttar Pradesh assembly polls in 2017, but the party’s vote share was only 11.3 million in 2012, the increase of over 23 million votes or 25 percentage points shows the success of BJP’s social engineering and its attempts to reach out to different communities in the state,” said a senior BJP leader from the Rajya Sabha.
Senior BJP leaders point out that it is under Shah, the party for the first time reached out to both economically and socially weaker sections of the society.
But nothing succeeds like success.
“The biggest success of Amit Shah as BJP president has been his ability to win elections and form governments in 15 states,” said a second BJP leader who is closely associated with the party president.
BJP insiders also flag the consummate organizational skills of Shah in influencing the unprecedented rise of the party during his tenure at the helm. Especially in streamlining the state and district-level organizational network of the BJP to ensure a strong grassroots presence.
“Amit Shah is of the opinion that booth management is the first step in strengthening the BJP. For the first time, BJP has started forming its booth level committees by reaching out to different socio-economic sections of the people. Apart from inducting people of different socio-economic backgrounds, the BJP has also focussed its efforts on involving women and youth in the party as well as at grass-roots level,” the BJP leader added.
At present Amit Shah’s efforts are focussed on expanding the BJP’s presence in a new set of states: West Bengal, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. The BJP’s existing presence in these states is negligible; Shah, say insiders, has identified 120 Lok Sabha seats where the BJP can improve on its performance.
“To further his mass contact strategy, Shah has himself met over 12,500 people during his visits,” the same BJP leader added.
Sanjay Kumar, a political analyst and director at the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, sums up Shah’s three-year tenure thus: “It has been perfect. He has been winning elections after elections, he has managed to change the social and voter base of the party. What more can be expected from a party president.”