When he was appointed Uttar Pradesh BJP in-charge in 2014, many people had apprehensions, as to how Amit Shah, the tainted minister in Gujarat government – an ‘outsider’- will manage the election campaign in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Shah ran an extensive campaign, marred by charges of polarising Hindus to vote for BJP en masse. BJP’s door-to-door campaign, backed by a number of rallies by Narendra Modi, turned out to be a success not even BJP had expected – 73 Lok Sabha seats, powering it to become the first party in 30 years to form government on its own. Here, Amit Shah was credited more than Modi – for hitting all the chords right. Shah also got a huge reward in return – the chair of India’s most powerful party. Yet, his critics were not silent. Many argued that UP’s success was nothing but a result of Hindu majoritarianism, and Modi wave, and Shah didn’t do anything to justify his appointment as BJP chief. His proximity with Modi, and not the victory in Uttar Pradesh, was credited for his elevation.
If 2014 was difficult, 2017 looked impossible. The pollsters were so confident that what happened in General Elections was nothing but a celestial event in politics, which was not going occur again. Shah was on the most difficult ride of his political journey, to prove that what happened in 2014 wasn’t just a fluke. He had to prove his ability as party president and become present day’s ‘Chanakya’. A victory in UP ostensibly meant that Shah, the second-in-command in BJP after Modi, would be regarded as second most powerful person in country after the Prime Minister.
Shah once again stepped in – same target, different strategy. Unlike 2014, when people voted to oust the corruption-tainted UPA regime, the mandate this time was more like a referendum on policies of Modi-government. The decisions like demonetisation, surgical strikes, bank account drive, were some of the shields protecting Modi and Shah from heavy salvos fired by Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav. The polarisation this time was replaced by the term ‘favoritism’. Shah banked upon the idea of making voters realise that all the other parties target, and will remain targeting, their respective vote banks to fulfil their own vested interests. BSP and SP were hit at points where it hurt most. The general public perception about Maywati that she indulges in corrupt activities and ends up filling her bank account was well communicated to people from the national stages by using catchphrases like SCAM and Behenji Sampatti Party. Result: A decimation of BSP.
Akhilesh Yadav, who looked a tough challenger to Narendra Modi, was attacked for not shielding tainted netas like Gayatri Prajapati, and pushing state’s Law and Order situation into haywire. Result: SP came down to 47 seats, it’s lowest ever number after 1992, and newly elected president’s potency at stake.
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Unlike the other elections, BJP didn’t rope in any ‘star’ campaigner this time. Modi in lead, and Shah in the side role were only names party banked upon. Here we shouldn’t miss out Yogi Adityanath, who maintained the communal tempo high till the last lap. He, however didn’t hog the limelight. Shah campaigned aggressively in the state, his speeches were telecast live on the TV sets, reaching straight to the drawing rooms of Uttar Pradesh’s end voters, and were laded with sarcasm and catchphrases – hitting the headlines and forcing pundits to write opinions.
The ticket distribution was also well managed by Shah. BJP members witnessed some very hard decisions — the downsizing of sitting MLAs and issuing tickets to new faces and even the turncoats on the basis of winnability. The party faced great deal with great degree of resentment and protests from within. The local leaders protested hard. This happened in at least a dozen of constituencies, including Varanasi, where supporters of seven-time MLA from Varanasi South, Shyam Dev Roy Chowdhary, or Dada, created a lot of trouble that PM himself had to pacify the leader at Kashi Vishwanath temple.
Similarly, in Chakia, the Assembly constituency of Union home minister Rajnath Singh, supporters of BSP turncoat Sharda Prasad created problems for the party. Some of the members of Yogi Adityanath’s Hindu Yuva Vahini went on to reportedly fight the elections as independents.
In spite of all the troubles, Shah and Modi went ahead with ticket distribution as decided, and not a single ticket was cancelled. Many local unit leaders, by the end of the polls were pacified, with reports saying that the top brass of BJP personally conveyed their appeal to workers to remain united in testing times, and promising due rewards at better opportunities.
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Shah’s selection of candidates, in terms of caste arithmetic, was probably most diverse (read experimentation) ever in terms of the social background of the nominees. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a single Muslim candidate. Amit Shah didn’t go with the candidates of majority communities in local areas. Instead, the party focused on 50-60% of the electorate – the upper castes, the non-Yadav OBCs, and the non-Jatav Dalits. Despite the fact that Jatav Dalit form more than 60 per cent of the total Dalit votes, the BJP gave representation to non-Jatav Scheduled castes. While it gave tickets to only 23 Jatavs. On the other hand, it selected 21 candidates from the Pasi caste, the second largest Dalit caste which forms about 16 per cent of state’s Dalit population. This broke into Mayawati’s traditional vote bank at several constituencies. While Muslim votes got divided between SP and BSP. All in all, it was a tricky arthimetic, still to be cracked by political pundits.
Now that Amit Shah has passed this exam, quite by distinction, there is little doubt left that BJP president is second only in BJP after Modi, and moreover in the entire country’s politics. Shah, riding on Modi’s back, has clearly emerged as the most successful saffron party leader ever. In current scenario, he’s not just the right hand, but the backbone of PM Modi, and his plans. Clearly, much depends on Shah’s shoulders now.