[dropcap]A[/dropcap]mit Shah is back as the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party for a full term. He faces a colossal test in the form of Assembly elections in 2016. Borrowing from the title of a book authored by Rakesh Gupta, Shah was being referred to as “Chanakya” because of his game-changing electoral strategies, which contributed to the back to back victories of Bhartiya Janata Party in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu & Kashmir. However, the second half of his first tenure observed successive defeats of the BJP in Delhi and Bihar despite the so-called Modi wave and his electoral strategy.
The ‘Chanakya’ faces his next test in his second term with Assembly elections in West Bengal, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Puducherry, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam where elections are scheduled in 2016 and 2017. Moreover, the BJP faces tough challenge in a majority of the States because of being an irrelevant player so far in some of them.
A spate of victories of the party had led to a sense of egotism and pomposity among the top leadership, leading to overconfidence. The outcome was the setbacks in Delhi and Bihar. The strategy of the leadership to rely on outsiders and completely marginalise the grassroot karyakartas (workers) created resentment in the ranks of the cadre, leading to a humiliating defeat. A unified internal party structure in the BJP has emerged as a myth during the difficult times. The period of losses witnessed dissent and creation of foes within, as power centralization was at its peak.
No doubt, Shah has also led a determined membership drive through which people could join the party through electronic mediums. The ambitious drive is believed to have registered more than 10,00,00,000 karyakartas around the globe, which made the BJP the largest political party in the world surpassing China’s Communist Party.
Shah’s strength lies in his ability to mobilize grassroot workers. He is often considered a grassroot-level manager. That’s evident in his meetings with workers across the country every Monday without prior appointment at the BJP headquarters as much as in his samvad programme. At the same time, the ‘Chanakya’ has failed to strike a balance with some senior leaders who often criticize him for being inaccessible. Subramanian Swamy and former party secretaries, for example, have failed to get an appointment with Shah for over a year despite more than two attempts and they have publicly expressed their concern.
Shah’s propinquity with Narendra Modi has been built over the last 3 decades; he understands the Prime Minister’s mind better than anyone else in the party. The two have worked together since the late 1980s when Modi, then an RSS pracharak, entered the party and Shah was a junior party worker. Thus, Shah has the blessings of the mother organization RSS and its leaders believe that Shah’s loyalty to the Sangh Parivar cannot be questioned because of his connect to the roots.
No party president has been such an election strategist as Shah. His firmness during the 2014 general elections as the Uttar Pradesh in-charge is believed to be the main factor behind the party’s grand victory in the State at the general elections. Before him, UP elections were witness to a trend where nominations would be given only to candidates residing in constituencies for which they sought a ticket. Even the senior leaders or their acolytes failed to extract tickets from Shah.
Unlike In Uttar Pradesh, local leaders were sidelined in Delhi and Bihar. The campaign was run with the help of a handful of outsiders and just two faces in the posters — Modi and Shah. Even the Union ministers who campaigned in Bihar were not happy with the dictatorial functioning of the ‘high command’. On the other hand, a negative campaign that turned Nitish Kumar into an object of sympathy, war of words that did not behove the Prime Minister, RSS chief’s remarks on caste-based reservations quoted at an inopportune time, pride and complacency contributed to a huge setback.
If the party and its leadership learn from their past, BJP’s Chanakya might turn the direction of the narrative and lead it to victory in some key States in the upcoming Assembly elections. An all-out effort coupled with judiciousness can make the BJP win Assam, emerge as the second largest party in West Bengal, open its account impressively in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and make the party a good contender for power in Uttar Pradesh. Punjab will be tough to retain, with the Shiromani Akali Dal facing a severe image crisis.