Amit Shah and the March of BJP [Kindle Edition]

Citation preview



Anirban Ganguly Shiwanand Dwivedi

BLOOMSBURY INDIA Bloomsbury Publishing India Pvt. Ltd Second Floor, LSC Building No. 4, DDA Complex, Pocket C – 6 & 7, Vasant Kunj New Delhi 110070 BLOOMSBURY, BLOOMSBURY INDIA and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published in India 2019 This edition published 2019 Copyright © Anirban Ganguly, Shiwanand Dwivedi 2019 Pictures © Anirban Ganguly, Shiwanand Dwivedi 2019 Anirban Ganguly and Shiwanand Dwivedi have asserted their right under the Indian Copyright Act to be identified as the Author(s) of this work All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage or retrieval system, without the prior permission in writing from the publishers Bloomsbury Publishing Plc does not have any control over, or responsibility for, any thirdparty websites referred to or in this book. All internet addresses given in this book were correct at the time of going to press. The author and publisher regret any inconvenience caused if addresses have changed or sites have ceased to exist, but can accept no responsibility for any such changes ISBN: PB: 978-9-3881-3411-8; eBook: 978-9-3881-3413-2 2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1 Created by Manipal Digital Systems Bloomsbury Publishing Plc makes every effort to ensure that the papers used in the manufacture of our books are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in wellmanaged forests. Our manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin To find out more about our authors and books visit and sign up for our newsletters

CONTENTS Foreword Introduction Chapter 1 : Chapter 2 : Chapter 3 : Chapter 4 : Chapter 5 : Chapter 6 : Chapter 7 : Chapter 8 : Chapter 9 : Chapter 10 : Chapter 11 : Chapter 12 : Chapter 13 : Chapter 14 :

From the Lamp to the Lotus Rising Through the Ranks Ideology: The Soul The Tradition and Institution of Pravaas and Yatras Shah’s Pravaas: Expanding the Footprints The Journey: From 10 to 10 Crores Reaching out to Every Booth The Culture of Samvad Modernising While Retaining the Essence Read and Reflect Shah’s ‘Mission UP’ At the Peak of Success The Bridge 2019 and Challenges

Endnotes Amit Shah’s Quotes Selected Videos Links with QR Codes Acknowledgements About the Authors



n public life continuously for the last four decades, Amit Shah has risen today to become the national president of the world’s largest political party. He also comes forth as the principle troubleshooter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has successfully run a full majority government for the last five years. Everyone knows the Amit Shah of national politics, but there is perhaps hardly anyone who can definitively claim that they know everything about him. Starting from the early years of his political career to being elected member of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) in 2017, Shah has never lost an election; it reflects his electoral and organisational acumen and tenacity. Over the years, he has also emerged as a master in contesting elections and in making others contest as well. Amit Shah’s unique capacity for strategising elections is well recognised, but few know that electoral politics is only one dimension of his personality. Shah is also among those few leaders who like to break the status-quo and to reject outdated methods of doing things. He has always come across as quick to devise and to adopt new ways, displaying phenomenal organisational abilities and an adept at crisis management. Amit Shah’s life cannot be bound in a single tome, but one can certainly get an insight into a number of unknown dimensions of his life from this book. The first thing that one perhaps needs to learn from Amit Shah is how to convert challenges into opportunities. He resolutely converted a very difficult phase in his life into one that became a life-transforming period. There was a time when, as we know, Shah faced police cases, had to leave Gujarat as an exile on the order of the court and was compelled to live a cloistered existence in Delhi. On the one hand, he was separated from his family, on the

other, he had to stay put in a new city, with people he did not know, constantly doing the rounds of courts and unable to talk freely over the phone, apprehensive that his calls were being monitored. Anyone else in his shoes would have given up in despair and may have left politics altogether, but not Shah. I have seen him face several crisis situations. Not only did Shah work on each case with his lawyers meticulously, but he himself went into details of each one of them and like an adroit lawyer planned every move. In these trying times, one never saw him fatigued and worried, instead, he always exuded a quiet confidence. The most interesting aspect of Amit Shah’s life during this phase of trial and tribulations was that he converted the compulsion of having to live in Delhi in exile into an occasion for strengthening the various dimensions of his life. Anyone who has the ability to convert a crisis into an opportunity and does not fear struggle can never be defeated. Amit Shah repeatedly demonstrated this indomitable ability. Initially, the Delhi-based ‘Lutyen’s caucus’ saw Amit Shah as merely Narendra Modi’s man Friday. They saw Shah as the key person who could lead them to Modi. They never really tried to know Shah beyond this. Only when he performed the historic electoral feat of winning 73 seats for the BJP from Uttar Pradesh did they want to know him better. Those in the corridors of power began wondering who he was and where he had come from. All agreed that had Uttar Pradesh not seen such a result, one would not see a stable Narendra Modi government at the Centre. Whenever the ‘Lutyen’s consensus’ perceives someone who can weave electoral victories from the grass roots and on difficult terrains, their inquisitiveness increases. Everyone wanted to know someone who knew Amit Shah. The inquisitiveness increased manifold, once Shah became the national president of the BJP—everybody now wanted to connect with him. But there were few who really knew Shah, and Shah himself met very few people. Even in the national team that he put together to run the party, there were very few who were widely known faces. Those in the corridors of power in Delhi often find it difficult to evaluate such a personality and

despite trying their best, they could neither really understand Amit Shah nor could they get through to him. In the meanwhile, Shah had already started leaving his imprint on national politics. Under his organisational leadership, the party began winning a series of elections. The more he continued to emerge as a strong and skilful strategist, the greater was the interest in him. Amit Shah also established himself as a powerful orator and a section of the national media in Delhi saw in him a leader who could resolutely and convincingly riposte to their questions. Shah has never cared for criticism and pays scant attention to advices proffered by the ‘Lutyen’s elite’. He did not alter his style of functioning and was thus promptly labelled as arrogant. He was patronisingly advised that since ‘You are president of the party, meet people, meet party people freely and take everyone along.’ But Shah neither changed his style of working nor did he alter his way of thinking and went on to make the BJP the world’s largest party, a record. Through the media and other mediums, he successfully communicated with people. From Jammu and Kashmir in the north to Tripura in the northeast, he ensured the BJP’s victory, while in Goa he outsmarted the Congress. Ironically, when the BJP formed the government in Goa despite having fewer seats, it was said by some that Amit Shah resorted to wrong methods, while in Karnataka, despite being the largest party when the BJP could not form a government, these same people exclaimed that Amit Shah failed in forming a government. Shah, of course, is unmoved by such criticisms. This attitude of his continues to be a mystery to the ‘Delhi class’. Some may seem to know him but nobody actually does. It is for this, if not for anything else, that a book on Amit Shah was much required. Shah has adopted an innovative approach to electioneering. When it comes to the selection of candidates, he emphasises winnability and pursues scientific analysis. He has not given space to the culture of recommendations and nepotism in the selection process. It was a difficult and risk-filled path for him. But then Shah is known for altering tactics and to face challenges

head-on. To stick to his conviction and to do politics on his terms and in his way is Shah’s trademark. He knows only too well that there is a great danger in such an approach since a slight setback leads people to open up fronts against him. What sets Amit Shah apart from many others is his insistence on continuing on his chosen path without caring for such eventualities. For those who know very little about Amit Shah but are interested in knowing about him, this book will definitely be a helpful source. It will certainly prove to be a valuable and detailed work which sheds light on his political life, his political journey and his role in the BJP, from the party’s early days to its present unfoldment. —Rajat Sharma Editor-in-Chief and Chairman, India TV

INTRODUCTION renewed interest in the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) was perceived to be growing around June 2013 when Narendra Modi was declared the chief of the party’s election campaign for the 2014 general elections. In the days and months to come, Modi would weave an impressive and dominant narrative that would give rise to a strong and compelling emotion for change. This would eventually grow into a massive wave that would sweep away the Congress dispensation which had ruled India for a decade from 2004 to 2014.


Since May 2014, worldwide interest both in the Narendra Modi-led government and the party—BJP—has kept growing. Interestingly, as we have discussed in the pages of this book, both the government led by Modi and the party led by Amit Shah have continued in their respective trajectories of activities, innovation, performance and results and yet have been linked and coordinated in their functioning. The party that had systemically initiated, supported, sustained and upheld the electoral struggle and narrative for India in 2014 did not recede into complacency after the massive victory. Interestingly and fascinatingly, the BJP, after its victory in 2014, launched itself on a mission of expansion, of restructuring and of widening its activities and outreach. It directed itself into sustained creative political programmes that eventually saw it, by 2018, forming governments or being part of governments in twenty-one Indian states that covers 70 per cent of India’s population. Its political narrative became the dominant one with its political presence becoming pan-Indian. This phase also saw the BJP decisively break out of the false stereotype of being a ‘Hindi heartland party’—a stereotype that was imposed on it to suit a certain political angle and motive.

This phase had also been a very creative one for the BJP, seeing as the party achieved many landmarks, some of which actually redefined the manner and dimension of the functioning of political parties while restating their roles and responsibilities vis-à-vis society and polity. Despite the near constant pressures and exigencies of a continuous cycle of elections, the BJP has, from 2014 to the present, displayed a distinct effort at evolving beyond the matrix and framework of being a mere electoral machine or a political entity which comes to life and takes to action only when elections are round the corner. In this, it has left far behind other political formations—formations which are either family governed, dynasty driven and election-oriented entities with no political creativity and scope for expansion such as Rahul Gandhi-led Congress or those which are increasingly faced with a shrinking membership base, ideological confusion and depleting electoral footprints like the communist parties in India today. Some of the milestones that have been reached in this phase have had a great impact on the party as a whole. The BJP’s emergence as the largest political party in the world through a unique membership drive, the creative and imaginative countrywide training initiative for workers of the party, the restructuring of the party and imparting it a modernised work ambience and support system, its ideological self-renewal, its nationwide outreach, its various dimensions and layers, its innovative and effective booth outreach programme, enrolling young and dynamic workers from all strata of society and from across the country as Vistaraks, the successful celebrations of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya’s centenary through a series of innovative political initiatives, the streamlining of the party’s functioning into departments and projects, the massive victory in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in March 2017, the inroads and victories across the entire stretch of India's Northeast, the resounding victory in Tripura and the cycle of electoral victories in general across the country, the historic Yatra against political violence in Kerala, the Yatra for the Tricolour and in remembrance of freedom fighters are some of the many milestones that have defined the BJP’s journey from the summer of 2014.

It is a journey which has distinctly energised the party’s overall approach to its own political activities and programmes and has galvanised its rank and file. It has begun to alter mindsets by articulating the contours of a different political discourse. One of the greatest successes of the BJP during this phase has been in its role as the bridge between its government at the centre and in the states and the people at large. A bridge that reads and interprets emotions, aspirations, reactions and hopes of the people and conveys it to its formation in power—the government at the centre—and a conveyor belt which successfully, creatively and continuously disseminates the vision of transformative governance that Narendra Modi has articulated and acted upon in these last four years that he has been in power. Since 2014, the BJP has presented itself as an organism which is active among people, which is active in itself through its various organs and units and which is proactive in trying to continuously re-invent itself. These have been years packed with creative and result-oriented action, years which have, in a sense, seen the party evolve to a new level. It is only the hard-boiled cynics or the diehard political adversaries who will refuse to see or acknowledge the changes and the leap forward. As a party, the BJP too has a narrative since the summer of 2014. There is a story to record and recount. With the increasing interest in the BJP and an increasing curiosity in its working, structure, philosophy, electoral and expansion strategies, more and more scholars, commentators, observers and wannabe authors have been focusing on the party and its trajectory since 2014. The discussion has veered round to how the BJP wins, how the party functions, how its president Amit Shah directs it, how its physical and ideological structures are in the process of receiving fresh doses of energy and direction and how Shah has turned it into a vast and disciplined machine that is winning elections after elections while emerging as the centre of Indian politics. Some of these readings have been shallow, perfunctory and have succeeded to just scratch the surface while lacking any real understanding of the fundamental changes that the party is witnessing today.

They have failed to grasp altogether the deeper raison d’être behind the effort to upgrade and impart greater stability to the organs and units of the principal edifice of the party. Some readings have been of a more serious nature; the best narrator of the rise of the BJP during this period is perhaps Shah himself and his programmes that speak for themselves. However, most of the readings and narratives that have emerged have been based on speculations, surmises and assumptions. The writers or commentators have never had access to actual information, or even if they had they never had access to the deeper details and the full information. At times, when Shah himself spoke of these publicly—which was not often— one could get an idea of the party’s workings, otherwise most of it was speculative. A number of these reading attempted to fit the party and Shah into predetermined moulds and stereotypes, often with an express political and ideological motive and at times out of plain inability to understand the workings of the mind which was driving such a varied change and expansion. Closely following Shah’s presidency of the BJP for the last four years, we often felt the need to come up with a narrative of these years relying on authentic sources, material and information. The idea was to record the story of these years so that it becomes an authentic source for any future evaluation of the years when the BJP was headed by Shah. Any present or future reading and evaluation of the BJP will have to base itself on the years 2014 to 2019 and closely examine the party and its trajectory during this crucial phase. It is crucial because it gives us an insight into how the party conducted and drove itself while supporting a full majority government at the centre for the first time in its history. While many narratives have emerged, it was important for one more to emerge, one that would be largely recounted from the inside. We have had the opportunity of being at the ringside and having an inside view of the organisational transformation, of the many activities that Shah had initiated since taking over. We were closely involved in the activities of some of the departments; we had the occasion to closely monitor Shah’s

countrywide tours and sitting through his meetings and also of participating in some election activities. In short, we were within the system and yet on the margins of it and this gave us a view, and at the same time enabled us to step back and step in whenever it was needed to balance our reading and understanding of the process. In fact, it was while closely following extended Vistrit (a countrywide tour undertaken in 2017) and recording and documenting it in great detail that we realised the magnitude of his planning and the detailed and minute attention that he gave to every aspect of the party’s functioning, its details and its result-oriented actions. In this entire effort at an extended samvad that Shah undertook, we realised that the BJP was, once again, passing through a crucial period of its history. It was a period, therefore, which had to be documented. In our attempt to sketch the trajectory of the BJP in these four crucial years, we were often reminded of the likes of Craig Baxter, the first historian to narrate the rise and growth of the Jana Sangh with a dispassionate and yet sympathetic approach and of those who had helped and assisted him, all our first generation leaders of the party, like the iconic Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya himself, L.K. Advani, J.P. Mathur and K.R. Malkani. Our effort in recording the rise and growth of the BJP in these four years is somewhat similar to what Baxter did over fifty years ago. It is an authentic and yet not a hagiographic reading of Shah’s presidency of the party. We too were helped and encouraged by a number of leaders of our generations, who understood the importance and centrality of such a narrative, who were supportive, helpful and yet not obtrusive. There were many who did not know that they were being interviewed, while we spoke to them. When we met Shah, either all by ourselves or with others for meetings, we took the opportunity of asking him some probing questions, reminding him of some event or occasion which would often set him talking, with a wealth of information and details pouring into our notebooks. These interactions with Shah were often spontaneous and freewheeling. In the course of writing this book, we heard a large number of his speeches, went through pages of the party resolutions, accessed a plethora of articles on him,

read his interviews, scanned his profiles, spoke to those who have closely worked with him and have seen his political evolution over the years and also recorded anecdotes and episodes that would help us put together his narrative. One of the false and often peddled descriptions that has been imposed on Shah and which was through and through busted in these meetings and interactions was that of his style being corporate and isolated. Shah came across as very earthy and hands-on, someone who has risen through the ranks and, more importantly, has not forgotten his roots and past. Ever since he took over as president of the BJP in July 2014, Amit Shah’s drive has been directed not only towards winning elections but, more importantly for our narrative, towards the expansion, the overhaul and the restructuring of the party itself. His insistence on ideological renewal, his conviction that the party would have to be imparted a modern working structure, his meticulous emphasis on the need to systematically train and orient its workers and yet retain the original spirit of the party, his emphasis on looking at political work and responsibility as a full time endeavour, his insistence on continuously remaining connected to the grassroots and to have a regular dialogue with workers on the ground are aspects which have lent a new momentum to the party. Above all his insistence on not being complacent is what has continued to drive and give direction to the BJP. With his decades long grassroots experience in organisation work for the party in Gujarat, with his wide administrative experience in the state, with his sharp electoral-strategic sense, with his minute understanding and grasp of policies and policymaking and its impact on the mood of the people, with his feel of the pulse of the people at large, Shah, we discerned and have argued, has truly succeeded in turning the party into a bridge and an organism with a sense of social responsibility. That in itself has been one of his most distinct successes. We took it upon ourselves to narrate the story of the BJP since 2014. In narrating this fascinating story, we take upon ourselves the responsibilities of

narration, of interpretations and of articulations. The omissions, if any, are solely ours and based on our still evolving understanding of a movement like the BJP. In a sense, no knowledge of a party like the BJP can be definitive or final. The chapters and sections that follow look at the party’s and the movement’s growth and history since 1951—when the journey began with ten members—to its expansion to 11 crore members by 2015, its electoral successes, the method and approach of Amit Shah’s functioning and how he has attempted to restructure and redirect the activities of the party. The chapters also analyse the various innovative outreach campaigns that have been initiated in the quest for expanding the party and much more. They aim to dissolve the many false narratives of the party. In a sense our narrative is exhaustive as well as authentic, though we do not claim that we are in the know of the entire story. What we have sought to record, document and narrate is the current wave of the BJP’s resurgence, its evolution as a party of governance and its clear emergence as the dominant and most focused pole of Indian politics. Its present reach and standing are a clear result of and a tribute to the struggles of the past and the unrelenting actions of the present. It is a story that is the key to our understanding of India’s present resurgence and the future shape of her polity.


FROM THE LAMP TO THE LOTUS The Symbolism of the Mandate of 2014 The month of May 2014 was undeniably a historic moment in the history of post-independent India. After what seemed to be an unending hiatus, a single political party received a resounding mandate in the general elections. It was a reassuring mandate after a period of prolonged indecisiveness and policy paralysis, and it signalled the arrival of an era of stability in terms of governance and politics. The BJP led by Narendra Modi bagged 282 seats which gave it a decisive edge. Along with its coalition partners of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), it could form a stable coalition by breaking the vicious cycle of unstable coalition mandates. There was a gruelling election campaign in which the dominant theme veered around issues of livelihood, development and governance, with Narendra Modi emerging as the symbol of a new alternative. Some ‘saw him as a strong leader who would undo the policy paralysis and the sense of drift India had experienced in the final three years of the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance’.1 Large numbers who ‘wanted purposeful governance of the type that Modi had provided in Gujarat over the past thirteen years’,2 as chief minister of the state from 2001 to 2014, made this mandate possible and converted it into a

turning point in India’s recent electoral history. An entire generation had grown up without the memory of a full majority government, a decisive leader and a defined programme of governance for the country. The story of Narendra Modi’s rise to the top leadership of his party, his very modest and challenging background, his journey from the margins to the centre and his capacity of articulating an alternate narrative of India in the new century made an impact across vast swathes of India, especially among the youth. As early as 2011, a certain fatigue and disillusionment with the Congressled UPA-II dispensation had started setting in. Mega corruption scandals, indecisiveness, a lack of political will when it came to promoting or protecting India’s interests and India’s receding global footprints were giving rise to disenchantment among people. Along with this was also a gradually emerging support in favour of Modi and change. Observers of Indian politics, having noticed this gradual shift, argued for the need to replicate the Gujarat development model in other parts of the country, and of the need for youth power to ensure that this could be made possible and Modi be positioned for a greater ‘pan-Indian role’.3 The mandate of 2014, when it came, symbolised people’s expression of their ‘volcanic capacity to remake the political landscape’4 of India. In a sense, May 2014 was a liberating moment for India’s polity, which had faced chronic instability for a while, either because of coalitions and fractured mandates or because of weak political leadership and an unclear demarcation between political power and actual responsibility. Narendra Modi’s mandate was ‘more than a popular mandate, it was a cry from India’s heart, a call for profound change and decisive governance in a country and among a people tired of excuses and exasperated by the old ways’.5 A widely read western paper went so far as to argue in its editorial that the electoral verdict of 2014 ‘may well go down in history as the day when Britain finally left India’. It observed, ‘Narendra Modi’s victory in the elections marks the end of a long era in which the structures of power did not differ greatly from those through which Britain ruled the subcontinent. India

under the Congress party was in many ways a continuation of the British Raj by other means.’6 The editorial spoke of the voice of the people asserting itself, a people who had a vote but often lacked a voice. Modi was seen as an endorsement of that voice; he was ‘a new kind of leader’ from the ‘lower castes’, not a ‘natural English speaker’, without any truck with old power structures and elites.7 But more importantly, the verdict was seen as the voice of the people announcing ‘a new kind of India. In the old India, the poor were there to be helped, when the elite remembered to do so or when they needed to seek or, in effect, to buy votes. The middling classes were taken for granted and sometimes snubbed’. This new kind of India was ‘not interested in handouts and refuses to be snubbed’. It wanted the ‘obstacles it sees as impeding its aspirations swept away’ and it has, quite clearly, ‘discarded the deference it displayed towards the Gandhi family and towards the Anglicised’ elite.8

The Struggle and Saga: Formation of Jana Sangh May 2014 was the fifth and the most decisive high watermark of a long and arduous political saga and struggle that began in October 1951, with the formation of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS). Having resigned from Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet, the first cabinet of free India, in which he was the minister of industry and supply, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee (19011953), pioneering educationist, erstwhile leading light of the Hindu Mahasabha, a member of the constituent assembly and one of the dominant voices of Bengal politics, worked to form a political alternative to the Nehruvian behemoth. Dissatisfied with the overall national direction under the Nehruvian dispensation, Mookerjee formed the Jana Sangh with swayamsevaks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which, under the leadership of Guruji M.S. Golwalkar, directed some of its most energetic and young pracharaks— workers who had dedicated themselves full-time for the RSS work—for assisting Mookerjee as the proposed party’s first ‘administrators and

managers’.9 Through his interactions with Guruji Golwalkar and the RSS organisation, Mookerjee was convinced that the RSS ‘could be anything but reactionary. It already had an extensive network of branches and a cadre of tried and selfless workers’.10 It was not that Mookerjee was not exposed to the RSS. In 1940, he had met the RSS founder Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. Guruji Golwalkar was present during that meeting. It was an interesting encounter in which Dr Mookerjee and Dr Hedgewar discussed the plight of Hindus in the then Muslim League ruled Bengal, the need to organise them, the RSS and politics and much more. It is said that during the course of the discussion, Dr Mookerjee suggested to Dr Hedgewar that the ‘Sangh must take part in politics’ to which Hedgewar is said to have replied that the Sangh ‘was not interested in day to day politics’ but with the ‘support and blessings of enlightened people like’ Mookerjee, the ‘beneficial Sangh activities in Bengal will grow fast’ and the ‘protection and help needed by the Hindus will thus become automatically available’.11 By connecting with Guruji Golwalkar again, Mookerjee was taking forward a dialogue that had been initiated in the past. He was, in a sense, renewing his understanding and association with the RSS. Having met Guruji Golwalkar, Mookerjee felt that any political organisation supported by and ‘enjoying the confidence of the RSS could surely succeed in mobilising and consolidating the non-Congress and non-Communist nationalist public opinion’.12 In the few early months, after the formation of the Jana Sangh on 21 October 1951, Mookerjee admirably withstood and countered the Nehruvian hegemony which was out to crush the newly born party. To Nehru’s resolve that he would crush the Jana Sangh, Mookerjee famously declared that he would instead ‘crush this crushing mentality’.13 The Jana Sangh’s symbol was the earthen lamp, a symbol that reflected the Indian cultural psyche. Speaking of the new party's symbol, Mookerjee hoped that the party ‘whose symbol in the forthcoming elections is a humble earthen pradip’ would try ‘to carry this light of hope and unity, faith and courage, to dispel the darkness that surrounds the country’.14 In the first general elections in 1951-52, the fledgling Jana Sangh could win only three seats but it had at least succeeded in making its ‘existence known everywhere’ with ‘its name and ideology’ reaching ‘the

remotest villages especially in the areas in which it had contested elections. It had secured a foothold in the country and also in the hearts of the people’.15

Jana Shakti vs Raj Shakti: Deendayal Upadhyaya and Jana Sangh’s Growth Mookerjee’s early death in 1953 in detention in Kashmir under mysterious circumstances brought about an existential crisis for the fledgling Jana Sangh. It not only ‘caused dismay throughout India’ but it ‘deprived the party of its only parliamentarian of national standing and its one secure link with powerful networks of highly placed professional and political bodies around which an anti-Congress front might have been constructed’.16 The Jana Sangh eventually survived the ordeal and began growing in political strength and spread under the leadership of Mookerjee’s youthful and far-seeing understudy Deendayal Upadhyaya who, through long years, steered the Jana Sangh ship in the often rough and choppy waters of the Nehruvian era and during the immediate phase after Nehru’s passing. A dexterous and deft political organiser, a fundamental political thinker and theoretician and an earthy political tactician, Upadhyaya combined in him both idealism and pragmatism and saw to it that the Jana Sangh, from 1953 to 1968 (at the time of his untimely assassination) had clearly emerged as one of the polls of Indian politics. It displayed a remarkable upward growth over the years. As one of the early and perhaps the only sympathetic biographer of the Jana Sangh, the American political historian Craig Baxter noted, ‘The Bharatiya Jana Sangh enjoys a unique position among the national political parties of India. It is the only party that has increased its percentage of the popular vote share of parliamentary and assembly seats in each successive election from 1952 through 1967.’17 In fact, the formation of the Jana Sangh in 1951 can be termed as the first watershed of an alternate political narrative in independent India.

Among the political parties in India, post-independence, the Jana Sangh and later the BJP went on to eventually emerge as the most stable political formations. Ironically, it was Madhu Limaye, one of leading Indian socialists of the 1970s, who was instrumental in the collapse of the Janata Party experiment. She spoke of being ‘amazed by the capacity of the JS-BJP [later the BJP] to hold together. It is alone among India’s political parties (written by Madhu Limaye) which has not suffered a division. Every other political party has suffered a split, some parties even repeated splits’.18 Upadhyaya’s projection of the fledgling Jana Sangh was that it reflected Jana Shakti as against the Congress steamroller which was representative of Raj Shakti.19 This caught the imagination of a section that had become increasingly disillusioned with the Congress.

Reaching out to the Last Citizen: Formulating a Political Philosophy In terms of the articulation of a programme and ideology for the Jana Sangh, 1965 saw a second watershed. In that year, Upadhyaya formulated his political philosophy of Integral Humanism. It was a political philosophy that was to become the foundation of all the ideological positions that Jana Sangh would henceforth articulate and would also continue to guide and later influence the ideological direction of the Jana Sangh’s political successor, the BJP. While Syama Prasad Mookerjee founded the party, it was Upadhyaya who laid its political foundation in terms of organisation and ideology. One of the main pillars of this political philosophy was the vision of Antyoday— the empowerment, the rise and inclusion of the marginal citizen in the growth story of the nation. In his approach to governance, Upadhyaya argued for the need to evolve systems and programmes that would ensure such an inclusion and empowerment. In his first presidential address in 1980, after the formation of the BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee reiterated that political philosophy when he spoke of

the need to correct distortions of inequality and ‘regard the individual, particularly the weakest individual, as the focal point of our developmental endeavours’.20 Narendra Modi bases his entire governance philosophy on Antyoday, while his party today has structured its programmes and outreach basing itself on that philosophical foundation.

Fragmentation of the Congress Juggernaut and the SVD Experiment: 1967 The third political watershed was reached in 1967 when the Congress’s panIndian political domination was demolished, and the Jana Sangh became a part of a number of coalition ministries that were formed in the states, comprising the Praja Socialist Party (PSP), Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP) and the Bharatiya Kranti Dal (BKD). This formation, known as the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal (SVD) on the floor of the state assemblies in which the Congress was ousted, succeeded for the first time in providing a governance alternative to the Congress. The year 1967 was thus an important milestone year for the Jana Sangh, primarily because of Deendayal Upadhyaya’s political pragmatism; the Congress juggernaut could be challenged, slowed and, in some states, halted. That year the Congress lost power in six states. As Baxter put it: In 1967, for the fourth time in India’s history, the opposition went to the polls with the high, and previously dashed, hopes of displacing the Congress Party. This time, however, there was a different result for the opposition did reduce the Congress to a minority in several states, and, almost without exception, in other states sharply reduced Congress majorities. In the Lok Sabha the results were headlined by one paper as ‘Congress struggles to a majority’.

In the Lok Sabha, the Jana Sangh won thirty-five seats and was the largest non-Congress formation after the Swatantra Party which had bagged fortyfour seats. Upadhyaya’s party emerged as the second party in India ‘in terms of votes received and assembly seats won’, while the Congress was in a state of shock. The ‘reinforced Jana Sangh delegation in the Lok Sabha became a

major force in the opposition’.21 While other all India parties had ‘either gone down or at best’ retained their original position, the Jana Sangh made ‘impressive progress both in votes and in seats’.22 Moreover, it had made all these gains without ‘entering into an alliance with any other party’. This the party saw as an ‘index of the confidence and support that the people have for it’.23 In Delhi, for example, the party had secured six out of the seven Lok Sabha seats. In assembly elections that followed, it won 78 seats in Madhya Pradesh, in UP 98 seats and in Rajasthan, 22 assembly seats.24 This infused a new enthusiasm and energy in the rank and file. However, assembly verdicts throughout 1967 brought to the fore the need for coalition formation. The year also saw a major shift in the political attitude of the Jana Sangh. The party saw the necessity and compulsion of forming or being part of coalitions. The need to keep Congress out of power in the states made these smaller political formations realise the need to come together by trying to form governments. The Central Working Committee of the Jana Sangh met in Delhi in March 1967 and noted how the Congress ‘had received a big shock’ because it had failed to ‘secure a majority in eight states as well in Delhi’ and how ‘at the centre too, its majority has a very narrow margin’. It argued that the election results indicated that the ‘Indian voter has recognised his might. His self-confidence has been roused’.25 The Jana Sangh began presenting itself as an ‘alternative with a positive basis to the Congress’ and also debated the need to be part of coalitions in order to prevent the Congress from forming governments in the states. It had become impossible ‘in many states to form a government unless all nonCongress parties’ came together and ‘to let the Congress form a government in such states would not only amount to flouting the people’s feelings but would also strike at their self-confidence’.26 The Jana Sangh thus favoured the inclusion of its ‘Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in non-Congress ministries’ and directed that

these ‘members will remain in the ministry so long as they can effectively serve the people on the basis of the principles and programmes of the Jana Sangh’.27 This was, in effect, the first experience of the party in government participation and in the holding of power-offices. Presenting his general secretary’s report and making an appraisal of the elections that year, Upadhyaya reminded the rank and file that ‘our past achievement is remarkable, but what remains to be done is considerable... Let us all march and march until the goal is achieved’.28

Challenging Years: Upadhyaya’s Death, ​Emergency, Resistance to Dictatorship The year 1968 saw the sudden death of Deendayal Upadhyaya within five months of his being elected the president of Jana Sangh. Together, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani took up the reigns of the party. Both these leaders had made their mark on the party’s national arena and in partnership with a closely knit and cohesive group of seasoned organisational and political leaders and workers such as Nanaji Deshmukh, Bhai Mahavir—the first general secretary of the Jana Sangh from 1951-52—K.R. Malkani, Kedar Nath Sahani, P. Parameshwaran, Jagadish Prasad Mathur, Jagannathrao Joshi (Karnataka Kesri) , Sunder Singh Bhandari, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia, Kushabhau Thakre and others such as Balraj Madhok, ensured that the party tided over this second major crisis of leadership. The period between 1975 and 1977 was a debilitating one when Indira Gandhi-imposed Emergency curtailed freedom and fundamental rights, imprisoned opposition leaders and workers, and turned the country into a massive prison. It also saw the Jana Sangh and the RSS workers and leaders put up a spirited resistance in support of the restoration of democracy and against Indira’s dictatorship. The rank and file of the party, led by L.K. Advani, was thrown into prisons across the country. However, the unrelenting resistance to Emergency eventually compelled Indira Gandhi to announce fresh elections, in which she faced a complete rout.29 The BJS was

at the forefront of the movement for resisting Emergency and the suspension of democracy.

The Janata Party Interlude: Merger and Crisis The fourth watershed was reached in 1977 when the BJS merged itself with other groups to form the Janata Party coalition that came to power following Indira Gandhi’s defeat. The Jana Sangh played a crucial role in forming the coalition and in presenting a credible alternative to the people. The Jana Sangh leadership ‘enthusiastically responded’ to the moves and suggestions of creating an opposition unity. L.K. Advani, writing on the ‘coming together of the four non-communist opposition parties’ had observed that ‘the struggle waged by the people against authoritarianism during the last nineteen months has imported a new dimension to India’s body politic’.30 The Janata Party formation propped itself on the peoples’ voice which had expressed itself against Indira’s draconian and anti-democratic rule. However, the Janata Party government soon crumbled due to contradictions and conflicting personal ambitions of some of its leaders, squandering the historic mandate given to it. But, it did represent for a while the possibilities of a non-Congress alternative before the country.

Charting out a New Course: Formation of the BJP Between 1980-1985 A crisis appeared in April 1980 when the National Executive of the Janata Party ‘adopted a resolution prohibiting members of RSS’ from continuing in the Janata Party. The fear entertained by a group led by Chandra Shekhar31, then president of the party, and other socialists within the Janata Party was that after the split of the party following the secession of the Charan Singh faction, the ‘erstwhile Jana Sangh would capture the party on account of its mass base and large army of dedicated workers’.32 Instead of trying to stay politically afloat and relevant, the Janata Party

and a section of its leaders were more concerned with trying to retain control of a party that was already imploding. The members of the Jana Sangh objected to this condition, the coalition experience had been that even though ‘it was the single largest constituent of the Janata Party and had a larger popular base in the country’, the Jana Sangh had never negotiated for a proportionate share either in the Janata government or in the Janata Party.33 Its members pointed out that the party had always displayed a spirit of sacrifice and accommodation. Jana Sangh leaders argued that the membership issue was settled when the Janata Party was formed and the merger of the ‘constituents which formed the Janata Party’ had taken place. They saw in this condition being raised now an ‘ulterior reason to control the party’. Moreover, the RSS, they pointed out, ‘had not interfered in any manner either in the functioning of the party or government’.34 The BJS did not compromise on its link and it was the relationship with the RSS, the Socialists, who played the principal role in breaking apart the Janata Party. At a conference of Jana Sangh workers, held at the Kotla ground in Delhi on 6 April 1980, ‘it was decided to part company with Janata Party’. Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), under whose inspiration the Janata Party had been formed, had died in 1979, disillusioned with his experiment; the mood among members of the erstwhile Jana Sangh was one of unhappiness at having to disassociate themselves from JP’s experiment. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took birth on that day. As Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia recalled that moment, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee appealed to the workers, ‘Come, light the lamp again.’ Vijayaraje recalled how the workers ‘were imbued with new energy and excitement. A new party was [being] formed on the old foundation... I was entrusted with the responsibility to name the party. I announced the name of “Bharatiya Janata Party” amid claps. The sky reverberated with joyous exclamations’.35 The formation of the BJP thus was the fifth and principal watershed of this long political movement. The party had no organisation of its own but lakhs of

erstwhile Jana Sangh workers ‘were there and had to start from scratch’. However, it already had a phalanx of able leaders with a national profile who could steer the new ship. Its ‘disciplined, dedicated and hard-working cadre of workers’36 that it had inherited from Jana Sangh was its asset. Vajpayee became the president of the newly formed BJP while Advani became its general secretary.

Sanghtan, Sangharsh, Samrachana: The Early Years A plenary was convened in Mumbai towards the end of December 1980 (between 28 and 30) and the interim period between April and December was utilised to mobilise cadres, enrol members and set up units across the country. It is estimated that about twenty-five lakh members were enrolled in the BJP during this period.37 The first plenary session of the BJP was thus held at Mumbai, the venue was symbolically named ‘Samata Nagar’. The editorial of a paper covering the event observed that the name was ‘presumably intended to indicate the political-economic direction which the leaders wish to give to the BJP’. It also indicated the party’s political philosophy of promising to work for the ‘creation of a society where every citizen, irrespective of caste or creed, is an equal partner in the destiny of the nation’.38 Around fifty-five thousand workers and members from across the country gathered for this first plenary. It is now part of the lore—a lore that some parties, especially the Congress, would like to forget—that the inaugural of the plenary was attended by none other than Muhammed Currim Chagla, veteran Congressmen, legendary jurist, for some time education minister in Nehru’s cabinet and later a foreign minister in Indira’s cabinet. In his mid-seventies, when Emergency was declared, Chagla energetically opposed it and later welcomed the formation of the BJP as a national alternative to the Congress which he felt had increasingly become a party of ‘hypocrites, opportunists and sycophants’.39 Chagla delivered a forty-minute speech that was as ‘much

a benediction as it was an exhortation and the climax of the convention’.40 Later, in January 1981, Chagla wrote his impressions of the meet—it was a ‘glimmer of hope’ which was beginning to show itself through the ‘extraordinary strength which this new party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has shown... And if this party goes on from strength to strength and receives the support of people from all over the country we might at last have a democratic alternative to Indira’s government’.41 Former Chief Justice of India J.C. Shah, who had headed the Shah Commission of Enquiry against the excesses committed during the Emergency, also attended the Samata Nagar session in solidarity with Chagla and with the aspiration for a ‘democratic alternative’ to the Indira regime. The response to BJP’s convention showed that people still looked for a democratic alternative to the Congress, despite Indira’s victory in the 1980 general elections. The main thrust of Vajpayee’s presidential address was the need to oppose ‘authoritarianism’ and to support ‘parliamentary democracy’.42 Interestingly, the convention was, as one observer put it, ‘relatively free from any obsession with Mrs Gandhi and what she might or might not do— the kind of obsession that had been oppressively present at practically all conferences of opposition parties in recent years. The BJP convention was, unlike them, no gathering of frightened men. There was, on the contrary, a quiet but palpable self-confidence. This seemed significant. It certainly made for constructive deliberation’.43 In the words of Chagla, the Samata Nagar session was ‘Bombay’s answer to Indira’.44 Vajpayee was accepted as a ‘credible leader who could symbolise the hopes and aspirations of the people’ and was backed by a ‘cohesive organisation which had broken through its limiting shell’. The Jana Sangh was a cadre-based party, while the BJP had clearly begun moving towards becoming a mass party. Between them, Vajpayee and Advani were seen as a ‘perfect complement to each other’. The rallying cry for the new party was Sanghtan, Sangharsh and Samrachana—‘Organisation’, ‘Struggle’ and

‘Constructive Work’.45 The new party was different in that it spoke of the need to engage in constructive work apart from putting in place an organisation and launching a struggle for political space. In his presidential address, Vajpayee dwelt at length on the state of the country and on the raison d’être of the new party. He saw various levels of degeneration and a multidimensional crisis affecting the country. ‘Mounting inflation, deteriorating law and order situation, scarcity of essential commodities, increase in the number and intensity of communal incidents, oppression of Harijans, tribals, women and other weaker sections and the explosive situation in the north-east’ were some of the dimensions of this crisis. Vajpayee spoke of the prevailing ‘moral crisis’, ‘degeneration of public life’ and ‘double standards’.46 The overall mood of the nation was despondent, the press was being gagged, a distorted secularism was being practised and there was increasing administrative paralysis. Speaking of the need to restore moral values, he also spoke of why the BJP aspired to be a ‘party with a difference’, ‘We can organise the people only if we are able to establish credibility in their minds. The people must be convinced that this is a party different from the crowd of self-seekers who swamp the political stage, that its aim is not, somehow, to sneak into office and that its politics are based on certain values and principles.’ The question was, as Vajpayee asked, ‘Will India be able to face the present challenges successfully on the basis of its value-system and be able to build a new future for itself?’ The country was at crossroads, on one side loomed the ‘threat of authoritarianism’ and on the other was the danger of ‘anarchy’. For the BJP, the need was for defending democracy, carrying forward a ‘relentless struggle for social justice and democracy’ and for changing the ‘status quo’.47 Vajpayee cautioned, There is no place in the BJP for people madly in pursuit of post, position and pelf. Those who lack courage or self-respect may go and prostrate themselves at the Delhi Durbar. So far as we are concerned, we are determined to wage a relentless struggle against dangers [of authoritarianism and anarchy]. With the Constitution of India in one hand and the banner of equality in the other, let us

get set for the struggle. Let us take inspiration from the life and struggle of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Let Mahatma Phule be our guide in our crusade for social justice.48

Vajpayee ended his presidential address with his famously prescient prediction that the ‘Lotus shall bloom’; it was a prediction that kept reverberating over the years, galvanising and sustaining the struggling cadres, ‘Standing on the shores of this ocean beneath the Western Ghats, I can say this with confidence about the future: Darkness will be dispelled, the Sun will rise and the Lotus shall bloom.’49

The Lotus Shall Bloom Thus began a long and arduous struggle to capture the political imagination of a new generation in India. The ‘five commitments’, the party’s economic policy statement and its new constitution were all approved in the meet. While ‘Integral Humanism’ was declared to be its ‘basic philosophy’, the ‘five commitments’—Pancha Nistha—were to be the ideological supports for drawing up of its political and policy positions. These five commitments were: i) nationalism and national integration, ii) democracy, iii) Gandhian socialism, iv) positive secularism—can be described as denominational impartiality and v) value-based politics. The issue of adopting Gandhian socialism was discussed threadbare in the meet and was finally seen through. As one veteran observer of Indian politics had then written: ‘The BJP has also decided to live with another fact of Indian political life; a process that began with the original Jana Sangh. Power lies somewhere near the centre of the political spectrum and in Bombay, the BJP positioned itself to the right of centre by adopting the slogan “Gandhian Socialism”.’50 The period from 1980 to 1985 ‘saw the growth of the party and the spread of the organisation from villages to the national level’. Gradually pushing its way up the electoral ladder, the BJP began registering its presence in other parts of the country. Interestingly, in 1983, within three years of its formation, the party had succeeded in winning eighteen seats in the

Karnataka Assembly, giving lie to the stereotype of the party being a ‘Hindi heartland party’. While the party had a close-knit leadership base comprising those who had cut their political teeth in the Jana Sangh days such as S.S. Bhandari, Bhai Mahavir, Kushabhau Thakre, Kailashpati Mishra, Kidarnath Sahni, Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia, Sunderlal Patwa, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Shanta Kumar, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, J.P. Mathur, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi. A large number of young workers also joined the party around this time, driven solely by its ideological message and the drive to see the formation of an alternate, viable and nationalist political structure in the country that could challenge and eventually demolish the Congress. Leaders like Pandit Vishnukant Shastri, one of the founding members of the party and K.R. Malkani who joined it at inception, added greater intellectual heft to it and those like Sikandar Bakht, who joined from the Congress (Organisation) brought with them a wealth of political experience. This expansion of the party was seen throughout the 1980s, even after it failed to perform satisfactorily in the general elections of 1984 by winning only two seats.51 In its March (15-17) 1985 National Executive meet, the party debated some fundamental questions that Vajpayee asked it to consider, while taking moral responsibility for the discouraging results of the 1984 general elections. Vajpayee’s contention was that in the 1980 session in Mumbai, ‘it was felt that the BJP should be developed as an alternative to the Congress (I). But, today after five years, we find ourselves miles away from that objective... Even if it is accepted that the elections in 1984-85 were held in extraordinary circumstances which were beyond any one’s control, this does not explain all the causes of our defeat...’ Asking for an in-depth study of the causes of their failure to be made, Vajpayee called for adopting ‘effective ways of removing our shortcomings and drawbacks’.52 But, his principal question was whether the Jana Sangh’s merger with the Janata Party and the subsequent formation of the BJP were steps in the right direction. In April 1985, a working group was set up to ‘review the party’s functioning, achievements and shortcomings and to recommend correctives’. The group was also asked to ‘draw up a five-year “Plan of Action” on all

fronts—organisational, agitational, constructive and electoral’ which could ‘galvanise the party and make it an effective instrument of political and socio-economic change’.53 The internal debate and discussions that took place were indeed of a very fundamental nature. The working group’s answer was unequivocal—there was to be no going back on the decision of forming BJP. During the April 1980 session, where the decision to form the new party was taken, hundreds of delegates ‘were asked to suggest a name for the party. Out of hundreds who responded to it, only a few had suggested naming the party again as Jana Sangh’.54 The firm opinion was in favour of continuing with and building up the BJP. The working group’s answer to the BJP president’s question was that, The party had taken the correct decision when it decided to merge Jana Sangh in Janata Party, a wise decision when it decided to come out of Janata Party to form BJP and right decision when it chose to be BJP... We are very much proud of Jana Sangh heritage, we have benefitted by our experience when we were in the Janata Party and we will march ahead by building up BJP, towards our cherished objectives.55

This culmination not only strengthened the resolve of the new party’s members but also reinforced the tradition and mechanism of internal consultation and debate and decision-making stating that the political movement had evolved since its Jana Sangh days. ‘[F]ree thinking’ as Upadhyaya had once noted, ‘is assured full scope’.56

The Blooming Lotus The period that followed from 1985 to 1998 ‘shall remain a landmark in the history of the BJP’. The party grew, expanded and evolved both politically and organisationally. Through a number of historic political movements and Yatras (such as the Ram Janmabhoomi movement which played an epic role in the expansion of the party, the Ekta Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, the Somnath Yatra, Janadesh Yatra, Suraj Yatra, Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra)

and the expansion of its organisation and ancillary and frontal units, it began gaining political space and credibility. It formed governments in a few states, increasing its tally in the Parliament. In the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, for example, the BJP won fifty-one out of the eighty-four seats it had contested in the state of UP and secured over 32 per cent of the votes polled. The first BJP government at the centre was eventually formed in 199657 but fell within thirteen days when it failed to garner a majority. The Congress saw in this an opportunity to prop up unstable dispensations which it could control. Thus, the Deve Gowda dispensation of the United Front comprising thirteen parties supported by the Congress from outside was formed. But, its inherent instability was evident as the prime minister belonged to a party that just had forty-six members in the Parliament. The government lasted for a little over ten months and was followed by a dispensation led by I.K. Gujral, again propped up from the outside by the Congress party, which once again lasted for a little over ten months. The out of power and desperate Congress pulled the rug once more and plunged the country into midterm polls. The 1996 election, however, was a watershed in India’s contemporary political history. The ‘most significant aspect of this verdict [was] the removal of the [Congress] from the centre stage of national politics and the emergence of the BJP as the premier party’. The party that had ruled for ‘forty-five [out] of forty-nine years since independence was dethroned from its leading position’. Not only had the BJP emerged as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha but ‘it [had] also contributed the highest number of women, Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) members to Parliament (MP)’. It had fourteen women MPs which was the largest contingent at that time, and out of 120 seats reserved for SCs and STs, the BJP headed the tally with a total of forty-two SC and ST MPs.58 This was thus the sixth watershed or climax in the movement. The entire period of the fiftieth anniversary of India’s independence saw an unstable and indecisive government. This was the Congress’s doing, it had pushed the country into a prolonged spell of uncertainty just because it had failed to retain the people’s mandate. On 18 May 1997, the BJP launched the

Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra which ran over fifty-five days, 15,000 km and passed through nineteen states and union territories. Leading the Yatra, Advani defined its objectives as one of taking stock of the success, shortcomings and failures of the first fifty years of free India, to catalyse a serious debate on the important issues and problems facing the country today and to project the BJP’s vision for national reconstruction, with specific focus on transforming Swaraj (self-governance) to Suraj (good governance).59 The country entered into election mode in early 1998 to elect the twelfth Lok Sabha. The BJP secured 182 seats and 25.59 per cent of votes.60 The narrative of the evolution of the BJP noted, ‘The pseudo-secularists were successful in ganging up against BJP and prevented the thirteen-day-long BJP government from securing a vote of confidence; in 1998 they were in no position to indulge in subverting the mandate. This was primarily because, along with pre-election allies, BJP was able to secure a tally significantly higher than that of 1996 and only a trifle short of a clear majority.’61 The BJP and its allies put together a record 255 seats and with outside support from groups like Telegu Desam Party (TDP) and some other parties, it succeeded in forming the government. For the first time a truly non-Congress alternative had emerged and the BJP had expanded its social and geographical base.62 The electorate, fed up with instability, had made a clear choice this time round. Renewed machinations by the Congress and the Left bloc driven by the communist parties along with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), one of the major alliance partners of the BJP dispensation, pushed the Vajpayee dispensation towards instability. The Congress was again in the driver’s seat while spearheading this bout of uncertainty. The years between 1989-1991 and 1996-1999 essentially exposed the Congress’s penchant for ‘destabilising the polity and creating instability’. It has been a pattern with the Congress that whenever it has been electorally rejected and has been ‘denied the perks of office, it has exerted to subvert the mandate of the people’ and in this it has almost always partnered

with the Left parties. ‘Confined to the margins of national politics’, the Left habitually aspires for ‘power without accountability, influence without responsibility’.63 The second BJP government fell, having lost the confidence vote by the infamous ‘one vote’, cast by the then Congress leader from Odisha, Giridhar Gamang. The inability of the Congress and other parties to cobble a coalition again pushed the country towards elections. The 1999 general elections for the thirteenth Lok Sabha saw the BJP secure 182 seats again, and along with its allies it secured 306 seats in a house of 543. The BJP-led NDA government thus formed in 1999 continued in office till 2004. Between 2004 and 2014, the Congress returned to power and succeeded in being in office for two full terms till 2014, when it suffered a huge setback that saw its tally reduced to forty-four in the Lok Sabha. The Congress party ‘had gone down to [its] worst defeat in history. With less than 10 per cent of the MPs, [it] failed even to pass the threshold needed to claim the post of leader of the opposition’.64 It was for the first time that a non-Congress party had succeeded in gaining a majority on its own. Thus, 2014 had clearly dismantled the old structures and arithmetic of Indian politics and announced the formations of radically new ones. A sharp electoral and political strategy, a refreshing message of hope, a convincing reaching out to all sections and segments of society and the projection of a decisive leader with a clear vision had all combined to bring about this historic mandate.

Grassroots, Democratised, Non-Dynastic May 2014 thus was the seventh and most decisive watershed, an unmistakable high water mark and culmination of a long political struggle, which saw the BJP become ‘the principle fulcrum of Indian politics’.65 Narendra Modi’s victory was a remarkable one, ‘not just by the standards of

Indian democracy, but worthy of comparison with some of the greatest electoral triumphs anywhere in the world’.66 Upadhyaya had written sometime in 1961, that ‘political parties that stand for the people also stand on the strength of the people... It is the people who are the architects of political parties and through them of their political destiny’.67 The verdict of 2014 was the result of the people-centric political discourse that the BJP and its election campaign led by Narendra Modi had succeeded in articulating the aspirations and hopes of the people, besides presenting a roadmap for getting the country back on track. Modi’s decisiveness, his robust narrative supported by a legion of volunteers, political workers, supporters and astute political strategists saw 2014 emerge as a most transformative year for the BJP. ‘Over decades,’ as BJP President Amit Shah never fails to remind cadres and workers of the party, ‘thousands of workers had sacrificed their careers and lives to enable the party to reach this point of success and of power.’68 Indeed the BJP, since 1980, had consistently and resolutely grown and a grassroots connect has always defined and shaped its leadership. Amit Shah recalls how he had himself started off his political life as a booth worker and in-charge, ‘that a booth worker, who would stick election posters can rise up to become the national president of his party is proof enough of the democratic and ideological base of the BJP’.69 It is this organic resilience and identity that has enabled the party to produce leaders like Modi. The presidency of the BJP has always symbolised and reflected this upward mobility and scope for a grassroots political worker, it has reflected Upadhyaya’s dictum that it was ‘necessary for a party to have grassroots if it wants to exercise its authority in people’s interests’.70 This has been the dominating approach in the party. It was this that saw a regular succession of party presidents, each having come up from the ranks, the likes of Advani and Vajpayee, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, the legendary Kushabhau Thakre, Jana Krishnamurthy Bangaru Lakshman, Venkaiah Naidu, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari and eventually Amit Shah, rise through the ranks. In the course of his many interactions with the intelligentsia across the country, Amit Shah,

never tires of reminding his audience that after him no one knows who will lead the BJP, but while in the Congress it is always a fait accompli, it is a dynast from the Congress’s first family who is destined to assume the mantle of the party’s presidency. ‘No one knows who will become the party president after me,’ Shah used to say much before Rahul Gandhi became Congress president, ‘but we know for sure who will become the president of the Congress after Soniaji!’71 Each president in the BJP, having risen through the political ranks of the party, brought with him a rich experience of being a political worker and some leaders like Amit Shah, started their political life as booth level workers and eventually rose up to head the party at the national level. They have only added to the credibility of the democratic leadership structure that the BJP has perpetuated over the years. Dynasty, pedigree, ancestry, familial connections has never really mattered in the BJP which symbolises a stark contrast to the Nehru-Gandhi family beholden and controlled Congress. The BJP continues to be the antithetical other, in this context, to the Congress. It is a democratised structure that has seen the BJP evolve and emerge out of every crisis and challenge, and also to continue to remain relevant and evolve into the dominant pole of Indian politics today. The year 2014 was as much a triumph of that democratic framework as it was the victory of a new and aspirational narrative of politics that emerged out of the BJP stable.




t was the evening of 31 January 2018, around 8.55 pm, when we finally entered bungalow number 11 in New Delhi’s Akbar Road. Unlike the standard Lutyen’s zone bungalows, this one was comparatively less lit and unostentatious. Our appointment was at 9.00 pm, but, since we had arrived a few minutes before the assigned time, we sat in an adjoining office in the premises. At sharp 9.00 pm, a member of the staff walked in to lead us, ‘Please follow me, Sahaab has asked for you.’ ‘We stepped out of the office and entered into that room of the bungalow in which the leader, considered to be the second most powerful in the country, held his baithaks and met select people. It was an ordinary and simply laid out room, with blue upholstered chairs and sofas; a simple khadi durree was spread on the floor. A similar chair to the one occupied by Shah was placed beside his. A table full of papers and files stood before Shah’s chair. He was pouring over them one by one, scribbling notes, highlighting and writing his comments on them. Books were not neatly arranged on his table, they were in a pile and one could make out they were being regularly read and referred to. A page-marked history book lay on a side table beside the telephone. We surmised that it must be on Shah’s current reading list. Exactly behind his chair, the portraits of Savarkar and Chanakya, hanging on the wall on either side of the door, dominated the space and caught attention. It is said that these defining personalities of civilisational India have had a profound influence on Shah’s life and political

work. Amit Shah is now at that peak of his political life, which generates deep curiosity in the minds of the political analyst and researcher and makes them want to know him better and more closely. A large number of journalists have also been intrigued about how Shah excecutes organisational work and draws up electoral strategy. When they fired Shah with questions, it was evident that what they wanted to know was essentially his style of election management and how he had successfully won state after state for the BJP. They are also seen trying to pick clues of his election management and style while analysing his political programmes and extended tours. ‘Experience is not a subject… One has to live it, one gains it by going from village to village, the way I am doing now,’1 he once remarked while talking to a group of journalists who were eager to know how he had honed his skills, who he had emulated and which strategy he had followed in his political career in organisational work and in election management while covering his country wise tours in 2017. We entered his study brimming with questions ourselves. We had been finally accorded a meeting, after much coaxing and requests. We were unsure of how much time he would give us and how much we would be able to extract from him. After this first meeting of about two hours we could hardly get anything on his personal life. Shah is extremely reticent when it comes to speaking about his personal life and journey. He does not avoid questions on the subject, but neither does he openly speak about it. On the contrary, he openly speaks and in great detail on the organization or the ideology that drives it and on dimensions of public life. What has defined Shah’s political approach is a hands-on grassroots connect and a feel of the pulse of the voter. It is an experience that stood him in good stead and enabled the BJP to win an all-time high of seventy-three out of eighty Lok Sabha seats in the state of UP in 2014. For a year, after he had been appointed as BJP’s general secretary and given charge of winning parliamentary seats for the party in UP in 2013, Shah pursued his old strategy

of connecting with the booths, with villages and the districts, through an indefatigable rounds of tours and outreach. The somnolent and often scattered network and organisation on the ground was infused with fresh energy, direction and responsibility. It was a throwback to his days in Gujarat, where for years together Shah would travel across the state in rickety state transport buses to organise the party at the grassroots, surviving during those gruelling days on the staple of roti-alu-sabzi. It was such a ceaseless strategic political peregrination which enabled Shah to put together a near unassailable and unmatched political structure on the ground.2 These are things which the country has witnessed in the last few years. Shah’s public political action has been visible across the spectrum. But, beyond these, there are a number of facets and dimensions of Shah’s life which have been rarely discussed or known in the public domain. These are dimensions which provide a rare view into the actual Amit Shah, a leader, a worker and a sensitive human being inspired and driven by the deeper values of life. Perceived to be tough, Shah is seen as a soft-hearted grandfather when seated with his little granddaughter, Rudri on his lap, humming the tune of ‘Vaishnava janato, têne kahiye je, peed paraye jane re…’ and participating in her games and laughter. A BJP leader who had been with Shah during the recent Gujarat Assembly elections recalls how he had once gone to ‘Amit bhai’s’ house and saw him sitting with his five-month-old granddaughter Rudri, repeatedly looking at her in deep compassion and smiling, while humming the Mahatma’s favourite bhajan. ‘I had never seen this aspect of his,’ the leader recalled. In an interview to British historian Patrick French, Shah observed that he regularly maintained a personal diary, which was not for publication but, mainly for his own self-assessment and to keep a record of his experiences.3 Those close to Shah observe that he is a very homely person, even though, at times because of being at the centre of political action, he often forgets his wedding anniversary! ‘Often, when I forget my wedding anniversary, my wife reminds me,’ he once remarked with a disarming smile. He loves to

spend time with his family and to travel with them, but his complete involvement and central role in national politics in Delhi leaves him no time now. Though an aficionado of various types of dishes and fond of the typical pakoda, Shah sticks to a simple diet. A karyakarta recalled that the late night meetings during the recent Gujarat elections would be invariably accompanied by pakodas. Shah, while munching on them and goading others to follow suit, would jokingly say, ‘Arre keep eating, the leaders of the party which consumes more besan will ultimately win Gujarat!’ But, he continues to be extremely measured and disciplined in his approach to food, in a sense he is a restrained foodie. A senior leader of the party once observed how during his exile in Delhi, ‘Amit bhai’ would at times drive down to the dhabas on Sonipat road in order to taste their fare and mingle with people on the ground. A question that many have asked and keep asking of Shah, who is often referred to as the Chanakya of modern Indian politics, is about the evolution of his multidimensional personality—political, educational and personal. Traits of Shah’s potential and personality were discerned very early in his life. Born in Mumbai on 22 October 1964, in a wealthy Nagar-Vaishnav family to Anil Chandra Shah and Kusum ben. Shah spent his formative years in his ancestral village. His grandfather shifted the family from Mumbai back to their ancestral home in, Mansa in Gujarat, soon after Shah was born. ‘My grandfather wanted me to have a traditional education,’ he recalled. He left behind his large business establishment in Mumbai including interests in the stock exchange so that he ‘could groom Shah in the Indian value system’. He wanted ‘him to strike deep roots in the soil of ancestry, tradition and civilisational values’.4 ‘In my early years, I was taught by traditional teachers—AcharyasShastris.’ Shah recalled one evening, in a particularly expansive mood, ‘My grandfather was soft towards me but also insisted that I follow a strict regime. At the age of four, I would be woken up at 4.00 am and I would get ready and be dressed in traditional attire and sit before my masters who would then begin their lessons on the Indian scriptures, epics, grammatical texts, stories,

history, etc. This was a period when I received a thorough grounding in Indian parampara. Interestingly, these Shastris were part of a group of scholars and teachers who would travel across the region to impart traditional education and knowledge. After the system fell apart, post-independence, these Shastris, some of whom were profound thinkers and scholars, and had found employment in various households where they were privately engaged as tutors. I remember Keshavram Kanshiram Shastri, a formidable scholar of the Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita, who had a deep influence on me.’ Shah’s great-grandfather and grandfather had been the nagarsheth of the princely state of Mansa.5 It is said that the family had also hosted Sri Aurobindo, then Arvind Ghose, who was attached to the Gaekwad of Baroda, the legendary Sayaji Rao, one of the most progressive and future looking rulers.6 ‘The Gaekwad had sent out some of his most trusted and senior administrators and officers to apprise other princes and rulers in the region of the reforms and progressive measures that he had undertaken,’ Shah narrated one evening, leading among ‘and among those who had fanned out to impart the message was Sri Aurobindo. He had enumerated nineteen points of governance and administration to my great-grandfather.’ One advice that Sri Aurobindo is said to have given to Shah’s family elders was that a ‘king should always try to take decisions that benefit the masses and not individuals’.7 ‘The chair in which Sri Aurobindo had sat when he visited our home is still preserved. My grandfather, had told me once that a great personality had once occupied that seat and that we had to preserve it for posterity. I have preserved it, it remains intact.’8 The early years of informal or traditional education gave him a thorough grounding in Bharatiya philosophical traditions and under his mother’s influence Shah devoured history books, biographies and epics. She inspired him to wear khadi and was a ‘big influence on his life’.9As with hundreds of swayamsevaks, over the decades since the founding of the RSS, Shah’s patriotism—deshabhakti—was further crystallised in the RSS, shakhas. He refers to those days as a phase when he imbibed deshabhakti and sanskaar.10

An acquaintance narrated an interesting anecdote from Shah’s childhood. As a child when Shah would go to school, his sisters would go on a ‘buggy’, horse driven carriage, but since there was no such arrangement for him, he would trudge the entire way to the school. Thus, he developed the capacity for sustained hard work and to lead a disciplined life during those early years. The writings of K.M. Munshi (1887-1971), avant-garde polymath, politician, author and cultural thinker of the last century from his own state, have profoundly influenced Shah. Shah has derived, to a large extent, his deep cultural understanding and grounding in India’s civilisational ethos, his vast and detailed knowledge of Indian history from Munshi’s monumental work. His fascination for exploring books and reading continues to this day. It is also a little known fact that Shah is a great admirer of the poems of poet and lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi (Abdul Hayee) and Kaifi Azmi; during his exile from Gujarat he would also spend time reading them. He is also fond of movies and television serials based on episodes from history. The habit of strict discipline and regular and deep study influenced his life in such a way that it saw him evolving into a personality with a clear vision and firm resolve. In course of time, Shah also established his own business. Later, he was into full-time politics, Shah invested all his time, energy and attention to political work. He is very clear that politics is not a part-time occupation. Shah married Sonal ben in 1987. Despite his busy schedule today, he continues to be the quintessential family man, takes time out everyday to speak to Sonal ben and ask after the other members of the family. Even during his hectic tours, he makes it a point to listen to his little granddaughter’s laughter over the phone, at the end of the day. Usually Shah eschews foreign trips, probably his last trip abroad was a visit to Munich in 2006. His reasons for not travelling abroad is his punishing political schedule and his priority of nations responsibilities. Shah always speaks with pride and accords primacy to India’s culture, languages and history; he often speaks of these and of the need to be rooted in them. While

inaugurating a national exhibition on the life of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee on 29 June 2016, Shah had publicly observed, ‘If we are unable to protect and preserve our culture, our languages and traditions, we shall never emerge as a great nation.’ It is this sense of rootedness, a sense of being content while mingling with India’s civilisational dimension that makes Shah continuously renew his horizon and perspective. He encourages and often deputes young workers to represent the party on the global platforms saying that such assignments and tours will give them exposure to the wider world and expand their horizon. However once, when a party office-bearer told him that he wished to organise a tour of his to Germany leading a delegation, Shah jokingly quipped, whether the visit would fetch him votes in that country! Contrary to perceptions in some quarters, Shah has a well-informed understanding of international affairs and trends. Possessing an incisive intellect, Shah, since childhood, would always be seen to be ready to be seen to be ready to indulge in bouts of animated debates and discussions on various issues. A relative of his narrated how he came in contact with an astrologer in childhood while on his way to play and would everyday engage with him. Shah honed his knowledge of astrology in this way. Interestingly, Shah is not only an astrology enthusiast but has good mastery over the subject! Sometime before the birth of his grand-daughter Shah had predicted that Lakshmi would frequent the house. Of course Shah dismissed all attempts to draw him out on the subject by saying that it is personal and therefore inconsequential while emphasising that astrology is a completely scientific subject. Shah also possesses a deep interest and attraction for spirituality. Though in the thick of political life, he continues to frequent ashrams and matths to engage with gurus and spiritual masters. Between January 2013 and January 2018, Shah had publicly visited sixty-eight spiritual centres across the country. On 18 June 2016, in Kundalpur, Madhya Pradesh, while participating in the Mastakabhishek of Lord Rishabhanatha (Bade Baba). He had observed in a public interaction that ‘the advancement and prosperity of the world can enter India, but at a time when the world itself is ridden with

problems and challenges, it is only India which can provide the peace of spirituality to the world at large’. Shah’s mother Kusum ben had a profound influence on his life. She was the one who had influenced Shah to wear only khadi. Referring to khadi, Shah’s words reflect his deeper identification with the essence and soul of the fabric. He argues that if there is one fabric which unites in itself the following four defining traits—Swadeshi, Self-sufficiency, Self-respect, Selfemployment—it is khadi. His understanding and vision of khadi is all encompassing. He insists that if every year all of us decide to buy khadi products worth Rs 5,000, this country shall have no one who goes hungry or remains unemployed. Always striving to implement and work out new ideas and directions in governance, Shah has always encouraged the adoption of khadi in ministries and departments. This has had a positive impact on the khadi industry. He continues to encourage those workers who come in touch with him, to wear and adopt khadi. Shah has a great attachment for sports and is fond of cricket and chess since childhood. He believes both chess and cricket help in building concentration and one-pointedness. An expert in making moves on the chessboard, Shah has also emerged today as a foremost expert in making similar moves on the political chessboard. Those who know him closely tell us that while playing chess, Shah takes his time to make every move, his aim being the encirclement and defeat of the adversary. An opportunity presented itself to him when in 2006 he became the president of the Gujarat state chess association. An avid chess player himself, Shah promoted the game in a big way among the youth across the state in order to enhance their concentration, willpower, tenacity and problem-solving abilities. He introduced chess at the primary levels as an experiment and during his tenure as the president of the association, the first national chess championship was held in the state. Around 20,000 young players participated in the tournament; it was a feat bigger than the one held in Mexico—Simul Chess Championship—which had seen 18,000 participants. Gujarat recorded itself in the Guinness Book as a centre of chess. It is a feat that Shah is particularly fond of referring to, with

a sense of accomplishment. In 2007, he assumed control of the Gujarat Cricket Association becoming its vice-president with Modi becoming president; this also ended the Congress’s sixteen years old stranglehold of the body. In 2009, during his tenure, the association corpus saw a rise from 22 crore to 162 crore. In order to ensure that deserving players received support and financial security, Shah changed the policy for Ranji Trophy players— instead of providing pension to players after twenty-four matches, it was changed to ensure that even if one played one Ranji match, they were entitled to a pension. Shah’s personality unfolded along with his political training. It would be interesting to mention here that Shah's active association with politics began in 1977, to be precise, when at the age of thirteen he had set out to campaign and stick posters for the formidable Sardar Patel’s daughter and sometime secretary, Maniben Vallabhbhai Patel (1903-1990), who stood for elections in protest against the Emergency and Indira’s excesses. It was the last election of her life and in the anti-Indira wave that swept the country—the Janata Party had won fifteen out of twenty-six Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat— Maniben won on a Janata Party ticket from Mehsana.11 ‘My grandfather and father were part of Gandhian circles, my mother was a staunch Gandhian herself and they were well-known to these senior leaders,’ Shah recalled, going on to add, ‘[D]uring the 1977 campaign, a large number of these senior Gandhians who were exasperated with Indira Gandhi, like Acharya J.B. Kripalani (1888-1982) and Maniben Patel and many others decided to come together in support of the Janata Party. During the election campaign, Acharya Kripalani put up in our house for seven days and supported the campaign. He was in advanced years and had decided to stay put in one place and express solidarity with the movement to unseat Indira. I would go out every day accompanying Maniben as part of her campaign team. She was quite old by then but would go around the whole day campaigning. This gave me my first exposure.’12 Amit Shah’s journey up the ranks of the BJP is in fact reflective of the growth and trajectory of the party itself. It symbolises the possibilities for

every worker in a party like the BJP, which is essentially democratic, organic and constantly evolving. It was an intense patriotism and sanskaar that drove Shah to join the ranks of swayamsevaks of the RSS in 1980 at the age of sixteen. It was also the year that the BJP was born. Shah’s association with the RSS and then his responsibilities as the joint-general secretary of the Gujarat unit of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) gave him a thorough grounding in organisational techniques and in nationalism. Shah was among those many young workers who had joined the party in the period of its first and most crucial expansion in the early years between 1980-85. It was a period when the possibility of ever being in power in Delhi seemed a difficult dream, when the Congress’s dominance still continued and when the fledgling party took halting steps towards establishing itself as a credible alternative. Moreover, in 1985 when Shah finally joined the BJP, the party had just badly lost in the general elections of 1984 and its leaders were debating on whether they had done the right thing by first, dissolving the Jana Sangh, and then later by forming a new party. ‘In those days, all young workers who had joined the BJP had done so solely under the inspiration of its ideology, of the alternative that it aimed to create, its nationalism and its determination to protect democracy and oppose authoritarianism. The possibility of being in power was a faraway dream,’ Shah remembers.13 In his interaction with workers to this day, Shah unfailingly refers to the contribution and sacrifice of countless workers who, over the years, had pushed the chariot of the Jana Sangh and BJP, had struggled, resisted and laid themselves down so that the party could reach this pinnacle of power and expansion.14 Shah joined the BJP as an ordinary worker, around the time when the party had lost badly in the general elections of 1984 and was undergoing a deep internal churn on its future course of action and even its raison d’être. His first assignment was as a poll agent at Ahmedabad’s Naranpura ward, starting off as in charge of a booth then numbered 263 Sanghvi. Shah soon became the ward's secretary. It was also an area in which he was a voter. His phase as an ordinary worker had begun; he would grow with the party.

In 1987, Shah joined the youth wing of the party—Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM)—his entry in the real-time world of politics had begun. His active association with the RSS and his organisational capacities had also seen him becoming, at a young age, the state treasurer of the Gujarat unit of the Deendayal Research Institute (DRI)—the research institute started by Nanaji Deshmukh (1916-2010), one of the principal anchors of the Jana Sangh, in memory of Upadhyaya. It was in his eight years as the state treasurer of DRI, while being in the BJP, that Shah was exposed to the world of research, policy studies and ideas as well as ideological orientation. It was during these years that he took to reading the DRI’s flagship journal Manthan. The journal played an important role in shaping his ideological and political worldview.15 It was during this phase that Shah closely interacted with Nanaji Deshmukh. He saw Nanaji emphasise on research, developing intellectual rigour, analyse policies and come up with credible alternatives. ‘Nanaji was a visionary. He would always say that we need workers with a revolutionary mindset, with a drive to take on challenges, only then could new directions be initiated and new goals be achieved. Merely being obedient without taking initiative eventually serves no purpose,’ Shah recalled about one particular conversation he had with Nanaji.16 In those early years, that advice was useful to Shah, as it was to hundreds of young workers, who had set out to make the BJP the new pole of Indian politics. This phase also saw him come in touch with Narendra Modi. What was the year 1987—the year Shah joined the youth wing of the BJP —like for the party, then led by L.K. Advani? The party had started becoming increasingly vocal on a number of issues, taking the Rajiv Gandhiled Congress government head on. The year 1987 saw the formulation of ideological positions. It would thus be interesting to have a peek into the political world of the BJP in the year Shah joined its youth wing. It would give us an insight into the issues that workers of the party had to deal with and the positions they were called upon to internalise and then disseminate and argue for.

It was the height of the Khalistan movement and the BJP’s position was that there could be ‘no dialogue with those demanding Khalistan’. The party suggested a ‘six-point approach to the Punjab imbroglio’. President’s rule, the creation of a security zone along the north-western border, calling in the army to assist civil authorities, issuing a white paper on foreign involvement in Punjab terrorism—were some of the points it made. The year 1987 also saw the rise of a subversive discourse of India being a ‘multinational state’, a discourse that periodically crops up even to this day. The BJP opposed and rejected this divisive thesis. In his address to the party’s National Council in Vijaywada between 2-4 January 1987, Advani noted that ‘India is multilingual, it is multireligious, but it is still one nation. Indians are one people’ and that the Indian Constitution was also based ‘on this acceptance’.17 In addition, the BJP gave the famous call for rejecting ‘pseudo-secularism’, the truth being that ‘for many politicians and intellectuals, secularism [was] only a euphemism to cloak their allergy to Hinduism’. The party also foresaw the ‘dangers of minoritism’18 and argued that while it was the duty ‘of the state to guarantee justice and security to all minorities—religious, linguistic, ethnic... it [was] also imperative for national integration that minorities do not develop a minority complex’.19 The BJP also campaigned for electoral reforms and called for, ‘reducing voting age from twenty-one years to eighteen years’, ‘providing photoaffixed identity cards to all voters’ and for conducting ‘simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha and assemblies’.20 The party also focused its energies on highlighting the issue of ‘funds stashed abroad’ and upped the ante on the ‘need for an enquiry’ into these. Advani demanded ‘a full-scale enquiry into the sources of these hidden funds abroad including an approach to the Swiss government’ which had recently ‘liberalised its laws relating to such accounts’.21 In its National Executive meet in April that year in Haryana’s Rohtak, the party flagged the ‘Bofors Kickbacks’ issue, cited the Swedish State Radio’s ‘startling report about an undercover operation carried out by an arms firm Bofors, whereby 16 million dollars (about Rs 20 crore) [were] to be paid to “members of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress

(I)” in connection with an Indian order for a complete field artillery system’ and called upon the prime minister to immediately order a suitable probe whose impartiality is accepted by all, and while the probe is on, it asked him ‘to step down from office and let his party elect a new leader’.22 The previous year, that is 1986, had seen the Shah Bano case; it was an issue that had generated wide debate among the party’s cadres. While taking over the mantle of the BJP presidency from Vajpayee, Advani spoke of how the government’s ‘somersault’ on the verdict was distressing and how the prime minister had ‘capitulated to the vicious campaign, unleashed by the Muslim League and Jamaat-e-Islami against the judgment and introduced a bill in Parliament seeking to wipe out the impact of the Supreme Court judgment’.23 Advani’s observations on the entire episode is contemporaneous if one were to taken into account the present debate on Triple Talaq, an issue which both the party headed by Shah today and the government led by Modi are trying to address. Advani had concluded his observations thus: History will never forgive this government [Rajiv Gandhi’s] for the fact that when a debate ensued within the Indian Muslim community with regard to the rights of women and a sizable—and very enlightened—section of the community risked opprobrium at the hands of the obscurantists in the community to espouse the cause of social reform and a fair deal for women, this government sided with the fanatics!24

This was broadly the ideological world of the BJP in 1987. The 1980s, especially the latter half of the decade, saw younger people being encouraged to ‘assume leadership responsibilities in the organisation both at the national level and state level’.25 Shah’s successful performance at the booth level saw him being given the responsibility as the Ahmedabad city secretary of BJP in 1989; it was as the secretary of Ahmedabad city that Shah got sucked into the world of Yatras. His deft mobilisation and publicity campaign for the Rath Yatra caught Advani’s attention. In June that year, the BJP’s National Executive meet at Palampur had passed a ‘resolution on Rama-Janmabhumi [sic] drawing attention of the

country to the debate on the Ram Janmabhoomi issue, which had highlighted the callous unconcern which the Congress Party, in particular, and other political parties, in general, had betrayed towards the sentiments of the overwhelming majority in the country’.26 The Yatra sought to generate a discourse over ‘a spurious secularism that had ended up denying Hindus their rightful inheritance’.27 For the BJP, ‘the fight for Ayodhya was more than a fight for possession of the disputed land. It was a conscious and well-thoughtout campaign to win the hearts of the majority community’. Pseudosecularists, declared Advani, ‘have done immense harm to Indian nationalism’;28 it was also a campaign that aimed to challenge their dominance. ‘Reconstructing the temple for Sri Ram,’ wrote Advani, ‘became the symbol of the rising consciousness, ridding the country of the perversities to which it was being subjected in the name of Secularism, forging a strong and united country. The object of the movement thus became not just to construct yet another temple, the object became to put our country back on its feet, to purify our public life, our public discourse’.29 The Ram Janmabhoomi movement had a long-term impact; it had succeeded in percolating in minds of people at large an understanding of pseudo-secularism and of cultural nationalism. The year 1989 saw Rajiv Gandhi defeated in the general elections. The Congress party secured only 197 seats as against the 442 seats it had won in 1984, while the BJP secured eighty-five seats. In five years, the BJP had succeeded in strengthening its position and in emerging as ‘an important pole’ in the country’s politics.30 Advani announced the Rath Yatra with the sole aim of mobilising a ‘wider national support in favour of the reconstruction of the Sri Ram Temple’. The Yatra proposed to roll for 10,000 kms, from Somnath starting on 25 September 1990 and reach Ayodhya on 30 October 1990. It received a tumultuous response everywhere and speaking at a massive rally in Ahmedabad on 26 September, Advani said that the ‘whole country would be reverberating with Ram by October end’.31 The response was overwhelming; Advani and his colleagues were surprised at the way people responded. ‘We

were overwhelmed,’ Advani recalled, ‘it was only then that we saw how deep was their devotion to Sri Ram, how deeply they felt that they were not being listened to in their own country, how outraged they were at the politics of vote banks and double talk and the talking down to them, of the preceding fifteen years’.32 Shah played no mean role in mobilising that massive rally in Ahmedabad. It was around this time, in 1991, when Advani stood for the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha seat, that Shah emerged as his charioteer. Shah framed the entire electoral strategy for Advani’s victory. From then on right until 2009, Shah was to act as Advani’s election coordinator. In the field of politics, Shah had established his phenomenal electoral acumen and capability. It was a seat that Advani would repeatedly win till 2014, except for two short gaps between 1996 and 1998 when the seat was left for Vajpayee and another BJP candidate. Candidates on the seat changed, but the mark of the strategist remained the same—it was an unmistakable mark, Amit Shah’s mark. Like the Rath Yatra, the other Yatra that had an impact on the imagination of a large section of Indian youth and with which Shah was involved, like a number of youth activists of his time across the country, was the forty-seven days long Ekta Yatra launched by Dr Murli Manohar Joshi who had become the president of the BJP in 1991. It was a challenging year in Kashmir which had just seen 3 lakh pandits flee terror unleashed on them in the Valley and take refuge in camps. Punjab’s fields ‘were soaked with blood of innocent victims of separatist terror’ and the central government dithered, with Pakistan upping the ante against India on the international front. On 11 December, the day the Yatra took off, the Lok Sabha witnessed a ‘hue and cry’ over the issue with Vajpayee asking whether it was ‘wrong to say that the entire country from Kashmir to Kanyakumari is one?’ and whether it was ‘wrong to repeat the resolution that India cannot be allowed to be divided further at any cost?’. The Yatra, asserted Vajpayee, was not ‘against any class or community’ and related to the Kashmir issue, ‘to the country’s unity and integrity’. ‘[I]s it objectionable,’ he asked, ‘to say that

Kashmir is an integral part of India?’33 One of the most enduring images of this episode is that of Joshi and a much younger Narendra Modi, hoisting the Tricolour at Lal Chowk. Shah played his crucial part in mobilising and galvanising workers for the Yatra. These two Yatras would in fact leave a deep impression on his mind and further shape his ideological orientation. The Ekta Yatra, on its part, had embedded the philosophy of the nation first, and the need to protect India’s integrity at any cost, deep in his psyche and political conviction. One would see this commitment to India’s unity repeatedly in Shah’s actions and approaches. Years later, in August 2016, for example, the BJP launched its week-long Tiranga Yatra, celebrating and commemorating the Quit India movement and those forgotten heroes who had sacrificed themselves for India’s freedom. Shah, by then the BJP national president, delivered his now famous ‘Four Pillars of Freedom’ speech in Ullal near Mangalore, where he had gone to flag off the countrywide Tiranga Yatra and to commemorate the heroism of the legendary Rani Abbakka Devi who had relentlessly fought Portuguese marauders in the 1500s. At Ullal, Shah spoke of the ‘four goals or pillars of freedom’, on nationalism and patriotism. ‘It is imperative today,’ he reminded his audience, ‘to unite against those who, in the name of freedom of expression, are working to divide and dismember the country.’ Without ‘nationalism and patriotism,’ he contended, ‘no nation or people could aspire to greatness’. ‘Inspiration,’ he observed, ‘could only be derived from the lives of these valiant and sacrificing revolutionaries and not from NGOs who sloganeer against the very existence of India.’34 Shah extrapolated from the thoughts of K.M. Munshi, he ‘spoke of how a free country, trying to fulfil the dream of an ideal state, needed to pursue four goals in its state of freedom. These goals were the protection of national sovereignty along with safeguarding its borders, striving to acquire respect and self-respect in the comity of nations, striving to be materially prosperous and culturally vibrant in the effort to establish a kalyan rajya—a welfare state

based on the vision of humanism’.35 The 1990s saw Shah rise through the ranks, through the dint of hard work. The year 1990 saw the party’s electoral fortune in Gujarat turn around with the BJP emerging as the principal and only opposition party in the state assembly. Over the next few years, till 1995, when the BJP earned a majority in the state, Shah’s teaming up with Modi, who was then part of the state team, initiated and successfully completed the crucial organisational task of documenting the party’s primary members across the state. These were the days of Shah’s relentless travel from village to village, to the districts, the interiors; the days in which he got a grip of the party’s organisation at grassroots, understood its structure, crystallised its constituents of active workers—it was an invaluable service he had rendered. It was an experience that would prove invaluable, an experience that he would keep returning to and sharpening over the years. In 1995, when BJP broke through the barrier in the state and formed the government after years of relentless struggle, Shah, then thirty-one, took over as the chairman of the Gujarat State Finance Corporation (GSFC). Under his stewardship, the unit recorded a net profit of 214 per cent. Shah displayed a sharp knack of entrepreneurship and converted GSFC into a public limited company. These years gave him an insight into the functioning and needs of the small entrepreneurs and of how these formed the backbone of Indian society. His tenure was a period of innovations for the corporation which continued to benefit for a long time from a number of initiatives he had taken. The year 1996 was also the BJP’s first shot at power at the centre and 1997, the year BJP launched the Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra to take stock of the path the country had traversed fifty years since independence. It was also the year which saw Shah being appointed the national treasurer of the BJYM and become an MLA from Sarkhej in the by-election that followed the fall of the first BJP government in the state within just two years of its coming to power. Shah had won his first elections by a margin of 25,000 votes. When Shah became an MLA for the first time, he would initially speak

less in the assembly. But gradually, as he started understanding and learning the ropes of constitutional and ministerial work and responsibilities, he began to be vocal and articulate. Veteran journalist and political commentator from Gujarat, Rajiv Shah, writes that when Shah had just become an MLA, he would usually sit quietly in the House and not participate in debates. Keshubhai used to be the chief minister then, but in 2002, when Shah was appointed minister of state for home and parliamentary affairs, he began speaking openly and regularly in the assembly. Rajiv Shah, also pointed out that, at times, Shah would also speak of departments which were not under him, for example, the department on Narmada issues and would display a mastery rarely seen. Modi would be seen encouraging him to speak and debate issues.36 Shah had a major impact on the legislative performance of the party in the House and would always come across as thoroughly prepared for debates. The next phase was an important one for the party: in 1998 it came back with a resounding majority winning 117 seats. Shah increased his winning margin, bagging the seat by over 1.30 lakh votes. The increase in his winning margin would continue moving upward, and over the next elections—his third and fourth term—Shah would win with record margins of 2,88,327 (approximately twelve times) and 2,32,823 votes respectively. After delimitation, his constituency shrank to the present day Naranpura, a seat he continued to win with huge margins. These were the years of the BJP’s brushes with power; it had formed governments in some states, had expanded its base of allies and had further widened its political acceptance. In the 1998 general elections, the party, presenting itself as a decisive alternative, had succeeded in wresting power and in forming a coalition at the centre led by Vajpayee. The party spoke of this phase as a ‘turning point in post-independence India’s history’ and speaking of the new millennium, ‘pledged to build, with the people’s support, a society free of fear and hunger and a nation confident of facing internal and external security challenges’ promising to provide an alternative that would be both ‘responsive and responsible’.37 The year 1998, specifically 14

February, also saw the Coimbatore serial blasts, aimed at eliminating L.K. Advani who was to address an election meeting in the city. The blast killed fifty-eight people and injured over 200. The handiwork of the Islamic terror organisation Al Ummah, the blasts reflected the recrudescence of terrorism in the country. Within days of forming the government in 1998, the BJP lived up to its national security pledge by carrying out Pokharan II. For a ‘buoyant India, conscious of its potential, the edifice of national power appeared incomplete without an essential building block. The significance of Pokharan-II’ was that ‘it filled that critical gap’.38 The BJP’s National Council which met in Gandhinagar in Gujarat, in early May, soon after its victory in the 1998 general elections, spoke of the victory as a historic moment in the life of the party and the nation with a ‘historic transfer of power at the centre to India’s first truly non-Congress government’.39 But this milestone was by no means the end of the journey, the moment of victory was an occasion for greater striving—Vijay to sahi, vishram nahin (victorious we are, but rest we shall not)—was the new slogan.40 It was a slogan that the BJP’s rank and file, including Shah were to follow in right earnest. That year also saw Shah taking over as the state secretary of the party in Gujarat—within a year he became the vice-president of the state unit. In 2000, at thirty-six, Shah was elected chairman of the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank. Again in a short time, he turned around the unit which was making losses to the tune of 20 crore and within a year proved a profit of over 6 crore. Between 1998 and 2000, Shah’s strategising saw BJP wrest control of the cooperatives from the Congress. The party saw a string of victories in cooperative banks, in agricultural market committees, as well as dairy cooperatives. Such a shift had not happened before and Shah played a pivotal role in handing over the control of the cooperatives ecosystem to the party. In 2001, in recognition of the cooperative turnaround that he had brought about, Shah was made the national convenor of the party’s

cooperative wing; his contribution to re-energise the moribund cooperative sector in the state was recognised. Both the years 2001 and 2002 were challenging years for the state. The year 2001 saw Bhuj being hit by a massive earthquake and 2002 saw the Godhra episode and the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar being attacked by terrorists in September. Narendra Modi had been brought in to take charge of the state in 2001. He was a few months in power, was settling in and had proactively initiated the Bhuj earthquake relief work, when Godhra erupted on 27 February 2002. Since then Godhra has perhaps been the most discussed political topics among India observers, especially among those who have made a fortune by keeping the issue burning on the ovens of opportunism manufactured in their propaganda factories. The BJP National Executive meet was held in Goa between 12-14 April of that year (i.e. 2002) in its resolution on ‘Godhra and its aftermath’. While speaking of the ‘deplorable and ghastly burning of Ram Sevaks in the Sabarmati Express on 27 February’, the BJP National Executive noted the ‘attempt to discredit the state government, its political leadership, administration, police’. It regretted that ‘no one looked at the real facts—hard facts that believe this campaign of calumny against the state administration’.41 Giving a detailed figure of the arrests made, FIR’s lodged and the immediate action taken by Modi’s government, the resolution also pointed out how the ‘firmness and promptitude with which the government has acted, contrasts sharply with the way earlier governments, such as of the Congress responded. Shri Narendra Modi called the army to assist civilian administration within sixteen hours; by contrast, the earlier Congress government, faced with a similar situation, took five days to call out the army’.42 The National Executive then rejected Modi’s offer to resign: In a democracy, there is only one way to put the issue and the calumny to rest: the people are the ultimate arbiters and so the people of Gujarat are the ones who

can and must decide. Accordingly, the National Executive unanimously rejects Shri Modi’s offer to resign his post. It is confident that Shri Modi can meet every challenge, that by effective action he can counter every canard. Instead of accepting his resignation, the National Executive advises him to seek dissolution of the assembly, go to the people and seek their verdict.43

Modi went to the people to seek their mandate in the elections of December 2002. Before that he undertook a Gujarat Gaurav Yatra across the state. Addressing people directly and passionately, he argued for the need to alter the negative image of the state and its people, that some interested quarters had generated. The Gaurav Yatra received a massive response and surpassed all expectations. In the town of Nadiad, in Kheda district, for example, over one lakh people had gathered to listen to him.44 The Yatra’s message had a wide impact, its result was a resounding endorsement of Modi’s leadership and his proposed vision for the state. The BJP returned with a thumping majority in the state assembly. There was no looking back for Modi after that. Shah, as a co-organiser and coordinator of the Yatra, had played a principal role in ensuring its success. Shah’s grassroots activism, organisational acumen, a keen eye for detail, political management and indefatigable energy had pushed him to the forefront among Modi’s collaborators. At thirty-eight, having won from Sarkhej for the third time in a row with an even bigger victory margin of 1,58,036 votes, Shah was made the minister of state for home affairs, and also given charge of a number of other key portfolios which were as varied as transport, prohibition, parliamentary affairs, law and excise. As a young home minister, Shah displayed administrative acumen and innovativeness. Systematic steps were taken to modernise the police force, a state-of-the-art forensic laboratory was set up and the crime graph in the state started plunging. Influenced by Chanakya, an avid student of Mahabharata, having studied in depth about the issues of national security, having read at length about the famous battles of history and battle strategies, Shah had clearly foreseen that a delay in equipping the state in terms of security and policing would enable terrorists to achieve their goals. As minister of state for home affairs, Shah went about initiating strategic moves to prevent that possibility.

Displaying great foresight and driven by his keen understanding of investigative sciences, he set up the Forensic University in 2008, the first of its kind anywhere in the world dedicated to the study and research in forensic and investigative sciences. In 2009, he directed the setting up of the Raksha Shakti University, the first of its kind in India, to conduct courses and confer degrees in the field of police science and internal security. Shah had also succeeded in roping in leading names in the field such as present National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to mentor the initiative. As law minister—one of the portfolios that he successfully handled—Shah also saw to it that the Gujarat National Law University developed into an institution of eminence. Gujarat’s efforts in smart policing during his tenure was widely acknowledged. On land acquisition the state did not see farmers’ protests or unrest, while the communist government of West Bengal, which pretended to derive its legitimacy from the proletariat, fired and killed farmers in Nandigram in 2007. The Supreme Court would later point to the successful land acquisition model in Gujarat, observing that ‘there is one state from where we do not receive any such complaints’. It continued, ‘Look at Ahmedabad which is developing, but there are no complaints from that place. They have the same officers of the same cadre as in the rest of the country’, adding that officers from other states can train under their Gujarat counterparts.45 His varied interests and responsibilities during these years saw Shah take up innovative projects. He set up a textile museum, plunged into the chief minister’s vision of promoting the habit of reading through the Vanche Gujarat initiative, encouraged the setting up of Panchavati—herbal gardens across the state, refurbished and injected dynamism in the state archives by emphasising the need for scientific documentation and preservation. But, it was really as home minister of the state that Shah left a distinct mark. His tenure saw a return to normalcy for a state that had seen repeated communal convulsions and prolonged phases of curfews. The sea change that the state saw can be gauged from an answer Shah once gave when asked whether Muslims won’t feel insecure if a BJP government came to power at

the centre; Shah retorted that in years that he was in the home ministry, ‘not a single Muslim rickshaw-puller had any fear while cycling through Hindu dominated areas like he had during Congress rule. In old Ahmedabad, Muslim girls [were] regularly attending schools’. One saw ‘hundreds of Muslims around the newly built Vastrapur Lake in Ahmedabad. It was impossible under Congress rule to stroll in public places. In the last ten years, hundreds of Muslims have become small-scale and medium-scale entrepreneurs in Gujarat’, which ‘[was] unprecedented’.46 The time between 2002 and 2010 were years of innovation and challenges. Shah made innovations and resolutely tackled the challenges. From 2003 to 2008, there was not a single event of terrorism in the state; in 2008 however, Ahmedabad was struck by serial blasts, the handiwork of the Indian Mujahideen. The state machinery displayed great alacrity in identifying and hunting down the terrorists and as Shah had then promised, such acts were never again repeated at least in Gujarat. The year 2008 was an especially bad year with serial blasts taking place in Jaipur, and Bangalore as well. Shah had sensed that these were pre-planned cold-blooded acts with the intent of breaking the ‘spine of the Indian economy’, aimed to ‘destroy the political arrangement of the nation’ and eventually to ‘destroy the confidence of the people of India’.47 In the immediate aftermath of the Ahmedabad serial blasts episode, Shah called for a larger debate on how terrorism needed to be tackled and eventually eliminated. He made very poignant but bold suggestions. He argued that there was a need to ‘have a legal provision to limit the debate on terrorism by non-governmental organisations’ and that the police’s zero tolerance against terrorism—a line that Shah himself would take as the state’s home minister—‘should not be viewed from the premise of human rights. The police’s zero tolerance against terrorism itself is a human right. Ultimately, the police is acting to protect innocent people’s human rights’. Shah called for looking at the human rights discourse differently, ‘otherwise, to gain popularity—in the absence of understanding and sometimes deliberately—NGOs were helping the motives of terrorists’.48 Shah argued

for ‘stronger laws to punish terrorists’ and opposed ‘any debates that would demoralise the approach of security agencies to fight them’. ‘Having seen the horrifying terror on the ground, there should not be any dispute among us in fighting against it,’ he pointed out. In order to stop terrorism, he argued, it was necessary to instill ‘the fear of security agencies and security forces in the mind of terrorists’. He pointed out how in Gujarat under Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), fourteen cases were tried and punishment meted out, and how this had ‘helped to keep the state terrorism free for six years’.49 These were issues that the Congress-led UPA government at the centre was unwilling to address, its dithering and often confused signals—as in the case of the Batla House encounter in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar where the police gunned two Indian Mujahideen terrorists, with senior leaders of the Congress criticising the operation and some like Sonia Gandhi crying over it50— allowed powerful conglomerates of NGOs with affiliations of all sorts to champion the so-called human rights of terrorists. True to his words, Shah clamped down on terror networks across the state, by busting modules, laying a strong network for coastal security and modernising the police force. The years between 2010 and 2012 were perhaps Shah’s most challenging years. The Congress-led and Sonia Gandhi controlled UPA dispensation in Delhi machinated and slapped false charges of a fake encounter against Shah. By then Shah had succeeded in dealing a back-breaking blow to terror networks in the state through his zero tolerance policy towards terrorists. This zero tolerance approach of his saw Sohrabuddin Sheikh, the dreaded extortionist, arms racketeer and terrorist wanted by the police of five states, killed by the Gujarat police in a stiff encounter. It is necessary to mention here that during the period of his stewardship of the home ministry in the state, 1,200 encounter cases were recorded nationally and nineteen cases occurred in Gujarat. However, because of the Congress party’s obsession with trying to destabilise the BJP in Gujarat, all nineteen cases of Gujarat and just one case from the remaining 1,189 cases were selected for inquiry. The debate that Shah wanted to be initiated on terrorism in 2008 seemed prescient. In July 2010, after the charge sheet was filed, Shah resigned as

home minister and presented himself before the CBI. The CBI arrested him and Shah faced imprisonment for ninety days. During this period, leaders like L.K. Advani and Arun Jaitley visited him. Shah, however, was soon out on bail with the Gujarat High Court accepting that ‘there is no prima facie evidence against Amit Shah’. Shah took the unequivocal stand that his position will be vindicated, that the cases were politically motivated, that he would fight them legally and emerge unscathed. ‘My case will not stand a judicial trial,’51 Shah had asserted. Just the day after Shah was granted bail, a petition was filed that an out-on-bail Amit Shah in Gujarat would influence witnesses in Gujarat. The Court directed Shah to leave Gujarat. It would not be wrong to say that this was the most difficult and challenging phase of Shah’s life and political career. The period of his imprisonment, at the Sabarmati Jail, where he would spend most of his time reading and taking classes for other inmates, or the phase of his exile from Gujarat to a one-room shelter in Gujarat Bhavan on the national capital’s Kautilya Marg, the daily grind of cases, his wide travels across the country and the Hindi heartland, his study and internalisation of the political and social matrix of this region, his near ceaseless reading and immersion in the world of thought and reflection—these were the times in which Shah’s intense will power and faith in the rectitude of his actions and cause sustained him. His one room retreat had become his ideological laboratory. Eventually in December 2014, the special CBI court absolved Shah of all charges on the ground that the case was ‘politically motivated’. ‘I found substance in the main contention made by the applicant [Mr Shah] that he was involved in the case by the CBI for political reasons,’ special CBI Judge M.B. Gosavi said.52 Those lawyer friends of Shah’s who were his constant companions during this phase never saw him restless or agitated and never heard him assert that the party must fight his cases or provide for them. He would always prepare for his cases at his own level with help from a select group of friends and acquaintances. In 2012, Shah was allowed to return to Gujarat by the Apex Court,

despite the Congress government’s effort to prevent him from returning to the state and taking up the reins of the assembly election campaign for the party. The first thing that Shah did on being given the Apex Court’s nod was to head straight to offer prayers at the iconic Somnath Temple, one of the most enduring symbols of resistance and resurrection. Back home in Ahmedabad, Shah was received by a surging sea of party workers and supporters. ‘The way in which central government institutions are being misused in democracy,’ he told the waiting crowd outside his residence, ‘the only answer we can give to Congress is to work hard to win the coming state elections with massive majority. The state elections will decide the road to the 2014 national elections and the entire country is keenly watching the (state) elections.’53 Shah’s words that evening proved prophetic. The 2012 assembly elections was Modi’s stepping stone to Delhi, the BJP came back with a thumping majority in the state and Shah himself won his fifth straight victory from the newly carved out Naranpura constituency. Modi won for the third consecutive term, but Shah’s mind was fixated on Delhi, the city in which he had spent his most difficult time. He had decided to move towards Delhi. This time round he was free, the chains of conspiracies binding him had been finally broken at the altar of justice. He had the full freedom to choose, whether he wished to be in Gujarat, Delhi or anywhere for that matter—Shah chose Delhi. He rented a three-roomed apartment in the capital’s Jangpura area to start a new innings. It was also a phase when Shah did not have any organisational responsibility in the BJP but, the adept student of astrology, was perhaps already reading the chart of the future. As 2014 neared, Shah’s services were requisitioned at the national level and he was made the national general secretary of the party and given charge of the crucial state of UP. Turning around the BJP’s electoral fortunes in the state would prove pivotal for catapulting the party to power and Modi to the prime ministership. Shah got down to strategising one of the most crucial battles of his political life, a battle which he would win with aplomb. His election strategy gave the BJP its biggest ever victory in UP.

UP was a state that Shah had studied when the Supreme Court had directed him to stay away from the state, between 2010 and 2012. During those years, which Shah describes as years in which he engaged in Adhyayan —deep study, spiritual pursuits and in outreach54—he travelled extensively across the state and all over the country, spending days and weeks interacting with cross-sections, spending nights at matths, engaging with sadhus and religious leaders, driving through the vast hinterland, pouring through archival records and gazettes. His banishment from his mother-state opened another chapter. It was a chapter that sharpened in him the national perspective. A dogged tenacity enabled Shah to internalise the electoral, social and political spirit, character, arithmetic and psyche of not only the Hindi heartland but of the entire country.55 In 2014, the performance of the party in the Hindi heartland, often referred to as India’s cow belt, which catapulted the BJP to winning its largest ever mandate since its formation in 1980, was a result of Shah’s study of the state and his success in restructuring the party’s organisation there right up from the roots. Rajnath Singh, then BJP chief, while announcing Shah’s name for the party’s presidency in July 2014 spoke of this historic feat and how it was Shah’s doing, the result of his hard work and strategy. In any analysis of the mandate of May 2014, therefore, the fact that the results of UP played a crucial role would have to be understood and accepted. The BJP’s victory this time round far exceeded the feat of 1991 when it had won fifty-one Lok Sabha seats from the state. The 2014 performance in UP however, was not an easy achievement; it was a tough fight, since it had been fifteen years that the BJP had ‘lost power in Lucknow’ as well as its ‘preeminence in the state’ 56 and was on the threshold of a generational leadership shift. As always, without letting the routine political point of being an outsider to the state affect him and true to his method of functioning, Shah began revamping the organisational machinery in the state and also started trying to understand its condition and the BJP’s stakes, ‘I tried to study the state, its

society, economy and its political trends. I also learned what was wrong with the BJP.’ Shah realised that the BJP had not fought the panchayat elections in twelve years and had disengaged from ‘district and taluka elections’, resulting in ‘a whole army of politically conscious citizens who should have been with us’ joining ‘other parties simply because we could not provide them with a political avenue’.57 In order to galvanise the rank and file, Shah announced that ‘from now on we will contest each election’ and saw the immediate swelling of the ranks. He also brought about a major shift in the selection process of candidates, a practice he had followed and mastered in the past, ‘I also did away with the practice of leaving it to candidates to select those who will look after booths in their constituencies because I realised that left to themselves, they would prefer to give the important responsibility to a person of their own community.’58 Shah ensured that ‘capability was the sole criterion for the selection of who should look after booths’ and this worked wonders for the party.59 The proverbial booth-committees were dissolved and were replaced with new ones, which were in turn injected with election-preparation activities. His experience on the ground over the years, especially in Gujarat, made Shah confident of a win. Taking an altogether different tangent on the UPcentric debate in the media, he declared, in October 2013, well before the general elections, that he was confident that the party’s performance in the state ‘will surpass even the most generous estimates of pollsters’. Shah discerned a ‘groundswell for the party and our PM candidate’ and predicted that the ‘exact outcome will surprise even the pundits’.60 His systematic study of the state had convinced Shah that the prevailing trend in UP was for ‘total change’ and that there was a ‘tremendous antiincumbency against the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress’.61 Long years of experience had clearly taught Shah to read the signs and indications, to predict the direction and outcome. By noon of 16 May 2014, it was clear that Shah’s certitude had prevailed, UP had filled the

BJP’s bag and had decisively positioned it to capture the seat of the central government in Delhi after a decade in exile. Shah’s capacity at political analysis and calculations had once again hit the mark. He had conquered the fort of UP and had placed it in Modi’s basket. When the world had begin to take accept and take note of Shah’s acumen, Arun Jaitley, his colleague of difficult times, observed in his address to the BJP National Council in August 2014 that ‘the politics of revenge through the use of state machinery and power can never triumph. The manner in which our leaders have been victimised is best seen in the way our national president has been hounded. I am certain that our opponents recognised his acumen much before we ourselves recognised it and that is why they repeatedly targeted him. It was only after that that we gradually realised his capacities’. In July 2014, Amit Shah—sometime booth in charge, election agent, swayamsevak, Vidyarthi Parishad and Yuva Morcha activist, grassroots organiser, Ahmedabad city BJP secretary, state secretary, cooperatives convener, organiser of Yatras, MLA, state minister and national general secretary—was finally elected the national president of the BJP, the youngest president at the age of forty-nine. In his first address as president to the BJP’s National Council on 9 August 2014 at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Shah spoke of his elevation as symbolic of the respect that the BJP as a party has always conferred on the institution of the political worker —karyakarta. ‘I believe that my becoming president,’ Shah observed on the occasion, ‘is a tribute to the institution of the karyakarta.’62 He said that he was fortunate that a worker like him, who had started his political life as a booth worker, had been elected president of his party at a relatively young age; this in itself indicated the uniqueness of a party like the BJP. ‘This party is a movement, ideology is its life source and the worker is its strength,’ he reminded the National Council members who had gathered to endorse his election.63 It was indeed the first culmination of a long and eventful journey, a journey that was made truly through the ranks, a journey that began in those heady days of 1977, when a thirteen-year-old lad had set out to campaign in

the dusty by-lanes of Mehsana against the congress imposed Emergency and in support of India’s democratic spirit and values.


IDEOLOGY: THE SOUL political party owes its birth to a political idea [ideology].’1 The political ideology seeds a political movement, attracts and nurtures political workers, binds them and drives them to the collective action of establishing a political party, which is in a sense, the physical and external expression of that political ideology.


For parties like Jana Sangh and later BJP, which were and continue to be ‘karyakarta-centric—worker-centric’,2 the founding political ideology succeeded in attracting a core collection of workers who stuck with the movement, battling against uncertainty and adversity, struggling and ultimately succeeding in giving the movement a distinct political shape, identity and permanency. A party born out of an ideology grows gradually and organically, because one needs to first understand and internalise the ideology, to talk about it, bring about its acceptance among people. There is no shortcut to this method; on the other hand, it is comparatively easy to run a party whose ‘base is a single entity or person, or family or caste’.3 It is the political ideology of the Jana Sangh and later the BJP which held together and inspired ordinary workers like Amit Shah and many others, enabling them to grow with the party and eventually rise up through the ranks. The BJP, especially, is perhaps the only party in which the president looks upon himself as a worker—karyakarta. Kushabhau Thakre (19222003) as president of the party, referred to himself as a karyakarta who had spent his entire life in ‘building and expanding the party organisation’.4 For a

political party that is ideology-inspired and defined, the worker is the core unit, the unit that holds the party together and ensures its continuation. The BJP, to this day, highlights the contribution of the worker in building the party. During sessions on ideology, Amit Shah refers to his own example: A member of the BJP in a booth in Naranpura [Ahmedabad] in Gujarat grew gradually, and acquired the required traits and qualities by observing the conduct and ways of working of senior leaders. He was tested continuously by the realities of the world, his ways of leadership and organisation were gradually accepted and he was eventually given the opportunity of being the national president of the BJP. It is something that only the Bharatiya Janata Party can do. This is the difference between the parties that function on the basis of an individual and a party with ideology.5

The difference between the BJP and other parties, Shah often argues, is that while the other parties gradually lost their ideological direction, could not reinvent themselves ideologically or degenerated into family, personality and caste holdings, the BJP, based on its essential democratic and worker-centric nature, has survived and grown in strength. Shah keeps telling karyakartas, how a party founded by ten people has today grown into a movement of 11 crore members. This was possible because of its workers and because of its principles, its leaders, its programmes and its movements. The driver of this growth was ideology and the ideology-inspired workers, who, over decades had been inspired to selflessly work for the party. ‘There were many leaders in the BJP who never had a bank account,’ Shah once narrated, ‘till their last breath. Such a thing will be unimaginable to you; even people who see themselves as being simple have no idea of this. There have been at least 600 leaders in the party who have left no heir behind, their whole lives being dedicated to their party—this is how the party has grown under their leadership.’6 Shah is always moved to see the efforts that hardworking grassroots karyakartas make to expand the party against great odds even today. Lakshmi, a vistarak of Puducherry had caught his attention during his extended tour of the union territory June 2017. Mentioning her example in his

presidential address to the BJP National Executive later that year in September, Shah recalled, how he was moved to tears when he met her, ‘She lives in a hostel, far from her husband and son, and every day goes into Tamil Nadu, riding a Luna, to spread the party’s message.’ When Shah asked Lakshmi whether she was facing any difficulties, she replied, ‘there were difficulties, but when the BJP starts spreading on the map of Tamil Nadu, all difficulties would dissolve’, which moved him to tears. ‘It is when one meets such workers, a worker who, without thinking of herself or her family, living in a hostel in one state goes into another, to work for the party’s expansion, one realises the mettle of the BJP’s workers and also why the party has expanded so much.’7 Such incidents invariably reminded Shah of his own early days in the party, when ideology inspired and drove him and thousands of other workers. In Lakshmi’s efforts, he saw that drive of ideology; he never fails to take note of such examples and then cite them to others and also record them in such a manner that they remain etched in the party’s history for posterity. The political ideology that creates a political party, once crystallised, articulated, defined and structured for dissemination and for generating a political discussion becomes the ideology of the party. In power, the party attempts to formulate policies broadly influenced by its inspiring and defining ideology. As Amit Shah once told a gathering of writers and intellectuals who had asked him to speak on the relevance of ideology in politics today, ‘when an ideology-based government comes to power, the focus is on the maximum development of the poor and marginalised people and not of an individual or family’.8 From the inception of Jana Sangh in 1951 to the founding of BJP in 1980 and beyond the party and movement continues to retain a vibrant space for ideological churning and debates and to evolve, modify, re-direct and focus its political line and positions. In an era of gradual de-ideologisation when most political parties are unwilling to or are unable to define their ideological positions or programmes, or have degenerated into family run and controlled syndicates in which ideological formulations do not matter in the long run,

the BJP persists with its ideological dimension. Vichardhara—flow of thought, ideology—forms one of its principal underlying and sustaining pillars. For a worker-centric party like the BJP, which continues to expand even after more than three decades, ideology is also its life force,9 the adhesive that binds and the firewall that prevents any major fissures while ensuring that stagnation is kept at bay. The ideological underpinnings of the political movement of the Jana Sangh and BJP continue to remain active and its ideas remain in circulation. Throughout his countrywide tours undertaken in 2017, Amit Shah always meticulously kept aside a session with intellectuals and opinion makers, where he discussed the ideological dimensions of the party and how it is influencing policies and governance in states in which the BJP rules. The exceptionality of BJP as a party is because, as Shah often points out, ‘its work is guided by our ideology and we have a defined organisational structure’.10 The BJP, inheritor of the Jana Sangh’s legacy, owes its birth to the ‘idea of nationalism’.11 The vision and position of one nation, one culture and one people inspired its founding. The BJP argued for a confident, self-reliant and self-respecting nation as its goal for India. When it speaks of one nation, one culture and one people, the BJP does not promote homogeneity; it speaks rather of Bharat being an ancient nation, with great diversities but also possessing a distinct underlying unity, a civilisational continuum which needs to be recognised and expressed. This political idea is best explained in the words of Kushabhau Thakre, himself: This [nationalism] is the core of our ideology; for us India is one nation, one people and one culture. Our view that India is not a nation born in 1947 but an ancient nation defined by its unique and unifying cultural identity is different from that of the Marxists, who see India as several sub-nations. It is also different from the Congress view that India is a territorial nation born in 1947.12

Rashtravad (nationalism) remains the BJP’s political ideology and Antyoday (empowering and elevating the last citizen) continues to be its governance ideology and ultimate goal.13 These have sprung from the political philosophy of Integral Humanism.

Each new decade, or new phase whether in or out of power has added to the party’s ideological repertoire, One Country-One Nation-One Culture, Kalyan Rajya, Antyoday, Integral Humanism, five commitments – Pancha Nistha, Samanway, Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas, New India, Sankalp se Siddhi (from resolve to realisation), Garib Kalyan, are all terms and directions that have sprung up from these periodic ideological churns. The primacy of ideology, the continuous effort to restate that ideology and to shape present political discourse and direction imbued by its fundamentals, continue to be evident in the party to this day. The BJP leadership, continues to emphasise the primary ideology. Amit Shah argues, that ‘without ideology, politics is lifeless. Just like a body is nothing without a soul, so is politics meaningless without ideology’; like a country ‘cannot function without a constitution, a society cannot function without culture’ similarly, ‘politics too cannot function without ideology’. Politics without ideology, Shah reiterates, ‘turns out to be a connivance of selfish motives, corruption, personal ambition, nepotism’.14 It is the ideology of the party which keeps the thread of unity intact— though in the case of the communist parties in India, ideologically generated arguments and debates have often led to political splits and decay—and imparts a sense of underlying continuity. It has been argued that ‘ideology’ in the present context, especially in the post World War II context was seen as a ‘set of ideas whose logic is their capacity to incite their hearers to action, rather than provoke them to thought’ and therefore was meant for catering to the ‘supposed irrationality of the masses’.15 But this did not apply to the Jana Sangh and its leaders, when they decided to work for a political alternative to Congress. Later, it did not apply to the BJP either. Ideology inspired the the workers of Jana Sangh and BJP both to think and then act. During the days of the struggle for freedom, the Congress was seen as a special purpose vehicle with the sole aim of struggling for and achieving freedom and in which, as Deendayal Upadhyaya had observed, ‘all agreed that the foremost task was to gain independence’.16 The ‘sole purpose of the

party was to get India’s freedom’. No articulated political ideology held the Congress together, ‘irrespective of whatever ideology one believed at the time, the Congress was the destination for every freedom-seeker’. People ‘though poles apart from each other in their ideology, converged into this party without any planning or arrangement, since their sole purpose was to gain freedom for their country’.17 In fact once freedom was achieved, Mahatma Gandhi categorical on the need to dissolve the Congress.18 But once independence was achieved, there was no real churning and discussion on the direction the newly freed polity ought to take. Inspired by the Mahatma, a national government was formed, but it was soon bogged down in the challenges of reconstructing post-partition India, in uniting the polity, in providing relief and rehabilitation and in guarding its territory against Pakistan’s predatory actions. However, after Patel’s death the Congress was increasingly controlled by and subjected to Nehru’s whims, with a number of his old associates gradually leaving in order to chart their own political course. The need to create an alternate political structure that could argue for alternate policies before the country and occupy the opposition space were some of the principal raison d’êtres for the formation of the Jana Sangh. Right from inception, even before the party had taken shape, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, had undertaken discussion tours across the country, in order to ascertain among other things, the mood of the people and the suggestions and views of the intelligentsia on what the country needs in the form of a counter to the Congress monolith. The Jana Sangh, therefore, grew out of a political idea of creating an alternative that would be responsive to and aligned with Indian conditions and aspirations, and would question the importation of Western models to try and suit Indian conditions. As Mookerjee had said when he was trying to put together this alternative, ‘One thing is clear, Congress policies are disintegrating the country. The need of the hour is a new all Bharat political party to give a new programme, a new ideal and a more valid idiom to the country.’19 The Jana Sangh’s positions therefore emerged out of a serious ideological churning.

Jana Sangh argued that an Abharatiya (unIndian) and unrealistic approach to national problems by the party in power was primarily responsible for the ‘demoralising’ state of affairs in the country. In their ‘anxiety to make Bharat a carbon copy of the West, they have ignored and neglected the best in Bharatiya life and ideals’ and have ‘failed to harness the enthusiasm created by freedom to the task of realisation of the great potentialities of the country’.20 The Jana Sangh’s political ideology was based on the need to recognise and work for national regeneration based on Bharatiya Sanskriti (Indian culture) and Maryada (values and principals). Its fundamental ideological pillars or postulates were that India was ‘one country’—it argued that Bharatvarsha, from Himalayas to Kanyakumari, is and has been, through the ages, a living organic whole geographically, culturally and historically, and it saw India as ‘one nation’—an ‘ancient nation’ and that ‘Bharatiya nationalism’ was to be based on an ‘undivided allegiance to Bharat as a whole and [to] her great and ancient culture which distinguishes her from other lands’. Today Shah, for example, emphasises this dimension when he talks of India being a ‘geo-cultural’ formation and not a geopolitical entity. The Jana Sangh also spoke of ‘one culture’, seeing it as a synthesis of different regional and local growths, natural in such a vast country, and argued that all creeds that formed the ‘commonwealth of the Bharatiya Rashtra’ also formed the ‘stream of Bharatiya culture’, which was an unbroken civilisational continuum from the Vedas. It spoke of this continuity as ‘absorbing and assimilating contributions made by different peoples, creeds and cultures that came in touch with it’ making them an ‘indistinguishable part and parcel of the main current’.21 It’s ideological framework thus spoke of the regeneration of ‘Bharatiya culture and revitalisation of true Bharatiya nationalism on its basis, with such adjustments as may be necessary to make our country truly modern, progressive and strong’. It spoke of the need to establish Kalyan Rajya a state where the rule of law prevailed, ‘wherein men and women of various faiths, speaking different languages and residing in different parts of the country’

shall live ‘in an atmosphere of unity, freedom and goodwill’.22 The entire ideological debate which dominated the early years of the Jana Sangh vis-à-vis the Congress was that of reconstruction (navanirmān) and regeneration (punarnirmān) of the country. The Jana Sangh argued that the Nehru-led Congress proposed to rebuild the entire nation, viewing ‘old customs, culture and traditions as unnecessary and lame practices’, while the Jana Sangh believed in ‘India’s rich civilisational and cultural heritage and its potential to lead the world’, saying that there was no need to ‘throw away what we already had’. Instead it argued for ‘refurbishing these in accordance with the present’.23 Deendayal Upadhyaya’s presentation of the thesis of Integral Humanism in 1965 saw the next major ideological phase for the Jana Sangh. Integral Humanism would prove to be the anchoring rock of the movement; the BJP too would adopt it as its foundational and sustaining political philosophy. By shaping a political philosophy that was essentially a quest to evolve a political framework and movement inspired by the Bharatiya civilisational ethos, Upadhyaya unleashed the possibilities of evolving a political discourse that was inspired by indigenous thought-roots of India. Unlike other political ideologies, such as communism, which had no roots in the Indian thoughtevolution, and which primarily derived inspiration from foreign frameworks and paradigms, the vision of Integral Humanism—or humanness, as propounded by Upadhyaya, sprung from the fountains of Bharatiya thought and aspirations. Post-independence, when models for India were being debated, when the dominant attitude was that of importing and grafting on Indian conditions models that were predominantly experimented with in the West, Upadhyaya displayed a spirit that was not overawed by the achievements or dominance of the West.24 More importantly for the Indian context, Upadhyaya also emphasised the need for establishing a Kalyan Rajya, a state, where inequality and divisiveness were eradicated. An economic system and a government must be able to provide food, clothing and shelter and must ‘enable the individual to

carry out his obligations to society by properly educating him’ and in the event of ‘an individual falling prey to any disease, society must arrange for his treatment and maintenance,’ he argued. For Upadhyaya, a government which was concerned with these was a government which worked out the rule of dharma—otherwise it reflected the rule of adharma. He argued about ‘being responsible for the maintenance, protection and education of his subjects’, saying that the ruler was their true father.25 Upadhyaya spoke ‘for the marginalised, for the traditional and indigenous landholders, for the farmers and for those who still stood on the last rung of the societal ladder, and needed support and an enabling environment’.26 This was to later evolve into the governance vision of Antyoday—which has formed the ideological base of the BJP’s governance models and initiatives. He envisaged the need to develop indigenous technology suited to Indian conditions, spoke of a decentralised model of development, stressed on the need to develop India’s own models of growth and of economy, spoke of articulating a cultural vision and roadmap, cautioned against revivalism or replicating Western models and frameworks, and argued for the need to ‘discard status quo mentality’.27 Advising Jana Sangh workers, Upadhyaya said that they had ‘set out with determination to make this nation, strong, happy and prosperous through the medium of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh’ and ‘therefore must carry on practical programmes for the national reconstruction of this foundation’. The nationalism and India-first political position that Jana Sangh had hitherto articulated received a concrete framework through Upadhyaya’s political treatise of Integral Humanism.28 With the formation of the BJP in 1980, Integral Humanism was adopted as the basic philosophy of the party along with the ‘five commitments’: i) nationalism and national integration, ii) democracy, iii) positive secularism —Sarva Pantha Samabhava, iv) Gandhian socialism—that is a Gandhian approach to socio-economic issues—now articulated by Shah as ‘Gandhi’s vision of rural development’ (Gram Swaraj) and v) value-based politics.29

The party’s objective and basic philosophy document conclude, ‘The basic philosophy of “Integral Humanism” and the five commitments constitute the ideology of the BJP.30 The Jana Sangh’s principles were largely divided into five major areas—democracy, cultural nationalism, Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of rural development, positive secularism and value-based politics.’ The ‘BJP still follows these principles’.31 At a deeper level, Integral Humanism emerges as a harmonising philosophy; it aims to harmonise and synthesise materialism and spirituality, the individual and society, man and nature, envisages a unity between the body, the intellect and the soul, aiming to rise above the incompatible ideologies of socialism, communism, materialism and narrow conservatism, and looks at human beings and societies as integral units, with each supporting and sustaining the other.32 The ideal and ideology of Antyoday continues to influence the BJP’s approach to governance and finds repeated reiteration in its sessions and political conferences. Speaking at the historic Kozhikode session of the party, in September 2016, for example, Shah dwelt at length on how the ideology of Antyoday was being translated into practical governance by BJP governments in the states and at the centre. ‘When the vision of Antyoday was kept before us,’ he reminded workers and leaders of the party, ‘one never imagined that one day, workers of Jana Sangh and then BJP would have the good fortune of being called upon to actualise this philosophy. But today after fifty years, thirteen governments [in 2016] run by the BJP in the states and its government at the centre, are working to realise this ideal across the country.’ In order to reinforce the point that the philosophy of Antyoday inspired policymaking, especially those which focused on empowering the marginalised, Shah declared at Kozhikode, that Upadhyaya’s birth centenary year (2016-2017) would be observed as the Garib Kalyan (welfare of the poor) year. It would be a year in which the party and its governments would aim to realise the Antyoday philosophy in governance, ‘to banish darkness from the huts of those who stand in the last line of the march of development,

to make their homes free of noxious smoke, to make their homes diseasefree, dirt-free, illiteracy-free, free of unemployment is the aim of our government,’ Shah reiterated.33 The aim of the Garib Kalyan initiative was to take the message of these liberating policies to the grassroots, in order to achieve the goal of Antyoday.34 Antyoday, thus, aims to establish Upadhyaya’s vision of the Kalyan Rajya. The philosophy of Antyoday, for the BJP, gives a new momentum and meaning to development, and as Shah reiterated, it aims to empower people ‘with a human touch’, while ‘in the usual narrative of development, rich people become richer; in our mode of empowerment, we make the poor and the marginalised strong and unsusceptible to any exploitation. Only a party with an ideology can accomplish such a task. Only a worker who has entrenched himself in this ideology can do this. And if he becomes the prime minister, he keeps doing it with vigour and dedication’.35 A party with a defined ideology the BJP, is never looked upon merely as an election machine by its workers and leaders. In trying to actualise the philosophy of Antyoday, therefore, Shah always insists that the party too play its role. He sees the party’s contribution and role as two-pronged, one to provide the government with some direction and context, and two to emerge as a dynamic bridge which links the government with the people.36 The vibrancy and relevance of ideology in the BJP continues unabated. Shah speaks of how most parties have, since their founding, lost ideological direction and moorings, and have either dissolved or have been captured by certain interest groups, families and individuals. Shah refers to the three destructive curses in Indian politics, which the BJP’s ideology seeks to counter and decimate, as ‘dynasticism, casteism and appeasement’; he sees the mandates given to the BJP across the country as an endorsement of its stand that Indian politics needed to be liberated from these curses. A ‘birthbased ruling elite’37 cannot be the norm or dominant arrangement in a democracy like India, Shah has often argued. Some of the principal objectives of Shah’s countrywide organisational

tours in 2017 was ideological rejuvenation and self-renewal. It had its intended effect as far as ideological orientation and reorientation were concerned. At every workers meeting, leaders’ and departmental meeting or gathering of intellectuals, Shah spoke of the party’s ideology, contextualised it, elaborated its finer points and also articulated activities and programmes that needed to be undertaken to actualise the ideology. The emphasis on an ideological continuity was always made and how a well-articulated ideology sets the BJP apart from other parties was reiterated. A party whose workers do not seriously examine, absorb, restate and contextualise their ideological formulations and positions, is bound to end up as a machine and eventually wither away, Shah has consistently argued. ‘We are not a machine, rather we are on a mission to transform the nation, to transform politics, governance, to articulate a new narrative of the nation —Rashtra—itself and to work so that India can again regain her rightful position in the comity of nations’ is his constant and ceaseless strain throughout these nationwide tours. ‘I may sound repetitive,’ he once thought aloud, ‘but these basics, these fundamentals, have to be reiterated so that they penetrate the mind and the thought process of a larger cross-section of our workers—in the long run it is bound to motivate them.’ The first part of 2016, February to be precise, saw ‘break India slogans’ tukde tudke being chanted by a group of ultra-left radical students egged on by a section of the faculty, in the campus of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in support of a terrorist Afzal Guru who had been given the death penalty in 2013. A bunch of leftist-communist historians led by Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib and leaders like Rahul Gandhi of the Congress and Sitaram Yechury and D. Raja of the communist parties and socialists like Sharad Yadav came out in support of these students and faculties, justifying the demand for breaking India as ‘freedom of expression’. Shah took a strident and vocal stand against such a subversive and insidious cry, ‘The issue of nationalism and service to nation is not an electoral tool for the BJP.’ It is the very essence of the party’s existence38 and Shah has always refused to ‘bow down on anything that hurts the pride of India or endangers our

security’. ‘Criticise us as much as you want,’ Shah had then argued, ‘criticise the government, find fault with its policies, but abuse of nation, calls for dismembering it, for breaking it apart, collusion with forces that are inimical to India’s unity and integrity will not be tolerated, we shall not sit back and watch, we shall oppose these cries with every ounce of energy.’ Nationalism and national security are integral part of the Jana Sangh’s and BJP’s ideological rubric, ‘Nationalism is in our character. We are in politics because of nationalism. We have never termed anyone as antinational, but if anyone says the country be divided into hazar tukde (thousand pieces), then he is anti-national. We do not have any confusion on that front. Anyone can criticise Modi or my party, but how can one talk about dividing the country?’39 Shah asserted during this period, when so-called responsible leaders, with Rahul Gandhi, then Congress vice-president, in the lead, were fanning the flames of separatism and supporting the demand for India’s disintegration. A similar ideological stand saw Shah initiate and support the massive Jana Raksha Yatra in the first half of October 2017 in Kerala organised by the state BJP against the indiscriminate killing of RSS and BJP workers by the cadres and lumpens of the state’s ruling communist dispensation. Flagging off the Yatra from Kannur, Shah reminded the communists that there was no place for such mindless violence in a democracy. His address and march on the first day galvanised the workers of the party and for the next fifteen days, through a combination of various programmes, the continuous march against ‘Red Terror’ in Kerala generated a huge wave of support for the BJP and succeeded in highlighting, nationwide, the kind of violent politics that the CPIM has been resorting to against its political opponents, especially in states in which it was in power. Shah’s unequivocal call to reject the politics of dynasticism, casteism and of vote banks has also invigorated ordinary workers of the party. In a political system which had largely given up on deeper ideological anchors, or found them to be either convenient alibis or irritating roadblocks, indicating that an intellectual quest within a political set-up may eventually lead to the political

marginalisation of the aspirant leader and the party, Shah’s emphasis on three aspects—intellectual and ideological replenishment through study, the need to look upon the party not as a mere machine for elections but rather a mission for societal, national and political transformation and finally to work for the wide-ranging efforts underway under the Narendra Modi-led BJP dispensation, so that the vision and approach to governance at various levels can be transformed—is significant and symbolic, more so because Shah himself is perceived to be a master of realpolitik. However, his sense of realpolitik is not based on a rejection of the deeper fundamental of politics, which is ideology that keeps a genuine political movement alive and evolving.40 Such conviction comes from being associated with a party whose bases and edifice have been shaped by its ideology and its workers. A political party thus owes its birth to a political ideology, and it is this political ideology which in the course of time attracts adherents, who in waves and over decades create and shape a transformative political movement. The tenacity and survival of that political movement is essentially dependent on the resilience of its ideology. The BJP’s continuing growth and survival is a result of that ideological resilience and relevance. Its founding political idea continues to evolve, expand and attract.


THE TRADITION AND INSTITUTION OF PRAVAAS AND YATRAS crucial element in a political organisation’s effort to spread its ideology and policies is the instrument of pravaas (tours/peregrinations). It is also, a way of laying a bridge that would maintain the channels of discussion, dialogue—samvad—feedback, and connect the highest and the lowest layers of the party.


The history of the growth of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and the spread of the BJP is replete with accounts of this tradition of pravaas. History is full of instances of how political parties have been formed and have evolved through ideological churnings. The narrative of these churnings and growth form a rich canvas in the history of India’s political evolution. The step-by-step journey from Jana Sangh to BJP has eventually reached a stage today that could perhaps have never been imagined by the pioneers. No one could have imagined in those early days of struggle and uncertainty that the edifice that was being built with the foundation laid in 1951 would, by 2015, become the largest political organisation with the largest membership base in the world. The Jana Sangh’s and the BJP’s journey from the bottom to the top of the political scale has been full of struggles and yet one that was driven by a positive vision and determination. It has been a journey of how a political

organism inspired by an ideology, struggled to articulate and then establish a new narrative of India, against to the then dominant Congress narrative. It therefore becomes imperative to understand this journey, which has now reached its peak, through the lens of history. Independence came in 1947; victory had finally dawned after a long and relentless struggle. The first rays of freedom had generated enthusiasm and hope among millions of ordinary Indians. At the same time, away from the euphoria and limelight, some were also concerned with the kind of democratic framework that India would eventually adopt. It was a phase of uncertainty and adversity as well as a phase which witnessed an intense search for positives. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on 30 January 1948, exactly five and a half months after independence. The RSS was falsely accused of complicity in the Mahatma’s assassination and Nehru’s government banned it. Later, when the accusations against the Sangh could obviously not be proved, Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel removed the ban. The country had not even completed three full years of independence when these episodes occurred in quick succession. However, ideological disagreements began to emerge within the Congress itself, among the stalwarts. Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, industry and supply minister in the Nehru cabinet, resigned in April 1950 in protest against the infamous NehruLiaquat pact, and against Nehru’s overall attitude of disregarding the interests of Hindus of East Pakistan.1 On the other hand, the differences between Patel and Nehru over Purushottam Das Tandon almost became public during the 56 session of the Congress.2 In October 1949, while Nehru was on a foreign visit, Sardar Patel used his influence in the Congress committee and passed a proposal to allow RSS swayamsevaks to become members of the Congress.3 Rajarshi Tandon, as Tandon was called, supported Patel’s proposal since he felt that the RSS was not a political institution and its people had neither been involved nor were bothered with the complexities of election and politics. Tandon argued

that those belonging to communal outfits like the Jamiat-ul-Ulema, who were joining the Congress, had to prevented instead. He saw the RSS’s cultural outlook as refined and in tune with as well as inspired by the civilisational and philosophical wisdom of India; it was, he argued Shastrashuddha.4 All these events happened in between Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s resignation in April 1950 and the first general elections of 1951-1952. However, before the general elections, the rumbles about the internal divisions within the Congress had gradually started subsiding, with an increase in Nehru’s control and domination over the organisation, which eventually became total. It will perhaps not be wrong to argue that the situation within the Congress had become such that you were ‘either with Nehru or against the Congress’. The triumph of Nehru’s domination over the Congress and the complete defeat of the group that did not agree with Nehru, signaled the actual death of a political party which was both the product and the vehicle of our struggle for freedom. There is no doubting the fact that Nehru inherited the benefit of the widespread acceptance and popularity of the Congress, and a large section of the populace looked up to him as their popular leader. Those years signified the Nehru-era of Indian politics. He had controlled and eventually dissolved the internal challenges of the Congress, with his opponents themselves facing challenges of various kinds. Sardar Patel’s role in removing the ban on RSS after Gandhi’s assassination was a logical and rational move inspired by the spirit of democratic conduct. However, Nehru’s perception of the RSS was irrational, heavily biased and jaundiced. Thus, the challenge before the Sangh was to counter this heavy bias and to do this in the absence of Patel who had passed away by then. It was like trying to scale a mountain while standing at an angle of ninety degrees. Guruji, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the then RSS sarsanghchalak, extensively toured the country with the aim of conveying the Sangh’s vision and message to people at large. In fact, Guruji, was an indefatigable traveller, who used and institutionalised the instrument of pravaas.

Pravaas then was the only medium for the RSS to widen its reach, increase its contacts and expand the organisation. After the ban was lifted, Sri Guruji decided to push ahead with organisational consolidation and expansion. He inspired the pracharaks to further fan out across the country with the mission of spreading and crystallising the Sangh’s work. Sri Guruji himself travelled extensively for about six months during this period and when he returned to Delhi on 23 August 1949, he was welcomed by a large crowd. Interestingly, the BBC Radio had then observed, ‘Guru Golwalkar has emerged as a shining star on the Indian horizon.’5 The RSS had already started benefitting from the pravaas undertaken by its office-bearers. Since the Congress already had a popular base and acceptance, its leaders did not focus on pravaas, nor felt the need for organisational consolidation or expansion. But the RSS, though the organisations were in no way comparable—the Congress being a purely political organisation, especially so after independence and the RSS, a sociocultural organisation with the aim of working for India’s renaissance—laid great emphasis on pravaas and sampark—touring and reaching out. Though even in RSS, such an approach was not new, senior pracharaks like Baba Saheb Apte had already travelled extensively across the country in order to lay the foundation of the organisation. After resigning from the Nehru cabinet, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee met Guruji Golwalkar to discuss the formation of a possible political alternative. Although Guruji had kept the Sangh away from political activities, he broadly agreed with Syama Prasad on the need for an alternate political narrative in the country. Guruji’s assent to Mookerjee was a significant landmark in the political history of independent India. He assigned to Syama Prasad a few chosen pracharaks who would assist him in setting up the proposed political organisation. The prominent ones among them were Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya and Nanaji Deshmukh. They brought along with them the habit and tradition of pravaas. This dimension was eventually embedded onto the working style of the new organisation. The culture of pravaas that Deendayal Upadhyaya and Nanaji Deshmukh

had imbibed in the Sangh was now utilised for the expansion of the newly founded political organisation. In fact, Deshmukh’s life in itself reflects the tradition of pravaas. Veteran journalist, the late Prabhash Joshi, sometime editor of Jansatta who closely followed and described Deshmukh’s pravaas, once wrote: ‘Travelling is a permanent medium for him [Nanaji’s]6 to expand the circle of his relations.’ Nanaji used to travel extensively throughout the country and it is said that keeping in mind his constant peregrination, he once paid Rs 11,000 to the Delhi based Dadhichi Dehdan Samiti—an organisation working in the field of organ donation—so that they could arrange to bring his body back to Delhi in case he died during his pravaas. Nanaji used to observe that since ‘I always keep travelling and I can die anywhere. This money is to be kept for making arrangements so that my body reaches Delhi’.7 Both Deendayal Upadhyaya and Nanaji Deshmukh mainly took recourse to pravaas for organisational expansion. Dattopant Thengdi, one of the foremost thought leaders of the nationalist fold, who laid the foundation of the largest labour movement in the country, and also the Swadeshi movement saw Upadhyaya’s system of pravaas as highly useful for the growth of the organisation. Writing in the first volume of the Deendayal Upadhyaya Vichar Darshan, Thengdi noted how: Panditji travelled continuously for three consecutive decades, on various modes that included bullock cart to passenger train to high speed airplane... During these he must have held so many close interactions, must have delivered so many public speeches, held so many meetings and must have had many personal conversations. Had the records of all these interactions been available today, it would have inspired no end the younger generation of workers and would have created a strong base. Panditji had undertaken the vow of akhand charaiveti— ceaseless, continuous peregrination—all by himself. [Translated from the original]

Upadhyaya used to extensively travel across India in order to organise the fledgling party and give it a sturdy organisational structure. This continuous reaching out through tours also enabled him to spot and nurture talent. It

enabled him to prepare and put together groups of new workers who would, in course of time, emerge as leaders themselves. He not only focused on systematising the organisational structure but also insisted on proper documentation of the organisation’s growth. In a sense, Upadhyaya was not just a leader, but also one who created leaders. As Vajpayee once observed, Upadhyaya ‘was not a member of Parliament, but was one who created members of Parliament’.8 Leaders like Upadhyaya and Deshmukh insisted on pravaas so as to strengthen the organisational base of the new party. It was a result of their efforts and of others like them, who were on unending cycle of peregrination, that the party eventually struck deep roots. This insistence on travel as a medium of strengthening the organisation eventually became a recognised mode of working in the party system. The Bharatiya Janata Party was formed more than a decade after Upadhyaya had passed away, yet the tradition of pravaas continued to be adhered to and had become central to expanding the new party and to maintaining its old networks, connections and support base. Programmes were planned and centered on a cycle of pravaas which remained central to the BJP’s functioning. It was a carrying forward of the old tradition, a tradition which had been defined and structured by the generation that had founded the earlier version of the party—Jana Sangh. Upadhyaya, himself spent the greater part of his political life as general secretary of Jana Sangh, travelling around the country to build the organisation. It was during these organisational tours of his that he initiated the work of setting up the party structure from the base, by forming mandal committees, local committees, state committees and election committees. Nanaji Deshmukh was responsible for overseeing the organisation in UP and for setting up its election machinery there. When the second general elections were held in 1957, 243 divisional committees and 889 local committees of Jana Sangh had already been formed. During the same period, the party’s membership had reached 74,863.9 It was the result of the series of nationwide tours that Upadhyaya,

Deshmukh and others had undertaken. Having travelled around the country throughout the year for organisational work, Upadhyaya used to present a detailed report of his tours, the Mahamantri-Prativedan (general secretary’s report) at the party’s annual convention. The report was full of statistics, details and noted the progress of the organisation across various regions and on various fronts. Upadhyaya’s regular organisational tours also made him accessible to the party workers across the whole country. His Mahamantri-Prativedan, presented in many party conventions over the years, were not just formal reports filled with dry data, but part of his effort to mobilise and galvanise the organisation and cadres. These reports, in fact, form the base literature that accurately narrates the history of the Jana Sangh’s growth and political journey.10 During his long tenure as the general secretary of the party, Upadhyaya succeeded in placing the foundation of Jana Sangh on a strong footing and ensured that in the general elections of 1967, the party emerged as a strong alternative. The Congress suffered a major loss during these elections, while Jana Sangh won thirty-five seats and received 9.3 per cent votes.11 Deendayal Upadhyaya was elected president of the party at its 14 session held in Calicut in the same year. However, forty-three days into his presidency, on 11 February 1968, Upadhyaya was assassinated at the Mughalsarai station under mysterious circumstances. It was a tragic irony that Upadhyaya who had spent the last thirty years of his life continuously travelling to expand his party, also spent his last moments travelling. The BJP was founded twelve years after Upadhyaya’s death and during the interval, India witnessed huge political upheavals, as mentioned in our previous chapters. Indira Gandhi’s defeat in the general elections of 1977, the victory of the Janata Party, the failure of experiment of merging various parties on a common anti-Congress platform—resulted in the founding of the BJP in 1980. Recalling that period, L.K. Advani wrote: The BJP was formed at a national conference organised in New Delhi on 5 and 6

April 1980. Before the conference, there was a meeting of the Central Parliamentary Board of the Janata Party on 4 April 1980. During this meeting of the Board, the decision to take all the members of the pre-existing Jana Sangh out of the Janata Party was made on the basis that all of them were members of the RSS.12

With the induction of new talent, the BJP faced the challenges of expanding its organisation from scratch, of creating new members, setting up committees and reaching out to every corner of the country. A generational shift had also come about, with the formation of the new party, while leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani steered the wheel of the new ship. The general elections for the eighth Lok Sabha were held in 1984, four years after the BJP was founded. In these elections, held in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Congress managed to achieve what it could not, even during the era of Nehru and Indira. It won 415 Lok Sabha seats and Rajiv Gandhi became the prime minister. Most of the veteran BJP leaders, who were contesting their first elections after the formation of the new party, lost with only two contestants (A.K. Patel from Gujarat and C.J. Reddy from Andhra Pradesh) managing to win their seats. Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the anti-Sikh pogrom unleashed by Congress leaders and workers, the Congress’s return to power with a brute majority, forced the BJP to rework its path ahead. Its leaders pondered over whether mass movements were the only way of linking the party to the people. Indira’s assassination and the implementations of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission in 1989 by V.P. Singh created an atmosphere of social and political instability in the country. It was this period of political instability which may also have made the leading lights of the BJP feel that the movement for erecting a grand temple in Ayodhya could also help in bringing about a greater Hindu solidarity besides being an opportunity to expose the ill-effects of pseudo-secular policies followed by successive Congress governments over the years. Hence, senior BJP leader L.K. Advani launched his historic Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya on 25 September 1990. This marked the beginning of the Ram

Mandir movement nationwide. Once the BJP’s ideologues and general secretary of the party, K.N. Govindacharya, for example, in the pages of the Hindi weekly Panchajanya, described this movement not as a medium for gaining power, but as a social movement.13 Since the BJP had won eighty-five seats in the 1989 general elections, it hoped to reach out to the masses through this movement by expanding its base. Consequently, it was also decided that the Rath Yatra would be followed by a sustained effort at developing a broad samvad with people. The Rath Yatra was also aimed at stopping those who practised a divisive politics. It would be fair to say that the early years of the 1990s were the years of Rath Yatras. While Advani launched the Somnath to Ayodhya Rath Yatra, the then BJP President Murli Manohar Joshi launched the Rath Yatra for national unity—Ekta Yatra—from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in December 1991. There is no gainsaying the fact that the period saw the BJP’s rise and expansion, but it is also true that these continuous mass movements and Yatras kept the top echelons of the BJP leadership preoccupied, leading to a slowing down of organisational activities. During this period, though the BJP benefitted by developing a strong support base among the people in general, its mission for organisational expansion could not progress commensurately. There appeared to be a certain gap. Moreover, despite all these movements and visits, when the 1993 elections were held in some of the states, the party was defeated in several of those that it ruled with the exception of Rajasthan. After these strings of defeat, questions were raised within the party on what was lacking with the BJP. In an interview given again to Panchajanya, Govindacharya had argued, ‘While examining the reasons for the BJP’s defeats, we asked ourselves how to connect all elements and levels of society to the organisation and its ideology. All sections of society must find a place in the organisation.’14 Thus, while Yatras and organisational pravaas continued, they were, henceforth, more targeted and more meticulously planned. Leaders like Kushabhau Thakre who had been active in the organisation

for a long time, and were themselves adepts at utilising the instrument of pravaas, continued with their organisational tours, at times even battling ill health. This ceaseless and focused zeal infused greater organisational cohesion and eventually saw the party come to power at the centre in 1996. This systematic organisational outreach through pravaas had its positive political fallout; it connected the leadership with the rank and file, brought in greater ideological and organisational cohesion and expansion. Thakre observed on 19 April 1996 that the organisation’s strength were its workers, ‘Our strength is our worker. The public has entrusted us a challenging responsibility. The public has much hope from the current government (the first BJP government to be formed at the centre). At such times, the responsibility of the BJP workers increase and we have to understand our obligations.’15 The government formed under Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1996 fell within thirteen days because it could not muster a majority and the BJP soon found itself in the opposition benches, especially through 1997, the fiftieth year of India’s independence. It was on this fiftieth year of India’s independence that L.K. Advani once more resolved to undertake a Yatra for highlighting the plight of the country fifty years after independence. One of the main objectives of Advani’s Yatra was also the expansion of the party. This journey was called the Swarna Jayanti Yatra. Advani was nearing seventy and his decision to undertake a 15,000 kms long journey, battling adverse climate and other logistical challenges was indeed a difficult decision. Although it was not his first Yatra, Advani wrote about his decision: I decided to go on this Yatra for a number of reasons. The first reason was personal, the golden jubilee of India’s independence was a very emotional occasion for me. However, this time it was less about celebration and more about introspection. The second reason was political. I wanted to establish the BJP as a party committed to good governance. Although India had got independence or Swaraj (self-rule) in the year 1947, but it had not been converted into Su-Raj (benevolent rule or good governance) until now, after fifty years of independence. As a result, people had assumed that all politicians are immoral, shameless, self-centred and power-hungry. In such a situation, it was necessary to

rededicate ourselves to the idealistic mission of keeping the BJP on the right course in politics, of bringing about an ideal situation which was removed from the present mindset of seeing politics as a profession and career. The fact that, despite the BJP emerging as the largest party in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government could not run for more than thirteen days had disappointed people. Everyone desired a stable and a more competent government. In such circumstances, the situation was rapidly turning in the BJP’s favour. I felt that I would be able to fulfill both of my goals through a nationwide Rath Yatra.16

The Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra ended in 1997. In the two general elections held after that, the BJP emerged as the single largest party and succeeded in forming a coalition government at the centre. L.K. Advani had undertaken about seven major Rath Yatras in his political career:Ram Rath Yatra, Janaadesh Yatra, Bharat Suraksha Yatra, Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra, Bharat Uday Yatra and Janchetna Yatra.17 The BJP reaped benefits from these Yatras in terms of a widening electoral base. It succeeded in forming a government in a few states but the speed with which it was expanding among people could not be matched by the organisational activities it had undertaken during this period. The primary reason for this perhaps was the fact that nearly all the first generation leaders of the BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, were part of the government and the organisation in itself did not see sufficient expansion. In 1998, a year after L.K. Advani undertook the Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra, Kushabhau Thakre was elected president of the party. Completely wedded to the organisation, Kushabhau’s life revolved around organisational activities, tours, visits and relentless pravaas. He belonged to that generation of leaders who had laid the organisational foundation of the Jana Sangh and later the BJP, and were the product as well as perpetuators of the tradition of pravaas. Thakre was around since Deendayal Upadhyaya, Balraj Madhok and the likes and was advanced in years by the time he became as the BJP president. Nevertheless, his pace did not slacken, it reflected the stamina for organisational work that an earlier generation displayed, and which continues to be seen today as well. BJP president for two and a half years, Kushabhau

dedicated himself to the organisation till his last days. Meanwhile, the BJPled NDA was running a successful government at the centre. Everything seemed to be going well and yet, despite the image of both the party and the government being good and favourable, the BJP had to face defeat in the 2004 general elections, and would remain out of power for the next decade. The 2014 general elections proved to be a golden opportunity for the BJP. The result was a historic landmark, achieved after decades of relentless political struggle. For the first time in its electoral and political history, the party had succeeded in winning an absolute majority on its own and in forming the government too. Displaying, as it has always done, unlike the Congress, a spirit of partnership, the BJP continued with its allies and partners in the shape of the NDA. However, the larger question before the party was on how it would keep itself dynamic, how it would expand and be an effective support to its government and how it would carry forward the standards established by leaders such as Deendayal Upadhyaya, Nanaji Deshmukh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and others. The other question which came up, and one which is related to the narrative of this chapter, was the question of pravaas. How would it evolve under the present circumstances, would it pick up once more, would it recover its pace, how would it be utilised now that a pinnacle, in terms of electoral mandate, had been reached, could it be utilised to buttress, strengthen and consolidate this huge mandate? A leader was needed who could effectively address these questions and infuse new energy and direction into the organisation and, more importantly for the BJP, reinvent among other things the institution of pravaas. On 9 July 2014, Amit Shah was elected as BJP president. His crucial and defining contribution to the huge victory of 2014 was the winning of seventythree Lok Sabha seats from UP. In the first National Council meeting held in Delhi after the 2014 victory, Modi had himself called Shah the ‘Man of the Match’ of the Lok Sabha elections.18 Shah was just forty-nine when he became the president of the BJP. Out of his forty-nine years, he had already been in organisational work for thirty-two

years and brought with him a rich experience from the ground combined with fresh energy and a penchant for strategising. On the question of becoming the president of the party at the age of forty-nine, Shah had observed in an interview given in 2014, that since ‘the generation that led the BJP has become a part of the government at the centre. Perhaps, that is why, I got this opportunity a little earlier’.19 Early into his tenure, Shah initiated programmes that focused on making the BJP’s tradition of pravaas relevant. He reinvented it to make it an effective instrument for a new phase of outreach for the party in a vastly altered political and societal atmosphere. One of the first organisational programmes that Shah initiated was focused on ‘strengthening the organisation and expanding of the party’. He began by systematising the institution of pravaas and by widening and contextualising its role. Shah came up with the concept of Mahamantri Pravaas, a structure of pravaas in which general secretaries of the party where assigned states and regions in which they would have to travel throughout the year, stay for about three days in each state and have extensive and detailed interactions and meetings with the state unit office-bearers, party workers, ministers—if the party was in power in that state—and veteran workers who had contributed to the party’s growth in that region. Shah had clearly understood that the expansion that he wished to bring about needed to be based on a system of continuous samvad— communication, accountability and minimal errors. The system of rotational and continuous pravaas of general secretaries was thus started, with the aim of trying to understand the organisational needs of every state from various perspectives. In order to widen the effort and impart to it a broader perspective, Shah set up a team of twelve central office-bearers for seeing through this programme of state-pravaas. Every office-bearer was supposed to visit three states every four months, thus ensuring that in four months, all thirty-six states would have been covered. The twelve-member central team was assigned the mission of completing the programme. From the point of view

of organisational expansion, this was a very interesting initiative. It was decided that every office-bearer would visit nine states in one year so that by the end of the year, every state would have been visited by at least three central office-bearers. In retrospect, it is undeniable that this programme of continuous visits—a new avatar of the system of pravaas that Shah has initiated—has remarkably succeeded in bringing about a renewed organisational mobilisation and more importantly, accountability in the organisation at the state level. Following a similar method of restructuring the instrument of pravaas and the system of Mahamantri Pravaas, Shah came up with a blueprint for presidential tours—Adhakshya Pravaas. He decided to undertake a cycle of countrywide tours for organisational expansion and consolidation. Departments were constituted, projects were initiated, targets for increasing the membership were set and Shah himself set out on a series of his presidential tours across the country to galvanise and strengthen the organisation. Every aspect and detail of his tours, their various target sections, objective and strategy was well-thought-out and analysed. In order to reinforce the seriousness of the organisational outreach and work, Shah ensured that the use of private aircrafts while on organisational visits and stays at five star hotels were disallowed. Without enforcing a rule but by himself eschewing these, Shah led others to follow his example of travelling by commercial airlines and staying in state guest houses or in circuit houses during their organisational tours. Such an approach was necessary to retain the grassroots connect. While holding on to its core ideals, the BJP was in the process of an organisational revamp and in this the tradition of pravaas that Deendayal Upadhyaya had initiated had indeed come a long way. It was now being redefined and transformed by Amit Shah. For Shah, electoral victory has never signified the necessity of resting, he indicated as much once when he observed in one of his presidential addresses to the party’s National Council: Our campaign does not end with victory. Our campaign begins with victory. The party still needs to be strengthened in many areas. The party still needs to reach

many areas.20

Shah had a systematic plan chalked out for his tours, yet the questions that remained were what would be the characteristics of such a cycle of tours, what would be its expanse and reach, what distance would it cover, for how many days would it last, how would the programmes unfold and what would be their political implications and impact. These questions preoccupied many within the organisation and few could really read Shah’s mind. No one could guess what was to happen next.




he new phase of resurgence for the BJP started on 9 August 2014. The roads leading to the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in New Delhi. were all decorated with the party’s flags and banners and there was a palpable excitement among workers. The National Council of the party was being convened for the first time after the victory of 2014. The BJP Parliamentary Board had ratified the election of Amit Shah as president of the party and the National Council was meeting to give the decision its stamp of approval. For the first time since independence, a non-Congress party had won a majority in the Parliament. This in itself was a historic political development and the BJP’s workers were naturally curious to know the manner in which the party would now conduct itself. Any change in the BJP always comes through a result of a well-defined process of consultation. Political change, at least in this party, does not follow a transfer-of-power like method in which the post of the president is handed down to a dynast or family member as if through natural succession. Performance, diligence and hard work put in by the workers are key considerations in the party when it comes to giving them responsibilities. Amit Shah’s election as president of the BJP was interpreted by analysts as the beginning of a Modi-Shah era.1 Some saw Shah as the ‘Chanakya of BJP’, others, in a more colloquial idiom, called him ‘Modi’s Hanuman’,2

while yet others, especially from the Hindi news arena, in a display of journalistic flourish, labelled him as Shahenshah. These epithets began to be liberally used for Shah; he was now seen as the principal charioteer of the party or the general commissioned to strategise and to lead the legions. His election having been endorsed by the National Council, Shah delivered his first presidential address. In his 5,000 word3 address to the party’s National Council, Shah spoke of the party’s future direction, activities, focus and structure. He spoke of the party’s goal, of its expansion, its past and of how it had to continue to be an ideology-centered political organism. He referred to 2014 as being the centenary year of Lokmanya Tilak’s historic release from prison in Mandalay. He reminded the members of the National Council of Tilak’s immortal cry of ‘Swaraj is my birthright’ and exhorted each BJP worker to resolve to work for protecting India’s sovereignty. The anniversary of the historic Quit India movement and Shah’s words was 9 August and the occasion was symbolic of a new beginning. The sacred duty of protecting India’s sovereignty, Shah reminded his audience, could only be fulfilled when BJP governments would have been installed from Jammu and Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Kutch to Kohima. And, this would not happen by merely chanting slogans and pasting posters, but by maintaining the purity and transparency of our objective, maintaining cohesion and by devoting ourselves wholeheartedly to organisational work. ‘We must remember,’ Shah told the party’s workers, that ‘the formation of the Narendra Modi government announces the era which will see the darkness of pessimism melt away.’ Shah saw the mandate given to the BJP, as one given not just for good governance but for good politics as well, ‘We have to evolve a new, qualitatively different and people-centered culture of democratic politics in the country.’ He also cautioned that the ideological battle was not over yet, the organisational functioning of the party should reflect its ideological moorings and that it was necessary to reach out to every section of society out effort to strengthen the party. The BJP was not merely an organisational political entity, it had an active and organic presence in society and it was this presence that had to be strengthened. The party thus

would have to work as a bridge between the people and the government.4 The BJP’s National Council overwhelmingly endorsed Shah’s line; at the same time Shah’s vocal critics across the spectrum, especially in the media, were sceptical about his ability to walk the talk: would he be able to carry out his mandate?5 Would he succeed in realising the goal he has set for himself and the party? In the backdrop of India’s political complexities, social diversities and challenges, they saw Shah’s resolve of actively expanding the BJP to twenty-nine states and eight union territories as tough. Shah’s long organisational experience in Gujarat and his unprecedented success in UP did not count for this group of sceptics who persisted in asking whether Shah would be successful at the national level as well. They had developed a habit of judging his performance as president of the party on the anvil of electoral success and failure. Even today, after three and a half years of his tenure, this method of trying to evaluate Shah still persists. Shah is known for pushing himself in trying to achieve the goals he has set for the party. His colleagues often quip that the man does not sleep and does not let others sleep! In addition to his extensive pravaas programmes, whenever he is in Delhi, Shah has made it a habit of working from the central office, putting in long hours and also continuing to work from his residence, often late into the night. It is said that once immersed in work late into the night—these are the hours he usually dedicates to his correspondences, books, notes, feedback documents, policy analysis—Shah had lost track of time, when he suddenly heard the peacocks in the garden cry out. Surprised that the peacocks were crying out at midnight, Shah was informed by an aid, upon enquiring, that it was 4.30 am and the peacocks had woken up! His colleagues and workers have often witnessed Shah’s focus and immersion especially when he is engrossed in organisational work and planning.6 This one-pointed approach to and focus on his mission has also caught the attention of his critics: senior political analyst Neerja Chowdhury, for example, has observed that ‘Shah is unlike the usual politician we have seen’.7

One of the mechanisms that Shah assiduously adopted in trying to realise the goal of expanding the party across the country was that of pravaas—a cycle of continuous, systematic and strategic touring for political outreach and consolidation. We have, in fact, dedicated an entire chapter in trying to understand and situate this institution of pravaas in BJP’s scheme of things. As national president of the BJP, Shah himself led the expansion, travelled extensively and began from the ground, with himself working at the level of the booth. The tradition of pravaas, as we have seen, was not new to the party, but Shah decided to expand its scope and to use it as a crucial instrument in the march of the BJP. His approach and use of pravaas is, in itself, a fascinating research subject. It will be interesting to look at some of its aspects in the following pages. In his quest for expanding BJP’s footprints, Shah covered more than 7,90,000 kms between August 2014 and September 2018 undertaking major outreach programmes in this duration of forty-nine months. The average distance covered by him during this period was about 519 kilometres a day and this is just the figure; there are many other aspects which emerge from details, aspects which are of great interest to the political researcher and the worker. Out of his total tours, 43 per cent were for organisational purposes and 57 per cent was for elections and campaigning. In this period, he had addressed and participated in 1,027 party programmes of various types.8 In August 2014, when he started his tours, Shah had already covered 10,626 kms, it was just the first month of his first term. In the first part of his tenure, between August 2014 and January 2016, Shah had undertaken a marathon round of tours that could primarily be divided in to two categories—organisational visits and election campaigning. The structure of the organisational tours was prepared through a detailed action plan by Shah himself, it had a fixed time frame and defined goals. Immediately after he had taken over, Shah had insisted on drawing up a pravaas plan with the objective of expanding the party from the booth to the national level. The main focus of his organisational visits was to initiate and push forward the membership and training campaigns, to enhance

communication, increase samvad, interact and meet with party workers and functionaries at all levels and foster coordination and harmony at various levels of the organisation. The pravaas was structured according to Shah’s plans; certain norms of conduct were also laid down for these organisational tours. Shah discouraged the use of private jets by party functionaries, including its national president, with an exception to be made during elections. Shah led the others in adhering to the practice of not staying in expensive hotels and putting up instead in state guest houses, circuit houses and party offices. Shah encouraged leaders and office-bearers to adopt these practices because he himself adheres to a certain self-imposed discipline and simplicity. Not many, for example, may have noticed that Shah does not wear wristwatches. It was intriguing to see a disciplined and time conscious leader like Shah not use watches, and when asked by a senior BJP leader why he eschewed this universal practice, Shah replied, ‘The culture of exchanging gifts in public life begins with a watch and a pen. This is how it starts. I decided to stop this culture of accepting gifts right from the beginning.’9 As soon as Shah began his tenure as BJP president, assembly elections to four states (Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir) were scheduled and his immediate task was to prepare for these elections. Elections in Haryana and Maharashtra were to be held on 15 October 2014, while elections in Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir were to be held in November-December of the same year, and none of these states had a BJP government. However, circumstances had started to alter after the 2014 general elections. In Maharashtra, where no consensus could be reached on seat sharing with the Shiv Sena, Shah decided to do it alone; subsequent results were to prove right his farsightedness and bold thinking. In Haryana, no arrangement could be worked out with the Haryana Janhit Party (HJP), while in Jammu and Kashmir the challenge was to evolve a political strategy for expansion. In Jharkhand too the position of the BJP had not appeared to have improved; Shah’s path thus was not an easy one in any of these states. On taking over, he decided to tour these difficult states and to lay the

ground for storming these seemingly impregnable citadels. Shah also took certain bold decisions during this period, such as the BJP deciding to go it alone in the elections. He faced initial resistance to these moves of his, but they eventually began yielding dividends and the party began winning these states which have historically been difficult for it. Shah was emerging as a target-focused strategist. A long time associate of his, recalled how Shah had once told him, ‘Instead of using more energy to take decisions, you are more likely to succeed by taking a decision first and then applying all your energy to prove it successful.’ As part of the election campaign, Amit Shah travelled more than 50,000 kms in four months starting from August 2014 to December 2014 across Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir. Apart from this, Shah approximately covered another 43,000 kms across different parts of the country during his organisational visits undertaken in the same four months period. By deciding to undertake a travel schedule that covered 93,000 kms in just four months, Shah demonstrated the kind of strategy he proposed to pursue and the energy he had decided to invest. The elections saw victories for the BJP in four states. They were the first electoral victories for Shah since he took over the reins of the party. There were many firsts in this phase, for example, Maharashtra and Haryana saw a BJP chief minister for the first time, with the latter having a full majority BJP government, Jharkhand saw a full majority BJP government assume power and Jammu and Kashmir saw the BJP being a major constituent of the government for the first time. Shah’s tenure till 2015, was a leftover tenure from Rajnath Singh’s term. The year 2015 saw Shah’s pravaas gaining greater momentum, at the same time, he also launched other political initiatives and outreach in quick succession. The organisational expansion, the mega membership campaign, the Mahasampark campaign had all been initiated and each had to be imparted a further fillip. Shah’s long organisational experience came in handy in pushing these innovative political programmes. He had spent his early days in politics involved in the expansion of the organisation in his home state of Gujarat and had initiated the innovative but

challenging task of manually documenting all the primary members of the party in the state.10 Narendra Modi, as general secretary (organisation) of the state unit had also given Shah his unstinted support in this effort. Shah replicated that initiative, albeit in a more modified and upgraded manner, years later, in his new role as national president of his party. By covering almost 55,000 kms through his tours in 2015 in connection with the party’s membership and Mahasampark campaign, Shah succeeded in pushing the BJP to the status of the party with the highest number of members in the world. This was not an easy achievement. Shah’s first tenure as party president would last till December 2015 and he had to work at a feverish pitch in order to achieve the targets he had set for the party. Till the end of 2015, Shah had already travelled 1,70,000 kms across the country as part of organisational work and election campaigns. He had also stayed overnight on 102 occasions in various states. Shah encourages the practice of overnight stays during organisational pravaas and follows the practice himself. It gives more time to interact with workers, gauge the mood and also provides an opportunity to further widen the circle of contacts. A very interesting episode, reflecting the manner in which Shah worked, occurred during the UP elections and is often recounted and linked to his practice of overnight stays during tours. Once, while on the move, Shah suddenly convened for a meeting of the state team in Jagadishpur in Amethi district. It was an unscheduled last minute meeting to take stock of the political situation. The meeting was hurriedly organised at the only place available in the vicinity, a warehouse belonging to a Dalda manufacturing unit. Deliberations continued till 2.00 am, the BJP workers of Amethi had not arranged for Shah’s stay assuming that he would return to Lucknow once the meeting was over. Lucknow is about one and a half hour drive from Amethi but Shah decided to stay back and put up in the warehouse. He climbed on to the terrace, found himself a small shed and settled to rest for a few hours, while some of his bewildered colleagues kept looking for a suitable spot for themselves. A few had to spend the night without a wink of sleep. Shah’s insistent on night halt during pravaas so that the day’s work could be

completed, often led to such situations. The local workers found it hard to believe that the national president of their party, the largest party in the world, could comfortably spend the night on the terrace shed of a warehouse! Shah insists on a detailed format of preparation and organisational reporting, and whenever necessary himself convenes meetings for the training of booth level workers, and remains in direct touch with those who have been assigned tasks and given responsibilities. No detail is too small for Shah. His emphasis is on accountability and deliverability rather than organisational protocol, and he does not hesitate to connect with the smallest worker. Electorally, 2015 was not a favourable year for the BJP and Shah. The party faced heavy losses in the assembly elections of Delhi and Bihar. It is said that ‘even those who fight with conviction can lose at times’. But, these political losses aside, the BJP has scripted history by emerging as the largest political party in the world. This was Shah’s achievement, the result of his hard work. Amit Shah’s first term ended on 23 January 2016 and it was anticipated that he would be re-elected as president. On 24 January 2016, Shah was reelected BJP president for a second term. It was to be his first full term. The year was an important one in terms of assembly elections. Assembly elections were scheduled in Assam, Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. In terms of his pravaas, organisational activity and outreach, the year was a landmark for Shah; he travelled 57,000 kms for election programmes and meetings in these five states. The greater part of this journey was spent in Kerala and Assam. The formation of a BJP government in Assam was an unprecedented achievement in the history of the party. At the same time, the Lotus also bloomed in Kerala for the first time with veteran BJP leader O. Rajagopal winning the Nemom Assembly seat. Shah travelled 22,374 kms during the Assam elections and another 15,935 kms in Kerala during election campaigning. In the first year of his second term, from January 2016 to December 2016, Shah

travelled about 1,95,000 kms for organisational work and programmes related to the expansion of the party. Indulging in analysis and some arithmetic, if one were to separate the 57,000 kms from that year’s total kilometres covered, we get a figure of 1,40,000 kms that Shah had covered. Even his night halts would be packed with organisational meetings, review meetings and core group meetings. During the Gujarat election campaign when he held meetings at the Gandhinagar party office or at the Media Centre till late into the night, one heard those waiting for the meetings to end say that ‘Big Boss (PM Modi) says neither will I eat, nor will I let others eat, while this Boss (Shah) says, neither will I sleep nor will I let others sleep.’ This was an exclamation—made with a degree of positive exasperation—that one would keep hearing in the days to come. By December 2016, when Shah had been president of the party for two and a half years (combining both terms), the BJP had set new records of successes. The effort made by Shah to introduce a new method of working and of expansion was yielding results. During these two and a half years, in his relentless attempt to widen the base of the party, Shah had covered 4,50,000 kms as part of his pravaas, the effect of these travels was now being seen on the ground. The year 2017 too came in with a series of elections. The assembly elections of UP, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Punjab were approaching. The elections in UP were crucial for the BJP. After spending fifteen years in exile, the party was looking for an opportunity to return to power. This election was also important because the party had won seventy-three seats from the state in the Lok Sabha elections under Shah as national general secretary in charge of the state. Repeating that feat now as national president of the party was an obvious challenge for him. Shah was quite aware of this challenge, it becoming evident when one realises that from 2015 to 2017, until the completion of the elections, he travelled about 53,000 kms in UP just for election programmes in the state. The election results on 11 March surprised everyone and also shocked

many, especially those who had predicted that UP would vote against Modi and his demonetisation drive. Shah’s strategy was a resounding success and the BJP won 325 seats in state, the results were not only historic but unprecedented as well. The party also won Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, and these victories firmly established Shah as a disciplined and skilled strategist who could build and decimate political forts. In Manipur, the BJP formed its first government, it was a big victory, the BJP went from one seat to twenty-one seats in the assembly. Shah had, in a sense, reached a pinnacle of success but he was not going to stop just there. He was determined to make the BJP take a greater leap, and had decided on expanding the party to areas where it had not much presence or reach. The party had won Jammu, while Kutch was with it since long; it was time to consolidate and expand its presence till Kanyakumari and further into the northeast, from Jammu to Kanyakumari and from Kutch to Kohima, as Shah referred to it. To achieve this end, he decided to embark on a countrywide 110 day-long tour. Between 15-16 April 2017, almost a month after the victory in the state elections, the BJP National Executive met in Bubhaneshwar with the slogan of ‘Lakshya Antyoday, Pran Anytoday, Path Antyoday’ (Aim of Antyoday, Pledge of Antyoday, Path of Antyoday). Shah announced, in the course of his presidential address, his resolve to undertake an expanded and extended pravaas—a tour programme across the country for organisational expansion, outreach and ideological rejuvenation. The extended travel would be for ninety-five days while the booth level outreach in which Shah would work and initiate contact as a booth vistarak would last fifteen days. Shah elaborated that he would travel across ninety-five days and would stay overnight in every state. ‘You can all imagine the speed with which this tour cycle will be undertaken. I have myself prepared the programme structure and no programme will be less than 17 hours, it will be more and not less,’ he told the members of the National Executive.11 Shah called for meticulous planning and spoke candidly on the goal of this extended tour, ‘I do not want tens of thousands of people coming to welcome me; what I want is that the state teams put in their best effort to

organise the programme. It is expected that the meetings I will conduct will have been planned and discussed beforehand by the president of the state unit and the general secretary in charge of the organisation in the state. Do not assume that after I have toured once, you will be free, I will not let you rest, I will return and continue with the organisational work. You will have to do this, I request all of you to take my extended presidential tours seriously, there is nothing personal to be achieved in this, it is entirely for the expansion and consolidation of the organisation, so that the organisation can run well. Over these ninety-five days you will have to put in eighteen hours a day for organisational work.’ Shah called upon workers and leaders at all levels across the country to dedicate fifteen days each for the success of this programme: Victories in elections are often achieved, but strengthening the organisation in a sustained manner is a much more difficult task and this is the opportune period when we have won elections because people have connected with us, we need to work on strengthening the organisation by further strengthening its foundation. We have to lay a firm foundation so that for the next hundred years the BJP can emerge as a mighty and magnificent edifice.

By the time Shah had articulated his intention of undertaking this cycle of tours, he had already traversed 4,50,000 kms12 across different states and had scripted a number of electoral victories. The tours that he intended to undertake would set a new benchmark—it marked the beginning of a new tradition or perhaps a new and updated version of an old tradition that was intrinsic to the BJP’s approach. In the party’s internal meetings, Shah clarified that the focus of these series of pravaas was to be ‘qualitative’ and not ‘quantitative’. His emphasis that he did not want to be welcomed by ‘tens of thousands of people’ indicated as much. The Indian media’s interest in trying to understand the internal structure of any political party is comparatively low and that is why along with the media, political analysts of all shades and hue did not try to seriously follow or analyse such a major political initiative that Shah had undertaken in terms of laying a stronger organisational foundation for the BJP. We say that it was

lower because having analysed the trend of reporting such an extensive campaign we found that it was less. The usual trend is to analyse any major programme undertaken by a leading political figure through the mathematical lens of electoral loss or profit; the other perception is that a political party is essentially an election machine and can have no other focus. However, Shah’s emphasis through his tours was on rejuvenating the organisation and imparting it direction. Thirty points that needed to be focused upon emerged during these tours, and Shah spoke of how there was an urgent need to break out of the routine and the conditioning, and look upon this phase as a golden period for expanding the party. Shah’s thirty-point focus was meant for the party organisation and its functioning. In a sense this was not a new beginning. Shah was trying to give a contemporary dimension to the traditional political approaches and activities of the party, make them more systematic, time bound and accountable. Among the thirty dimensions that Shah had drawn up on which he wanted the party to focus in terms of revamping its organisation were the system of core group meetings, reporting on meetings of the executives, continuous cycle of tours of national general secretaries of the party across regions and states, details of the party’s cells in the state and their functioning, six programmes for the booth units, structured meetings and activities of the departments and projects, meetings to regularly monitor the progress of the district office construction project, meetings of the Aajeevan Sahyog Nidhi for transparent funding, research and policy research, library construction department, the NaMo app, office construction and modernisation, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya Vistarak Yojana meetings, expansion of the Prashikshan (training) programme and outreach to intellectuals. The objective behind pursuing action in multiple areas was not only winning elections but more importantly to create a multifaceted organisational base for the BJP. This was also the broader objective of Shah’s countrywide pravaas. It was a happy coincidence and profoundly symbolic that Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya’s centenary too fell during this period—25 September 2016-25 September 2017—in which the party had decided to undertake these

special organisational programmes. Referring to this special occasion which coincided with the party’s resolve to expand and strengthen itself, Shah observed, while releasing the complete works of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya in January 2017 in Patna, ‘The birth centenary of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya is a year of resolutions for the Bharatiya Janata Party. As a BJP worker, it is a matter of great pride for me to be leading the party as its president in the centenary year of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya’s birth.’ The BJP resolved to observe Upadhyaya’s centenary year as the Garib Kalyan Varsh and decided to carry out mass contact and outreach programmes to spread Upadhyaya’s thoughts as well as focus on the transformative governance initiatives that its government had undertaken since 2014, especially for those who were standing on the last societal rung. Shah termed the Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya Vistarak Yojana, also initiated in Upadhyaya’s centenary year, as the ‘soul’ of his entire pravaas programme. Under this Yojana, the workers—vistaraks—who were to devote fifteen days, six months and one year to the party were imparted training for reaching out to the booth levels. During his nationwide tours, Shah himself took on the role of a vistarak and visited five states (West Bengal, Telangana, Odisha, Lakshadweep and Gujarat) for fifteen days. He undertook the responsibility of training other vistaraks, of speaking to them about organisational work and the ways of reaching out to the booth and the method of taking the message of good governance to the grassroots. In May 2017, as part of the vistarak initiative, the BJP trained thirty young vistaraks from the Muslim community in the Kashmir Valley. These vistaraks enthusiastically took up the mission of expanding the party’s work in the region. This achievement, in itself, was a shock to many, especially those who have always propounded a false of narrative of the BJP being unacceptable to the Kashmiris.

In a move steeped in symbolism, Amit Shah as national president of the BJP, launched the Vistarak Yojana from Booth Number 93 in the Naxalbari region of West Bengal, a region known in history as the epicentre of Naxalism. While launching the Yojana from Naxalbari on 25 April 2017, Shah observed that he had come there as a worker of the BJP besides being its president and that more than 3,50,000 workers like him would be visiting the homes of the poor, trudging from village to village for the expansion of the BJP, and for establishing contact with people in more than 7 lakh booths. Shah chose West Bengal for the launch of the Vistarak Yojana. But why did this idea of launching it from a place like Naxalbari in West Bengal, come to his mind? When asked by a journalist, Kailash Vijayvargiya, general secretary of the BJP and the party’s National in-charge of the state, replied that Shah had asked him, ‘Which region is the hardest? Let’s begin from there.’13 When Shah launched the Vistarak Yojana from Naxalbari, there was no election scheduled in the state, nor was the launch an election-centred event;

it was rather an occasion for Shah to link his past to the present. Shah who had begun his own political career as the in charge of Booth Number 263 situated in a ward of Ahmedabad in the early 1980s had journeyed up to become the national president of his party. In a sense, 25 April 2017 was an interesting day for Shah—he had completed one long cycle of his political journey, a journey which he had taken him from ‘booth to booth’. He did not fail to tell the workers who had gathered around him that he had come here as a worker of the BJP and not only as its national president. Shah had boarded a commercial flight from Delhi to Bagdogra on 25 April at 8.15 am and reached Booth Number 93 by 1.00 pm. On day one, he visited and interacted with each of the six households that came under Booth Number 93 by going from house-to-house as a vistarak who was expected to undertake a ‘door to door’ campaign. Shah left for Kolkata by train the same night, having attended meetings and other programmes till midnight. His having lunch at Raju Mahali’s home sitting on the floor and partaking of Bengali fare on a plantain leaf was also symbolic, it indicated that he wished to start working in Bengal from the grassroots.14 Shah’s three-day West Bengal visit (25-26-27 April 2017) was packed with programmes and outreach activities. During these three days, he participated in nearly twenty-two programmes that involved moving from house-to-house contacting families of Booth Number 93 of Naxalbari, Booth Number 231 and Booth Number 269 from the Rajarhat assembly, meeting state office-bearers, addressing intellectuals, interacting with journalists and paying a visit to the historic house of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee. The countrywide tour that began from West Bengal moved forward with Shah visiting one state after another, with each visit meticulously planned for furthering the expansion of the organisation. It was a relentless schedule of tours—such a cycle of tours had perhaps never been followed by any national president of a political party. It was a unique experiment meant to infuse fresh energy and direction in the organisation. Shah’s tours which began in April 2017 and continued till September 2017 also saw a strict adherence to the rules of eschewing private

jets and expensive hotels. The states that Shah visited were as follows: Jammu and Kashmir (29-30 April, extended visit), Himachal Pradesh (3-4 May, extended visit), Tripura (6-7 May, extended visit), Lakshadweep (1617-18 May, vistarak visit), Chandigarh (20 May, extended visit), Telangana (22-23-24 May, vistarak visit), Kerala (2-3-4 June, extended visit), Chhattisgarh (8-9-10 June, extended visit), Maharashtra (16-17-18 June, extended visit), Puducherry (26 June, extended visit), Goa (1-2 July, extended visit), Odisha (4-5-6 July, vistarak visit), Delhi (14-15 July, extended visit), Rajasthan (21-22-23 July, extended visit), UP (29-30-31 July, extended visit), Haryana (2-3-4 August, extended visit), Karnataka (12-13-14 August, extended visit), Madhya Pradesh (18-19-20 August, extended visit), Odisha (6-7-8-9 September, extended visit), West Bengal (11-12-13-14 September, extended visit), Jharkhand (15-16-17-18 September, extended visit), Uttarakhand (19-20-21 September, extended visit). Shah’s journey of 41,844 kilometres between 25 April and 21 September 2017 included 176 meetings and programmes which he directly conducted or addressed. Shah was also looking at the organisational foundation of the party in nineteen states,and although he continued to remain focused on those states where elections were approaching, he was also systematically reaching out to those regions which had hitherto had negligible numerical impact in elections. Those who tried to interpret his vistrit (extended) and vistarak pravaas through the lens of electoral plans could not fully comprehend the objective behind the initiative; they could never understand why Shah undertook a three day vistarak visit on the islands of Lakshadweep! They were obviously wrong in thinking that it was all about electoral preparations and missed out on its organisational dimension. For Shah, the trudging in the heat wave was all about extending the party’s footprints, about spreading its ideology and explaining to the workers the models and programmes that the party proposed to implement. In an interview to an English daily during the period, Shah said, ‘I believe that without ideology any political party becomes just a machine to win elections and ultimately it does not do any

good to the country and people.’ When asked what the logic behind his extended tour was, was it to only strengthen the party in areas where it was weak, Shah replied, ‘For me the word area has a wider connotation than just states that you are alluding to. For example, the BJP is strong in Gujarat, we haven’t lost a single assembly poll in the last twenty-two years, but we want to strengthen the party in the booths that we have lost in these polls. In UP, at the moment, we are in a good position, but there are many booths where the BJP lost, where we want to strengthen our presence. Having said that, I am spending twenty-four days in the south including Lakshadweep, Telangana and Tamil Nadu...’15 Beyond this, Shah also aimed at projecting the BJP as a pan-Indian party, which in any case it was, with only those wanting to jacket it in the north ignoring the fact. His answer, when told that the BJP ‘is perceived as a north Indian party in the south’ and how does he propose to ‘bridge the cultural gap?’ was fundamental, ‘The BJP is an all India party. In Tamil Nadu, our party is made up of our leaders and workers from the state, so where is the question of a cultural gap? If language, culture and food could divide us, we would not be a nation. The core of India is Bharatiyata, which is above all other cultural differences.’ While he was feeling the organisational pulse of the party across the country through his tours, Shah continued to keep an eye on poll preparations in Himachal and Gujarat. By September 2017, he had already started his tours of these two states.22 The two phases of Gujarat Gaurav Yatra in October, fifteen meetings of the Shakti Kendra in charges in November, Gujarat Gaurav Mahasampark Abhiyan, Town Hall programmes which included a dialogue with 1,50,000 youth as well as the Panna Pramukh Conference and meetings of the committees were also undertaken by Shah at lightning speed. During his election visits in Gujarat, Shah personally oversaw the formation of all four media centres in the state, classified the booths according to their organisational strength and condition and set up a result-oriented structure to implement the communication and samvad strategies. He continued with the same pace throughout the last fifteen days

of the election period in the state, holding meetings till late into the night. In the end, he had addressed thirty-three public meetings over this fortnight.16 An interesting incident during the Gujarat elections reflected how Shah had not lost his local touch and flavour, his grassroots connect. ‘It was past 1.30 am,’ recalled a BJP worker, ‘when Adhyakshji left the state office, and all of us thought he was heading home. He boarded the car, accompanied by the state prabhari and a few others; we thought they were heading for another meeting at home, when his car took a different turn and halted at the Raipur Bhajiya intersection gate of the Muslim dominate neighbourhood of Ahmedabad. It was already 2.00 am and Adhyakshji alighted and ambled towards the snack stalls, a few local workers and state office-bearers were accompanying him, no more than eight to ten of them. For about an hour, Adhyakshji sat on a bench, conversing with those who were munching on snacks in the area, listening to them, patiently answering their questions. While we were leaving I asked one of the vendors, whether Sahab (Shah) had come here for the first time. “Na,” he said, “Sahab used to come here frequently when he lived in Ahmedabad”.’ In his driven quest to firm up the party’s organisational structure, to keep it battle ready and focused and also expand its footprints across the length and breadth of the country, Shah’s pravaas had seen him travel 26,777 kms in other election-bound states besides Himachal and covering another 20,696 kms for the Gujarat elections, side-by-side with his national tours. Shah also covered a total of 1,76,000 kms during his tours by directly participating in 188 election programmes in 2017. The figures by themselves speak of the effort and planning that have gone into trying to realise the goal of consolidating the BJP as a party and as a movement. The other important and crucial underlying dimension of Shah’s mega outreach was that of ideological self-renewal. A political organisation can wither away if faced with a prolonged spell of being out of power; it also faces challenges when in power, the struggle and the challenge therefore is to ensure an ideological continuity and its continued percolation to the grassroots. While physically expanding the BJP, Shah also succeeded in

reinforcing and reiterating the centrality of ideology in the party, and how that sustaining dimension would ultimately impart political direction and dynamism to it. In his tenure, Amit Shah spent more than 400 days travelling across all states while staying overnight in different states for more than 300 days. He traversed and tested political waters and the organisational pulse over an area more than 7,90,000 kms. He had covered 3,38,000 kms purely for organisational purposes and another 4,52,000 kms for electoral campaigns. He had held more than 2,300 organisational meetings during this period.17 Ever since his early days in the organisation, it is said that Shah has never spent more than a week at a stretch with his family, his lotus without respite have been a ceaseless quest for organisational and ideological triumph. Speaking of Shah’s nationwide tours and his political strategies, a cover story in the first week of October 2017, in a widely read national weekly18 observed that, Shah has been undertaking extended visits since this April. He spent eighty-five days out of 115 days out of the national capital, exploring the villages and the countryside. He has visited twenty-two states from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Gujarat to Assam. In the last thirty-seven months, he has become the most travelled president of the BJP. With the extensive reach of his visits, Amit Shah has achieved the remarkable task of giving vibrancy to the party till the booth level, equipping the party with a modern functioning ambience and method, while keeping its ideological tenor intact, conducting campaigns for electoral successes while encouraging a further growth and crystallisation of an ideological, social and political consciousness in the party. [Translated from the original Hindi]




n a sense 31 March 2015 witnessed one of the most politically significant events in Indian politics in recent times. BJP, India’s ruling party, emerged as the largest political party in the world having the largest number of members affiliated to any political party. It surpassed the record of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The CPC had 6,88,00,000 primary members and on 31 March 2015, it was surpassed by the BJP which had reached a membership number of 8,67,00,000 primary members.1 This was an unprecedented milestone in the party’s political history. The rise of an Indian political party—founded by ten people in 1951—to the status of the largest political party of the world is nothing short of epochal. The extraordinary expansion of the BJP was widely covered and discussed by major national dailies. The Times of India,2 for example, describing the achievement wrote: ‘The BJP becomes the largest political party in the world’, while another popular online portal wrote an eye-catching piece3 entitled: ‘Here’s how the BJP surpassed China’s Communists to become the largest political party in the world’. It has now been three years since the BJP achieved this milestone and the latest figures from December 2017 reveal that the party currently has more than 11 crore primary members and the numbers continue to grow every day. Compared to the 11 crore plus figure of the BJP, the CPC with 8,90,00,000 members4 continues to lag

behind. The Narendra Modi-led government was not even a year old when the BJP celebrated this landmark achievement in March 2015. When Amit Shah took charge of the party seven months prior to this, in August 2014, the total members of the BJP was estimated to be around 3,60,00,000.5 This phenomenal achievement naturally generated much curiosity among the wider public. How did this happen? Where did it all begin? What was the BJP’s strategy for achieving this feat?—were what they were heard asking.

While analysing this expansion, we were also curious to try to understand

how the expansion of the BJP’s membership base had shaped the views of the party workers and members of the public in general. In the course of our research to understand this unique phenomenon we decided to informally ask a few questions to a cross section who were either BJP members or ordinary voters. We asked them the same question: ‘What do you think are the most important reasons behind the BJP having more than 11 crore members?’ The answers were somewhat close to what we had expected. Most people responded that: ‘It was primarily because of Narendra Modi’s popularity that many people associated themselves with the BJP.’ A few others had a different opinion, feeling that: ‘The BJP has made great efforts in reaching out to villages across the country and to connect with the grassroots.’ Providing answers to these questions might have been easy, but to comprehend and internalise the success story of the party’s spread is a complex and difficult endeavour. In order to try and understand the rise of an organisation like the BJP, and how it became the largest political party in the world, it is essential to analyse the party’s journey of expansion. The beginning of this journey goes back to 9 August 2014, when the BJP held its National Executive meeting in New Delhi. That meeting saw two crucial amendments being made to the party constitution by its newly elected president Amit Shah. Shah decided to revamp and modernise the party membership drive in keeping with the latest technology by introducing an online and a mobile-based membership system. He also decided to make crucial changes in the responsibilities of primary and active members of the party. According to the amended rules, every primary member of the party would be made an active member, and they would have to induct 100 new members in the party online or through a missed call as part of the membership campaign. They would have to dedicate at least seven days in a year to work for the party’s programmes and towards strengthening the organisation. This was perhaps the first decision taken by Shah after taking over as BJP president and it succeeded in providing a strong foundation and start to the BJP’s expansion strategy. Before these amendments, as per

Section 6 of the party Constitution, the party membership process involved paying a ‘membership fee’ every six years with a paper-based receipt, while active membership involved devoting ten days to the party. Shah resolved to significantly digitise and overhaul the membership drive of the BJP. Shah’s first year as party chief was also the year in which the party witnessed significant and modernisation. Shah launched the Maha-Abhiyan for expanding party membership and named this revamped membership drive Sadasyata Maha-Abhiyan. He elaborated his vision: 2014-15 is the year of revitalising our membership. However, rather than considering this year’s membership campaign as routine, and a regular campaign, we have set three major targets for the party. These are: expanding the party’s voter-base, strengthening the organisation, and promoting our ideology.7

Preparations to chalk out a strategy towards making the BJP the largest political party in the world began soon after. The party organised workshops in quick succession on 28, 29 and 30 October 2014 in Bengaluru, Delhi and Kolkata with Shah constituting an organisational team at the national level for conducting there workshops. Teams began working at two levels to concretise the membership campaign. The first was the national team, while the second were state teams comprising state heads solely responsible for the membership campaign. The standard bearer of the Maha-Abhiyan was the then BJP national vice-president and now deputy chief minister of UP, Dinesh Sharma. Leaders like Arun Singh, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Sudha Yadav and C.T. Ravi were made the national co-in charges of this campaign. All the four coin charges were assigned different states where they were to camp and closely oversee the progress of the campaign. While this central team of five people was to manage the Sadasyata Maha-Abhiyan nationally, Shah also chose a membership in charge in each state to oversee the campaign at the state level. His robust organisational

structure for the campaign proved instrumental in ensuring its success. Shah was confident of his strategy and preparations, and was sure of success. His confidence was based on hard work and meticulous analysis of the BJP’s membership base and trajectory. In fact, Shah exuded confidence throughout the Abhiyan, and twenty-two days after the campaign had started, he referred to it, as the ‘Dandi March of Democracy’. At a review meeting of the campaign organised at the BJP headquarters, Shah declared: The Membership Campaign that we have started will prove to be like the Dandi March in the history of Democracy.8

None could have anticipated the success of this ‘Dandi March of Democracy’. The BJP’s Sadasyata Maha-Abhiyan formally took off on 1 November 2014 with Narendra Modi becoming the first online member of the BJP.9 After taking his membership of the party, Modi famously exhorted, ‘Let the world exclaim what an organisation.’ His inspiring words had many dimensions to them. The goal of the MahaAbhiyan was to create the type of organisation that Modi envisioned, an organisation that was dynamic, responsive, well knit, would succeed in percolating the grassroots and to inspire confidence in people there. While assessing parties on the basis of their electoral successes and failures, the following words from an address that Modi had delivered on 1 November 2014 comes to mind: We want people to take note of how the BJP’s membership campaign is a way of reaching out to the lowest strata of our society and to see how pure, transparent and democratic the nature of this process is. It will show us how an activity like membership drive can be perfected, refined and elevated.10

Modi’s name has been etched in the BJP’s history as its first online member. According to estimates, the BJP had enrolled 4,77,000 members on the inaugural day of the campaign, on 1 November 2014 itself.11 Shah’s team then began a nationwide expansion of the membership campaign. BJP workers took recourse to a variety of ways to further the

campaign, with the party training several vistaraks throughout the country, out of which 5,000 vistaraks were associated with the membership drive for about six months. This campaign was also unique in the sense that it included many of the BJP’s visually-challenged workers, who went about with great gusto and energy, enlisting new members for the party. In course of the campaign, BJP workers had a number of interesting encounters. Recalling one such amusing and yet symbolic incident in Himachal Pradesh during the Sadasyata Maha-Abhiyan, a worker narrated how during the digital membership drive, organised by the Yuva Morcha (the party’s youth wing) in Mandi District of the state, a man dressed as Lord Shiva appeared all of a sudden. A professional behrupia (a roving folk artist who alters guises), the man expressed his desire to become a party member after enquiring, from other workers, about the membership process. But sensing that the party workers were reluctant to enlist him because of his gaudy disguise, the actor disclosed his actual name and identity. He was immediately enlisted as a member and his boundless enthusiasm saw him join the membership drive itself for the whole day in his Shiva costume!11 Dinesh Sharma explained:12 The members of the managing committee of the membership campaign travelled across different states. BJP national president Amit Shah was the one who actually travelled most extensively across the country. Our workers encouraged people from all walks of life to become party members, whether it was among people in playgrounds or among people who had gathered to see a Ramlila being staged, or among people travelling in buses/trains or among people waiting to receive others at airports, everywhere our workers actively helped in enlisting party members.

One of the most important tools in making Amit Shah’s strategies successful was statistics that were collated after solid research. Shah is known for basing his strategies on reliable statistical data and figures and of never ever coming to conclusions without thoroughly verifying these. This campaign too, relied heavily on data and statistics because several people tried to malign it as a ‘political stunt’ right from the beginning, and were very skeptical about its

success. However, Shah had time and again proved his strategies right despite the barrage of doubt and criticism. Shah and his team based themselves on two types of data from every state. These formed important components of his strategy. The current number of BJP members in every state, and the number of votes the BJP polled during the Lok Sabha elections from that state, were the two factors on the basis of which the membership target was decided. Since the BJP is often, albeit erroneously, called a ‘Hindi heartland party’, the non-Hindi speaking areas of the country posed numerous challenges to the membership campaign. Shah’s political calculations formed the basis of his analysis on how to increase the number of members in states like Kerala, Odisha, Punjab, West Bengal, Lakshadweep, and the northeastern parts of the country. To better illustrate this point, the example of West Bengal (including the figures for Andaman-Nicobar Islands) reveals that prior to this campaign, the BJP had 1,44,478 members in the state. However, the party won 87,81,478 votes13 from the state during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The figure itself reveals the wide gap between the number of BJP voters and the number of BJP members in the state. Many other states also had similar figures. Shah based his core strategy on decreasing such wide gaps. His target of having 10 crore party members by 30 April 2015 was firmed up on the basis of such data. Every able and astute leader looks for possibilities of expanding the party and tries to formulate strategies to achieve this. Shah was precisely doing that. It will not be wrong to interpret the Sadasyata Maha-Abhiyan as a mechanism evolved by the BJP to bring its supporters and sympathetic voters closer to the party. Connecting the party to its voters is a legacy that the BJP inherited from the Jana Sangh. Deendayal Upadhyaya himself was a strong advocate of turning voters into party members. In 1957, six years after it was established, the Jana Sangh had 74,863 members. Upadhyaya used to say:14 Today’s opponent should be our voter tomorrow. Tomorrow’s voter should, on the day after, become our member and our member should later transform into our active worker.

In West Bengal, the BJP registered a major success in reducing the gap between the members and voters of the party within the stipulated time. According to figures collated from the BJP’s documents, the party had enlisted 42,40,858 members in West Bengal by 30 April 2015. Shah’s strategy had successfully turned about 40 lakh BJP voters into its members. The party had succeeded in securing about 17.2 per cent votes from West Bengal in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections primarily due to Narendra Modi’s popularity. Interestingly, during the state assembly elections in 2016, the party polled more than 10,000 votes in about 262 assembly seats, despite the absence of a formidable leader like Narendra Modi campaigning for it. The party got 20,000-30,000 votes in about sixty-six assembly seats whereas there were about sixteen seats in which it won about 40,000 votes. It remained in the second position in just six assembly states. The BJP performed extremely well in the West Bengal Assembly elections as compared to the 2011 assembly elections, despite lacking a strong organisational structure in the state. The membership campaign played a major role in turning this around. The situation wasn’t any different for the BJP in south India. Although the party had an active organisational base in southern states like Kerala, it wasn’t sufficient. The party had received 18,56,750 votes in Kerala during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Since the Lok Sabha elections had recently concluded, Shah was eyeing the possibility of converting the ‘Modi-Wave’ of voters into active party members. By the end of the last day of the membership campaign, the BJP had succeeded in enlisting more than 10 lakh members in Kerala, bringing the total to about 14,77,000 thousand members in the state. Shah himself travelled across Kerala in December 2014 to oversee the campaign. Looking at other states in the south besides Kerala, it became clear that the BJP had pushed itself hard in its bid to strengthen its organisational structure through this membership campaign. Before the launch of the campaign, southern states such as—Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala, Lakshadweep, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana—had about 64,73,000 BJP members. The party received 2,15,20,966 votes from these states in the

2014 Lok Sabha elections. By the time the membership campaign ended on 30 April 2015, the party had increased its members in these states to about 1,58,40,966 members. It had successfully managed to enlist more than 95 lakh new members from the south during the last six months. This widened and substantially enlarged base provided a strong foundation to the BJP as a party with a pan-Indian reach, decisively debunking the ‘Hindi heartland’ tag that was imposed on it. The Sadasyata Maha-Abhiyan in the south was being overseen by the MLA from Chikmagalur in Karnataka and a former minister in the state, C.T. Ravi. Writing about the membership campaign, Ravi observed, ‘The BJP has limited outreach in the southern states and thus it was very difficult for every member to gain 100 new party members. Our membership drive programmes were also at times disrupted by disturbances orchestrated by the opposition parties. Hence, we had to continuously organise hundreds of meetings throughout these six months against great odds. Our President Amit Shah had told us that we had to make an all out effort until the next 31 March for the success of this membership campaign.’ Shah himself had put in all his efforts behind the Sadasyata MahaAbhiyan. After all, Shah strongly believes in practising what he preaches and ensures that he himself adheres to the strict regime of rules that he lays down for party’s workers. A few members of Shah’s team, working on the membership campaign told us about how Shah used to keep a hourly watch on the membership tracking metre. The one question that he asked his colleagues repeatedly and every day from November 2014 to April 2015 was: ‘How much is it now?’ Shah would keep an eye on the target of 31 March and another eye on the tracking metre that would be updating him on the membership campaign. Like the southern states, the membership situation was no better for the BJP in the northeast. There were plenty of challenges; however the 2014 Lok Sabha elections had raised hopes for the party in the region. In the seven northeastern states—Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Meghalaya—the BJP had polled around 6,62,000 votes

in the Lok Sabha elections. The party eventually expanded its membership base to 4,57,000 after the Sadasyata Maha-Abhiyan in these northeastern states. The current scenario looks entirely different when one assesses the latest data from 2018. The BJP today not only has its government in Tripura but has also garnered more than 10 lakh votes from the state and has undoubtedly been extremely successful in consolidating its base in the northeast during the last four years. The Sadasyata Maha-Abhiyan was perhaps the first of its kind in the world and covered the whole country from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Kutch to Kohima. The campaign was supposed to end by 31 March 2015, however because of impending assembly and municipal elections in a few states, it was carried on till 30 April 2015. While BJP workers were busy campaigning on the ground across states for six months, the party’s social media team too extensively promoted the campaign through various social media platforms. The Sadasyata Maha-Abhiyan garnered about 7 lakh BJP members through its app, while the party officially appealed ninety-three times on Twitter and Facebook in support of the drive. About 8 lakh messages were sent through WhatsApp while the party also promoted the campaign on its website in regional languages as well. The mastermind of the BJP’s Sadasyata Maha-Abhiyan, Amit Shah himself, covered about 39,682 kms throughout the country in his effort to see the campaign successfully through. The party organised more than fifty programmes for the campaign and strong emphasis was laid on including the members’ names and their complete information. It was a strategy that Shah was quite familiar with because he had played a key role during the party’s 1990 membership campaign in Gujarat undertaken under Narendra Modi’s guidance and done manually. It was after such a membership campaign that the BJP succeeded in emerging as the principal opposition party in Gujarat, and within five years came to power in the state. Shah had, along with Modi at that time, successfully documented all primary members of the party in the state. This unparalleled success in its membership campaign also brought about

new challenges for the party. The obvious question was how would the BJP, which only six months ago had 3 crore members but had now swelled with 10 crore members, connect with and assimilate its new members within its ideological and organisational fold? The answer to this fundamental question lay in Shah’s next campaign: Maha-Sampark Abhiyan. The party started its Maha-Sampark Abhiyan on 1 May 2015 immediately after its Sadasyata Maha-Abhiyan ended. A central team comprising of Saroj Pandey, national general secretary and B.L. Santhosh, national joint general secretary (organisation) among others, spearheaded the mega outreach exercise. The campaign was launched with the aim of reaching out to its 10 crore plus members, collecting their details and familiarising them with the BJP’s ideals and ideology. Though this outreach posed quite a few technical challenges for the BJP, however, as part of it, workers made extensive efforts for connecting the new members to the party. Despite difficulties and challenges mainly because of the huge membership base, the Abhiyan can be said to have succeeded in connecting a large section among the new members to party’s mainstream principles. In the meantime, Shah had already started focusing his attention on every single voter of every single booth. The Maha-Sampark Abhiyan, in a sense, paved the way for the formulation of Shah’s ‘booth strategy’ and outreach.




esides achieving the status of being the largest political party in the world, the BJP had also tasted electoral victory in four crucial states of Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, and Jammu and Kashmir. The principal responsibility for taking the party forward rested on the shoulders of Amit Shah. It is often said in the context of electoral contests that ‘whoever wins the booth, wins the election too’. Shah has himself often referred to this in his discussions and interviews. This is obviously so because the lowest, the most grassroots unit of any election process or battle is ‘the booth’. Whether it is an assembly election or the general elections, the winning candidate of the polling booths eventually emerges as the winner of the election. This is precisely why the term ‘booth management’ continues to be central to contemporary political and electoral debates. The path of electoral politics is obviously not a smooth one. It has twists and turns at every corner, yet every organisation which is part of the political and system has to walk this path. A look into history gives an idea of the centrality of the booth in electioneering in India. The first general elections after independence, held between 1951-52, saw about 1,96,084 polling booths functioning1 whereas six decades later, during the 2014 general elections, there were 9,27,553 polling booths across the country.2 Today, this figure stands close to 9,69,414. These figures show that in the last six decades, with the increase in

the number of voters, the number of polling booths too have been steadily increasing. Shah’s unprecedented achievement of winning four state assembly elections within five months of taking over as the BJP president and his ‘booth management’ strategy continues to generate as much curiosity today as it did in the initial months of his presidential tenure. But before trying to analyse Shah’s booth management style, it is important to turn back in history and look at the evolution of Indian politics through the dimension of booth management. During the early rounds of general elections, post-independence, a majority of the polling booths across the country were controlled by the Congress. Several political parties remained virtually unrepresented in lakhs of these booths, one of those political parties was the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. In the first general elections, the Jana Sangh could only field candidates for ninety-three seats3 and could not find a single candidate in almost eleven states.4 Thus, while the Congress controlled almost every booth in the country, for parties like Jana Sangh, which could not even gather enough candidates for Lok Sabha elections, electoral strategies like booth management were meaningless. How could a party which could not field candidates for 402 seats out of 489 seats be expected to plan a strategy for 1,96,084 polling booths? However, the main reason for the Congress’ widespread control over polling booths was not its organisational capacity and strength but rather its acceptance and popularity as the party which had brought independence. Converting this wide popularity into an electoral victory was thus easy for the Congress, while on the other hand Jana Sangh faced the uphill challenge of building itself up from scratch. For the Congress, the initial momentum of the independence movement and later its long years in power benefitted it, whereas Jana Sangh began with formidable challenges. Right from its founding in 1980, the BJP constitution laid down welldefined operational standards to enhance its organisational capacities to the lowest level. Those standards are still in operation with a few changes. The

smallest unit of the BJP’s organisational structure in those early days was the local committee. According to a BJP party document,5 ‘The lowest unit is the local committee. A local committee area must have at least fifty members.’ In 1980, the year it was founded, it was still quite difficult for the BJP to control polling booths and win elections. The Jana Sangh had no doubt strengthened its organisational structure during the 1960s. In the 1967 general elections, the party did well and later, when the BJP was formed, the Jana Sangh’s membership and workers base by and large shifted to the BJP. Still the possibilities of organisational expansion for the party were quite limited as compared to today. The BJP’s focus in the initial years was to strengthen its organisational structure right down to the grassroots. However, the situation today is vastly different from 1980. The BJP, led by Amit Shah, has extensively changed its organisational structure. Analysing the party’s political journey under Shah reveals that he places great trust on his booth level workers, especially during elections. Placing trust on booth level workers has been Shah’s tried and tested formula since the 2014 general elections. According to Shah’s close aides, the first list that Shah started preparing, soon after taking over as the in charge of UP, was that of party workers at the booth level. Shah was aware that winning elections in UP would be extremely difficult without strengthening the booths. Strengthening the booth was considered important in states like UP and Bihar because numerous instances of irregularities were reported at the booth level in these states. This is why as soon as he got to UP, Shah launched his initiative to strengthen every booth in the state. During his UP tours Shah would repeatedly exhort booth workers to oppose those displaying money power, muscle power and those promoting casteism. He started by identifying dedicated party workers who would work in booths during elections, and be trained and encouraged to lodge strong protests against any electoral irregularities committed by the opposing parties. Rather than believing in the theory that one can learn from one’s mistakes, Shah, like an efficient and tenacious planner, believes in complete

planning and in planning much in advance (Poorva Yojana, Poorna Yojana). He was well aware that several elections in states like Bihar and UP had been marred by incidents of booth capturing and fraudulent voting. Shah instilled confidence among the booth level party workers, encouraging them to organise protests against such malpractices, assuring each polling agent of full support from all levels of the party in their attempts at trying to stop these malpractices. Shah’s approach, motivation and assurance worked wonders and the party workers were seen enthusiastically working during elections at every booth across the country. Shah’s colleagues in the team say that swayamsevaks of the RSS also played a crucial role at that time, in strengthening the polling booths. Shah’s biggest challenge now was how to incorporate the 10 crore plus members into the party’s organisational system and to utilise their full potential and channelise it into electoral results. Shah’s strategy on this front would not only reward him with back-to-back electoral victories but also go to further crystallise the BJP’s booth level foundation for the electoral battle of 2019. Shah worked on two levels, on one hand, he prepared a strong strategy at the organisational level for strengthening the BJP’s presence at every booth, and on the other hand, he ensured that strong ‘booth management’ measures were taken during elections. Leaving no flank exposed is an important part of Shah’s strategising style. He pushes to the limits and works very hard when it comes to defeating his opponent and giving his party an advantage over others. Some of those BJP office-bearers who have been part of Shah’s electoral meetings tell us, ‘Whenever Amit ji is in the political battlefield, he stands out by making preparations until the last mile, his strategies are drawn and firmed up till the last levels of the electioneering process. In every election he fights like a warrior, with an unassailable determination, without worrying about winning or losing, his preparations are thorough.’ Speaking to the media about the stress and dilemma of winning or losing an election, Shah has himself asserted several times that electoral results do not stress him because he is always fully prepared. ‘Elections have to be fought with a great

degree of precision and ruthlessness,’ he is fond of saying.6 Another milestone was achieved on 25 April 2017 when Shah launched the Deendayal Upadhyaya Vistarak Yojana campaign from Booth Number 93 in the historic Naxalbari block of Darjeeling district in West Bengal. That he chose Naxalbari, once the epicenter of the naxal movement in Bengal of the 1970s, to launch the Vistarak Yojana with himself undertaking an extensive tour of the state in grueling summer, was indicative of the change and political future he envisaged for the state. The outreach was a year-long organisational campaign and the BJP had set a target of reaching out to about 7,64,000 booths. As part of the Vistarak Yojana, the BJP vistaraks were given targets of visiting all these booths and of disseminating the party’s policies and expanding its organisational structure. This campaign, it may be said, worked to fulfill Upadhyaya’s vision which he had movingly articulated in 1962 when he said: This is a golden opportunity to organise the public. The sons of Mother India across distant villages and forests are waiting for us. Is there an organisation whose workers are willing to go to these far off regions and acquaint them with our Mother India? This burden now lies upon us. We must fulfill it.

The campaign saw the BJP categorise vistaraks into those who would work as vistaraks for fifteen days, those who would work for six months and those who dedicate one year. Shah himself set out as a short-term vistarak and visited five states: West Bengal, Odisha, Lakshadweep, Telangana and Gujarat. As part of this campaign, about 2,77,922 vistaraks committed fifteen days for booth visits (pravaas) each in their capacity as short-term vistaraks. The booth contact campaign was aimed at reaching out to all sections and communities of the middle class and saw about 13,265 women, 2,028 Muslims and 428 Christians who enrolled as short-term vistaraks for the campaign. The active involvement of thirty Muslim youth from the Kashmir Valley as vistaraks was unprecedented and indicated the inroad that the party and its programmes were making among youth in the Valley. The party organised about 1,200 training classes across the country for these vistaraks.

The short-term vistaraks succeeded in visiting 6,13,947 booths across the country in about fifteen days and helped steer the BJP campaign forward.7 It was indeed a unique campaign run by a political organisation at the booth level. Such a systematic, intense and planned outreach at the booth had never been witnessed in Indian politics and was also perhaps unparalleled in the annals of world politics. Shah always pays close attention to every detail and self-evaluates his work from time to time. It is often said that though Shah cross-checks information from various sources he always prefers maintaining direct contact with the responsible person. The Vistarak Yojana also saw a similar pattern. Shah would personally meet state vistaraks during his countrywide tours and would hold detailed discussions with them on the campaign. His style of conversation is also very interesting. Listening to the audio clips of his discussions with party workers, it is hard to guess that these are conversations between the national president of the BJP and the party’s booth in-charges. Shah invariably begins his interactions with booth in-charges by reminiscing his own days as a booth in charge in Gujarat and how he climbed up on the basis of his performance at the grassroots to become the national president of the party. Contrary to false stereotypes created about Shah to suit a certain narrative and political line, he has always maintained an open line of communication all through the ranks of the party. Shah openly communicates with his workers on specificities of various organisational issues. He speaks to them, then listens—he is a good listener—points out shortcomings and frequently asks workers to raise their hands after asking them questions like—‘Did you understand? Whoever has understood, raise your hands,’—and then calls out again—‘Whoever did not understand, raise your hands’. Contrary to false propaganda, Shah creates a frank and open environment during his conversations, encouraging even booth-level workers to put forward their points. His approach is like that of a teacher as soon as he feels that the workers are unable to understand his point. A worker, who was present during an interesting interaction with BJP vistaraks that Shah had organised

at a convention centre in Rohtak during his visit to Haryana on 4 August 2017, told us that he noticed that Shah never carried expensive smartphones and instead used an ordinary mobile phone. Shah’s interaction with workers makes for interesting reading: Shah: Time is limited. Let’s get straight to the point. How many of you have a pen and paper?... [the usual bustle starts]... Well, everyone has it. It would be better if you also note it down... [after a few points were discussed]…I hope everyone has understood what needs to be done? Vistarak: Ji Adhyakshji, samajh gaye. [yes Adhyakshji we have understood] Shah: All right, then. You [to a worker] tell me what you have to do?...[he murmurs slowly]... can’t you talk a little louder…Don’t you see how loudly I am speaking... [loud voices emerge suddenly -Ji Adhyaksh ji].8

Shah not only trained vistaraks during such meetings and interactions but also initiated the door-to-door contact campaign by personally going to every house that fell under the particular booth area, and also met with family members of booth level workers of the party in that area. As part of this campaign, BJP vistaraks were trained to initiate samvad with residents of the locality of the booth, paste party stickers on walls and distribute the party journal to every household in their areas. The same rules applied to and were followed by the BJP’s national president as well. During his booth visits, Shah went to every household, interacted with the families, enquired about their difficulties and their expectations and needs and even pasted stickers in Booth Number 39-40 in Lakshadweep and Booth Number 16-17 in faraway Andretti Island in the union territory. No booth was too small for him, no voter insignificant or out of reach. Similarly, during his Telangana booth visits, Shah visited each household in the Peddadevulapally booth in the Nagarjuna Sagar Assembly seat. In a highly symbolic gesture in West Bengal, Shah personally met six families from Booth Number 93 of the Naxalbari block. In Naxalbari, he pointed out how the booth president, district president, the state president and the national president of the BJP all stood together on the same stage and were working as

part of this campaign to expand the party at the grassroots. The enthusiasm among workers was electrifying; Shah’s message had percolated down the ranks—their national president was one among them, and he too had started his journey from the booth. It indicated the strength of the booth and its workers; it is they who would eventually strengthen the party block by block. Similarly, Shah began his Odisha booth contact campaign on 6 July from Basantpur along with the booth president and the state president of the party. As per the programme, he had to interact with every household in the area, but all of a sudden, he entered the house of one of the voters in that booth area named Harihar Sahu. A surprised Sahu hurriedly served him a helping of the staple Muri (puffed rice), a ubiquitous fare consumed in almost all households across Odisha and Bengal.9 Shah polished it off and sat talking to Sahu before moving on to interact with other households. By such spontaneous gestures, a habit he had developed during his extensive field work for the party in Gujarat, Shah was actually presenting himself as an example for the vistaraks to emulate. There were several instances during these countrywide visits of his, where the booth president, the Shakti Kendra in charge, the group president, the district president and the state president were seen together on the same stage with the party’s national president. The ordinary workers of the party were highly motivated. One of the main aims of the Vistarak Yojana was to reach out to every booth with the party’s policies, ideology, activities as well as information on the various initiatives undertaken by the Narendra Modi sarkaar. The vistaraks were trained along these lines and in order to achieve this, one or two full-time vistaraks were deployed in every second assembly seat. On behalf of every state’s organisation, one office-bearer of the level of state secretary of the party was entrusted with this responsibility. As vistaraks began trooping in for their training programmes, they were simultaneously assigned work. Besides the short-term vistaraks, the six-month and the oneyear vistaraks also launched their mobilisation drives across various polling booths. The BJP had trained about 2,225 vistaraks for one-year and 946 vistaraks for six months. The booth contact campaign was given to a total of

3,201 vistaraks across 4,120 assembly seats, spread throughout the country, out of which, 145 were women vistaraks, 40 Christian vistaraks and 73 Muslim vistaraks. Interestingly, the BJP succeeded in enlisting more than 3,000 six-month and one-year vistaraks, out of which 119 came from Odisha, 108 from Tamil Nadu, 91 from Telangana and 93 from West Bengal. The reason for Shah’s confidence about the BJP’s prospects in these states can be understood from these figures, because these are the states where the BJP’s expansion was still to happen.10 Shah’s effective management of the campaign and his organisational abilities eventually saw to it that BJP workers succeeded in reaching 80 per cent of the booths across the country. These booth in charges and workers became the party’s foot soldiers. As of now, these foot soldiers of Shah’s army have already sensed the pulse of 80 per cent11 of the country’s booths. No other political party in India has been as active in strengthening its organisational roots at the booth level in the non-election period as has the BJP. The party’s efforts in this area is unique in this sense and its president’s record and approach has been unmatched by any other party chief. Hence, the obvious question that arises—what was Amit Shah’s motive and strategy behind his decisions? Several quick and rapid assumptions and inferences are always drawn from the moves made by the Modi-Shah duo. Numerous analyses are dished out and conclusions are drawn over every move they make or propose to initiate. Several assumptions were made about the Vistarak Yojana too. Those who have tried to analyse and interpret Modi and Shah through the lenses and tools of conventional political wisdom have constantly been proven wrong. Similarly, the conventional approach in trying to understand the Vistarak Yojana’s actual purpose is bound to fall short. Conventional political experience sees booth management as a process to be activated only during elections. However, Shah had a more far-sighted and long-term strategy; for him, booth management was an essential outreach exercise that would keep the booth unit of the party active and participative in the party’s programmes on a regular basis.

The vistaraks chosen for the booth contact campaign began visiting every booth as the organisation’s envoys. During the campaign, vistaraks also reverified the details of members enlisted during the mega Sadasyata MahaAbhiyan and also added new members. Shah had set a target of enlisting at least twenty new members in every booth, who would join the party as part of this campaign. Some party workers who had worked as vistaraks in this campaign told us that the party organisation had clearly instructed them to extensively study and examine the social and political conditions of the booth to which they were assigned. The vistaraks communicated with all sections of society as well as with those booth level citizens who were considered influential in their respective booths. They also contacted the members of the dominant and majority communities in those booths and systematically interacted with to interact with booth level members of other organisations to encourage them to join the BJP. Shah had specifically instructed vistaraks, during a particular training session, ‘Leave aside big politicians and meet instead, the ordinary and active booth workers of other organisations. Connect them to the BJP. Connect them to your ideology.’12 Shah’s words were gradually having their effect across every booth through vistaraks. On completing the membership and Sampark campaign at every booth, the BJP began forming booth committees, closely monitored by vistaraks as well as senior leaders from the organisational units. The reporting of this outreach was done in a very systematic manner. The system of sending reports from every booth in every assembly seat to the state and the national unit of the party is still in place in the BJP. Shah himself receives reports from the party’s state unit whether the booth committee has been formed or not, and if it has been formed, how big it is. Shah still works in the same systematic and methodical manner as he did when he began his political journey as a booth worker. While talking to booth workers and drawing up the booth strategy, Shah enumerated twenty-three points which he asked booth level workers to implement. Some of these twenty-three points are the downloading of the NaMo app, designating Shakti Kendra in charges, verifying the voters list, upgrading of the booth as per

specification set by the party, enrolling fifty new members in each booth, convening meetings according to polling booths and coordinating between the eminent citizens, intellectuals, who live in the particular booth coordinating between various organisations including RSS units which function and work in the booth areas. One interesting task given by Shah to booth workers was to enlist the participation of those who have contested elections to the local bodies at the panchayat and ward level and have continued to remain active regardless of whether they won or lost. Shah’s approach is innovative, it has facets which were not hitherto seen, for example, he encouraged booth workers to enlist and involve those who were tech-savvy, who had bikes and were thus mobile, who could spread the party’s symbol in the locality through posters and stickers, in short, through an innovative outreach he encouraged the enlisting of creative and active members. One work, among the twenty-three tasks, that Shah insists booth workers must do, is to reach out to the beneficiaries of schemes of the Modi government and to draw up their list. At another level, Shah appeals to their inner urge for service; he asks each one of these booth workers, during this period, to read at least three books on history, politics, culture, great personalities, social movements, etc., to make a resolve to bring about positivity in life and to regularly keep a diary to record once’s progress and for a systematic and efficient utilisation of one’s time. The vistarak campaign has undeniably benefitted the BJP during the elections by making its booth stronger and more resilient. Although political calculations are hardly ever linear, yet the BJP’s success in Tripura has definitely confirmed the effectiveness of Amit Shah’s approach towards booth management. Assembly elections in Tripura were scheduled for February 2018 and about nine months before these elections, on 6 May 2017, Shah had already started his visits to the state. The party’s state unit presented a report on booth committees at a BJP core group meeting held at Agartala according to which, booth committees had been formed for all 2,572 booths in the party’s nine organisational districts of the state by 6 May 2017. Only a few booths were left without a booth committee. The BJP trained 417

short-term vistaraks and thirty one-year vistaraks in the state, and a team was formed to reach out to every booth. This meticulous planning and outreach at the booth level was one of the principle reason for the party’s victory in the state. The Tripura election results vindicated Amit Shah’s point that the Vistarak Yojana was the ‘spirit’ and the ‘soul’ of Deendayal Upadhyaya’s centenary commemoration. Shah saw the vistarak initiative as a defining outreach in the year when the party was celebrating Upadhyaya’s centenary. In fact, he had once observed that the: Vistarak Yojana is the soul of the centenary year of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, which will help in consolidating the BJP’s foundation at its core. It will make the BJP invincible and insurmountable. Our intentions must be pure. This task is not simple work. We have to work wholeheartedly.13

The BJP had succeeded in building a strong foundation for itself through the vistarak campaign. It was sure to benefit the party during the elections, but an effective strategy was needed to make it successful. Shah had successfully proved his strategy of converting the party’s booth level strength into a political advantage for it. Applying his expertise in political strategy, he devised a comprehensive plan based on three principal anchors that would control the booths and defeat the opposition. These three anchors work like his tools during elections. Shah’s first tool is: accurate figures on the party’s status in every booth. He always prepares an accurate assessment of the party’s strength in every booth based on the votes received by the BJP in the previous three elections. In order to work this out, the booths are divided into A, B and C categories and then assessed. Those booths in which the BJP has received more than 60 per cent of the votes during the last two or three elections are placed in category A; where it has received between 40 per cent to 60 per cent of the votes, in category B, and where the vote percentage is less than 40 per cent, in category C. Shah prepares these figures well in advance with the assistance of the party’s booth committees and teams of professional volunteers working for the party. During the Gujarat elections too, Shah had prepared his strategy based on these figures. Considering the 2012 Gujarat Assembly election results as our

starting point, we found that the BJP was in category A in 6,819 booths in the state, in category B in 23,972 booths and in category C in 13,618 booths. On the basis of these figures, Shah formulated his strategy in such a way that category C booths are converted into category B, and category B booths into category A. The other two tools that Shah has devised, and which help him achieve this target are the Shakti Kendra and Panna Pramukh. The principal component of Shah’s booth management is the Shakti Kendra and Panna (page) Pramukh (head). Shah conducts regular meetings and discussions with the Panna Pramukh and the Shakti Kendra in charges during elections. While the strategy for booths is prepared at Shakti Kendras, his Panna Pramukhs work to bring each voter to the booth and initiate regular discussions with them. To ensure that the BJP’s policies and programmes reach every single voter and they turn up and head to the booths to vote for the party, one Panna Pramukh is employed for each Panna in the voters’ list of that booth. At the same time, a Shakti Kendra in charge is designated by clustering together five to seven booths. During the Gujarat elections, voting was planned in 50,128 booths and Amit Shah had himself conducted fifteen meetings with the Shakti Kendra in charges from 4 November 2017 to 12 November 2017. Compared to the 2012 Gujarat Assembly elections, the party saw an increase of 1.5 to 2 per cent in its votes in the 2017 elections. This happened, while almost 5 lakh people had chosen the none of the above (NOTA) option during voting. The increase in vote percentage of the BJP also indicates that there were several B and C category booths in 2012 which the party successfully managed to convert into A and B category booths in the 2017 election. The BJP had begun the process of preparing Panna Pramukhs in Gujarat long before the elections were announced. Shah had already prepared a working plan in meetings held in June and July 2017 in which he met all the Panna Pramukhs, including those from Saurashtra, central Gujarat and south Gujarat. Seasoned veterans like V. Satish, national joint general secretary (organisation), joined later by Bhupender Yadav, general secretary of the party and head of the election management department, worked to implement

the plan in collaboration with the state unit. The results were reflected during the elections. The BJP received more than 49 per cent of the votes in the state, despite being in power for twenty-two years. In other words, every second voter in Gujarat was a BJP voter. Despite twenty years of antiincumbency and an election fought in the shadows of a fierce casteist movement such a result was possible because of the BJP’s strong organisational foundation and its deft booth management strategy. As we saw, Shah successfully implemented this strategy in Tripura a few months later. Most political parties consider booth management as a routine political exercise that is best left to the candidates. The hiring of booth agents by various candidates is a common sight during elections and this practice is especially more prevalent in organisations lacking a strong grassroots organisational foundation. The hired booth agents only cared about being compensated for their work on the day of election. Moreover, the erroneous notion that the act of placing booth agents on election day by the candidates themselves constitutes booth management is also widespread. Shah has of course decimated such outdated notions. Contrary to the traditional approach, booth management for Shah is a continuous work which is further sharpened and escalated during elections. It eventually plays the most crucial role in defeating the opponent. This is Shah’s own way of providing a finishing touch to the BJP’s electoral victories. It is also one of the main pillars of the organisation and infuses Shah with the quiet confidence of eventually being able to turn the BJP into an invincible force in Indian politics. This is what makes him assert that ‘elections are won by those who win the booth…’




xperience for Shah is what matters most when it comes to political work at the grassroots. His trudging from state to state, in a sense, from village to village,1 did not cease even after he became national president of the BJP. The scope and canvas of his tours had altered, it had widened and become multipronged. A crucial component of his countrywide tours across the first three years of his tenure as president was that of samvad. There is a wellestablished tradition of dialogue within the BJP, and in his three years, Shah had firmly reinforced and reinvented that tradition. It is a dimension which has been less discussed and analysed, and therefore it would be interesting to look at it and see how Shah has effectively used the medium of samvad in the last few years. Several leaders in history have used different methods of dialogue to articulate and disseminate their ideas. In the early phase of the nationalist movement, leaders like Lokmanya Tilak, Sri Aurobindo and Bipin Chandra Pal, were master communicators, addressing mass meetings and at the same time, also effectively carrying on the struggle through their powerful and inspiring columns and editorials. It is said about Mahatma Gandhi that he was one of the greatest communicators of modern India. Former Congressman Natwar Singh once wrote that the Mahatma was ‘his own PR agency’.2 Indeed, Gandhi well understood the importance of samvad. He was aware of and effectively used all the means of samvad that were available in those days. Whether it was writing, broadcasting or public speaking, Gandhi, as a

mass leader, made good use of these mediums to get into a dialogue with his people. His style of address was conversational; it set the tone for a samvad. Looking at contemporary politics one sees Narendra Modi as a super effective communicator. This has been widely acknowledged; during a book launch on 26 May 2017 at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the then President of India, Pranab Mukherjee referred to Modi as a ‘very effective communicator’.3 On 23 June 2013, the martyrdom day of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Modi who had now re-emerged on the national scene in Delhi after almost twelve years, launched his journey for a countrywide samvad. He addressed a massive rally in Pathankot; it was his first public meeting after gravitating once more towards national politics. Nearly eighty days after this first meeting, on 13 September 2013, Modi was declared as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. From 15 September 2013, Modi launched his historic electoral marathon, the series of samvad that he initiated across the country were to continue until 10 May 2014. This multifaceted dialogue through various means, meetings, discussion over tea—his famous Chai pe Charcha which caught the imagination of youth—interviews, all as part of his nationwide campaign, saw a record-breaking success. According to figures outlined in the Mahamantri-Prativedan4 presented in 2016 by National General Secretary (Organisation) Ramlal, during this period of eight months, Modi had participated in 5,827 samvad programmes while travelling about 3 lakh kms. Of these, Modi was himself at the centre of 196 Bharat Vijay rallies, 241 public meetings, about 1,350 3-D public meetings, two roadshows as well as the Chai pe Charcha programmes which were organised at 4,000 locations. Chai pe Charcha proved to be a highly effective outreach initiative during Modi’s election campaigns. The Chai pe Charcha design was not part of the initial plan; it was the result of an episode that happened just as the momentum for the campaign for the sixteenth Lok Sabha was picking up. At the annual meeting of the All India Congress Commitee (AICC) in Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium, Congress motormouth and habitual Modi abuser Mani Shankar Aiyyar spoke of Modi

as only fit to sell tea and not run India. ‘I can assure you,’ Mani said with disdain, ‘that Narendra Modi will never become the prime minister of this country in the twenty-first century. But, if he wants to come here to sell tea, we can provide him with some space.’ The BJP was quick to pick up Aiyyar’s statement and saw it as an affront to the poor, displaying an elitist bias and insensitivity—which it was in any case—towards their plight and occupations. Within days, the BJP came up with the Chai pe Charcha programme and pushed it vigorously across the country. Modi had referred to himself often in the past as a ‘tea-seller’, one who was proud of his roots and beginning. Aiyyar would have never imagined that his deliberate insult of Modi would be turned around by the BJP into one of its most effective and biggest campaign tools. In a sense, Aiyyar’s hatred for Modi, publicly displayed, proved to be the Congress’s undoing.5 Within hours of launching the campaign on 4 February, the video and theme song of the Chai pe Charcha campaign went viral and was watched by almost 20,000 people on the first day itself.6 Modi had also used social media as a most effective tool during the campaign. It became a most powerful medium for conveying the message of change. He had long ago realised the need to harness technology for effective political messaging and especially for reaching out to the youth. Modi was active on twitter since 2009, and his first tweet on 1 February 2009,7 made him the first popular Indian politician to take on to that social media platform. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, for example, took to twitter a good fortyseven days after Modi.8 Social media eventually became for Modi a most powerful tool for communication. Modi also became the first Indian politician to make social media an effective medium of communication in Indian politics. The world took note of his deft use of social media with the New York Times of 25 September 2014, describing him as ‘the Social Media Politician’.9 ‘Shah is also very active on social media. He first took to Twitter in May, 2013, but his first tweet appeared on October 29, 2013, when he shared an

interview that he had given. Shah actively extends his samvad through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and his bilingual (Hindi and English) website. His website (HYPERLINK “” which is dynamic and is regularly updated has a section with a detailed description of his political life and achievements, his interviews and also a section which contains articles and news items that are critical of him or portray him negatively. A member of Shah’s team who maintains his website told us that it was Shah himself who had instructed him to include this ‘critic’ section in the website. Shah welcomes criticism with an open mind, this is quite contrary to the false image of his that keeps emanating from certain quarters.’ Modi had reinterpreted the culture and tradition of samvad and made use of it through contemporary instruments. Samvad, like Yatras have played a key role in the history and evolution of BJP. Over the years the party has adopted and utilised a number of mechanisms for initiating samvad with people, the voter, the supporter and also within the organisation. By upgrading the means of samvad through an effective use of technology, the party is in fact continuing to keep alive a very crucial tradition that has been unique to it. In the 1980s and 1990s, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani had emerged as popular pillars of opposition politics in India.While Vajpayee attracted attention and mesmerised people with the power of his oratory and the force of his dialectics and made very effective use of samvad, Advani chose Rath Yatras as a means of samvad, for connecting with people and for explaining to the masses the BJP’s ideological positions. It would be worth trying to understand the BJP’s understanding of Yatras. A document released by the party in 2006 referring to Yatras observed: Yatras are an ancient medium in India to nurture national unity. In our history of thousands of years, people have been travelling from one place to another. Pilgrimages have been always undertaken for the sake of knowledge and spirituality. Social and religious leaders have also used Yatra as a medium of awakening people. The feelings and emotions of patriotism and message of social

harmony have been espoused many times through this medium. In present times, the BJP can claim with some pride that it has revived this ancient tradition of Yatras—in order to initiate samvad. L.K. Advani’s historic Ram Rath Yatra’ of 1990 had succeeded in generating a wave of emotion for the construction of the Ram Mandir at the Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya. His Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra of 1997 was undertaken to mark the golden jubilee of Indian independence and to pay tribute to all the martyrs and heroic fighters of our freedom struggle. Advani’s Bharat Uday Yatra of 2004 described the achievements of the six years of Atal Bihari Vajpayee government to the country. Dr Murli Manohar Joshi’s Ekta Yatra of 1991-92 carried the unequivocal message that Kashmir is an inseparable part of India and will always be. Apart from these, the BJP launched the Janaadesh Yatra (1993) and Su-Raj Yatra (1996) as well, all with a distinct socio-political message for the people of India.10

The BJP lost power at the centre in 2004, although it continued to be in power in states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Organisational changes followed and Rajnath Singh was elected president of the party. The party also carried out a series of self-evaluation and internal assessments and, among other things, came up with a programme for initiating a fresh round of samvad which would also highlight the negative fallout of the UPA’s policies. The Bharat Suraksha Yatra was launched with Advani leading it from Dwarka and then BJP president Rajnath Singh leading it from Jagannath Puri in Odisha. The Yatra was to converge in Delhi on 10 May, after having passed through seventeen states and covering a distance of 11,500 kms. However, because of the death of one of its most dynamic leaders and national general secretary Pramod Mahajan, the BJP called off the Yatra on 3 May. While delivering his presidential address at the National Executive and the National Council of the party on 29-30 May 2006, Rajnath Singh spoke of the Bharat Suraksha Yatra: We had a direct samvad with the public during the Yatra. We saw great enthusiasm among the party workers and the common people during this phase. Even in the most Naxal-affected regions of states like Odisha, Jharkhand and Bihar, where people do not venture out of their homes after sunset, seeing

hundreds of people welcome us convinced us that the issues that worried the BJP also worried the common citizen living in far-flung places across the country.11

Regardless of whether it is in power or not, the BJP has always followed this established medium of communicating—a medium which it had regularly resorted to on various occasion right since the 1980s—this tradition of samvad, which has passed through many phases, across many periods and saw expression in many ways till 2014, when it was effectively used in a new format to script electoral history. In a sense, the general elections to the sixteenth Lok Sabha was a unique and successful experiment in upgrading samvad through technology. The campaign for 2014 saw Modi at the forefront, connecting with all sections of society across the country. On a number of occasions, Modi exhorted the electorate that their vote would directly come to him.12 It was as if Modi was fighting in every seat, people did not take note of the candidates, they saw Modi everywhere, they heard him everywhere and when they voted, it did not matter who the candidate was, they voted for Modi. It was one of the most palpable examples of the intensity of an effective samvad. Post elections and formation of the government, the reins of the party came to Amit Shah. As happens in any period of transition, many questions arose on how the party would function under Shah. As soon as he assumed charge, Shah began working on the strategy of making samvad more effective and dynamic. Those who have actually engaged with Shah, who are in constant touch with him and have participated in his meetings, have seen him as a leader who encourages, appreciates and adheres to samvad. Contrary to perceptions, Shah prefers to engage in detailed conversations with party office-bearers and workers on various electoral strategy and organisational work, and the decisions that emerge out these deliberations, whether it is for electoral strategies or for the organisation, all emerge out of this process of samvad. Shah’s samvad is structured as well as result oriented. Apart from samvad for political and organisational work, Shah initiated samvad with spiritual leaders and social reformers. His countrywide tours have included

meeting religious and spiritual leaders, visiting their ashrams and institutions. Shah sees this as an an important dimension of samvad. Between 24 January 2013 to 26 January 2018, Shah visited sixty-eight major spiritual institutions, located across India and met the gurus and religious heads leading these institutions. These visits were entirely non-political in nature, and from details obtained for the period between 18 July 2014 to 21 March 2017, it turns out that Shah had engaged in almost 123 such non-political and social programmes carrying on his samvad.13 Analysing Shah’s functioning style, one thing stands out—he is a samvad-centered leader who communicates effectively and forcefully. As the in charge of UP during the Lok Sabha elections, he was easily approachable to the media. As national president of the BJP, he continued with the habit of being in regular contact with the media and has directly given seventy-two interviews in a one-to-one conversation format to various newspapers, and another ninety-six interviews to various TV channels.14 Shah comes across as a leader who feels he is accountable and answerable to the people, while leaving his imprint as an effective and convincing communicator. He hardly ever blames circumstances and is always upfront about success and failure. Taking the recent example of the BJP’s defeat in the by-elections to the Lok Sabha seats of Phulpur and Gorakhpur, Shah gave interviews to Zee News on 18 March and to Times Now on 22 March, just after the announcement of the results. In his 18 March interview, he did not hedge around, while talking of the by-poll losses observing that, ‘We take the loss of two seats very seriously and will critically analyse it and explain it too…what is there to hide about?’ Standing erect in every circumstance is part of Shah’s style of functioning, the effect of which can also be seen in his style of communication. His easy approachability is reflected in the following encounter. Well-known Hindi journalist, Anant Vijay was travelling from Delhi to Lucknow during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections: It was the summers of 2013. I had to go to Lucknow for some official work. I was standing in the check-in queue at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. As I turned back, I saw BJP leader Amit Shah standing behind me in the queue. He

was in charge of UP at that time. I greeted him and introduced myself. Reciprocating my gesture, he replied with a smile, ‘your channel is always against us’. While boarding the aircraft, through security check and the bay, we kept talking. When I asked him several questions about the UP elections, he appeared quite confident. In fact, brimming with self-confidence, he replied that the results will turn out to be such that it would surpass all predictions by political pundits. We boarded the plane; his seat was in the first row, I told him that mine was at the back. He asked me for my seat number and said that he was going to sleep. ‘Let us meet when we reach Lucknow,’ he told me. A while later an airhostess brought me tea, and when I told her that I hadn’t ordered it, she replied that the leader sitting in the first row had sent it for me. We reached Lucknow forty-fifty minutes later and while exiting the aircraft, I asked him if he could give me his mobile number, Shah instantly obliged and asked me to give him a missed call. We had no contact for days after that, when the Lok Sabha election results were announced, I sent a congratulatory message to his number and in came his prompt reply—‘Thank You’.15

When he became president of the BJP, Shah, as we have observed, took up a systematic restructuring of his outreach programmes. He prepared a detailed programme to enhance samvad and began with himself. Shah also made a rule for himself that on the first and third Monday of every month, he would have a samvad with party office-bearers, MPs and legislators from 9.30 am to 2.00 pm, and the latter half of the day from 2.00 pm, he would dedicate to Jan samvad—meeting people from all walks of life who came to him with their problems and suggestions. Whenever in Delhi, Shah meticulously adhered to this practice. During an informal conversation, a worker at the BJP central office, who would be part of the team coordinating these Jan samvad sessions, told us how Shah would continue to be present in his office until he had met the last person listed for the day. Records reveal that Shah has met 14,175 ordinary citizens and voters, at the BJP’s central office between 6 April 2015 to 9 October 2017. He comes across as extremely particular in maintaining records of who have met him or have sought appointment; he is seen, invariably, keeping aside at least two hours during his visits and gets in touch with them while visiting their states. His office has been directed to

meticulously document details of those who meet or have met Shah. In continuing with samvad, he has always displayed a great amount of discipline and regularity. He initiated the Sahyog department, an outreach activity of the party with the aim of enhancing dialogue between the government and the workers through the party which was to function as an effective bridge. Under the Sahyog initiative, union ministers interact with workers and other people who come with their problems everyday for about two hours at a fixed time at the party’s central office. A roster for the ministers which provides advance notice is issued by the central office for people to know the details. Shah keeps himself regularly apprised of the details and follow-ups of these interactions. In a sense, Shah widened the ambit of samvad, he did not limit it to public rallies, closed-door meetings or Yatras alone. He initiated focused and timebound contact programmes, some of which were effective in communicating to a large cross section, the Modi dispensation’s vision and work of governance. This new energy and direction of samvad, a connecting and reaching out to people at the grassroots, with workers percolating on the ground, made people realise that the party was active twenty-four hours among them. It countered the routine conditioning that the party and its workers come seeking votes only once in five years like most others do. The party also launched and successfully ran another Samvad outreach—the Vikas Parv campaign from 26 May 2016 to 26 June 2016, when the Modi government completed two years. Union ministers, other leaders and workers at all levels were roped in and programmes, dialogues, conferences, meetings were organised across the country, more than a 100 Vikas Parvs were held nationwide. Shah believes in continuously infusing dynamism in the party. He sees the party as the most effective instrument for samvad, especially for countering false propaganda that is regularly dished out by opposition parties with the Congress in the lead. When the Congress announced that it would observe the anniversary of demonetisation on 8 November as Kaala Diwas (Black Day) and decided to protest before the Reserve Bank of India in

Delhi, Shah had already thought of organising a Kaala Dhan Virodhi Diwas (Anti Black Money Day) across the country on the same day. While the Congress protested in Delhi, Shah ensured that the BJP’s programme would fan out across the country. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s moving words spoken on 28 May 1996 in the Lok Sabha come to mind: Our efforts are backed by a devotion, dedicated action of forty years, this is not a sudden mandate, no miracle has happened, we have worked hard, we went among the people, we have struggled, this party works for 365 days. This is not a seasonal party which only appears among the public during the election season.16

When Vajpayee had spoken these words, the BJP had not expanded as extensively throughout the country, its power and presence was not as widespread and its grassroots reach was not as extensive as it is today under Modi and Shah, but yet it had succeeded, through years of struggle, in reaching a pinnacle and in eventually forming a government at the centre. Today, the party has expanded exponentially, it has 11 crore members, its organisational reach up to the level of the booth is extensive and strong and it has created for itself an organisational base in every state, all this has happened because, it is a party which works for 365 days. Shah has succeeded in turning the BJP into a powerful instrument for public contact which works to broadcast the actual narrative of Modi’s governance and vision, and has successfully widened its role and has made it into a principal instrument for promoting samvad. The latest of Shah’s samvad innovation was the launch of Sampark se Samarthan (Support through reaching out) on 29 May 2018. A very interesting outreach programme in which, for over two weeks, office-bearers and leaders of the party reached out to eminent and notable personalities across various walks of life, met them, apprised them of the Modi government’s achievements and also listened to their feedback and impressions. As always in the lead, Shah himself launched the initiative on 29 May by meeting former chief of the Indian army, General D.S. Suhag and

veteran constitutional expert Dr Subash C. Kashyap and went on to meet cricketer Kapil Dev, industrialist Ratan Tata, legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar, ace badminton player Saina Nehwal and veteran journalist late Kuldip Nayyar. A number of other leaders at all levels of the party reached out to notables. Poets, actors, entrepreneurs, social activists, environmentalists, authors, academics, veteran personnel of the armed forces, sports personalities, think-tank heads, heads of various associations, former bureaucrats and members of the judiciary—all those who generate opinions and have been visible contributors to the society in a positive way were visited. As a well-known observer of Indian politics wrote, Over the past three weeks or so, functionaries of the ruling BJP have been posting photographs of quiet (mostly) unpublicised meetings with notables at their homes. Billed as the Sampark se Samarthan (support through contact/relationship), this has involved party president Amit Shah, union ministers and state functionaries briefing prominent individuals all over the country about the performance of Narendra Modi government... As a dignified way of building support with an eye on the 2019 general election, the initiative is welcome.17

It was a fresh interpretation of the tradition of samvad and generated a distinct perception that the BJP under Shah was reaching out to the opinion makers in society and was engaging even with those who did not agree with it. It was a unique approach towards the concept of participative governance and the involvement of a ruling political party in advocacy. Shah sees politics as a full-time job and firmly believes that if someone is in politics, then he can only be in politics. Politics, for him, cannot be a parttime job. Shah applies this rule to the party’s office-bearers and his other colleagues in the party as well. This is in stark contrast to the attitude and temperament of the present crop of Congress leaders, who are perceived to be active only during elections. Congress president Rahul Gandhi has the bizarre habit of disappearing after every election campaign, only to reappear at the time of another fresh round of elections. In contrast, for Shah, it does matter whether the party is in or out of power in a state, whether the possibilities of

victory are high or low, whether the electoral results are favourable or unfavourable. He sees organisational activities, programmes and outreach as a continuous process which must follow a regular pattern, discipline and a defined roadmap. He closely follows the progress in every region. This habit and approach of keeping the party active every day and throughout the year is what has undeniably led to its expansion and strength. Interestingly, the media has by and large, failed to understand this aspect. The usual reporting is that during elections the BJP unleashes a battery of ministers, chief ministers and MPs for campaigning and that this reflects a certain nervousness, lack of confidence within the party. The narrative from the media that invariably gains traction is that the elections are tough for the BJP! Thus, every election is interpreted as being ‘tough’ for the BJP. The same angle was peddled during the Gujarat elections. However, what most ignore is that such an approach has always been part of Shah’s strategy. He believes that a minister and chief minister also continue to be a worker of the party and must therefore engage with people, get into samvad with them and elections offer an excellent opportunity to enter into a public samvad. Shah himself likes to direct the battle from the trenches, he is a hands-on general. During the Gujarat, Tripura and Karnataka elections. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath campaigned extensively and separate plans were drawn up to generate samvad with various sections of people and communities in these states. Similarly, other chief ministers and union ministers too are regularly roped in for organisational work and election duty. The electoral strategy is firmed up after a detailed analysis of which booth, region and community would be most influenced and affected by a particular leader’s presence and samvad. Every election thus is fought with the same tenacity and gusto, seeing it as an opportunity to engage with the people. It is undeniable that Shah’s reinvention of the tradition of samvad has been a major factor in the BJP’s recent consecutive electoral victories. An effective model of samvad for organisational expansion has clearly emerged.




fter Shah took over as BJP president, the party’s style of functioning began to clearly change. Shah’s effort to reorganise the functioning of the party was much like trying to reorganise a house with goods scattered all over. His taking over the mantle of the party clearly indicated that the BJP was entering into a new era. It became obvious that multiple activities would be initiated and undertaken all at once. Knowing Shah’s penchant for trying new ways of doing things, there was nothing surprising in such an approach. While on one hand, riding on its massive success, the BJP had extensively begun to expand and widen its reach; on the other hand, several new campaigns were being launched at the organisational level to strengthen the party’s base through various multilayered outreach campaigns. During this series of ongoing changes, another vital change also took place in the party after Shah’s elevation.The system of cells within the party at the national level was all but deactivated. There was a time when the BJP had about fifty cells both at the national and at the state level. But, Shah did not reconstitute any of these after taking over as party chief. A sharp curiosity and anticipation had been generated among workers about the formation of a new team soon after Shah assumed office and many looked forward to being reconfirmed in their roles in the cells. However, Shah had made up his mind on dismantling the cell system, and as a result the

entire structure was eventually dissolved. Today, there are only about a handful of cells active in the BJP organisation at the national level. While the cells were being phased out, Shah began to redesign the structure of the organisation. He classified the functions of the BJP’s organisational structure in two sections—departments and projects.1 The cells were replaced by departments and projects. Departments were formed to coordinate and support those party activities that are of a permanent and continuous nature, whereas projects were created to initiate and support activities that are temporary in nature and also to assist the implementation of political tasks with immediate objectives. Departments and projects have, in the last few years that Shah has reorganised the party, become the backbone of the BJP’s structure of functioning. A total of nineteen departments and ten projects are now active in the party. This reorganisation has heralded a major change in the party’s organisational structure while also being intensely scrutinised by the media. An English daily, for example, published an interview with Shah on 2 February 2015. At the time of the interview, Shah had only been BJP president for six months. It is interesting to read this interview because the media had increasingly begun asking Shah questions on his approach to the reorganisation of the party and had adopted a rather judgmental attitude towards his initiatives and functioning. Instead of looking at how the reorganisation of the party was being undertaken, there was concerted attempt to portray this transformational effort as being pushed through Shah’s dictates and due to his personal desire. The daily’s interview and the question and answer between its interlocutor and Shah make that attitude quite evident: It is often said that you do one-sided dialogues and do whatever you want to. Is this true? Amit Shah: …So, should I do what you want me to do? I do what I want to do. Every person must do what he aspires to. What’s unique in this matter? How is the BJP different under your leadership? It is often said that you are

extremely demanding. Amit Shah: I don’t see much difference. We are doing whatever is necessary. I don’t see any unexpected changes. Whatever seems necessary is being done.2

Shah saw this process of restructuring as a natural one, he saw it as a process that a party which has grown and sustained itself organically must periodically work out. It was in that sense that he had said that what was necessary for the growth and expansion of the party was being done. Six months were obviously not sufficient to judge success and failure; however, the media’s interest in the changes within the BJP and the direction the party would take was intense as well as understandable. During the BJP’s internal meetings2 Shah had already signalled the changes that he was contemplating and therefore when he said in an understated way that, ‘whatever seems necessary is being done’, these changes were not unexpected; rather they were being worked out in accordance with the exigencies of the time. Shah termed the changes initiated in the BJP, as Yuganukul Parivartan (changes in keeping with the times). In a meeting on departments and projects, he had argued, referring to the organisational changes, that: The BJP has undergone significant changes in the last fifty-sixty years. (including the Jana Sangh phase). Today, it has governments in eighteen [at that point of time] states3 and therefore we have a different role. The role, structure and manner of functioning of a collective that has 50,000 members, a group that has 5 million members and a party like the BJP, which has 11 crore members, cannot be the same. Our accountability today as a party is different and so our method of functioning should also be different. This is why we are making changes in the BJP’s methods of working but our ideology and our political culture continue to remain the same.3

But, before trying to understand the framework of functioning that Shah had drawn up for the party, it is necessary to know the departments and projects that were created and initiated by him. He drafted a detailed charter for these projects and departments which set their objectives and laid out guidelines for

their functioning. As of today the following are the BJP’s departments and projects: The process of forming a team which would include national coordinators and co-convenors for the departments and projects was initiated under Shah’s close supervision to further strengthen and make the party’s organisational structure more compact. The responsibility of coordinating his new organisational strategy at the national level, as far as departments and projects were concerned, was entrusted to Arvind Menon, a pracharak and former general secretary (organisation) of the BJP unit in Madhya Pradesh. Menon visited each state which had been zeroed in for Shah’s visit and in which he was to hold organisational and departmental meetings.

Shah had decided to conduct departmental and project meetings in every state during his 95-day national tour. The state units had been accordingly instructed to form their departmental committees and draw up roadmaps for relevant projects before Shah’s visit. Shah’s national tours were to begin on 25 April 2017 and would continue till September 2017 and every state unit was asked to complete the process of setting up their groups and draw up a plan of the tasks and projects they had to undertake. While addressing the BJP National Executive in Odisha on 15 April 2017, Shah himself laid out the framework when he said: A great deal of thinking and reflection has gone behind the formation of these departments and projects. We need to fix the party structure and bring greater stability to the party, and it is not possible without these changes. These departments are very important to ensure that the party works in a uniform and coordinated manner from the district level up to the national level. I have set aside three hours for meeting the departmental teams during each of my visits. I

urge all of you to start working along these lines.4

The BJP president did exactly as he had indicated at the Odisha meet. He met with the state team for each department and project in every state that he visited. Although the progress of all departments and projects remained on Shah’s radar, there were however, three departments and two projects for which Shah had himself drawn out time-bound plans. The Department of Aajeevan Sahyog Nidhi, Department of IT, Website and Social Media Activities, the Library and Documentation Department as well as the District Office Construction Project and the Project for setting up libraries right up to the district level and e-libraries. These featured prominently on Shah’s agenda. That the chief of the ruling party may have an interest in libraries and documentation is perhaps not something out of the ordinary, but the fact that Shah flagged the formation of libraries and work on documenting the party’s history and activities among the priorities for the party surprised many. This gave them a completely new insight into Shah’s thinking and method of working. The surprise was also mainly because it did not fit into the many negative stereotypes that had been imposed on Shah’s personality, interests and style of work. It was also clear that the party president’s priority was to restructure the Aajeevan Sahyog Nidhi department, the IT department and to initiate and expedite the project of constructing party offices in each district as well. Generally speaking, politics in our times has largely centred around and focused on electoral activities and action. On entering politics, the only activities that are perceived to be of some worth and necessary of being pursued are contesting elections, winning elections and then trying to win again. The cycle of political activities remains confined and limited to this contour, one hardly sees initiative beyond these. However, one can argue, to introduce a new perspective, that elections and electoral activities are not, in a very strict sense, regular activities of a political party. Today political organisations are increasingly faced with the challenge of remaining

continuously active. The goals and programmes of political parties, over the last few decades, have become limited to contesting elections and to winning or losing them. Organisation, ideas and constructive programmes of social outreach have all but disappeared from the programmes and lexicon of most parties. The Congress party, for example, which had emerged out of the struggle for independence—in fact to be fair, the original Congress, the one that acted as the vehicle of the freedom movement ceased to exist in 1969, when Indira Gandhi split the party—has also been reduced to a political machine, whereas activities of regional parties have been mostly limited to power manipulation and cobbling opportunistic alignments that serve personal and family interests. Political debates and discussions skirt the issue of whether the role of political parties is to remain limited to contesting elections or whether they have a larger social role and responsibility. There is no discussion on what issues should, besides contesting and winning elections, form part of a political party’s programmes and outreach. These are some fundamental political questions vis-à-vis political parties and their functioning which are conspicuously absent in contemporary discussions on Indian politics and society. It is in this larger context that Shah’s initial efforts to restructure the party have to be seen. His attempt has been to widen the scope and ambit of the party and not keep it confined to the electoral dimension alone. Of course, contesting and winning elections are and shall continue to be Shah’s forte and his top priority, yet it is also clear from his style of functioning that he has conferred priority on other activities as well, activities which he sees as legitimate and necessary for the growth, expansion and sustenance of a political party like the BJP. The sum of all these activities, Shah is clear, will eventually add to the party’s stamina and capability of winning and will also ensure that it increasingly grows and spreads as a broad-based movement with roots among people and in society. Addressing workers at a meeting of departments and projects in Uttarakhand, Shah had once remarked that, ‘It is

the organisation which makes the government, but the government does not make the organisation.’5 He is convinced and has often said that not everything can be achieved solely by relying on the government’s achievements. A system, therefore, has to be put in place which shall have the capacity of delivering and conveying the party’s ideas and policies to the masses. Interestingly, it is Shah’s observations, made during his departmental meetings and interactions, which give us an insight into his organisational thinking, approach and intentions. To him, the eleven-crore-member-strong BJP is not a mere election-machine it is rather a gigantic bouquet of flowers. Although the media habitually portrays Shah as having turned the party into an election machine, he refuses to concede that his working or thinking is focused on turning the party into an efficient and well-oiled machine. During the National Executive meeting of the BJP held in Odisha on 15 April 2017, Shah referred to the term ‘election-machine’ and argued: What does it mean to be a cadre-based party? Do we want to turn the party into an election-winning machine just like the Congress? We need to work as a bridge between the society and the government. We also have social responsibilities as a political organisation. It is with these responsibilities that each party worker has to reach out to every section of society.6

Out of the nine projects initiated by Shah, three were centred on the BJP government’s programmes. The objective was to convey the importance of these programmes, their transformative message and social centrality through the party’s efforts. One does not usually see such an approach as far as political parties are concerned. Such such a diversity of activities and outreach is rarely seen in a political party. The Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao, Clean India and Namami Gange projects were aimed at transforming the mindests through mass participation. In fact, Clean India and Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao campaigns were made part of the BJP’s booth level programmes. Through these projects, Shah has actually attempted to organically link the BJP as a political organisation with social

responsibilities rather than a party that is only engaged in political activities in silos. Programmes like these are usually marginal in any political organisation’s agenda, but by making these crucial to the party’s social outreach efforts, Shah has underlined the centrality of the changes taking place within the organisation. There was in fact a lot that was happening organisationally within the BJP. Political analysts and observers could barely discern the fundamental nature of these changes. One such department, on which Shah expended a lot of energy and time, was the Library and Documentation Department. He held several meetings of the state units trying to explain the necessity of books and of reading in the political context. During his visit to Madhya Pradesh, Shah interacted with members of the state Library and Documentation Department. His interesting conversation with them during a review meeting provides an insight into Shah’s ideas for the Library and Documentation Department. Amit Shah: Did the Ram Janmabhoomi movement take place? Library Department Members: It did. Amit Shah: How many documents relating to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement are available in the state office? If somebody requires some information related to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement right now, then what documents do we have in the office at this point in time? Library Department Member: Yes, the documentation needs to be done. Amit Shah: Please understand what I am aiming at; I am not asking why it is not here. I am pointing out to you its necessity. Many senior leaders have sacrificed their lives for the party and we here are losing out on the importance of their role and work...When I use the word ‘losing’ it needs to be properly understood. Leaders like Deendayalji, Atalji, Advaniji and Kushabhau Thakreji are rare political personalities and one will not find the likes of them easily. But have we preserved their legacies? We have not. With the kind of changes that the country is undergoing at this moment, researchers from around the world would be gradually approaching us with great interest to know more about the Bharatiya Janata Party in the next fifteen to twenty years. But if we do not have records, then what will we give them? Are we only going to tell them that here is a table,

this is a room, that is a chair and we have provision for food here...? We must do our documentation as if we were preparing to write the entire political history of India in 2021.7

By the time Shah took over the mantle of the BJP, social media had become a powerful communication medium especially in the political arena. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP used it extensively and effectively for Modi’s election campaign. The IT unit was functioning then as a cell within the party. After dissolving the cells, Shah fixed a target of reviving the IT section not only at the national level but at every state and district level in the form of a new Department of IT, Website and Social Media Activities. Shah closely monitored the transition and today social media has become a crucial part of the BJP’s functioning. The effect of these modern changes in the BJP is such that leaders who were not so active earlier on social media and did not see it as a tool for outreach, for messaging and political communications are now seen effectively using social media with great energy and interest. It appears as if social media activity has now become mandatory in the BJP. Moreover, Prime Minister Modi, himself a social media communicator par excellence, has constantly emphasised the need to be active on social media, during his meetings with the BJP members of Parliament and the party’s workers, so much so, that on special occasions, circulars are issued to all the state and district units on behalf of the party on how to tweet, which hashtags to use and how many minimum tweets to be done. The BJP also conducts regular training programmes on how to use and handle social media tools. The party’s Department of IT, Website and Social Media Activities supervises this task at all levels of the organisation. Shah himself is an avid social media user and blogger. He often uses it to make strong and hard hitting political points and riposte. The narrative of change in the BJP’s structure was planned and strategised during the long organisational meetings that would be regularly held in the meeting rooms number 12 and 40 in the then central headquarters of the party at the historic 11, Ashoka Road. These were the very rooms in

which BJP president Amit Shah would sit late into the night before eventually moving on to his new chambers in the party’s newly-built headquarters on Deendayal Upadhyaya Marg. The old party headquarters was increasingly proving to be inadequate for a party that had expanded like a banyan tree. In a sense, Shah had already anticipated this inadequacy and early in his tenure had come up with the plan of building a new headquarter. Today, several state units are also working on targeted goals to construct their party offices in every district. This demanding effort comprises purchasing land in those districts where the party does not have land of its own, and ensuring that work on office construction is undertaken and completed in those districts where the party already possesses land. The progress of these activities is also regularly monitored and directly reported to Shah. In April 2017 when Shah launched his countrywide organisational tours, there were only 190 districts in the country where the BJP owned land for its offices. According to information from the party’s District Office Construction Project, by April 2018, the BJP had already completed the task of purchasing land for district offices in 522 districts of the country. The party has completed the work of constructing offices in 121 districts, whereas in ninety-four other districts the work of constructing party offices is in progress. Moreover, the process of purchasing land for district offices has been ongoing in forty-four districts as of April 2018.8 In one year, thus, the BJP had successfully completed the task of purchasing land for its offices in about 332 districts and the task of constructing offices in every district had already begun. The party had done its groundwork on how to create a new and modern office structure and system, keeping in view its changing profile and its expansion. To create a new and modern office system and network while retaining the BJP’s essential spirit and approach of work, which is karyakarta-centered, is what Shah has often articulated. One other subject that Shah has always discussed during each of his visits besides the District Office Construction Project was Aajeevan Sahyog Nidhi. The Aajeevan Sahyog Nidhi has been a part of the funding structure of BJP

since the time when Khushabhau Thakre headed the party. In 1997, L.K. Advani launched a campaign he named Aajeevan Sahyog Nidhi Sadasyata Abhiyan.9 Since then, the BJP has been running this campaign from time to time to strengthen the party’s funding system. After becoming president, Shah too put together a systematic framework to run this campaign on a continuous basis right up to the grassroots level of the party. Ever since taking over, he has continuously harped on the need for evolving a transparent system of funding for the party. He has often spoken of how electoral bonds would help curb the menace of black money in politics and it was a step towards cleansing the electoral funding system. Shah’s emphasis on widening the reach of the Ajeevan Sahyog Nidhi was driven by that conviction of his. Placing before the BJP a five-year target, Shah observed: In the next five years, under the Aajeevan Sahyog Nidhi, the regular activities of the party will be conducted by strengthening the party’s funding system. The BJP is committed to filtering and streamlining its funding system and making it transparent.10

Meanwhile, Shah had already laid the foundation stone for the construction of the party’s central office before speeding up the countrywide effort of constructing offices in each district of the country in April 2017. On 16 August 2016, Rakshabandhan day, all senior leaders of the BJP gathered on a barren, unused piece of land in the national capital’s Deendayal Upadhyaya Marg. They had not gathered for a Rakshabandhan celebration, but for the Bhoomipujan ceremony for the BJP’s new central office. Narendra Modi also joined the ceremony. Amit Shah had found a new address for the BJP Headquarters—6A Deendayal Upadhyaya Marg—where the foundation stone for a new office for the BJP was laid on that day. Exactly fourteen months after that Bhoomipujan ceremony, in record time, a huge five-storey building of 1.7 lakh square feet stood on the same site, it was the BJP’s new office. The new office was eventually inaugurated on 18 February 2018 by Narendra Modi in the presence of several other senior leaders of the party; 11, Ashoka Road receded into the past. Speaking

at the inauguration of the new office, both Shah and Modi reminded those who had gathered to witness another historic day for the party that it was indeed a long and eventful journey since 1951, full of sacrifice and struggle, made by thousands of workers who had toiled to build the party into what it is today. It was to those workers, those political workers and toilers, that the new headquarters was dedicated. It stood as a real tribute to them. The party’s strategies for the battle of 2019 are now being shaped and firmed up from this new address.




he first week of February 2016 saw an interesting development in the BJP’s central office, then in New Delhi’s Ashoka Road—it was the inauguration of a library for the benefit of the workers, leaders and officebearers. Ever, since he he took over as BJP president in 2014, Amit Shah had envisioned the need to create a library which would act as a guiding port for workers so that they could, through the habit of reading, immerse themselves in trying to understand the evolution of an alternate, and now mainstream, political movement in post-independent India, a movement of which they themselves are a part. The setting up of a library and digital library in a new format in the central office of the party was the culmination of a suggestion and initiative that had started decades ago, when as an ordinary worker of the Gujarat state, Shah had written a letter insisting that the state party office ought to have a space for books, where workers could spend some time, reading, reflecting and cementing their ideological foundations. Shah’s attachment for books, his passion for reading and devouring books on history, politics and statecraft, and on the scriptures, go back to his youth. ‘We had a massive library at home in Mumbai,’ he once narrated while speaking to members of the library department whose meetings he would make a point to preside over, ‘when a part of it was transferred to our village Mansa. I read these books while growing up, and later kept adding on to the collection.’1 Maratha history, the life and times of Shivaji, Chanakya, Vidura

Niti, Savarkar’s works, history of the Indian freedom movement, history of the Cholas and Vijayanagar Empire, history of Western and Indian political thought, the Puranas and others scriptures—Shah’s reading list is long, extensive and ever-expanding. In a meeting with the Library department, Shah once stressed on the need to read scriptures in the original instead of relying on interpretations or commentaries. He remembered one of his early teachers who used to ‘ask me to read in the original what the masters have to say and to let the soul be the interpreter’. There was a phase when Shah was homeschooled in scriptures by various tutors and that phase of intellectual training taught him to rely on the power of memory than on notes. Shah has extensively read K.M. Munshi and admires him for his writings on Indic thought. ‘Munshi would use his time in the court in between his cases to write his books,’ Shah once recounted.2 Shah’s reading of Chanakya and Savarkar is detailed and exhaustive. He can, for example, analyse and interpret Chanakya’s politics and political philosophy for hours on end. A few of us who had the opportunity of discussing books and libraries with him have seen that side of him. ‘That a person continues to be relevant and is discussed even 2,000 years after his death shows the magnitude of his personality. Chanakya has left such a deep imprint on our political thought and history and yet he lived such a simple life, he would himself walk to the river to fetch his daily water...’ Shah narrated once. Shah’s fascination for both Savarkar and Chanakya is evident to all those who have visited him at his residence in Delhi where the sitting room is adorned with portraits of these two formidable personalities. ‘Anyone who aspires to understand and to govern India must read Chanakya and Savarkar, there is no alternative to these two epochal personalities,’ he often observes. As a student at Gujarat Vidyapith, Shah took the initiative of forming a readers’ forum, which continues to meet every year till date. With passing years and increasing responsibilities, Shah’s love for books, however, never abated. Even as a minister in Gujarat, he got himself fully involved in Narendra Modi’s flagship initiative—Vanche Gujarat—aimed at encouraging reading among students across the state. Shah drew up a list of books that

were to be distributed as part of the effort and saw to it that a number of popular, but out-of-print books were reprinted and distributed in schools and colleges in the state. The effort saw an enthusiastic response and was successful in increasing the reading habit amongst youngsters across the state. The thought that a political party like the BJP which had grown out of a distinct ideological movement, needed to have a library in each of its offices at the state and district levels, had exercised Shah very early in his political career. He recalled how, as an ordinary worker of the party in Gujarat in the early days, when he was in charge of ensuring that there was a sufficient supply of water and tea for party meetings and programmes, he had written a letter to a senior leader of the state BJP that a political party’s office must necessarily have a library where workers can gather to read, ruminate, contemplate, strategise and replenish themselves intellectually and ideologically. ‘The state party chief did not know me then by name,’ Shah recalled, while narrating this early episode in a candid conversation, ‘I was there at the venue of the state executive meeting where senior leaders had gathered, and was busy, as always with helping with the logistics, arranging tables, water, curtains, chairs, etc., when the chief suddenly announced that he had received a letter from a young worker, asking for setting up libraries in the state and district offices. Interestingly, my letter was discussed in the meeting.’3 Shah’s own ideological grounding and his inclination to read, his habit of swadhyay (self-study) was developed in his early years when he had come in touch with Nanaji Deshmukh, the activities of the Deendayal Research Institute (DRI) and through his reading of Manthan, the DRI’s flagship monthly journal, then one of the principal organs for articulating the nationalist intellectual and ideological narrative for workers of BJS, RSS and later BJP. Manthan had succeeded in generating a counter discourse and in carving out a distinct space for itself in the predominantly Left- infested intellectual climate of the 1970s-80s and 90s. Shah never forgot the impact of that phase during which he read mainly for developing a greater ideological

perspective and direction. Speaking to workers in Jammu in April 2017, while inaugurating the state library, Shah remembered the days when he had subscribed Manthan and had just begun his journey in student activism and then in politics, ‘I would eagerly wait for Manthan every month and if there was a delay, I would repeatedly enquire, whether it had been despatched at all, this was the kind of intellectual thirst that the journal had generated in me.’4 Shah saw the journal as the fountain of our ideological thought, ‘It expressed in cogent and powerful language arguments on our ideological positions and points, which were at once inspiring and thought-provoking, so much so that if one read the articles seriously one could gradually understand the dimensions of our entire ideological base.’ When the Central Library Department was formed, one of the first things that Shah insisted upon was the need to retrieve old issues of Manthan, dust them off the shelves and make them available to a larger readership.5 It was reminiscent of his days in Gujarat as a minister, when he had similarly called for reprinting books that were once popular but had gone out of print. The old Manthan issues were collected, and over a period of time digitised and then made available on the BJP’s e-library portal with open access. Shah also encouraged and supported the re-issuing of the Manthan as a journal, which now continues to appear at regular intervals. Possessed with this habit of swadhyay, Shah saw its necessity in a political system. He argued that a party which has evolved through a robust intellectual and political movement and which had put together a welldefined and well-articulated ideological basis to sustain it over the years must encourage this habit of swadhyay. On the other hand, Shah has consistently argued that a party whose workers don’t read and reflect, and fail to keep themselves abreast with the latest intellectual and political trends across the world, who don’t seriously examine, and contextualise their ideological formulations and positions, is bound to end up as a machine, and eventually wither away. His exhortation on this count was backed up by the party’s past. The Jana Sangh had stalwarts who were avid readers and writers. Leaders Leaders like Deendayal Upadhyaya, J.P. Mathur, and L. K. Advani were

prolific readers and writers. Upadhyaya continuously wrote his political columns over seven years in the RSS weekly Organiser. He wrote books on subjects as varied as economics, political history, political biography and spiritual biography. While writing his well-known treatise on economic planning and models for India, The Two Plans: Promises, Performance, Prospects (1958), Upadhyaya, it is said, spent considerable time at the National Library in Kolkata, reading and taking notes.6 The Two Plans was Upadhyaya’s first book on economics, a subject he had started studying around 1953, and was written with references and notes. It was a serious academic attempt to make an ‘all-round evaluation of not only the two plans7 but also examine the history and logical relevance of the concept of economic planning’.8 The study is ‘so loaded with facts and comparative, interpretative and explanatory figures and tables that it is a bit difficult to comprehend the same if one does not have a classical background in economics’.9 When demands were once made by workers and leaders that the Jana Sangh’s economic policies should be delineated, Upadhyaya, it is said, collected a large number of books on the subject and had organised classes—Abhyas Varga—in Nagpur, with himself conducting a number of sessions.10 Even as a full-time political leader and organiser, Upadhyaya found time to read and to write. One saw him regularly travel third class by train; it gave him ample time to read and write in between meetings and organisational work. Upadhyaya’s mornings were often dedicated to reading and writing. Possessor of a phenomenal memory, it is said that Upadhyaya wrote the drama on the epochal Hindu emperor Chandragupta Maurya, in just one sitting, without taking recourse to any reference or notes, all jotted down from memory.11 Upadhyaya’s vast reading has been testified to by Dattopant Thengdi (1920-2004), his contemporary who led and established the formidable labour movement, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh. Thengdi, himself an original thinker, had observed how Upadhyaya, while being deeply immersed in Indian spiritual and political thought, was conversant with writings of western minds.

With all the thought-currents of the West. Apart from Marxism (and different versions of revisionists from Eduard Bernstein to Josip Broz Tito), he was very well acquainted with the direct or indirect social experiments of Robert Owen, Joseph Fourier and Étienne Cabet; theories of Saint Simon; socialist militancy of Gracchus Babeuf; agrarian socialism of O’Connor; proletarian socialism of O’Brien, minority conscience theory of Blauqui; evolutionary socialism of Louis Blanc; the self-help doctrine of Schulze-Delitzsch; and true socialism of the German trio, Bruno Bauer, Moses Hess and Karl Grun. He had also studied Lassalle, Sismondi, Lamennais and Proudhon. He had critically analysed all the pre and post-Marxian European thought-systems ranging from capitalism to anarchism, including all the varieties of socialism.12

It was his ceaseless reading and writing amidst a multitude of activities that went with being a front-ranking leader of a fledgling political party, which saw Upadhyaya produce material that could eventually be fitted into fifteen volumes and published on his centenary year in 2016. Leaders like Acharya Debaprasad Ghosh (1894-1985),13 fourth president of the Jana Sangh and Dr Raghuvira (1902-1963)14 the eighth president of the Jana Sangh were well-known scholars with an impressive academic record and research output. While Ghosh was a widely respected mathematician, Raghuvira was a leading orientalist, Indophile and civilisational scholar with a vast published corpus. Balraj Madhok (1920-2016), the eleventh president of the Jana Sangh and one of the founder members of the party along with Syama Prasad Mookerjee, was himself a writer and an intellectual. Madhok’s biographies of Mookerjee—Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee: A Biography (1954), Portrait of a Martyr: Biography of Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerji (1969)—were some of the earliest and most popular biographies of the founder of the Jana Sangh, and continued to be referred to for many researches undertaken on the life and times of Mookerjee. The habit of documenting and of trying to preserve the history of the party had been pursued by a number of early leaders who had shaped the movement, including Upadhyaya. The first evaluation and history of Jana Sangh ever to appear was a study of the party by the American political historian, Craig Baxter. Baxter’s acknowledgement in his The Jana Sangh: A

Biography of an Indian Political Party (1969), had an interesting paragraph that pointed at this early attitude to documentation that some leaders displayed. It demonstrated their keenness to see to it that the history of the party was authentically narrated and documented. ‘It is impossible to mention everyone’ wrote Baxter, But three of the Jana Sangh have spent much time to aid me. [L] K. Advani, now chairman of the Delhi Metropolitan Council, arranged for the use of the back files of the Organiser at my home, a necessity when my duties at the Embassy permitted me only weekends and occasional evenings for research. Balraj Madhok, one of the principal members of the party and now a Member of Parliament, gave many hours, loaned books and related some of the lore of the party. Jagadish Mathur, office secretary, made available documents and files of the central office and tirelessly answered questions. After the dissertation version was completed Messrs. Advani and Mathur and Dindayal [sic] Upadhyaya, looked over the text and made several valuable suggestions. Keval R. Malkani, editor, Organiser, allowed the use of files for some updating...15

Mathur’s collection of the documents of the Jana Sangh, brought out in early 1970s was the first initiative at collecting party documents, and the compilation was later enlarged by Dina Nath Mishra (1937-2013), veteran journalist, Member of Parliament by including the BJP’s documents up to 2005. In emphasising the need for documenting the party’s history, in preserving its documents and in encouraging workers to study and work on these, Amit Shah was only reiterating and asserting an old tradition of the party that was initiated by the stalwarts themselves and needed to be imparted a fresh direction and momentum. In chalking out the library initiative of the party, Shah tried to further democratise the tradition, pushing it to the rank and file and make it an important part of grassroots political work. He did not see the initiative limited to the leaders alone, but exhorted workers to own and lead it. Shah has always argued that preserving the party’s history and disseminating it among workers right up to the block levels, was important in order to maintain an intellectual continuity and ideological direction. It was crucial to record the Jana Sangh’s and BJP’s history, to document the major

countrywide movements that these parties had launched, among which were the Goa Liberation movement in the mid 1950s, the Kutch Satyagraha, the Berubari Agitation, which saw party workers and leaders plunge headlong in trying to protect India’s unity and integrity. A point that Shah often makes is that the Jana Sangh and BJP are the only parties which have launched or directed movements that were aimed at trying to preserve the unity and integrity of India, ‘[W]e have not launched any movement for toppling any government,’ he often quips. Shah also never fails to point out how a large number of BJP workers have been killed or maimed over the years just because they struggled to establish an alternate political narrative, inspired by a different ideology. There is a need to keep documenting these dimensions of the party’s history, the sacrifices of its workers, the challenging phases that they grappled with, which eventually shaped them and the movement. He has always displayed a keenness for documenting the history of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, and the BJP’s role in it. While the list of books were being prepared for the party libraries across the country, Shah pointed out the need to have a section dedicated to the Ayodhya movement, with books written both by scholars and historians who supported the Ram Mandir thesis, and also those among Leftist historians who held an opposite view. Shah argued that on such issues both the narratives had to be studied so that our workers, spokespersons and leaders could argue convincingly, having grasped the intricacies of the case. Tattered copies of the BJP’s ‘White paper on Ayodhya and the Ram Mandir movement’ (April 1993) were dug out, dusted, digitised and hosted on the newly created BJP library website, while books on the movement were selected and displayed. The other movement on which Shah insisted that there be books in every party library is the Emergency, and the movement to restore democracy between 1975 and 1977. Thousands of Jana Sangh and RSS workers and leaders across the country had come together to resist Indira’s dictatorship and the suspension of democracy. In his tête-a-tête with workers, in his addresses in party programmes and in his interactions with intellectuals, Shah

often refers to the Emergency, how the Congress led by Indira had then converted the whole country into a prison and how Jana Sangh and RSS workers had borne the brunt with some dying in detention and many others being mercilessly tortured.16 These are movements, Shah points out, which have shaped and defined the mettle of our workers; it tested their resilience, their tenacity and their determination to stand by their ideological belief and by the democratic fabric of India. Documenting these was therefore essential for creating and preserving the political narrative that eventually made the BJP into what it is today. A central library team was constituted to oversee this movement and national general secretary of the party Dr Anil Jain was made national in charge of the department. Documentation and scientific preservation of party documents, letters, photographs and information of political programmes undertaken by the party across the country right up to the block levels, is something which Shah holds dear. He sees such efforts essential for posterity and for narrating the party’s growth, history and evolution. ‘Unless we record the contributions of leaders made during the birth and growth of the party,’ argues Shah, ‘our future workers will never realise the toil and sacrifices that have been made to reach this point.’ For widening this effort of documentation, he asked the library and documentation team to reach out to workers at the grassroots, identify veterans among them and by involving them, start sieving out and collating any existing physical record that they may have preserved, which may open a window on to the party’s history. Shah’s personal outreach on this front was exhaustive, his memory of the party’s growth, its history, details of its electoral performances, episodes, incidents and phases that shed light on its growth, is impressive and minute. Shah’s idea was to eventually ensure that scholars from across the country and around the world would have access to the digital collection of rare books and he suggested that they be put in one place, including the party documents. ‘In twenty years,’ he told a workers meeting in Bhopal, ‘scholars from across the world will want to study the history, evolution, characteristics, ideology and various other dimensions of our party. It is

already happening, and there should be material which we should be able to provide them with. We should have a system of collecting, recording and documenting the history of our party across the country.’ The state and district units of the library department, at least those which were formed and were active, were directed to approach veteran workers of the party and to coax and convince them into handing over documents, letters, photographs connected to the party’s history for digitisation and safekeeping. In collecting material and documenting the history of the party, Shah conceived of such a chain system from the central level right up to the district level, demonstrating his penchant for setting up networks right up to the grassroots, with targets and goals which, once achieved, would all add up to strengthening the political edifice that is the BJP. The BJP central library started with bringing together books of the nationalist stream, party documents, books on other political parties, major political movements and periods in post-independence India, besides periodicals and rare digital books on Indian history, culture, philosophy, political thought and religion. Through a series of long meetings with the Central Library Department team Shah asked its members to draw up a varied list of books on Indian history, the Indian freedom struggle, political thought, social reform movements in India, political history of pre and postindependent India, books on the communist movement in India, the socialist movement, on the Congress—since it is important to know the trajectory and ideology of one’s political opponent—on the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, on the golden epochs in the history of every region of India, the Cholas, the Vijayanagar empire, the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan collection, because of his special liking for K.M. Munshi, the complete set of Sardar Patel and Savarkar, books by Swami Shraddhanand, Hindu Mahasabha literature, books and documents on the Muslim League and many more such books which he directed the central team to procure and send across to the state libraries of the party or to upload them on the digitial library portal. A central list of minutely whetted by Shah was drawn up and the selected books were then sent across to those states in which the first series lot of libraries were to

be set up. Shah himself went from state to state, inaugurating the libraries which were named after Nanaji Deshmukh, leafing through the books that were on display, often spending more than the allotted time and at times even returning late into the night for a reading session after the day’s programmes had concluded. In interactions during his countrywide tours, Shah made it a point to speak on the importance and relevance of reading and of study in a political party. Between 2016 and 2017, twelve libraries were set up as part of the party’s library movement. Right from the inception, Shah saw the effort as a movement that had to percolate to the grassroots and spoke of creating state and district libraries. Some states like Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh took the lead in taking the movement to the districts. For the district libraries, Shah prescribed books that spoke of and analysed the ideological fountains of the movement. For every state library, he suggested that a separate corner be developed which would have books that were unique to that state and described its politics, history, society, culture. He insisted that books or records of the assembly debates of the state, the history of the Jana Sangh’s and the BJP’s growth in that state be collected and displayed as well. ‘The political workers must develop a sense of history,’ Shah points out, ‘they must concretely feel that they belong to and are part of a long political and ideological movement, that thousands before them have struggled and contributed to the growth of the party, that hundreds before them have sacrificed themselves for the party, for its principles and ideals’ and ‘unless they develop these feelings, unless they develop an allegiance to the ideological principles, unless they feel an organic connect with the movement, with the party, unless they develop an understanding of the various ideological and intellectual currents in the country and across the world, they would be incapable of appreciating their own ideological traditions and will never be able to articulate it’, he expanded in a meeting with those whom he had selected for the library work at the central level. Shah argues that it is imperative for the workers and leaders of the party to understand that theirs is a political movement, an ideological flow, that the

party is worker-centric and ideology-inspired, and does not revolve around or was not dependent on a family or coterie, that it is a truly democratic structure. Such dimensions can be understood when party members study and examine other parties, read and reflect on their history, understand the process of de-ideologisation that they were facing. It is only such a disciplined study that can gradually make them realise the reasons for the BJP’s continuity despite the many vicissitudes and challenges. ‘If we don’t evolve this sense and appreciation of the continuity of this ideological flow, if we don’t realise our ideological tradition and inheritance, if we are not aware of the efforts and sacrifice that has gone into and continues to go into keeping the movement alive and relevant, if we don’t realise this need for continuously shaping and nurturing the new narrative of India, imbued with nationalism, with the positive thoughts of the nation and the aspiration to see India assume her place as the world leader—Visva Guru, in fifty years we too shall become like the Congress,’ Shah often cautions. Shah sees the library initiative, its message of reading, reflecting, documenting and articulating as one of those anchors that shall prevent any possibilities of such a drift.




mit Shah’s arrival in UP in 2013, as national general secretary proved providential and turned the hope of forming a government in Delhi by winning UP into a reality. However, it was also true that Amit Shah’s knowledge about UP in the initial days, before this, was akin to the knowledge that leaders of Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu would perhaps have of the politics of a state like Kashmir. He was practically unaware of UP’s political parties, its society and the role and behaviour of castes in the state’s complex political arena. For Amit Shah, the expert in micromanaging elections, UP was a tough challenge. The party and its workers in the state, faced with continuous defeat and organisational failure had turned despondent. Shah had a few niggling questions when he surveyed the scene in the state. Why was the party in such a condition in the state? The more he tried to free himself from the question, the more did the matter seize him. Trying to alter the situation in the state would be like trying to erect walls on a foundation of sand, but despite this Shah was determined to work for a massive turnaround for the party in the state. He took up the challenge head on. It was September 2010 and Amit Shah was on his first visit to Varanasi. At that time he was neither the party’s national president, nor its general secretary and he had no connection whatsoever with UP. His sole identity then, in those crucial years, was that of a Gujarat BJP MLA and a former state minister who led a secluded existence in Delhi because of a direction by

the Supreme Court. The same evening, having attended the sacred Mangala Aarti of Lord Vishwanath, Shah joined the Ganga aarti like any other ordinary devotee. Later, that evening, he was to undergo a strange experience while walking along the timeless bank of Ganga and looking at the ripples. Shah felt strange ripples rising within himself, these were waves of thoughts, of a deep inward rumination of which he had no inkling, it was a state of being which he had never experienced before. A cycle of certain fundamental questions on the civilisational, spiritual, religious and defining spirit and dimension of the sacred and immortal city of Varanasi began spiraling within him. Certain questions began haunting him: Why is this immortal city in such a state of degeneration? Is the lap of Mother Ganga only meant to dump the dirt that others generate? Is it the fate of these Ghats to be forever infested with flies and garbage? Ganga is not merely a river, she is the giver of life, a mere look at her dissolves sin, she is the lifeline of our society. What have we done to her? She needed to be saved. Is it the fate of this eternal city of spirituality to be forever assaulted by neglect and corruption in the name of development? It was an experience that left a deep imprint on his psyche. After all what had happened to this state? To this city? Shah was agitated, the misery appalled him. Shah had no inkling of the future. There was nothing at that time that bound him to Kashi (Varanasi). He had no elections or electoral politics in mind at that point in time. In fact, his mind was far removed from these. There was no possibility then of Narendra Modi becoming the party’s prime ministerial candidate. Yet Shah’s heart had hitched itself to the city, the thought of its plight was gnawing at him from within. It was as if he had to repay a debt to the city of Kashi. Shah told one of his confidantes, ‘As soon as I get a chance, I will do something for this city and this state.’ His usually rock-solid demeanour melted like wax at the site of Varanasi, his experience had been a transformative one; his willpower and resolve had strengthened. The sacred

waves of Ganga had, as it were, swept a new resolution in Shah’s heart, the spirit of the eternal city of Kashi had entrenched itself in his subconscious, like an incomplete dream that had to be salvaged, dusted, re-awakened and realised, a dream whose glory had to be recovered and reinstated. This dream and experience set Shah’s eyes on UP. Every day, all by himself, he had started contemplating on a strategy for the state. In the meantime, assembly elections took place in UP (2012). Shah had no role in this election. Instead, he used to analyse the future of the BJP in the state as a worker of the party who was on the move across the state during the campaign period. So focused was he on UP, that he would repeatedly come back to the state, make his own arrangement for his stay and travel during this phase. He was obsessed with trying to analyse the plight of the party in the state. Seated in silence at the state party office located on the Vidhan Sabha Marg, Shah would continuously analyse the challenges and possibilities for the party in UP. The party was completely in fragments in the state and had lost its ground by slipping to the third position. The polarisation of caste politics in the state had already happened and the party was in fragments. Confined to the small pockets of some of its big leaders, it had been reduced to just forty-seven seats in the UP Assembly election. Seeing the condition of the party, Shah had come to the conclusion that it had to be liberated from a leadership which was becoming irrelevant and lacked a base, and in its place a new leadership base would have to be created. The backward castes which were at the forefront of this polarisation also needed an effective leadership in order to bring about an actual social change on the ground. A new organisational structure would have to be built at the booth level and the focus and strategy should be not on winning elections but on winning booths. The agenda of Hindutva would have to be linked to social engineering. It is with the threads of these elements that Shah tied the knot of his resolve for winning UP, ‘Uttar Pradesh Sankalp’. He knew well that the road to Delhi passed through Lucknow. By June 2013, the ineffective and confused UPA 2 was moving towards completing its term.

The process of transfer of leadership was underway in the BJP and Narendra Modi was emerging as the new face of the party. Seeing Amit Shah’s political acumen, talent and strategic thinking, Rajnath Singh, the then BJP president chose Shah as the national general secretary of the party, and later, handed over the responsibility to him. Shah happily accepted this challenge. The goals that Shah had in mind for the state were about to change the trajectory of Indian politics. Sitting at the then dilapidated party office in Lucknow, Shah got busy drawing up strategies and battle plans that would eventually have effects which were then beyond the imagination of his competitors and adversaries. When Amit Shah visited UP on 12 June 2013, he had less than a year left for the mega elections of 2014. Views and counter views were flying thick and fast about Shah’s inexperience of UP politics, with many doubting whether he would be able to spearhead Narendra Modi’s campaign. Shah was himself aware that he was new to UP politics. Two months after his active involvement in UP, a young pracharak of the RSS, Sunil Bansal, joined him in Lucknow. The BJP had entrusted Bansal, until then the national joint organising secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), to assist Shah with the elections in UP. Bansal proved an invaluable and crucial addition to Shah’s team. The command of Modi’s ‘Mission UP’ thus fell into the hands of Shah who was ably assisted by Bansal. Although Shah was new to UP politics, a new entrant to the politics of the Hindi heartland, his experience of making deft political moves and of decimating and defeating his opponents was an old one, his skill in doing that was well-honed and had already seen repeated success. Shah began drawing up a micro-electoral strategy for elections in UP while Sunil Bansal started working to give Shah’s plans a definite shape through the organisation. Those who worked with Shah during the elections told us how he had taken help from some senior leaders to better understand UP’s politics. The former chief minister of the state, Kalyan Singh was one of them. Shah also began to strategise anew the process of social engineering and give it a new narrative in the political matrix of the state. The electoral

battle in UP was on three fronts and SP, BSP and BJP were considered to be strong contenders in the election. It was true that the old electoral figures and data did not generate hope for the BJP in the state. The files containing data and figures of the party’s past performances, of seats won and its standing in the districts, when placed before Shah for his study, only served to increase his concern. On the one hand was the historic and daunting goal of forming a government in Delhi, on the other was the stark reality of a fragmented BJP in the state; it was as if one were wanting a patient in coma to suddenly stand up, run and win a hundred metres sprint in a record time. Amit Shah chose the first floor of the party’s Lucknow office and began operating from there. A computer system was laid out and a group of new volunteers was formed. Series of meetings were scheduled for late at night, so that Shah could use the day for his tours and organisational visits. The same questions repeatedly came up in these preparatory meetings, how would all this work out? The party organisation in the state was in tatters and the workers were mostly disappointed and frustrated. With the passage of time, the BJP had lost its base in UP rapidly. Between 1991 and 2013, much water had flown down the Gomti, the BJP’s tide ebbed rapidly and the party ceded its political space in UP. In 1991, owing to the Ram-Lahar (Ram Mandir Wave), the BJP saw its best ever performance until then in the UP Assembly elections. It was the first time that the party had succeeded in forming a majority government in the state having won 221 seats. Politics in the state resounded with slogans like Ramlalla Hum Aayenge, Mandir Wahin Banayenge. Kalyan Singh had emerged as the hero of this campaign. It was the BJP’s ‘Himalayan’ peak in UP but it also eventually led to a descent for the party which could never really stand up again until Shah’s arrival. A new and absolute polarisation of caste politics had begun in UP, and Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati had emerged as the leaders of this caste polarisation politics. The BJP had gradually begun drifting towards the margins of UP politics. The party that had created history by winning 221 seats in 1991 from UP, saw its tally plunge to 177 seats in the next elections

which came after two years. Its tally further slipped in the 1996 elections with just 174 MLAs, forcing it to look to others for support to get its government a majority in the House. The impact of BJP’s defeat in UP was clearly seen and felt in Delhi. The party that had won fifty-seven Lok Sabha seats from UP in 1998 was reduced to just twenty-nine seats in the 1999 general elections. The Lok Sabha elections had set the alarm bell ringing for the BJP. By 2002, it had been relegated to being third in the assembly elections. By winning eighty-eight seats, the BJP still fell ten seats short of the BSP’s tally. These were signs of an impending crisis for the party but few bothered to apply themselves to salvaging the situation. For the next ten years, i.e. until 2012, the BJP’s role in the UP assembly elections was mainly that of a backbencher. During the 2012 assembly elections, it saw itself plunge to an all-time low of just fortyseven seats that it could manage to win in order to keep itself afloat. Further, the party was almost faced with an existential crisis the state during the last two general elections held in 2004 and 2009, in which it could only win a mere ten seats out of eighty from the state. The mass appeal of iconic leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee had also begun to fade away in the state. The first major challenge for Shah was to understand and know UP and he started his journey with a focus on trying to just do that. A comprehensive strategy for touring the entire state was drawn up. The core team of the party in the state had been restructured. Those who were selected to be part of Shah’s new UP team were his chosen ‘warriors’ for whom only one thing mattered—to be victorious in the UP elections. One of the first things done was to identify those seats in which the party would not contest. Shah then put together a team of energetic and techno-savvy youngsters at the party’s Lucknow office and tasked them with data collection work. Ever since his Gujarat days, Shah has been recognised as a master of booth management. It was this formidable reputation of his that led Rajnath Singh, to confer on him the responsibility for the UP campaign in 2013. Shah’s eyes were set on his target like Arjun’s in the epic Mahabharata was stuck on the bird’s eye at which he had to aim his arrow. A target of

recruiting full-time workers for every booth was set and completed. A communication channel through these workers was put in place. They were directed to be in daily contact with the core team at Lucknow and to continuously provide inputs and feedback from the ground. In each assembly segment, groups of workers were formed. Eventually around 4 lakh such dedicated workers were mobilised all over the state to work for the party with a commitment to make it win maximum seats from the state. Each of these workers were also handed out mobile phones and every day the BJP’s call centres connected with them through these to keep a tab on the ground realities and the pulse of the voters. Based on their feedback, daily reports were prepared and submitted to Shah who, with his attention for detail and capacity for grasping the intricacies of public sentiment, would identify the problems and the obstacles while sifting through this large amount of data. Shah would be in touch with the control room through twenty-four hours, and even when on campaign tours, as soon as he alighted from the helicopter, he would be given the latest details and information which were then used to give further instructions. Shah’s operation on the battlefront was systematic and clinically precise. Social engineering was the next big challenge. The concept of a castebased vote bank, has always been considered to be a major factor in UP’s electoral politics in the recent decades. In terms of a fight for a caste-based vote bank, the BJP’s position had been weak during the 2009 general elections as well as the 2012 assembly elections in the state. In the 2009 general elections, the BJP got 17.5 per cent of the votes while the BSP, SP and Congress performed better than the BJP. In spite of winning 27.42 per cent of the votes, the BSP won fewer seats than the SP and Congress. The Congress managed to win twenty-one Lok Sabha seats despite getting only 18.25 per cent of the total votes. The 2012 assembly election too proved to be the same for the BJP. The party got 2.3 per cent less votes as compared to 2009 and had to satisfy itself with just forty-seven assembly seats. Analysing the figures of these elections, it became evident that the BJP was unable to strike a favorable caste equation in the last elections and its search for a stable

winning formula of social engineering had not succeeded. As a result, the BJP’s figures were not able to attain even 20 per cent of the total vote share.1 A look at the caste composition of UP reveals that there are 18 per cent Savarna voters, 10 per cent Yadav voters, 30 per cent non-Yadav OBC voters, 21-22 per cent Dalit (Jatav (11 per cent) and non-Jatav (11 per cent)) voters and about 19 per cent Muslim voters in the state. Under the castebased vote bank matrix, the Yadav vote is considered the SP’s vote bank while the Dalit vote has been going to the BSP. There is always a fierce political struggle among the Congress, the SP and the BSP for Muslim votes. Looking at the BJP’s vote share in elections prior to 2014, it becomes clear that the BJP did not succeed in making use of caste-based equations to its advantage in UP. If we take the Jatavs out from the Dalit category and the Yadavs and the Muslims out from the OBC category, there was still a large chunk of voters, about 30 per cent, who had no political representation both at the state and at the national level. No party had seriously reached out to this vote bank. Shah eyed this vacuum and its possibilities. With his ears to ground, it was clear to Shah that the BJP would not be able to have a firm foothold in the state unless it moved away from the fabricated matrix of being a Brahmin-Bania party, and extend its reach. Shah’s strategic social engineering started from here. In fact, it was the Congress and the BSP, much more than the BJP, which had, in a sense, popularised the fact that Narendra Modi belonged to the OBC category. When the Lok Sabha election campaign was at its peak, the issue of Narendra Modi being an OBC suddenly arose and was widely debated. The contention about Modi’s caste proved to be beneficial for the BJP. In response to attacks by the opposition, Modi forcefully confirmed his caste background during a public meeting and said, ‘Yes, I am from a backward class. I was born in a lower class…’ Modi’s acknowledgment of his caste affiliation had such an impact, that BSP’s Mayawati, sensing the tremor such a statement had generated, went to the extent of accusing Modi of being a ‘vote bank thief’. ‘He is harming the backward class vote bank,’ she kept shrieking. The debate on the backward classes had reached a crescendo in UP

politics, with Modi being its epicentre. It was largely because of this debate and the political realignment that it brought about that the BJP could eventually make inroads into the 30 per cent non Yadav OBC vote bank which had been actually bereft of any leadership direction in the state for decades. The process of identifying different castes among the OBCs and Dalits, of analysing the issues that they faced and reaching out to their influential community leaders was initiated. There was some unrest among Jats of western UP; in fact, there were different narratives for different regions and Shah’s emissaries, by positioning themselves within these communities, had fanned out across various regions to relate the narrative of change that Modi articulated. The overall tone and tenor was undergoing a gradual change and lot of effort was put into projecting the narrative of Modi’s popularity. The heightened activity took up different forms like Modi Rath and his audiovideo messages, which were publicised through catchy slogans. Slogans like Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi and Abki Baar Modi Sarkar were fast becoming popular among people and the booth-level teams put in their heart and soul in this task of disseminating the message. Shah would communicate directly with the booth level workers over phone; it gave him a real-time feedback on important issues which were both precise and timely. As part of this social engineering, Shah focused on non-Jatav Dalits and non-Yadav backward castes. More than twenty castes like Baghel, Chauhan, Rajbhar, Maurya, Mali, Nishad were identified, while entering into an alliance with a party that had a low voter base such as Anupriya Patel’s Apna Dal was part of Shah’s strategy. It was Shah’s formula of social engineering which saw him enter into an alliance with a small party like Apna Dal, and enabled the BJP to convey its message to the non-Yadav OBC voters while encouraging them to connect with the party. This successful inroad and stitching of alliances enabled Shah to eventually win seventy-one Lok Sabha seats for the BJP from the state. On the other hand, Shah spoke to Narendra Modi and persuaded him to contest the Lok Sabha elections from Varanasi. He was clear on what he had

set out to achieve. A victory in UP was crucial for a victory in Delhi. But the fact that the BJP had all but disappeared in eastern UP proved to be a huge challenge for Shah. His strategy, however, was to create a ‘Modi Wave’ to counter and rise above the polarising politics of caste and religion then prevalent in UP. Shah averred that if Modi contested from Varanasi, it could help generate a new ‘Hindutva Wave’ through the auspices of Ganga and Baba Vishwanath, which could then be easily expanded to eastern and central UP. Amit Shah struck a formula—Modi’s popularity, his own organisational acumen and approach, the organisational support of the RSS, the authority to take decisions vested in himself and added to all of these the ‘fusion’ of effective use of technology—these combined together, became Shah’s mantra, his formula for electoral victory. He reached out to the smallest caste groups and succeeded in creating BJP voters out of them. Through the slogan Har Har Modi, he brought the Hindutva agenda to each and every voter and created a strategy to win over booths across the state. With the exceptions of the Jatavs of BSP and the Yadavs of SP, the BJP managed to actively communicate with and establish contact with all other most backward castes (MBCs). There was a tremendous buzz going around in UP in the backdrop of Lok Sabha elections. The Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 had shaken the entire state. The BJP was in doubt. Many of the accused in these riots were among its own public faces and members. Amit Shah asked for a complete factsheet on the whole episode and a strategic plan was drawn up to counter the stark appeasement politics of the then ruling SP government. The party decided to field the same BJP faces who were accused by the UP Police and later faced investigation by agencies in western UP. Leaders like Sanjeev Balyan, Sangeet Som, Suresh Rana, Hukum Singh were some of those who were deliberately targeted by the SP government and blamed for the riots. By boldly fielding them and by linking the narrative with Jat-Swabhiman, Shah completely exposed the Akhilesh government and took the wind out of its strategy of indulging in vote bank and appeasement politics. A popular colloquial saying in political circles of UP is that: ‘The winds from western

UP decide the fate of a political monsoon in UP’. Shah’s effective strategies turned these winds into a tornado and made it favourable for the BJP. The Muzaffarnagar episode severely depleted the vote base of the opposition parties. These political waves from western UP finally inundated the whole of the state. The remaining part was taken care of by the decision of fielding Modi from the Poorvanchal (eastern UP) battlefield. The state which symbolised the BJP’s Achilles heel just till the other day had now transformed into one of the party’s most invincible fortresses. The results of the elections in UP exceeded all forecasts; Shah’s hard work had paid off. Except perhaps for Shah himself, it shocked and surprised everybody. The BJP and its ally the Apna Dal had won seventy-three seats out of a total eighty in the state all by itself. It marked a milestone that no other party had been able to achieve in UP until now. No one had imagined such a turnaround. The strategy and deft moves of the electoral ‘Chanakya’, Amit Shah, had succeeded in articulating a new definition and framework of social engineering in UP and had eventually succeeded in creating a strong base for the BJP in the state, which would stand it in good stead in the years to come. In fact, Shah’s social engineering formula generated rifts and shifts in a number of regional parties which had been mainly formed through and survived on ‘casteism’. When the results of the Lok Sabha elections were declared on 16 May, by winning seventy-one seats from the state, the BJP had achieved an unparalleled feat. It had polled 42.3 per cent of the votes, which was 24.8 per cent more than the 2009 figure. The BSP did not win a single seat despite getting 19.6 per cent of the votes, while SP got 22.2 per cent of the votes winning five seats. The SP’s 2014 vote share was reduced by less than 1 per cent as compared to 2009; however there was a sharp decline in the tally of its seats. Looked at differently, it can be argued that the traditional vote share of the SP and BSP did not desert it despite the Modi Wave, but the BJP left behind both these parties in the vote bank battle by successfully targeting the 30 per cent vote share of the OBC.2 The false stereotype of the party being a Brahmin-Bania party was successfully demolished.

It was the first time that a non-Congress party had come to power with complete majority at the centre and Modi, from being a provincial chief minister, emerged as the prime minister of India. All this was possible because of the seventy-three seats that the BJP had won in UP. The result was also a shock to many and yet it was not a victory of fate, rather it was the triumph of strategy. Shah’s micromanagement skills had won the day for the party. This victory also reflected how Shah had successfully encashed Modi’s popularity. His masterstroke was the successful mobilisation of the nonYadav backward castes in the state. It altered the social look and composition of the party. There were practically no backward caste leaders left who had not become a Member of Parliament winning on a BJP ticket. This was in itself a revolution in OBC politics. Rajbhar, Saini, Gaderiya, Dhobi and Nishad all such castes were finally represented in the Parliament. Amidst all the euphoria and praise, one question that was repeatedly asked was how did Amit Shah so accurately analyse the situation in UP and feel its pulse just within a year? In fact, without wasting a single minute, Shah had visited almost all fifty-two districts as soon as he had taken over the reins in UP, travelling for 142 days at a stretch.3 Travelling about 93,000 kms, Shah drew up a detailed contact and communication campaign for booth workers across all the Lok Sabha seats in the state. As we have seen, during his tours and samvad campaigns, Shah realised that the BJP in UP had not been active at the panchayat level elections for a long time. Since Shah came from Gujarat, a state in which the party contests elections at various levels including the panchayat, he decided to put to effect the Gujarat formula in UP. A message was issued on behalf of Shah to each layer of the party down to the grassroots that the BJP would contest every election from ‘Panchayat to Parliament’ in the days to come. Shah was confident that this strategy would connect the party to activists from across villages and alleys. Shah succeeded in his targets and large number of people started actively following the activities of the BJP, this

naturally benefitted the party in the elections. A new journey for the BJP in UP had started and Amit Shah was the hero and architect of this victory. Some argued that even the Ram Lahar had not succeeded in getting the party so many seats as did the Modi Lahar. Kalyan Singh had once been the tallest and most powerful leader of the backward castes but even under his leadership, the backward castes had never been mobilised on such a huge scale. About 30 per cent of the voters of UP belong to the backward castes and yet in a peculiar turn, a turn which was reductionist in nature, the party (SP) which ruled UP confined itself to its family, while the party which ruled at the centre—the Congress—was confined in the state to the Lok Sabha seats of the mother and son duo of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. Conversely, the BJP under Shah’s leadership and tutelage in the state, widened and broadened its reach and appeal. He had also steered the party towards its goal under adverse and trying circumstances in the state. Sunila Bansal who had joined to assist Shah in UP went on to become the party’s general secretary for organisation in the state. BJP workers and leaders were euphoric after the UP results. However, Amit Shah was not satisfied; perhaps being satisfied is not part of his nature. He sets targets for himself and after achieving them, he sets bigger goals and then goes all out to achieve them. The task of developing a system that would enable the message of Modi’s popularity to reach every household was the biggest challenge that faced Shah and one which he successfully turned around. Even at the height of celebrating the success of ‘Mission UP’ for 2014, Shah who has lived by the philosophy of Charaiveti—move on and on towards your goal—was still focused on the state; his ‘Mission UP’ was still incomplete. An SP dispensation ruled the state and although 2017 was still faraway, Shah had new plans and had set a new goal for the state. By now national president of the BJP, Shah dreamt of enhancing the prospects of the party in the next assembly elections in the state. Though still three years away, he had already issued orders for election preparations to begin. When 2017 eventually arrived, the Lok Sabha elections victory was about

three years old and the only question in everyone’s mind was whether BJP’s Chanakya, Amit Shah, who had won seventy-three seats from UP in 2014 would be able to repeat history in the assembly elections. Popular television analysts were as much skeptical of the BJP repeating history as they were during the 1996 Lok Sabha elections. The only difference lay in the fact that this time around the figures of speculations and estimates were based on the figures of 2014 instead of 1996. Shah, for whom politics is a full-time job, had set his political target of winning UP long before 2017. Long before 2017, he started his preparation to consolidate the 30 per cent vote-bank that he had successfully made the BJP reach out to during the Lok Sabha elections. According to data from Shah’s election programme, he had travelled almost 52,000 kms in UP from March 2015 to March 2017 during his election campaigning.4 There was also a major change in the BJP’s state organisation in April 2016. Shah appointed the OBC MP from Phulpur, the youthful Keshav Prasad Maurya, as the party’s state president. Keshav Maurya, who had joined the BJP from Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) became a legislator for the first time in 2012 and went on to become a Member of Parliament in 2014. Shah had placed his trust on a young and a relatively new face in UP. At the same time, Shah also continued with his policy of relying on smaller parties by aligning the BJP with the Indian Samaj Party, a party from eastern UP with a very limited support base. This is how he was starting to make the first move on the political chessboard of UP. Sunil Bansal was responsible for placing the pawns on the board set down by Shah, by then neither Shah was new to UP nor was Bansal unfamiliar with its terrain. Long before the announcement of the elections, the BJP had started its Parivartan Yatra (Journey for Change) to announce the winds of change in UP. It was mainly an organisational campaign that was being tried and tested by Shah as part of his larger electoral strategy. Meanwhile a renewed membership campaign was also initiated. It was decided that the party would contest zila (district) panchayat elections to expand its reach to every village. Keeping in mind the potential rebellions that might arise after tickets had been distributed, a separate strategy was

chalked out to contain these. Around 1.5 lakh booth committees were formed with ten ‘foot soldiers’ deployed at every polling booth across the state. Every committee had about ten to twenty members. Thus, a massive organisational structure of 14 lakh workers was put in place. Because of the long interval that it had been out of power, the party did not have winning candidates in almost 150 seats. Thus, posts and tickets in the party at the organisational level and upto the cabinet level at the centre were distributed, keeping this reality in mind and in line with the exigencies of social engineering. Potential candidates who were to be given tickets three years later were in the process of being identified. There was a special focus on the non-Jatav Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs. In the meantime having crisscrossed UP, the different Parivartan Yatras had reached a crescendo. The combined days that these Yatras had sped through UP, were about 200. More than 10,000 small and big meetings were organised through these Yatras which had covered seventy-five districts in the state and had passed through 403 assembly constituencies. A distance of 8,138 kms was covered. According to one estimate, about 50 lakh people took part in these Yatras. The BJP had identified six places on the Yatra route where Prime Minister Modi would address public rallies. In addition to reception programmes at more than 4,500 locations, Shah had also prepared a plan for organising thirty public meetings. This multipronged Yatra started on 5 November and was to continue till 24 December 2016. BJP chose Saharanpur, Jhansi, Sonbhadra and Ballia to simultaneously launch the Yatras.5 The Parivartan Yatra which was to continue for almost fifty days in every part of UP succeeded in creating a favorable electoral environment for the party. Used to multitasking, besides UP, during the same period, Shah was also paying close attention to other states which were on the electoral map. During the Yatra, the message about the tough and hard reforms initiated by the Modi government for the benefit of the poor masses was broadcast to every household in the state. While the opposition projected ‘demonetisation’ as disastrous and saw it as a trump card to be used against Modi, the BJP,

under Shah’s direct drive, launched an offensive through its Yatras to project the demonetisation drive as a ‘rich vs poor’ narrative. It explained and popularised demonetisation as ‘a gift for the poor and a sword for the rich who were corrupt’. Meanwhile BJP cadres actively involved themselves, as part of their social responsibility, in helping common people get access to the flagship Ujjwala scheme, freeing a large section from the ‘smoke trap’. The drive to provide electricity to villages in UP had also picked up and a systematic plan was drawn up to popularise the narrative of the central government’s welfare schemes and their benefits among every household in the state. Following Shah’s directives, by 2017, booth committees had been formed in almost 90 per cent of the state’s booths and on the lines of what had been done in the Lok Sabha elections, these committees were connected to the party call centers on a daily basis. A complete record of regional castebased equations had been drawn up while Modi’s rallies worked as the proverbial Brahmastra during the entire period of action. Twenty-four rallies by Modi and over 150 rallies by Amit Shah had successfully radiated the BJP’s message to every part of UP. Shah always focused on those issues which directly affected the public. All opposition parties had made law and order an issue in the state. It was around this time that Abhishek, a Meerut based businessman was shot dead. Shah’s roadshow was scheduled for the next day. He reached Meerut, a large crowd had already gathered to listen to him. Mentioning Abhishek’s murder and speaking of the plight of the business community and of people at large, Shah announced that he was cancelling his roadshow in protest. People were taken aback and in an instant the murder of a businessman in the district city and the deplorable state of law and order in UP became national issues. With this one move Shah had succeeded in conveying the message of deteriorating law and order, of rising gang violence and of hooliganism under the SP dispensation, to every household across the state. Similarly, issues such as the migration of a particular section of the population from Kairana, of the entry of Dalits in Aligarh Muslim University,

of illegal slaughterhouses, the issue of molestation of girls, the plight of farmers and issues related to the aggrandisement of the ruling family of UP were all raised continuously and with full vigour. Shah directed the entire strategy and led from the front. Projecting the coalition between the SP and the Congress as stark opportunism proved helpful for the BJP. In an astute move, Shah projected the father and son divide in the SP as a sign of how ungrateful the son was to his father who had established him politically. When Akhilesh Yadav expelled his father Mulayam Singh from the post of the SP’s national president, Shah went ballistic asking the electorate to think whether they could trust a leader who had betrayed his own father. ‘How can you trust a leader who has betrayed his father, will he not betray you someday?’ he asked. Every leader from Prime Minister Modi to leaders down to the district level began repeating and asking the same question across the state. It generated a huge debate, on the sacredness of family values in practically every household in the state and remained the point of discussion throughout the elections. These tactics, in one stroke, turned Akhilesh Yadav into a ‘villain’ in a state that is usually protective of family traditions and values. Shah had successfully made use of a psychological offensive against his political adversaries. The weaknesses of SP and BSP were also highlighted among the electorate in interesting ways. Slogans which spoke of the SP as SCAM and BSP as ‘Behen Ji Sampatti Party’ proved useful in giving rise in the mind of the electorate to an intense negativity against these parties. During the election campaign, amidst the SP family tussle and talks of a coalition with the Congress, interesting events rolled out in quick succession. The ruling SP was unable to recover from the public spat between Akhilesh and Mulayam and in his press briefings, Shah, who was on an offensive, kept terming the dispute as one that was all about splitting the money that the SP family had looted in the five years that it had ruled the state. Initially, it appeared as though the UP elections would be a four-cornered contest with the SP, BSP, BJP and Congress in the fray. Congress was prancing around in

the electoral arena with the slogan of Sattayees Saal, UP Behaaal (UP ruined in twenty-seven years). But as the election date drew closer, the ruling SP and the Congress realising that it would not be easy to defeat the BJP individually forged an alliance. The Congress readily dumped its Sattayes Saal, UP Behaaal slogan and was quick to coin a new one, ‘UP Likes this Alliance’. The brazen display of opportunism did not go down well with the cadres of either party. In response to the slogan of the SP-Congress combine, the BJP released a poster with photos of saat leaders, with the lines written on it—UP likes these Saat. These seven leaders of the BJP were: Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Keshav Prasad Maurya, Kalraj Mishra, Uma Bharati and Yogi Adityanath. The BJP was contesting these elections without any chief ministerial candidate and had instead put forward the names of seven leaders who had a ground following on the ground. As the dates of the election approached, BJP President Amit Shah, State Convenor Om Mathur and state general secretary (organisation) Sunil Bansal began their preparations at the booth level. Shah was actively monitoring every electoral move from Lucknow to Delhi. The BJPs Sankalp Patra (vision/resolve document) was prepared in Delhi under Shah’s supervision and wherever he was, Shah was seen regularly receiving updates over phone. The task of preparing the BJP’s Sankalp Patra in UP was entrusted to one of BJP’s national general secretary and on the basis of detailed research and feedback received at the organisational level, the vision document was made ready in three days and was released on 28 January in Lucknow. A member who belonged to the drafting team of the Sankalp Patra told us how Shah kept a close and hourly watch on its progress. Among the many fronts that he handled, Shah had to handle the situation on two crucial fronts. One was to convince and manage some rebellious leaders who had left the party during ticket distribution and the second was the need to create a credible and winning strategy on the media front. Shah had already put in place a plan at the organisational level to contain rebellious voices after the ticket distribution. Some of those seniors involved with the

campaign told us that Shah, following his dictum of Poorva Yojana, Poorna Yojana (pre-planning, complete planning) had issued clear instructions to Sunil Bansal on how to handle such an eventuality. Shah himself spoke to those who were disgruntled and ensured that other senior leaders also reached out to this section. The voices of rebellion and discontent started to fade away a day or two after tickets had been distributed. On the other hand, Shah directed BJP national general secretaries Bhupender Yadav and Anil Jain to camp in Lucknow and impart a concrete structure and plan for the media management strategy. Bhupender Yadav reached Lucknow in the morning of 5 February 2017 and took charge of the war room and of the BJP media centre. Once Yadav and Jain set up camp in Lucknow, Shah’s media strategy began showing results on the ground. The BJP struck on a daily question formula. It publicly posed a question every day to the SP-Congress alliance on the condition of the state, the state of governance and the daily grind that people had to face in terms of deteriorating law and order. The questioncampaign was played out daily during the entire election campaign, with the BJP asking ‘Aaj Ka Sawaal’ (today’s question). By the beginning of the first week of February, Shah and his media team began explicitly speaking out against the failures of the SP government from prominent media platforms. Shah’s strategy succeeded and the entire election campaign once more began to revolve around Narendra Modi. Voting in UP was proceeding in phases and was moving from western to eastern UP, and the BJP had drawn up a careful strategy of making statements before the media keeping in mind regional alignments and equations. In the first three phases, western UP would see polling and the BSP was trying hard to form a Muslim-Dalit alliance. It is widely believed that Muslims who vote against the BJP tilt towards the BSP in western UP, whereas they lean towards the SP in the east. In the initial phases of the elections, Shah maintained strategic silence when asked who he was directly fighting with. But after the initial phases, when polling moved towards eastern and central UP, while talking to

reporters in Lucknow, Shah suddenly declared that the BJP’s direct fight was against the BSP. By the time Shah made this statement, elections in western UP were almost over and it succeeded in creating confusion among anti-BJP voters of eastern UP. This was a master stroke by Shah, who is an expert of turning around elections in favour of his party, it was something which the opposition parties had repeatedly failed to understand. The electoral verdict of 11 March 2017 in UP was historic. The BJP’s ‘strike rate’ was 81 per cent, it had won 325 assembly seats and received 41.5 per cent of the state’s vote share. A dream had come true—the party had won an unprecedented victory in the state polls and Shah was once more the hero and architect of this massive victory. In order to expand the BJP’s voter base, Shah had adopted the following approach—right at the beginning of the campaign, the issue of Triple Talaq was raised with full gusto by the party. Shah himself took charge and challenged other parties that proclaimed to be pro-Muslim to make their stand clear on this issue. BJP workers took the party’s message on Triple Talaq among Muslim women. Liberal sections among Muslims were systematically approched and were assured that they would receive support in their effort towards modernisation and development. The victims of Triple Talaq were provided with legal, financial, and societal aid and were assured of cooperation and support in their struggle. During this period Shah also raised the issue of illegal slaughter-houses, emphasised the need for anti-Romeo squads, etc. Besides all the six seats in Muzaffarnagar, the BJP succeeded in defeating the other parties in Muslim-majority seats like Deoband, Bareilly, Bijnor and Moradabad—and all this even when the BJP had not given a single ticket to any Muslim candidate. It was clear that the party, under Shah’s leadership, had moved beyond the politics of appeasement and of tokenism and had successfully built a narrative based on a progressive outlook and on affirmative action. This is what had surprised and stunned many. Both the BJP’s supporters as well as Shah’s critics were taken aback by such a voting pattern. This in itself was an unprecedented success—it was something that

the past leadership of the BJP had never thought of. But although this expansion was unprecedented, it was neither unplanned nor arbitrary. A detailed strategy was prepared to achieve it, a strategy that was successfully implemented under Shah’s leadership. Shah has a habit of reading books and despite his punishing schedule, he can often be seen with his books. Symbolically, the unprecedented victory in UP handed Shah another book; it was a book in which the party’s future was clearly reflected. It also reflected the party’s high point and Amit Shah was one of the principal architects of the party’s rise to this historic high point. It is not for nothing that he is often referred to as the BJP’s ‘Chanakya’.




hen the BJP formed its government at the centre in 2014 after a decade-long political hiatus, it had governments in just four states. Even after adding up its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the number of BJP-led states added up to only six. Among the four BJP-led states, with an exception of Rajasthan, all the other state governments were formed during the NDA-1 under then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. After the BJP’s defeat in the 2004 general elections, Karnataka was the only state in which the party came to power in 2008, by inching close to the majority mark for the first time in the assembly elections. Although the coalition government of the BJP and Janata Dal (Secular) had already been formed in 2004, it was in the 2008 assembly elections that the BJP formed a government on its own, by winning 110 seats out of a total of 224 assembly seats. However, the party could not make a comeback in the state in the 2013 assembly elections. Thus, when it did return to power at the centre in 2014, Karnataka had already slipped out the BJP’s kitty. At the state level, the BJP’s reach was quite limited while the Congress had governments in twelve states, and the regional parties controlled the rest among themselves. Termed as a ‘Hindi heartland party’, the BJP was seen struggling for electoral victories even in the Hindi-speaking regions after 2002. For a party, which had won fifty-two Lok Sabha seats in UP during the 1996 general elections, coming to power in UP in 2002 increasingly resembled, as was being said in colloquial Hindi, a Goolar ka Phool1 (almost

impossible dream). The party had never crossed the ten seats mark in the state of Haryana, bordering Delhi. On the other hand, talking of the non-Hindi speaking states, the BJP’s role in the politics of Maharashtra for decades had become limited to playing second fiddle to the Shiv Sena. After leaders like Babulal Marandi left the BJP in Jharkhand, a growing situation of political instability did not augur well for the party, and the situation began spiraling out of control. Looking at the northeast, no one could imagine that Assam would have a BJP chief minister someday, and the general assumption was that in the remaining seven states there was no place for the BJP. Even BJP workers appeared hesitant when talking about the party’s prospects in these regions. Except for Karnataka, the BJP’s existence then, was solely dependent on the equations of its alliances in southern states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The results of the 2014 general elections under Modi’s leadership actually prepared the ground for the BJP’s expansion and rise. The chain of electoral failures in the battle for political power was finally disrupted and the BJP stepped into the seat of power in Delhi with a full majority because of the Modi ‘Tsunami’. The symbolism of this decisive mandate went beyond the installation of a BJP government at the centre after a decade; it indicated the multidimensional changes that were taking place in the political landscape of India. By eleven o’clock in the morning of 16 May 2014, the day of the results, even the most vocal opposition factions conceded that this victory was the result of the Modi ‘Tsunami’. The results proved what Amit Shah had said, as head of the party’s campaign in UP, that the Modi wave was transforming into a tsunami. The party’s political opponents too grudgingly accepted the reality. Four days before Modi filed his nomination from the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat on 24 April 2014, Amit Shah declared at a press conference that ‘As soon as Narendra Bhai submits his nomination on 24 April, the ongoing Modi wave will turn into a tsunami.’2

The BJP had polled votes from across the country in these elections. It got votes in those states where its support base was either non-existent or minuscule. Except perhaps for Shah, no one had anticipated the party’s massive performance in UP. A few days before the results were declared, participating in a debate on a national television channel, a BJP spokesperson had estimated the party’s tally in UP at fifty-sixty seats. The editor of an English daily, participating in the same debate retorted, ‘Well, this is an exaggeration.’ It was generally assumed that the BJP’s peak performance of fifty-two seats in UP was a one-time feat and would never again be repeated. Thus, it was but natural that the assessment of fifty to sixty seats seemed an exaggeration to most political analysts. Even the BJP’s state president of UP, Laxmikant Vajpayee, in a conversation with another television channel had argued that the party would win about fifty to fifty-five seats. But Modi and Shah’s statements made during the election campaign indicated that they were not looking at conventional parameters to make a projection of the seats the party would win. In course of the Lok Sabha election campaign, both Modi and Shah had predicted a high tally of seats for the party in the state. In fact, this was perhaps why in a number of his public meetings, Narendra Modi had repeatedly asserted that there won’t be a single state in the country in which the Congress would manage to even get ten seats. When the results were finally declared, Modi’s assertion proved to be one 100 per cent accurate. The Congress could not reach the double-digit mark in any state and in UP, it could salvage only two seats, the GandhiNehru family pocket boroughs—Amethi and Rae Bareli—into its account, whereas in states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi, the party, despite all the tall claims it made during the election campaign, could not even open its account. The seven seats that other parties won in UP were either those held by the Nehru-Gandhi family or by the Mulayam Singh Yadav family. Indeed, the victory of UP was an unimaginable one for the BJP. It has after asserted said that the road to the throne of Delhi passes through UP. Shah had ensured that the road to Delhi was made easier for

Narendra Modi by placing seventy-three seats from UP in his chariot of change. The BJP had polled a total of 31 per cent votes from all over the country which rose to 38.5 per cent when combined with its allies. Out of all the Lok Sabha seats, 51.9 per cent came into the BJP’s account; as compared to the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, its vote share had almost doubled. In states like Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Jammu and Kashmir, where it could not win even a single seat in 2009, the BJP got votes and seats. In a sense, the whole country had responded to the Modi narrative, converting support for his narrative of change into votes for him. The election results proved the accuracy of the battle cry that was repeatedly and spontaneously heard along the Ghats of Ganga in Varanasi—Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi.

Shah’s Strategy: Post-2014 When Rajnath Singh joined the government in 2014 as the union home minister, Shah took over as president of the party. As always, there was no time to sit back, as elections were scheduled in five states—Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh—within four months. These were all non-BJP ruled states. Shah sounded the poll bugle on 9 August 2014 at the party’s National Executive meet—his first as party president—held in Delhi. His clear message was ‘our first goal is to form governments in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir’.3 His approach to elections and organisational activities during elections follow a standard pattern, but his strategies for each election is a different one. For Shah, every election has its peculiarities and while firming up his strategies for these he invariably assesses the BJP’s performance in that state at many levels, including its organisational capabilities and condition, the acceptance of its leadership, and the capacities and condition of the opposition parties in the state. Before he leaps into the electoral fray, Shah is invariably equipped with

an accurate assessment of the party’s strength and weaknesses as well as those of the opposition, and accordingly puts together his election team. Like a general, who has laid out his battle plans based on accurate ground information, Shah’s election management is clinical. Following the established norm in the party, as soon as he took over, Shah formed the election management team and included several new faces in it. With his electoral team formed, having clearly indicated that the BJP was gearing up for elections in order to wrest power, Shah also declared that the election results would lead to the banishment of the Congress from these four states. The Congress was in government through alliances in Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Maharashtra. The Congress was still in power in the neighbouring state of Haryana where it had strong roots. The last assembly elections in the state had seen the BJP poll only 9 per cent of the votes and bag just four seats. This figure rose to 34.7 per cent in the 2014 general elections. The Lok Sabha elections had indicated the prospects for creating a strong base for the BJP in Haryana. Shah is always seen as a strategist who actualises possibilities into results. The BJP had an alliance with Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections but for the state assembly elections differences developed over the alliance. Shah’s legitimate point made at the party’s National Executive that the workers must gear up and work hard to ensure that the BJP won the elections on its own, did not go down well with HJC. Strangely, Kuldeep Bishnoi, took exception to Shah’s exhortation to BJP workers and threw a tantrum over his remarks. It escaped Bishnoi that the president of a party was absolutely within his rights to deliver pep talks to his party workers. The BJP workers, Shah had realised, had to be convinced that they could win elections on their own. Bishnoi, realising that this could shrink his possibilities, spoke of such talk as going against the ethics of coalition politics. The disagreement rolled onto the seat sharing formula. The HJC pushed its demand for forty-five out of the ninety seats in the Haryana Assembly. Shah was unwilling to part with so many seats and eventually the alliance

broke down for the first time in Haryana’s political history the BJP was going it alone. Shah was extremely confident that his party would do well. There were murmurs and counter views that in a state like Haryana where it had not won more than ten seats, it would be unwise for the BJP to go alone. But Shah who had discerned that there was a groundswell of support from across groups and communities for Narendra Modi set about infusing new energy in the state unit. Shah has always argued that every election is important and that he believes in putting in his best in every electoral fight. Modi’s persona and the party’s organisational coordination and efficiency that Shah had succeeded in injecting in the state team saw the elections through decisively. The BJP, which had polled just 9 per cent of the votes and had managed to win just 4 seats in the 2009 state assembly elections, now received 33.2 per cent of the votes and forty-seven seats in the Haryana Assembly and formed a full majority government in the state. For the first time in its history, the Lotus had bloomed all over the land of the Jats. Shah’s tenure was seeing the dismantling of a number of conventional notions and the breaking of a number of stereotypes. A similar situation arose in Maharashtra between the BJP and one of its oldest allies, the Shiv Sena. The relationship started turning sour over the Maharashtra Assembly election negotiations. The BJP and Shiv Sena were allies in the state since 1984 but despite this, the combination won power just once in 1995, with the Shiv Sena being the dominant partner. But the situation had altered, post 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Amit Shah realised that the BJP’s voter base in Maharashtra had vastly expanded and it certainly was not that of a junior partner. He refused to play second fiddle. Making efforts to expand itself is a legitimate activity for any political party and in Maharashtra, Shah had already started to expand the BJP’s base. On the other hand, the Shiv Sena which had always contested elections on more seats than the BJP prior to 2014, wanted to adhere to the same formula. There was no gainsaying the fact that the 2014 elections had revealed the BJP’s expanded support base across the country and therefore it had suggested that the coalition be upgraded to an equal arrangement on the sharing of seats. It

proposed that a certain formula for the 288 seat Maharashtra Assembly be explored. As per this formula, the BJP proposed that the Shiv Sena and BJP contest elections in nearly equal number of seats leaving the rest of the seats for the other allies in the coalition. But the Shiv Sena was reluctant to accept Shah’s proposal. The elections in the state were scheduled to be held on 15 October 2014 and there was still no consensus on the sharing of seats till 24 September 2014. As a result, both parties decided to fight elections separately. On the other hand, the coalition between the Congress and NCP had also broken down. There were now five major parties facing each other and fighting against one another in Maharashtra’s electoral arena. The BJP did not announce any name for the post of chief minister. Shah had already assessed the party’s position on the ground in the state prior to the elections. Having communicated with workers, having felt the pulse of the people by travelling 26,903 kms during his election campaigning, Shah had already gauged the positive mood in favour of the BJP that was created in the name of Narendra Modi. During the entire election campaign, Narendra Modi was the target of the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress, while Modi, by sticking to his position that he would not utter a single word against the Sena, generated sympathy and linked himself to Bal Thackeray’s legacy, and struck a chord among the late leader’s adherents. In a huge election rally in Sangli, Maharashtra, Modi asserted, ‘I pay my respects to Balasaheb. This is why, I will not say a single word against Shiv Sena...’ Modi’s statesman like approach touched the hearts of Thackeray’s staunch sympathisers, often referred to as Marathi Maanush. The election results on 19 October 2014 confirmed Shah’s self-confidence about Ekla Cholo Re (let’s walk alone). The BJP had won a resounding victory in the state. Despite the BJP’s separation from Shiv Sena, the party saw unprecedented growth in the 2014 assembly elections as compared to the

14.2 per cent vote share and forty-six seats during the 2009 assembly elections. The BJP won 27.8 per cent of the votes and 122 seats in these elections. Shiv Sena could only get 19.3 per cent of the votes with just sixtythree seats. The results also redefined the Bada-Bhai Chota-Bhai (big brother, junior brother) equation in the politics of Maharashtra. Although the BJP-Shiv Sena contested the assembly elections separately, their alliance at the centre remained intact and continues till date. It was for the first time that the BJP emerged as the single largest party in Maharashtra and included the Shiv Sena in the coalition. However, the BJP has clearly proved that it is now the bigger partner and is on an expansion mode. Shah proved his contention right that the party had the capacity to evolve into a much bigger entity in the state. For Shah, as he had observed in a press conference after the election victories, ‘the victories in two states, Haryana and Maharashtra’ were ‘steps towards a Congress-mukt Bharat’. While in Maharashtra and Haryana, Shah based his electoral strategy on the philosophy of Ekla Cholo, his election strategies in Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand were different. Since no party from Jammu and Kashmir was part of the NDA, instead of forming a new coalition, Shah worked on a plan of contesting elections alone. After the Congress and National Conference (NC) alliance broke up, the possibility of an all-round electoral fight had emerged. In the politics of Jammu and Kashmir, partnerships based on a geographical basis are considered to be quite important. The state, made up of three geographical divisions, had forty-six seats belonging to the valley area of Kashmir division, while the Jammu division had thirty-seven seats and the Ladakh division had four seats, bringing the total number of seats to eighty-seven. During the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP received encouraging support from the Jammu and Ladakh divisions. It was successful in winning the two Lok Sabha seats from Jammu and one Lok Sabha seat from Ladakh. In the general elections too, the BJP had emerged as the largest party in terms of vote share with 34.4 per cent of the votes. However, the party’s performance was not satisfactory in the Muslim majority Kashmir division

even during the 2014 general elections. Shah, therefore, finalised his electoral strategy by focusing solely on the thirty-seven seats of Jammu division and four seats from the Ladakh division. However, the majority figure for the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly was proving elusive even after combining all the seats from Jammu and Ladakh. Despite this, Shah called upon BJP’s workers to join and fight the battle for ‘Mission 44+’. In the circumstances, no strategy seemed sufficient to ensure that BJP could win seats in the Valley; all the forty-six seats were from Muslim majority constituencies. Nonetheless, the BJP did well in the Jammu division, winning twentyfive seats. It was the party’s best ever performance. On the other hand, the PDP had won twenty-eight seats in the Kashmir division, having an edge over NC, whereas in Ladakh, independent candidates dominated. It was clear from the results that the Jammu division had delivered its mandate in support of the BJP, while the Kashmir division had supported the PDP. But it was a fragmented mandate, since no single party had the majority. It was evident that the Congress and the NC were rejected by all the three divisions of the state, the Jammu and Kashmir election verdict was a clear mandate against the NC-Congress government. A PDP-BJP government was eventually formed on the basis of a common minimum programme arrived at after detailed and comprehensive deliberations. The fundamental base of the agenda was put forth by Shah himself, who observed that this arrangement was being worked out for the development of the state of Jammu and Kashmir within the given mandate. This was an understanding for the sake of Jammu and Kashmir between two ideologies and two poles of politics in the state. The coalition would be limited to the common minimum programme.4 It was for the first time in the political history of independent India that Jammu and Kashmir saw a ‘Saffron’ party in power. On the other side, the political situation of Jharkhand was completely different. Jharkhand had been created as a separate state in 2000 during Prime

Minister Vajpayee's tenure. In the fourteen years since its creation, the state’s politics had witnessed much instability. Out of these fourteen years, there were BJP chief ministers in the state for about nine and half years, but due to political instability, no chief minister was able to complete his term. In these fourteen years, Jharkhand had seen nine chief ministers and President’s Rule on three occasions. The atmosphere of political instability in the state had grown further after the first chief minister of Jharkhand and BJP leader Babulal Marandi left the party in 2006 and formed his own outfit. During the 2014 elections to the state assembly, the BJP entered into an alliance with the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) against the incumbent coalition of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the Congress and RJD. The dissatisfaction and turmoil generated in the minds of the state’s electorate and their frustration with the politics of manipulation was effectively highlighted by Shah during the campaign. He offered the BJP as a decisive, stable and performing alternative. The JMM-Congress-RJD coalition government had been ruling Jharkhand since July 2013 and with AJSU not being part of that coalition, it was profitable for the BJP to strike an alliance with the party, especially when one took into account the prevailing mood of despondency. The alliance proved to be a successful one. It was natural for the coalition to benefit from the AJSU’s local support base, spread across various parts of the state. While weaving coalitions, Shah’s approach has usually been to reach out to and connect with parties which have a presence in clusters of districts, and wield local influence rather than engage with parties that have a huge support base. Shah’s strategy was successful in Jharkhand and the BJP won 31.3 per cent of the votes and thirty-seven seats in that election. Compared to the 2009 assembly elections, the party, had successfully increased its vote by 11.1 per cent and had registered a growth of nineteen seats. The BJP-AJSU coalition reached the majority figure, and the BJP, for the first time, successfully formed a full majority government in the state.

2015: A Situation of No Loss, No Gain

The four states election victory saw the BJP-led NDA governments spread to eleven states. This was the first cycle of success achieved by the BJP after Shah became president of the party. The year 2014 which saw BJP’s historic victory in the general elections also ended with the party tasting electoral victory in four states. But it also led to a new dawn of new challenges. Assembly elections in Delhi and Bihar were scheduled to be held in 2015. While in Delhi, the BJP had to single-handedly confront the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in a triangular electoral contest, in the Bihar assembly elections that were scheduled for the end of the year, the BJP had to face the challenge of fighting its old ally JD (U) led by Nitish Kumar as well as its arch-enemy Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD. It is said about cricket that it is a game of great uncertainties, but the changing political equations during the Bihar elections proved that political equations too are all about a game of uncertainties. The Bihar elections were to be held later in the year while the electoral bell for the Delhi polls had already been rung in early 2015. It is also to be remembered that since 1998, the state of Delhi proved to be elusive for the BJP. This time round, the BJP again missed the mark in the state elections held in February 2015. The strategy of choosing Kiran Bedi as the chief ministerial candidate did not prove effective and despite getting 32.2 per cent of the votes, the BJP had to be satisfied with only three seats. Kiran Bedi herself lost and the AAP won a majority with sixty-seven seats. The beginning of 2015 thus was disappointing for the BJP in terms of electoral results. After the defeat in Delhi, Shah spoke of the need for a revival at the level of the organisation in the Delhi unit. ‘Neither do we pride ourselves on our successes nor do we crumble in the disappointment of losses,’5 he had then observed. As part of the organisational revamp, Shah appointed northeast Delhi Member of Parliament Manoj Tiwari, who belonged to Purvaanchal (eastern UP), as the president of the Delhi BJP unit. Even though Tiwari had not come from within the BJP’s organisational system, Shah was confident of his choice; however, many within the party had then raised doubts over it. In the 2017 elections to the Municipal Corporation of

Delhi (MCD), the BJP trounced the AAP and continued with its control of the capital’s municipalities. The BJP won 181 out of the 270 MCD seats while the AAP, which won sixty-seven seats in the assembly elections, was reduced to merely forty-eight seats in the MCD elections. This was also the period which saw opposition parties were shifting the blame for their defeats on the EVM(s). We had mentioned Bihar above. Prior to the general elections, the Nitish Kumar-led JD (U) left the NDA fold and formed an alliance with its archenemy Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD and the Congress. This coalition was named the Mahagathbandhan (the grand coalition) and came across as a very strange alliance, especially for the youth of the state who had grown up listening to Nitish and Lalu spew venom at each other, a trend which had accentuated after Nitish had parted with Lalu to form the Samata Party about two decades ago. However, Bihar’s politics took a 180-degree turn, and the foundations of a shaby coalition were hurriedly laid with the intention of defeating Modi in the by-elections for the ten assembly seats of Bihar. Lalu and Nitish had both understood that to fight Modi, they had to come together, burying their bitter differences. Lalu Yadav, on his part, had even likened this strange entente to that of ‘drinking poison’. The Mahagathbandhan eventually won the Bihar Assembly elections of November 2015, this was the BJP’s second defeat in the year. It was felt that the coalition was successful in making ‘reservations’ an election issue and the confusion generated from it went against the BJP. Despite getting the highest share of the votes (24.4 per cent), the BJP appeared to have lost its coalition arithmetic, winning only fifty-three seats in this election. The only cause for satisfaction was that its support base in the state had seen a rise even during this negative political turnaround. Its own voters had not been lost. There were perhaps a number of reasons behind the party’s defeat in Bihar but there were two primary causes which had emerged. Firstly, both parties of the Mahagathbandhan were successful in transmitting their votes to each other as part of their political understanding in the state, and no

contradictions cropped up in the coalition during the crucial phase of electioneering. On the other hand the BJP which had formed alliances with local and smaller parties such as Jitan Ram Manjhi’s party Hindustani Awam Morcha, Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), could not succeed in balancing the coalition by harmonising the altering social equations among these parties. For example, if the three coalition partners were contesting on three different assembly seats from the same districts, they fielded their own candidates with each coming across as candidates of their respective parties rather than representatives of the BJP-led NDA. The BJP succeeded in retaining its vote share in those seats in which it contested, but its allies garnered a lower percentage of votes than that of the NDA. Based on the figures, the NDA got 37.4 per cent of the votes in those seats where the BJP candidates were contesting from the NDA. The BJP’s vote share was just 4.4 per cent lower as compared to the 41.8 per cent it had received in the general elections. Whereas the seats on which candidates of the LJP, RLSP and Hindustani Awam Morcha contested received 29.7 per cent, 27.4 per cent and 27.4 per cent of the votes respectively. In short, the BJP’s allies did not perform well and this was seen as a major reason for the defeat of the NDA in Bihar. Questions were raised about Amit Shah’s strategy after the Bihar defeat, in 2015 including his election management style. But those who had raised questions and were indulging in fingerpointing had conveniently forgotten the victories in four other states. A coalition government was formed in the state and the BJP, for the time being, had to be content with sitting in the opposition. In the course of time however, it became evident that the coalition that Lalu Prasad Yadav had compared with ‘drinking poison’ was not a union of ideas and ideologies but a mariage de convenance which was veering towards collapse. Whether it was the statement of notorious RJD MP Shahabuddin who spoke of Nitish as a ‘chief minister of compulsions’ or the mounting pressure on Nitish regarding the corruption cases against Lalu’s family members, running the coalition government was becoming increasingly difficult. Eventually, Nitish

resigned on 25 July 2017, it was the first step towards his return to the NDA fold. While Nitish submitted his resignation, Modi termed his decision a ‘war on corruption’. Within the next twenty-four hours, JD (U) and Nitish Kumar had become part of the NDA leading to the formation of an NDA government in the state. Bihar was now firmly under the NDA umbrella. Shah's strategy and calculations were proved right.

2016: Triumphs and Expansions Shah always believes in examining the causes of defeat and in preparing for the future. The year 2015 did not go well for the BJP and 2016 brought with it the challenges of fresh elections in a number of states. The year would see assembly elections in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry. The BJP’s position vis-à-vis the elections in these five states can be estimated from the figures of the previous assembly elections held in 2011. Except for Assam, the BJP had not won a single seat in any of these states in 2011. Assam was the only state where the BJP had five assembly seats in its kitty. In terms of vote share too, the party’s position was not satisfactory in these five states. During the 2011 assembly elections, the BJP had bagged 6 per cent votes in Kerala, 2.2 per cent in Tamil Nadu, 1.3 per cent in Puducherry and 4.1 per cent in West Bengal. Out of these five states, Assam was the only state where the BJP’s vote percentage, in 2011, could reach the tenth figure. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP in Assam won 36.5 per cent of the votes and seven seats, while in West Bengal it got 18 per cent of the votes and two seats. Because of its success in the state in 2014, Shah eyed Assam for 2016 instead of the other states. He had gauged early that the focus should be Assam and began travelling across the state and logged about 22,000 kms during the election campaign. Determined to demolish the Congress bastion in the state, Shah began putting together a multipronged strategy. Moving away from the strategy of not announcing a chief ministerial name as had been done in the case of Maharashtra and Haryana, the BJP chose to

announce the name of Sarbananda Sonowal as the party’s chief ministerial candidate in Assam. It for itself a target of ‘Mission 90’, out of 126 assembly seats to form a government with absolute majority in the state. On one hand, Shah worked to make electoral issues out of widespread corruption, irregularities and stagnating development projects all of which had accrued in fifteen years of Congress rule, on the other hand, he focused on drawing up strategies for four different areas in the state. Meanwhile, Himanta Biswa Sarma, the most intrepid leader of the Congress in Assam and on whom the Congress’s electoral performance and victory depended, joined the BJP. Himanta began executing Shah’s strategies on the ground. He wielded a strong influence on his people, had a deep understanding of local issues, a detailed knowledge of the terrain and could rightly read and interpret the sentiments of the electorate. A number of analysts believe that not taking Sarma seriously cost the Congress. The bitterness that Himanta nursed at being ignored and at the state being taken for granted by the Congress leadership spilt out in a tweet he put out sometime after joining the BJP, in which he caustically described Rahul Gandhi’s callous attitude towards the state: ‘Sir, who knows you better than me. I came to talk to you on the Assam issue but you were busy feeding biscuits to your dog.’6 While Rahul dismissed Himanta’s talents during the crucial Assam election campaign, Shah closely roped him in the battle for Assam. Shah’s coalition strategy also remained the same for the state. He continued to weave a coalition of regional and local parties and reached out to the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the once formidable party which had ruled Assam for two five-year terms, but had, over the years, seen its influence whittle down. The AGP had influenced about 5-8 per cent of the vote share in a number of seats in the 2011 assembly elections. Shah thus decided to work on a strategy to combine forces with parties like the AGP and the Bodo People Front (BPF). Shah’s two-pronged strategy of effectively highlighting the failures of the Congress and of placing a political deterrent on the vote-bank front proved effective. The elections in the state veered towards the BJP-led coalition which eventually won eighty-

six seats out of which sixty seats were won by the BJP alone. The victory in Assam signified a watershed for the party and gave it a formidable foothold in the whole of the northeast. After years of relentless struggle, the party had succeeded in making its mark in Assam. The state proved to be its grand electoral gateway to the region. Soon after this unprecedented electoral victory in the state, Shah formed the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) to focus on the wider northeast and weave a broader coalition, which would proactively work to implement the BJP’s governance vision. The key players to implement this task on the ground were Himanta Biswa Sarma and BJP general secretary Ram Madhav. The foundation, thus, for strengthening the BJP’s outreach in the northeastern states had been laid by Shah with the formation of NEDA. He appointed Himanta as convener of NEDA. Besides Assam, the BJP also performed well in four other states. As compared to 2011, the BJP saw a 6.1 per cent growth in its vote share and an increase of three seats in West Bengal. In Kerala too, the party crossed the portals of the state assembly for the first time by winning one seat in the state elections. The party polled 4.5 per cent more votes in Kerala compared to 2011 assembly elections. There were also minor improvements in the BJP’s position in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. In a sense, the party overcame its defeat in two states in 2015 through its overall performance in the assembly elections of 2016. The victory of Assam and the increased support for the party in West Bengal and Kerala had silenced Shah’s critics. It proved to be a successful and exciting year for the BJP.

2017: The Year of Successes The BJP was on a steady upward climb, it had expanded itself into several states and had succeeded in forming governments there, however for Shah, each year brought with it a new set of challenges. The most difficult test for Shah’s strategies was coming up in 2017, most difficult because both elections to the Gujarat and UP state assemblies were

to be held in that year. All eyes were riveted on these two states; they would be Shah’s testing ground once again. Before moving on to discuss the elections, it would be useful to point out that out of the seven states that were going for elections in 2017, Gujarat and Goa were the only states where the BJP was in power, while the Akali-BJP combine ran the government in Punjab. The Congress was in power in Uttarakhand, Manipur and Himachal Pradesh, while the Samajwadi Party was in power in UP. Elections in UP, Uttarakhand, Goa and Punjab were going to be held during the early part of 2017 and the media’s glare was fixated on the Lucknow Assembly. These elections were crucial on another count: Prime Minister Modi had announced his decision to go in for demonetisation a few months earlier in November 2016 and the opposition parties, which had opened a new front against the move, had declared that these elections were a referendum on demonetisation. In early 2017, all eyes were therefore riveted on the UP elections and its results which would prove whether Modi’s notebandi had the approval of the masses. On 11 March when the result came in, by winning 312 seats on its own and 325 seats with its allies and garnering 39.7 per cent of the vote share in the state, the BJP proved that demonetisation had received a resounding approval from the most populous state of India. It was the BJP’s biggest ever victory in tough UP. The victory was in no way lesser than the victory of seventy-three seats during the general elections. Some saw it as the victory of Modi’s continuous charisma, while others also considered it to be the result of Amit Shah’s skilful and resolute strategies. The echoes of this victory radiated not only in India but reached foreign shores as well, with even The New York Times conceding that: ‘Prime Minister Narendra Modi led his party to a landslide victory in India’s largest state on Saturday, consolidating his power and putting him in a strong position to win re-election in 2019.’7 The BJP won a landslide victory in the Uttarakhand elections held during this period and won 46.5 per cent of the votes share and fifty-six seats out of

the sixty-nine seats in the assembly. The Congress suffered a crushing defeat winning just eleven seats. On the other hand, the situation in Goa was a complex one because no party had succeeded in getting a majority. Despite getting 4.7 per cent more votes than the Congress, the BJP lagged behind by a few seats. At noon, one of Shah’s colleagues who had entered his chamber wanting to congratulate him, saw Shah glued to the television, monitoring the progress in Goa and Manipur. Once the situation was clear, Shah lost no time and spoke to Nitin Gadkari and Piyush Goyal. Gadkari was asked to proceed to Goa while Goyal flew to Imphal. Shah sat back once the decisions on Goa and Manipur were taken within the party and the situation had been brought under control. BJP governments were formed in Manipur and Goa, with the party decisively staking claim to form the government. When asked as to why he was quick in his decision of trying to form governments in the case of Manipur and Goa, while in UP and Uttarakhand he followed the usual pace, Shah is said to have retorted: ‘What is there to worry about in UP and Uttarakhand, governments will be formed there for sure. In Goa and Manipur, we need to talk to our allies and garner a majority. So the first focus is there.’ This was vintage Amit Shah, the skilled strategist who neither goes overboard in the excitement of victory, nor is submerged in the despair of loss but always seeks to make his party’s victory more complete and enduring. It was mainly because of Shah’s post-poll strategy, implemented at lightning speed, that the BJP in Goa and Manipur could mobilise support of local parties and stake claim to form the government even before the Congress could realise what had happened. In both the states the BJP had secured a majority. In Manipur, the BJP which had no MLA, succeeded in winning twentyone seats and in garnering a vote share of 36.3 per cent. Here too, despite winning more percentage of votes than the Congress, the BJP won fewer seats. The Congress, however, could not reach the majority figure, its

coalition equation with the local parties in the state was poor, and the BJP with its allies eventually formed the government in Manipur for the first time. BJP’s victory in Manipur was significant because it had no MLA earlier in the state, it never had sufficient vote share and was a difficult terrain for the party. Shah’s astute handling of the issues, his active participation in the campaign on the ground, his connect with the state unit led to this historic turning of the tide. Success in three states had finally accrued to the BJP’s account; however the SAD-BJP coalition in Punjab was defeated. It was a defeat that had been anticipated, there were speculations of a high antiincumbency and the results corroborated it. However, the credit for leading the Congress to victory in Punjab was given to Captain Amarinder Singh instead of the party. Electorally thus, the beginning of 2017 brought with it a series of successes for the BJP. The next electoral battlefront in 2017 was in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh with assembly elections being slated in two states towards the end of the year. The BJP’s in charge in Gujarat, Dinesh Sharma had joined the Yogi government in UP as deputy chief minister and the position of the state Prabhari was vacant. Shah once again deputed Bhupendra Yadav, who had played a key role in the UP elections as Prabhari. While Yadav was made in charge of Gujarat, Mangal Pandey from Bihar was given charge of Himachal Pradesh. It was a dual challenge, one was to protect the BJP’s fortress of Gujarat for the sixth consecutive term and the other was to wrest Himachal from the Congress. But the media was obsessed with Gujarat. In Gujarat the BJP’s challenge was to work out an aggressive strategy after being in power for two decades. Ever since Modi had shifted to Delhi, a perception had grown that Gujarat was being plagued by political instability. The Patidar movement gave rise to the impression that the Patidars were not happy with the party and some began speculating, influenced by the Hardik Patel-led movement, that the Patidars would side with the Congress in order to register their resentment against the BJP. Speculations were spiraling every day. On the other hand, looking at the assembly election figures of 2012, the Congress did not look

weak in terms of its vote share. It had won 38.9 per cent of the votes even in 2012 when the party was directly contesting against Narendra Modi in the state. This time around, Modi was not the chief ministerial face in Gujarat, and hence Shah enhanced the party’s organisational strength in the state through a series of programmes and outreach. At the level of the organisation, Shah had already put together an army of Shakti Kendra in charges and Panna Pramukhs till the booth level. He knew that the party could be electorally successful by emphasising the strength of the BJP instead of targeting the weaknesses of the Congress. The Congress was not seen doing anything in terms of organisation during the entire phase of the election. While the BJP was seen organising Youth Town Hall meets to connect and have a dialogue with the youth, and Mahila Town Hall interactions to contact and reach out to women. The Congress had not undertaken any comprehensive programme to activate its organisation at the state level. Its strategy was somewhat like this—it was dreaming of exploring the possibilities of forming a government out of the BJP’s defeat. The Congress in Gujarat had begun hallucinating about a BJP debacle. As the election date came closer, it became evident that the Congress had outsourced its election campaign and strategy to Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakur and Jignesh Mevani. That the Congress, despite being a national party with a strong support base in Gujarat, could outsource its election campaign in the state to these three disruptionists and entirely rely on their tactics of disruption and subversion was beyond comprehension and eluded common sense. Shah and his team highlighted this confusing fact, pointing out that the ‘mighty’ Congress by itself was not contesting this election and had outsourced it to disruptors. Shah’s election strategy meetings went on till late into the night. These would often continue past two o’clock, sometimes at the Ahmedabad-based media centre and at other times at the BJP state office in Gandhinagar. Top leaders of the party used to interact and campaign in their constituencies throughout the day, and by late night meetings were held to finalise the programmes and plans for the next day. This was the near daily routine

during the Gujarat elections for about one and half months. When the results came, the Congress had been ripped off its crown in Himachal and the BJP had managed to save its fort in Gujarat. Despite winning 50 per cent of the vote share in Gujarat, the BJP won fewer seats compared to 2012 elections (the difference was about sixteen seats). It won ninety-nine seats, which was nine seats more than the majority figure. The outcomes of the elections in these two states meant that the BJP had bagged two states while the Congress had lost one of its states. In Himachal, the BJP recorded its biggest ever electoral victory by winning forty-four seats and securing 49.2 per cent of the votes. The battle for a Congress Mukt Bharat (Congress free India) had again advanced a step forward.

2018: Inroads in the North-East Shah’s electoral chariot was moving fast by successfully facing every electoral challenge that appeared before it. The NDA had expanded to eighteen states and 2017 had proved to be a great year in terms of electoral successes for the BJP. It had formed governments in those states in which it had never seen power. But in 2018, it would have to fight elections in those states in which it had never hoped to come to power or to be part of the dispensation. Elections in 2018 were to be held in the northeastern states of Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland. A communist government ruled Tripura for two and a half decades. The democratic space had shrunk and the electoral battle for the state was not just a struggle for power, but a larger battle of ideologies in which the BJP had lost a number of its workers who were killed by CPIM cadres. It was a tough challenge, the BJP’s presence in the state was negligible and in the last assembly elections the party had polled just 1.5 per cent of the votes. Early into his tenure, Shah had already started focusing on Tripura and had begun investing energy and time in revamping the state organisation and in laying the foundation for the BJP’s electoral victory. The other challenge before the party in the state was that it had a weak organisational structure and lacked a

local leadership base across the state. After taking over as BJP president Amit Shah deputed Sunil Deodhar, a RSS pracharak, as in charge of Tripura. Deodhar had already shown his capabilities during the 2014 general elections while working in Modi’s parliamentary constituency of Varanasi and then again during the assembly elections in Palgarh constituency in Maharashtra. Following Shah’s instructions, Deodhar fanned out in the tribal areas of Tripura and began began laying the ground. At a certain point of time he felt the need for a face at the local level in the state, who could help him in expanding and consolidating the work. The party thus decided to send Biplab Deb, a young karyakarta from the state who was then working in Delhi, to return to Tripura and join the organisation in the state. Having appointed Sunil Deodhar as the party’s organisation in charge in Tripura, Shah appointed Deb as the BJP’s state president in 2016. The elections in Tripura were slated 2018 but Shah had already begun preparing the BJP’s ground in the state. Himanta Biswa Sarma, who had played a key role in the BJP’s victory in Assam, was sent as the party’s election in charge in Tripura. The trio of Himanta Biswa Sarma, Sunil Deodhar and Ram Madhav successfully strengthened and expanded the party in the state. Shah’s larger objective in forming the NEDA was also evident during the Tripura elections. While working on a strategy to collaborate with smaller parties, Shah decided to form an alliance with a political group that had strong influence among tribal voters, although it was not ideologically compatible with the BJP. Shah is well-known for weaving unassailable alliance strategies. His sole aim in Tripura was to unseat the Left and form a BJP government and for this, he teamed up with the Indigenous People Front of Tripura (IPFT). There were twenty tribal dominated seats in the state which were considered to be the communist’s bastion. Shah had eyed these twenty seats in his quest to break the communist stranglehold.

There are also some areas in Tripura where the Nath community has a fair presence and influence. To bring the voters of this sect into the BJP’s fold, Shah saw to it that election meetings were addressed by Yogi Adityanath in the state. It is interesting to note that Shah chalks out his electoral strategy at the micro level having studied the status and composition of each booth. He knows well which leader to put into action in which state and in which assembly segment. Yogi’s meetings successfully connected the Nath community to the BJP. Shah visited Tripura on 6 May 2017 for a crucial core group meeting of the state unit and asked its members to try and bring in influential leaders from other parties so that the leadership gap at the local level could be filled in, but, he cautioned, ‘make no promises, and accept no condition’ while reaching out to them. By spelling out this formula of Na Koi Vada, Na Koi Sharth, Shah made it easier for the BJP to build a leadership base at the local level. He also directed the core group to draw up a list of issues against the communist government which could then be used to up the ante through a series of protests march and meetings as part of the election campaign. In order to pin down the Manik Sarkar government, Shah brought up issues such as the payment of salaries to government servants as per the Fourth Pay Commission and difficulties faced by the tribal communities. Shah also paid his respect to late Maharaja of Tripura Bir Bikram Singh and accorded him a place of honour among the pantheon of leaders such as Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Deendayal Upadhyaya. All of these proved to be quite effective. Shah also directed the state team to work on a strategy to ensure that the benefits of the Modi government’s schemes were seen to be effective on the ground, especially in these twenty tribal seats in which the Left front dominated. The BJP also started working to occupy the political space of the CPIM in the state. Meanwhile, a number of state Congress leaders began gravitating towards the BJP. The result being that the Congress itself was pushed to the position that the BJP had occupied in 2013 and almost forfeited its entire base in the state.

In 2013, out of the sixty assembly seats, the communist parties had won fifty seats with 49.7 per cent of the vote share while the Congress had won ten seats and the BJP was limited to 1.3 per cent of the vote and no seats. But the results of the 2018 assembly elections, held exactly five years later, yielded the opposite result. The ruling party was reduced to sixteen seats while the Congress, which got more than 8 lakh votes in 2013, received just 41,325 votes, without a single seat into its account. Within just five years, the BJP had bagged 43.2 per cent of the vote share as well as thirty-five seats in a spectacular win. If we compare the data from this election and the last Assembly election in the state, it is evident that the BJP’s expansion has succeeded in impacting the vote bank of the Congress as well as the communists. The communist parties polled about 49.7 per cent of the votes in 2013 elections, this shrunk to 43.5 per cent in 2018. This means that the communist parties received about 80,000 lesser votes than the previous elections. In a small voting population state like Tripura, a difference of 80,000 votes is quite huge. The BJP, thus, has benefitted by about 9,60,000 votes as compared to the last election and came up with a vote share of 43.2 per cent. It has emerged as the single largest party on its own in the state. Add the numbers of the BJP’s coalition partners to this figure, and the figure rises up to forty-three seats and 50.5 per cent vote share. Apart from Tripura, the BJP also won twelve seats in Nagaland in 2018, an unprecedented increase compared to the one seat and 1.8 per cent vote share of the last elections. The BJP had adopted the same strategy of striking alliances, as it had in Tripura. Here too, Shah displayed his sharp sense and understanding of forming coalitions. He insisted that the BJP separate from its old ally and contest with a new ally which was then in the opposition. The NDA government was thus successfully formed in the state. Nagaland is a Christian majority state and the BJP’s success was hugely significant in this context. The party had once more exposed a number of false stereotypes. It also won two seats in Christian majority Meghalaya and is part of the government in the state with its alliance partner the National Peoples’ Party

(NPP). These series of victories for the BJP in the northeast widened its reach and acceptability. These crucial inroads were the result of Shah’s pragmatism and his penchant for striking effective electoral alliances at the grassroots. During the election campaign in Tripura, a section of Shah’s team had already started moving towards Karnataka and begun preparations for the electoral battle there. As this chapter was being completed the Karnataka results appeared. In a desperate bid to retain its toehold in the state and to prevent the BJP from forming the government, the Congress which had shrunk to seventy-eight seats reached out to its arch rival the JD (S) and succeeded in cobbling together a shaky coalition through allurement, enticement and empty promises. The BJP had decisively won and had increased its tally from forty to 104 seats. The mandate in Karnataka was clearly a vote against the Congress and in support of the BJP; it was a clear message for a Congress Mukt Karnataka. But opportunism prevailed over a democratic verdict. The BJP did not resort to horse trading, resolutely stuck to its stand of pursuing an ethical and value-based approach to trying to form the government in the state. An unethical and undemocratic alliance between rivals is now in place in the state. It is an alliance which neither has the people’s support nor has been formed in a democratic spirit. It is an arrangement of opportunism with an uncertain future. The BJP of four years ago and the BJP of today is quite different. The BJP of Modi and Shah’s era has succeeded in expanding itself to twenty-one states by forming governments or being part of the ruling dispensation. In the meantime, it has also won the local body elections in a number of states including Gujarat, Maharashtra, Odisha and UP. In Odisha’s municipal elections, for example, BJP emerged as the second largest party after the BJD. This opens the door for the party to occupy centre stage in the politics of Odisha. The BJP’s phenomenal expansion, in terms of organisation and government, in the Modi-Shah phase, is quite an unprecedented feat in the annals of post-independent India’s political history.




espite earning such a huge electoral mandate and majority in three decades, the party, under Amit Shah, has not ceased to be active during these past four years. More importantly, it has not displayed complacency, nor has it hurtled towards irrelevance; in fact, it is hard to draw a parallel to the BJP during this period. It is a party which has wrested power with a large majority, formed a government on its own and yet continues to increase and widen the variety and scope of its political activities. It has been a challenge for parties to maintain this delicate equilibrium, this coordinated action that the BJP’s government and the party have displayed since 2014. Between Narendra Modi’s government and the Amit Shah-led BJP, there has been a perfect synchronisation, a perfect harmonisation, with the discordant notes completely absent. This in itself is a unique feat in Indian Politics. The credit for keeping the party machinery in dynamic momentum, for expanding and restructuring it, for reinventing its activities goes to Amit Shah, who has succeeded in making the BJP ‘emerge as the most organised party with pan-Indian following and presence in localities’.1 Through a series of activities, outreach, initiatives, both political and social, the party continues to be relevant and evolving. The legitimate pursuit for power has amplified its positive actions into many directions.2 In the years that he has led the party nationally, Shah has ‘assiduously worked to spread its reach, he has not only gone into an overdrive to turn the party into a vehicle for bringing about a certain amount of social transformation and awareness’3 but

has also ensured that a number of political programmes are launched and initiated to keep workers and leaders on the move and involved in a number of meaningful activities and programmes. The Congress party’s political history has been one that has been replete with episodes of tension, of a tug-of-war between the party and its government. It started during Nehru’s era with his historic tussle with the likes of J.B. Kripalani and Purushottam Das Tandon, and continued with Indira and her party bosses down to the Manmohan Singh era, which was the most damaging for the system. During the Manmohan Singh phase, the prime minister functioned without real authority and political power, whereas the power of dictate lay with the Congress president Sonia Gandhi, with her powerful extra-constitutional and intrusive body like the National Advisory Council (NAC) and her son Rahul. The time between 2004 and 2014 was a period, as Amit Shah quips, ‘when every minister behaved like the prime minister, while the prime minister had no real authority and say in matters of policies and governance’. Two centres of power—one seemingly conferred and the other the actual centre—often worked at cross purposes, with the actual centre represented by Sonia Gandhi acting to paralyse or bypass the prime minister’s office and making a mockery of it. Rahul Gandhi did not accept any position in the Manmohan Singh government but lorded over the establishment, often to the point of embarrassing and humiliating the prime minister. One of Rahul’s most infamous moments was when he publicly tore an ordinance, prepared to handle the issue of convicted legislators, and passed by the cabinet. Terming it as ‘complete nonsense’, Rahul tore the ordinance hours before Manmohan Singh was to meet US President Barack Obama in Washington, clearly indicating that he and the family called the shots in the UPA dispensation. Manmohan Singh’s feeble and coerced response was that the ‘issues raised will be considered on my return to India after due deliberations in the Cabinet’.4 The tension between the party and the government in the Congress dispensation again surfaced, as in the past, ‘ultimately [leading] to the downfall of the Congress to the extent that its very survival became uncertain’.5

The formation of the all-powerful National Advisory Council (NAC) with members from outside the party system, especially socialist and leftist activists, demonstrated that the party had no intellectual heft and could not be relied upon for policy inputs and did not have any active role in policy formulation. The members of the NAC conferred with cabinet status, often bossed over Manmohan Singh. During those years, ‘the Congress headquarters in Delhi, contributed little in terms of either generating new ideas or sending any concrete proposals from the party to the government’.6 In the past, both Nehru and Indira, had settled the issue of government and party relation in favour of the government. Either, they headed both the party and government or had complete control over those who headed the party. Nehru could ‘not bring about harmonious cooperation between the two great offices [Congress president and prime minister of India], he therefore combined them in himself and became the president of the Congress also, in addition to being the prime minister’.7 The high point of this arrangement was reached when the then Congress president, Dev Kant Barooah in an unabashed display of grovelling sycophancy, spoke of India being Indira and of Indira being India and compared Sanjay Gandhi to Adi Shankaracharya and Swami Vivekananda.8 In his first presidential address at the BJP National Council meet on 9 August 2014, which met in Delhi to ratify his election as president BJP, Amit Shah referred to the issue of striking a balance between the party and the party’s government which ruled from Delhi, as well as between the party and its governments in various states. Shah realised at the very outset that a fine balance would have to be struck between the government and the party, with each working to supplement the efforts of the other. This would eventually create an ecosystem of strength, a formidable outreach mechanism. In his restructuring of the party, Shah has always spoken of the party evolving into a bridge between the people and the government—taking the initiatives, projects and efforts of the government to the people and also conveying the people’s feedback, their thoughts and their collective state of

mind to the government. Interestingly, in his first address Shah quoted from Kushabhau Thakre’s address to the party’s National Council in Gandhinagar in May 1998. Thakre was among those leaders who have had a great imprint on Shah. When Kushabhau spoke in 1998 on the ‘role of the party’, it was the first time that the BJP had succeeded in forming a government which came through as a stable formation. The thirteen-day experience of government formation had been finally left behind. Now that it had a government in power at the centre, the party, which had experienced long years of struggle and of being in opposition, had to reinvent its perspectives and approach, and evolve a new mechanism and a way of doing things. Kushabhau had addressed the issue in the initial days itself, as would Shah later in his tenure as national president of the party. Kushabhau’s observations are worth referring to in some length, since Shah himself would derive inspiration from his words years later. ‘A question that I have often been asked ever since the new government was formed is: What shall be the role of the party in the changed circumstances?’ asked, Kushabhau and went on to give the answer himself: Till now, as an opposition political party, we were primarily involved in mobilising opinion against the establishment by focusing on the failures of the government. But now that the BJP is a part of the establishment, we have to reconsider the role of the party. Our main effort should be two-pronged: first, provide the government with direction and perspective; and, second, serve as a bridge connecting the government with the masses. For both these tasks, we must have a constant feel of the pulse of people. We have to expand our organisation both vertically and horizontally, because only then can we reach out to the largest number of people. This, in turn, will enable us to feel the pulse of the people and thus help us provide the government with the right direction in policy formulation.9

Kushabhau argued that the party ‘must become a vehicle that can carry to the government reliable feedback’, and the implementation of the policies that the government has initiated could best be done by the party and not be left to the bureaucrats alone. The ministers, he pointed out, could use the party organisation ‘as an alternative source of information or feedback’, and it will

give them a different perspective.10 Kushabhau also had a clear directive for the worker, he asked them to: Constantly bear in mind that government is an instrument to serve the people, not a goal by itself. Now that we are in power, we should not think that our work is over. That would destroy the the new circumstances; members of the party organisation must be dedicated and scrupulously honest; their integrity must be above reproach. Lastly, the organisation should not become a part of the establishment...11

It is these words of Kushabhau that Shah harped on in his first address, laying down a framework for workers who had to handle the weight and pressures of such a huge mandate. It was important for the party to work to impart a permanency to the popular mandate and in order to achieve that permanency the party had to expand, multiply its activities, it had to evolve into an effective bridge. While reorganising the party units, Shah specifically formed a Feedback Department, giving it the responsibility of collating and analysing feedback on the functioning of the government and the party. Shah also refers to the need to remain alert against the pollution of power affecting the workers, the workers must be, he told one gathering, sajag-sattwiccharitravan (alert-pure-of noble character), only then will they be able to handle power.12 Through his tours and in his interactions, Shah himself has emerged as the best bridge between the government and the people. In each meeting, he speaks on the achievements of the government, on the initiatives that it has taken to empower the marginalised and to bring about a societal transformation and a change of mindset. Shah invariably adds that the scale of thinking is being altered, and that the BJP government was working not merely to reform the system but to transform it. These have been some of his refrain phrases. Shah has himself demonstrated this proactiveness in working as a bridge. During the GST phase. He held a series of meetings with trade and business associations, particularly in Gujarat and made crucial recommendations to the government which were later incorporated. His outreach helped to get the business community onboard. The BJP’s clean

sweep of seats in Surat in the ensuing assembly polls bears testimony to Shah’s effective bridging and his ability to make policy interventions and to fine tune policies. Since 2014, the party under Shah has neither become irrelevant nor wallowed in stagnation. It has seen instead, not only expansion in terms of a huge increase in membership, but also a diversification of its activities. For the BJP, the pinnacle of 2014 did not lead it into the plateau of complacency. Shah was clear that the pinnacle was meant to take a greater leap. Since that summer, the party has won state after state, formed governments or become part of governments in twenty-one states at one point of time encompassing over 70 per cent of the population. It has increased and expanded its base into regions that were considered difficult, and became the largest political party in the world. Widening and diversifying its activities, continuing its quest for an uninterrupted ideological reiteration, inspiring workers and leaders to be always on the move and in action mode through innovative and imaginative programmes and outreach activities, the party has never ceased to be in the thick of action. It has also evolved into a movement that is not only political in nature which but has also displayed deep commitment towards social transformation. This multi-expansion and recalibration has undeniably been the result of Amit Shah’s own indefatigable political initiatives and the successful execution of his team. But more importantly, instead of becoming a complacent appendage to its government, the party has emerged as one of the most imaginative and energetic vehicle and bridge for carrying forward Narendra Modi’s message of transformative governance. What is striking is that the party under Shah has succeeded in becoming both a bridge between the government and the people, a conveyor of governance initiatives and ideas and an emissary of the feedback and emotions of the people. So compelling is its narrative of governance, so sturdy is its political strength, that the BJP continues to attract leaders and workers from other parties, much to the chagrin of parties like the Congress, which have been reduced to a rump in Parliament and across the country.

One of the early observations that Shah had made, when he took over the presidency of the party in July 2014, was that peaks and pinnacles are reached not for rest and laurels, but to leap towards greater heights. ‘We should not consider having reached our peak, until the BJP has spread itself across the length and breadth of the country. Our thoughts, our ideology, our vision, our governance philosophy, our struggle to end the politics of dynasticism, casteism and of appeasement, must eventually be successful; only then shall we come nearer the goal with which our political and ideological elders had launched the party, the goal of making India preeminent,’ Shah has been reminding young workers, leaders and members of the party over the last four years.13 Shah interpreted the massive mandate of 2014 as a reflection of a deepseated hunger for change—parivartan—among people: ‘People want change at all levels of governance, in the approach to governance,’ he says and the verdict expressed that hunger.14 In his first address as president of the party, Shah spoke of the need for the party to work for reflecting this mandate for change. In his 9 August 2014 National Council address Shah called on all party members to work towards ushering in ‘Su-Raj’ (positive governance). The year 2014 was also the centenary year of Lokmanya Tilak being freed from his rigorous imprisonment in Mandalay where he was exiled by the British in 1908 for his revolutionary writings and actions as one of the foremost leaders and icons of the early Indian nationalist movement. Referring to Tilak’s immortal call: ‘Home Rule [Swaraj] is my birthright and I shall have it,’15 Shah asked all BJP workers to pledge to work towards ushering in ‘Su-Raj’ for every citizen of India, and this he argued would be possible only when there is a BJP government or a BJP-led government in every state from Jammu-Kashmir to Kanyakumari, and from Kutch to Kohima.16 At every level—Panchayat, District, Zilla Parishad—the party would have to register victories in elections so that its narrative of governance could be established and popularised, Shah said.17

This called for hard work which could not be achieved, Shah cautioned, ‘merely by sloganeering and putting up hoardings, but by persisting with a certain organisational sanctity and through dedicated and sustained action’.18 Shah discerned early that a robust and dynamic organisation which was always on the move and kept itself rolling through a number of political programmes would be necessary so as not to lapse into complacency. ‘[L]et there be no state or union territory,’ he declared, ‘where BJP is not a force to reckon with.’19 It was in this first address as president that Shah clearly spoke of the party working as a ‘bridge’20 (setu), between the people and the government. This bridging was its real and most fundamental role and for this, workers had to evolve the spirit of Sauhard-Samvad-Samanvay (fellow feeling-dialogue-coordination).21 Speaking two years later in 2016, at the National Council meet in Kozhikode, Shah accepted that the party had played a major role in the past two years, in imparting a certain permanency to the huge mandate received in 2014. He termed the period starting from 2014 as the Prabhav Parva (phase of influence) in which the party had to work to expand itself and to spread its ideology and governance message, and spell out its vision for India’s future.22 Long years of struggle and sacrifice by countless workers and numerous leaders have led to this mandate, and Shah, named a phalanx of leaders from the past who had contributed to the party’s growth and political heft while pointing out that one of the most crucial tasks to be achieved now was the need for a proper and balanced handling of the government and party. ‘Organisational health would have to be well-maintained and there had to be a sustained effort in ensuring the complementarity of the government in power and the organisation. A fine balance had to be struck and everyone would have to work to ensure success on both fronts.’ Shah’s words inspired his own actions on this count, since he took over, ensuring that this balance was maintained and strengthened. The party went on to become one of the most consistent and clear conveyors of Modi’s vision and efforts.

Shah also ensured that the party and its members did not work in silos. The difference between the BJP and other parties is that its ministers starting with the prime minister himself, continue to be active in party work as party members, and discharge any responsibilities given to them by the party. One therefore sees ministers holding press conferences on political issues, participating and leading party programmes and being part of party committees that are entrusted with specific political tasks. BJP ministers do not cease to be karyakartas or active participants in party activities. This enables them to stay connected to workers and to continue to serve both the party which has made them into what they are today, and the government which has originated from the party to which they belong. Forgetting its own past, the Congress party regularly expresses surprise that Prime Minister Modi campaigns for elections, forgetting that prime ministers starting with Nehru to Indira, to Rajiv to Narasimha Rao would all campaign extensively during elections. The hiatus of a decade when the Congress prime minister was not the party’s leader, nor its leading light, saw the Congress become oblivious of its own past, and treat the party and its political activities and leaders in the government in compartments. Modi, on the other hand, continues to keep a gruelling campaigning schedule during elections, both he and Shah have referred to elections as festivals of democracy in which the leaders, the prime minister and his ministers go to the people and place their performance card before them. ‘This is but the natural thing to do, and each leader has to do it,’ Shah reiterates, when asked about this false dilemma that some parties and their leaders display. Shah himself began meeting people on specific days so that he could listen first-hand to their problems and expectations from the government and the party. Hundreds of suggestions, applications and memoranda would pour in for Shah during such interactions. His back office team then ensured that these were sifted through, segregated according to issues and forwarded with observations to specific ministries, party units or the concerned minister or leader. So serious is Shah about the party becoming a useful bridge that he has put in place a mechanism that periodically looks into the specific

promises made during 2014 and later, tracks their progress and movement, often alerting concerned ministers on the works that are pending or those which need further push. In a sense this mechanism is the party’s equivalent to Modi’s PRAGATI (Pro-Active Governance And Timely Implementation) initiative, ‘a crucial platform that is aimed at addressing common man’s grievances, and simultaneously monitoring and reviewing important programmes and projects of the government of India as well as projects flagged by the state governments’.23 Shah also set up the Sahyog Department, whose work was to coordinate and facilitate weekly interactions between workers and ministers of the government. Every week thus, ministers, by rotation, came to the party’s central office to meet with workers without prior appointment and listen to their problems. Since 2014, every BJP worker and leader has been encouraged to closely follow the initiatives launched by Narendra Modi, to learn and internalise their details and then to move out across her or his region and spread the message of their utility and benefits. This has, to a large extent, kept intact the connect between party workers and members, and the voter and citizens. It has also ensured that party workers become the most articulate ambassadors and messengers of Modi’s governance initiatives and act as agents of change. Shah has consistently argued that the BJP’s workers must feel empowered both because their party is in power and more importantly, because they have the opportunity of being participants in social change. In January 2017, for example, he called on all workers to exert themselves to actualise the appeal made by Prime Minister Modi, of bringing about a cashless society.24 He also spoke of how political workers should continuously reach out to those sections of society, where the party’s reach was limited, to the marginalised and relegated sections, with the message of social empowerment, financial inclusion and speak to them of new opportunities that were being created by the Modi government. Such continuous actions and interactions would also instil in the workers a new

sense of empowerment, train them and turn them into constructive constituents of the party. It was a significant method by which the energies of an ever expanding worker and members base could be channelised and directed to constructive political work. The party would have to evolve into a dynamic bridge, it would have to evolve a mechanism to assess and relay the challenges before the people to its government. If it succeeded in achieving this it would have served a significant purpose and would have played a crucial role in further translating the mandate of 2014 into a more permanent support base. But this required a gradual alteration of the conventional way of looking at the entity called the political worker, while the workers would have to themselves relook at their own role, relevance and activities. Through his efforts at reorganising the party, through his regular outreach and interactions with thousands and often lakhs of workers, his ceaseless reiteration on the crucial and responsible role of a party that has formed a majority government at the centre after three decades, through his continuous harping on the need for the worker to become messengers of social transformation, while also remaining politically active and alert, Shah has succeeded, to a great extent, in turning the party into a bridge. He has succeeded in keeping this gargantuan mechanism, this movement constantly on the move and ready for taking the leap from the peak to a greater pinnacle of political success.




e started working for the 2019 polls from 27 May 2014,’ Shah once observed when asked whether the BJP was ready for the 2019 general elections and whether it was afraid of facing the electorate.1 When asked whether he had fears about the 2019 polls, Shah retorted that ‘fear seizes those who are not prepared for a challenge’.2 In fact, the manner in which Shah and his team of office-bearers have kept the party in fighting mode, as narrated in the preceding chapters, has ensured that as far as the party, its battle readiness, its experience in electioneering, its mechanisms for fire-fighting and problem-solving are concerned, these are not challenges for the BJP. The party is always ready for elections. One of the leitmotifs of Shah’s interactions with karyakartas is his constant exhortation to them to ensure that the mandate of 2019 is even bigger and stronger than that of 2014. In many of his public meetings and press conferences, Shah been repeatedly asking one question, and that is whether the people want a strong (mazboot) government or a weak and dependent (mazboor) government. Such exhortations may appear to the uninitiated or to the casual observer as a tactic to keep karyakartas charged, but as our narrative has shown, Shah does not depend on words alone. He has instead gone about systematically putting in place structures and mechanisms that would translate that objective into reality. In the last four odd years, the BJP is perhaps the only party which has kept itself on the move on various fronts and at multiple levels. As a party

which has grown organically, expanded rapidly and has within itself layers of leaders and workers, the BJP has evolved time-tested mechanisms of checks and balances to handle political exigencies that arise at intervals, especially during elections. As far as 2019 elections are concerned, as Shah has reiterated, the party is ready and gearing up to launch its election campaign. He has always argued that for him and for the party every election is an important one, and each election is fought with the same tenacity and seriousness. He has often said that elections must be fought with great clarity and with the aim of winning. Under him, the BJP is seen entering 2019 with a never seen before organisational confidence and preparedness combined with a sense of achievement which is best reflected in the stability, decisiveness and innovativeness in governance that it has been able to provide to the people. A decisive leader, a leader with a clearly articulated and affirmative vision heads its government, and by the time elections would have been announced this period of stability, decisiveness and of performance will become the BJP’s strongest talking point. Narendra Modi’s government has displayed a firm will to fight corruption, in contrast to the days of Congress rule when cronyism, nepotism and favouritism were the order of the day. Each UPA scam saw the name of a senior ruling party leader crop up, while such a thing has been entirely absent in the Modi regime. It is this determination to fight poverty and corruption, this ceaseless reiteration of the need to eradicate these at all levels, which has created for the Narendra Modi dispensation, a reservoir of goodwill and a greater acceptance among a wider cross section. In the last four years and more, Modi’s narrative of transformative governance has been able to make inroads especially among those sections which are seen as marginalised. The party and the government headed by Shah and Modi respectively do not shy away from taking the challenge of elections head on. The duo have never hesitated in presenting their governance report card before the people, throughout the years that they have been in power. In the states where the BJP rules, it has set a similar trend.

This constant engagement on issues of governance and accountability is what sets the BJP apart from its political opponents. The challenge before the BJP for 2019, in fact before the country as a whole, is of another nature, similar to the challenge that had raised its head in 2014. It is the challenge of narratives. During the 2014 elections, while Narendra Modi spoke of the India of the future, an India that would, through her own potential rise up to be a leading power, an India that would take on the various social challenges that afflicted her polity since ages, an India that would work to empower the most marginalised and deprived, the Congress and its feeder parties such as the communists parties, the SP and the BSP toiled overtime to keep the narrative stymied, and bogged down to the past. While Modi articulated his vision of a ‘New India’ these parties harked back to the past, and drew up a false spectre of an India that would fragment and scatter if Modi came to power. When blasts ripped through the Gandhi Maidan in Patna during Modi’s election rally on 27 October 2013, an unshakable Modi had called for people to remain calm and ask themselves whether they wanted to fight each other or fight jointly against poverty and hunger. The negative stereotypes around Modi that the Congress ecosystem of irresponsible activists, intellectuals and communists had managed to create, came crashing down, crumbling the hopes of seeing Modi defeated. It was Modi’s statesman-moment and, in the midst of that crisis, the people responded to him spontaneously and overwhelmingly. Gandhi Maidan was also Modi’s finest moment, that morning he leaped into the pantheon of statesmanship. For those who hounded him, who tried to fit him into various moulds so that they could then harangue and harass him, Modi proved elusive; through his statesmanlike response to the calamity, he had once more escaped their false labels and stereotypes. Modi, Shah and the BJP have succeeded in posing a formidable challenge to the contours of old politics that props itself up on appeasement, casteism and dynasticism. Since the duo have posed such a challenge to these entrenched negativities—‘destructive demons’ as Shah terms them—of Indian politics, since they have taken these head on in their determination to

alter the political discourse, they are being opposed by those very parties whose politics derives oxygen from these. So shaken are these parties at the turn of events, that they are trying to come together despite being poles apart. ‘There are remote indications that in UP, the two threatened parties—BSP and SP—are beginning to reluctantly try and explore a combined electoral prospect despite being sworn adversaries for decades. However, even if such an alliance is worked out it will be a tenuous one.’ The Congress on the other hand, through decades of experience in generating bush fires of conflict and societal tensions, is feeling equally threatened and is therefore encouraging violent and disruptive elements to try and discredit Modi, his government and the BJP. Its intent at subversion is increasingly becoming clear. Since the apocalypse that the Congress leadership and its intellectual drumbeaters from among the civil society activists and the communist parties had predicted did not come about, they tried to create situations of conflict in order to try and prove their prediction right. Just after the Gujarat election verdict which saw the BJP win for a record sixth time in a row, Modi cautioned BJP workers and people in general that in the days to come, a number of elements would try once more to stir the poison pots of casteism and communalism. He had warned that elements that wish to see India bogged down in internecine conflict would regroup and attempt to strike back. Modi’s prediction was proven right: some events and episodes during the months that followed the Gujarat verdict went on to confirm his prescience. The kind of language and the incitement to violence that elements like Jignesh Mevani utter, the support that Congress and Rahul Gandhi extend to him and to others who call for destruction and violence, all indicate a deepseated frustration and confusion. The Congress and some other opposition parties, especially the communist parties have consistently tried to cloak their political mobilisation with the cover of socio-economic movements. The challenge for India is to counter the propensity to violence that these parties and leaders exude and to neutralise their divisive campaign. The narrative of the marginalised is gradually slipping out of the hands of those who have, all

these years, held the marginalised hostage to their politics of division and confrontation. The Congress’s opposition to the formation of an OBC Commission, its opposition to empowering Muslim women through the ban on Triple Talaq, the communists, naxals and Congress’s penchant for fanning the fires of caste conflict—all of these stem from a feeling of powerlessness. It is a feeling of powerlessness which arises from the realisation that politically and electorally, the narrative is slipping out of their control. The opposition in Indian politics today is an opposition that is plagued by many narratives. In the months to come these many narratives will often clash and jostle for space. Over the last three decades, all efforts at creating a third alternative in Indian politics have mostly been momentary efforts, prodded by individual ambition and bereft of policy, direction and leaders. The present effort at creating a third or a federal front is again an uncertain one. It is already plagued by too many leadership claimants, conflicting policies, clashing ambitions and nebulous and half-created narratives. These can never challenge the refreshing, cohesive and positive narrative that Narendra Modi has put in place in the last four years. Modi remains steadfast and unmoved in his determination to make the New India narrative triumph. The leaders and parties who are trying to resurrect the failed saga of a third alternative in Indian politics have themselves very little influence outside their own states and their record of governance, especially in a state like West Bengal, leaves much to be desired. Mamata Banerjee, for example, has hardly any influence beyond the border of West Bengal. Whatever pockets of influence and presence that her Trinamool Congress (TMC) had in the northeast have disappeared with the disappearance of its units, and their leaders have merged with the BJP. Mamata’s own record of maintaining law and order in the state, of protecting democratic rights and the democratic political space is dismal. The state has been convulsed with violence as soon as the panchayat polls were announced in April 2018. Lumpens and armed goons patronised by the TMC prevented opposition candidates from filing their nominations. BJP workers especially bore the brunt of these marauding attacks, since the TMC sees the BJP as its principal political rival. Mamata’s

mercurial temperament and her irrational outbursts make it unlikely that she will be acceptable to the other leaders. She herself has begun fancying her chances as prime minister at the head of a federal front, while the Congress wants Rahul Gandhi to lead a combined opposition oust-Modi front. Within the proposed ‘Federal Front’ too contradictions keep emerging and there is no clear leader who can bring the disparate parties together. The challenge of acceptability, cohesive leadership and credible vision continues to stymie the growth of such a front. With its defeat in the Tripura Assembly elections at the hands of the BJP, the communist parties, especially the CPIM have been reduced to a rump. Unable to attract fresh energy and cadre, to articulate an alternate political programme, and divided internally over political issues and positions, the Indian communist parties face an existential crisis too. The only serious and ongoing debate in these parties is whether to append themselves to the Congress or whether to go it alone. Communists like Karat, Yechury and Sudhakar Reddy do not have the stature of a Harkishan Singh Surjeet or an A.B. Bardhan, and are incapable of taking the lead in trying to cobble up an anti-Modi front. Their own survival is dependent on the political doles of the Congress. The Left as a whole, however, retains its mischief-making capacities by operating through its ecosystem and by periodically carrying out placard campaigns against the Modi regime. A BJP victory in 2019 will seriously jeopardise the Left’s political existence and future in India. Among the parties that are now struggling to create an anti-Modi front, driven by blind and irrational anti-Modism, there appears to be a clear trust deficit. This is evident when one tries to press these parties and their leaders to clearly articulate their alternative for India and to name the leader of this alternative. Two things, however, definitely emerge out of this directionless churning: one, that these leaders have nothing to offer except blind opposition and a hatred for Modi, and two, that the Congress and its aimless president Rahul Gandhi is certainly not seen as the pole or leader of this conglomeration. The ‘reinvention of Rahul’ has, it appears, failed to impress the leaders

and the rank and file of the other parties. Moreover the ‘reinvention’ has also not been able to impress the rank and file of the Congress. Wizened and seasoned leaders of other parties would surely not want to be led by a lad who has no experience in administration, and is a comparative newcomer to the Parliament compared to them. It is to be seen whether a Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar, Chandrababu Naidu, K. Chandrashekhar Rao, accept to come together under the leadership banner of Sonia Gandhi’s political heir. Rahul obviously lacks the charisma and political depth of Indira Gandhi, and the sweep of Jawaharlal Nehru, and as a parliamentarian he is a non-starter if one were to compare him with his grandfather—Feroze Gandhi—the formidable parliamentarian and forgotten Gandhi. Rahul rarely come forward to bring leaders of various parties together. He has been parachuted as Congress president. As a dynast he lacks the grassroots connect and understanding that both Modi and Shah naturally possess. His understanding and discovery of India and her polity is superficial, secondhand, biased and piecemeal. Rahul is thus unacceptable to a wide array of these leaders; it is evident that they don’t see him as their leader. His inability to infuse new energy in the rank and file of his own party, his politics of temple-hopping opportunism, his penchant for demonising the majority community, his inability to articulate a vision for India, his disconnect from the grassroots and his callow political demeanour, all converge to make him ineligible to lead a combined opposition charge against Modi. In the last four years, and in the months since Rahul has become president of the Congress, no serious effort has been made to reorganise the party. In the Congress plenary in March 2018, all that Rahul Gandhi did was to hurl abuse at Modi and Shah. His speech was laced with rhetoric and shallow sarcasm, and failed to articulate his vision of India as opposed to the one Modi espoused. Egged on by a motley group of civil society activists, retired bureaucrats with heavy political biases, some erstwhile members of the National Advisory Council (NAC), his mother’s kitchen-cabinet, supported by the increasingly fading communist parties, who by hitching themselves to

the Congress bandwagon see for themselves a chance for political survival, Rahul has encouraged some of the most disruptive elements in Indian polity. These elements, unhesitatingly, call for India’s dismemberment, as was done by groups in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in February 2016. They rejoice when members of the Indian security forces are mowed down by insurgents or terrorists, they go abroad at the invitations of various institutions and organisations with a keenly negative interest in India and speak of the calamitous present and future of India under Modi. It is to these subversive elements that the Congress party under Rahul Gandhi has extended support; in short, Rahul has driven the party to lend its shoulder and stand by elements who wish to see Indian society convulsed with internal conflict and clashes. He exposed his disdain for India’s unity and integrity and for our security forces the day he stood in solidarity in JNU besides those who called for India’s tukde tukde (fragmentation). The challenge before the BJP, that is India’s challenge for 2019, is to tackle these break-India forces, to firmly root the narrative of Indian nationalism, to speak for India’s unity and integrity, for the sacredness of freedom and for the sanctity of democratic institutions. Within a few months of BJPs coming to power in 2014, one saw how the church-attack phase suddenly erupted, and how the ecosystem, which had created this false narrative of churches in India being destroyed, heaped calumny on Modi and the BJP. The episode died a quiet death once these were exposed as isolated incidents of petty arson or accident. Many more such concocted episodes and phases have occurred since then and as 2019 advances, many more will be manufactured and raise their ugly heads. The BJP’s May 2014 victory and the fact that it happened because of Narendra Modi, the stark fact that Modi could command a resounding majority for the party, that he could be accepted by the electorate as a leader with a credible narrative, with reliable capacity and a zeal to transform India, was a fait accompli that was too hard to accept for a number of conglomerates, who were used to controlling and directing the Indian narrative without accountability or allegiance to India herself.

While the Congress’s first family took its May 2014 electoral rout personally, the larger ecosystem that it had spawned, nurtured and bred over the decades and which had continuously defended it, after suffering from an initial bout of depression went into an overdrive to project to the world at large that India was on the verge of collapse now that Modi had come. During the 2014 election campaign, this ecosystem had failed to impose its divisive narrative. Modi’s narrative of inclusion, non-appeasement, equal opportunity and prosperity triumphed. It was also the moment a new nationalism, a positive nationalism that did not pursue denominational discrimination, in so far as the fruits of development were concerned, had emerged. Modi promised an end to such motivated discrimination which had been the hallmark of the Congress system. He had once spoken of how the poor— regardless of which community they belonged to—had the first right over resources. This was in contrast to the Congress’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had argued that the minorities have the first right over resources. Modi, thus, had decisively begun dismantling the Congress and Nehruvian mindset; he spoke of working to empower, and not to continue to keep the marginalised and the poor dependent on the system; he spoke of an enabling environment as opposed to a system that thrived on doles, political patronage and cronyism. Modi and Shah’s steadfast determination to end the politics of appeasement, of casteism and of dynasticism is something that unnerves this ecosystem of subversion. In fact, Modi has dealt a decisive blow to this ecosystem. This has united disparate elements within the ecosystem, struggling for their survival, in their hatred for Modi and the party he leads. As one veteran observer of Indian politics puts it: The victory of Narendra Modi in May 2014 was a great shock to the Gandhi family ecosystem in unexpected ways. First, the scale of the Congress defeat was spectacular. Secondly, Modi was a complete outsider to Lutyens’ Delhi. He not only shunned the existing social network that had been spawned by the Congress system, he dispensed with power brokers altogether. In fact, Modi attacked the

roots of the patronage system that kept the Lutyens system going, a process complemented by demonetisation and the wider attacks on black money generation... In three years, Modi hasn’t destroyed the Lutyens circuit but he has undermined them as never before. This would explain the intensity of their anger against the present regime, an anger that goes well beyond political rivalry.3

As 2019 nears, the BJP’s challenge will be to take on this eco-system, to counter and tackle the fake and false stereotypes and alarms that this ecosystem will keep churning out with impunity. Politically, the Congress’s footprint under Rahul Gandhi has been shrinking. Ironically, the crushing defeat of 2014—with its vote share plummeting to 19.3 per cent—did not goad the Congress leadership to seriously introspect or to reorganise the party. Instead the massive defeat has led the party to increasingly resort to the politics of disruptions. Its president regularly goes abroad and makes false depictions of Indian conditions in order to try and generate an anti-BJP mood among diaspora and within sections of the Western intelligentsia. All this happens while the once mighty party, keeps losing its deposits in by-elections, cedes state after state to the BJP. Even in the northeast, where it ruled for decades, the party has ceded space to the BJP or to coalitions headed by the BJP or in which the BJP is an important constituent. For years the Congress had falsely demonised the BJP as being an antiminority party, a party which has always worked against minority interests. But with the recent electoral verdicts in the states of the northeast going in favour of the BJP, that false stereotype is also dying a gradual death. The Congress under Rahul refuses to see the existential crisis staring it in the face. It does not realise that the politics of mere obstructionism, of name-calling, of fanning bush fires and of abusing Modi will not take it very far. Obsessed with trying to hold on to and perpetuate its old style politics of identity and of ‘self-alienation’, the Congress is doggedly trying to resist Modi and Shah’s attempt at redefining the political narrative of India by pushing it to the next level of discourse in which the points of debate hinge on empowerment, opportunity and performance. The politics of self-

alienation that the Congress has practised for decades and continues to perpetuate ‘stirs up regional and communal differences and uses minorities in order to perpetuate a party or dynastic rule’ and resorts to the politics of ‘fraud, force and imposition’.4 The Congress’s recent attempt to divide the Lingayat community in Karnataka is one more example of how the party perpetuates the old politics of division, conflict and confusion. One of the challenges for the Indian polity as a whole is to rein in the Congress’s fallacious penchant for tarnishing India’s constitutional institutions, to block its habit of holding India’s democratic institutions to ransom whenever it is out of power and to finally neutralise its increasing propensity to generate false conflicts within Indian society. Rahul Gandhi’s Congress is desperate to dislodge Modi but in that irrational desperation, it fails to discern its own shrinking and reduced future. For the BJP, with its robust organisational structure, with performing governments in over twenty states and with its active governance narrative which is seeing increasing acceptance, 2019 is a welcome year, a year when it will again go to the people and once more assert and articulate its achievements and its vision of a ‘New India’. The challenges of antiincumbency may be there for its state governments, and the just announced assembly elections in the three states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in December 2018 pose a challenge for the BJP. In Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the challenge is sharp because the states have seen a BJP dispensation for the last three terms while the political history of Rajasthan shows that generally no incumbent has returned to power for a second consecutive term. But the party approaches 2019 with confidence, despite some observers arguing to the contrary, and this confidence stems from its government’s dynamism on the governance front and from the party’s continuous political activities, innovative outreach initiatives and expansion. The party’s growth, expansion, restructuring and innovation all of which

have been achieved through an imaginative, pragmatic, focused, determined and action-oriented leadership, impart it a deeper and more rooted confidence in its future. The fascinating saga of the rise of the BJP since 2014 is a saga that needs to be narrated; it is a continuing saga that will further unfold in 2019.

ENDNOTES Chapter 1 1. Swapan Dasgupta, ‘Narendra Modi and the Politics of Governance’ in Bibek Debroy and Ashok Malik (eds), [email protected] [email protected]: Capturing India’s Transformation under Narendra Modi. New Delhi: Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation and Wisdom Tree, 2017, pp.11– 12. 2. Ibid. 3. B. Raman, ‘Assertion of Youth Power in Support of Narendra Modi’ in Raman’s Strategic Analysis, accessed on 15 January 2018. 4. ‘India: Another Tryst with Destiny’ in The Guardian, Sunday, 18 May 2014. 5. Bibek Debroy, Ashok Malik op. cit., p. viii. 6. The Guardian, Sunday, op. cit. 7. Ibid. 8. Ibid. 9. Prashanto Kumar Chatterji, Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Indian Politics. New Delhi: Foundation Books, revised edition, 2015, p. 274. 10. Ibid. 11. H. V. Seshadri (ed.), Dr Hedgewar—The Epoch Maker: A Biography. Bengaluru: Sahitya Sindhu Prakashana, fourth edition, 2015, pp. 174– 175. 12. Chatterji, op. cit., p. 274. 13. Balraj Madhok, Portrait of a Martyr: A Biography of Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. New Delhi: Rupa & Co, centenary edition, 2001, p. 137. 14. Prashanto Kumar Chatterji, Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Indian Politics. New Delhi: Foundation Books, revised edition, 2015, p. 300.

15. Ibid., p. 153. 16. Bruce Graham, Hindu Nationalism and Indian Politics: The Origins and Development of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 41. 17. Craig Baxter, The Jana Sangh: A Biography of an Indian Political Party. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969, p. 1. 18. Madhu Limaye, Birth of Non-Congressism: Opposition Politics, 19471975. Delhi: B. R. Publishing, 1988, p. 309. 19. Deendayal Upadhyaya, Political Diary. New Delhi: Suruchi Prakashan, third edition, 2014, p. 172. 20. Bharatiya Janata Party: Party Document (1980-2005) (Presidential Speeches-Part-II) Vol. 3. New Delhi: BJP, 2005, p. 302. 21. Baxter, op. cit., pp. 289–290. 22. Ibid. 23. Bharatiya Jana Sangh: Party Document (1952-1980) (Internal Affairs) Vol.4. New Delhi: BJP, 2005, p. 230. 24. Kingshuk Nag, The Saffron Tide: The Rise of the BJP. New Delhi: Rupa & Co, 2014, p. 53. 25. Bharatiya Jana Sangh: Party Documents, Vol.4, op. cit., p. 230. 26. Ibid., p. 231. 27. Ibid. 28. Craig Baxter, op. cit., p. 285. 29. For a detailed reading of the Jana Sangh and the role of RSS in resisting the Emergency see, for example, P. G. Sahasrabuddhe and Manik Chandra Vajpayee, The People versus Emergency: A Saga of Struggle (Apaatkaleen Sangharshgatha translated by Sudhakar Raje). New Delhi: Suruchi Prakashan, 1991. 30. The Indian Express, New Delhi, 19 January 1977, cited in Rajesh Kumar Paliwal, Janata Phase in Indian Politics. New Delhi: Raaj Prakashan, 1986, p. 84. 31. Chandra Shekhar (1927–2007), Congressman and socialist, he revolted against Indira Gandhi’s imposition of Emergency, became the president of the Janata Party, later formed his own party—the Samajwadi Janata

Party—and went on to become the eight prime minister of India, a post which he held for seven month between November 1990 to June 1991. 32. Bharatiya Janata Party: Party Document (1980-2005) (Evolution of BJP) Vol. 10. New Delhi: BJP, 2006, p. 1. 33. Ibid., p. 2. 34. Ibid., pp. 1–2. 35. Rajamata Vijayaraje Scindia with Mridula Sinha, Royal to Public Life: Autobiography. New Delhi: Prabhat Prakashan, 2016, p. 265. 36. Bharatiya Janata Party: Party Document (1980-2005) (Evolution of BJP) Vol. 10, op. cit., p. 3. 37. Ibid., p. 3. 38. Ibid., p. 6. The Tribune, ‘A Party Takes Shape’, 31 December 1980. 39. Ibid., p. 14. 40. Ibid., p. 7. B. D. Maniam, ‘Some Notable Aspects of BJP Convention’, Sunday Statesman, January 4 1981. 41. Party Documents (1980-2005) Vol. 10, op. cit., p. 3. 42. Ibid., p. 7. 43. Maniam, op. cit., p. 7. 44. Party Documents (1980-2005) Vol.10, op. cit., p. 13. 45. Ibid., pp. 10–11. 46. . Party Document (1980-2005) (Presidential Speeches-Part-II) Vol.3, op. cit., pp. 300–303. 47. Ibid., p. 324. 48. Ibid., p. 325. 49. Ibid. 50. Party Documents (1980-2005) Vol.10, op. cit., S. Nihal Singh, ‘A Ray of Hope’, India Today, January 16 1981. 51. The elections to 8th Lok Sabha were the first general elections contested by the BJP. ‘The BJP contested 224 seats out of 514 seats for which the Elections were held. The polling percentage in elections was 63.56 per cent. BJP secured 7.4 per cent of valid votes and won two seats, one each in Gujarat [Mehsana, Dr. A. K. Patel] and Andhra Pradesh [Hanamkonda, J. C. Reddy]. Ibid., pp. 98–99.

52. Ibid., p. 18. 53. Ibid. 54. Ibid., p. 19. 55. Ibid., p. 20. 56. . Political Diary, op. cit., p. 174. 57. In the 1996 general elections held to constitute the 11th Lok Sabha, the BJP contested 471 seats, secured 161 seats and 20.9 per cent of the votes where the overall percentage of polling was 57.96 per cent. Party Documents, op. cit., Vol.10, p. 111. 58. Ibid., p. 114. 59. Ibid., pp. 40–41. 60. In this election, the BJP won 24 SC seats and 14 ST seats and 15 women candidates also won the election. Ibid., p. 115. 61. Ibid., p. 118. 62. Ibid. 63. Ibid., p. 120. 64. Lance Price, The Modi Effect: Inside Narendra Modi’s Campaign to Transform India. Edinburgh: Hodder & Stoughton, 2015, p. 237. 65. Aroon Purie, ‘Why I Think about Amit Shah (and How He Has Rebuilt BJP)’, note for cover story, ‘The Shah Strategy’, India Today, 9 October 2017. 66. Lance Price, op. cit., p. 1. 67. Political Diary, op. cit., p.161. 68. Special address on ‘Ideology and Politics Today’ at the National Writers Meet, New Delhi, 31 July 2016. 69. Shah dwells on this dimension in his informal conversations as well as in his addresses to workers during his countrywide tours undertaken in 2017. 70. . Political Diary, op. cit., p. 156. 71. Special address on ‘Ideology and Politics Today’ at the National Writers Meet, New Delhi, 31 July 2016.

Chapter 2 1. Pratul Sharma and V. S. Jayaschandran, ‘We Aim to Establish a Glorious India’, The Week, 2 July 2017. 2. Anirban Ganguly, ‘Today’s Chanakya & His Struggling Rivals’, The Pioneer, 5 April 2017. Anirban Ganguly, ‘Request for Tolerance’, The Telegraph, 9 July 2016. 3. ‘Request for Tolerance’, The Telegraph, 9 July 2016. 4. Patrick French, ‘The “Shah” of BJP’s Game Plan Who Wants to Alter India’s Political Culture’, Hindustan Times, 17 July 2016. 5. Ibid. Uday Mahurkar, ‘Narendra Modi’s Closest Aide is Undergoing a Personal Makeover to Win Uttar Pradesh for BJP and the Man He Owes Allegiance to’, India Today, available at:, accessed on 20 December 2017. 6. Radhika Ramaseshan, ‘Biochemist Who Became the Alchemist’, The Telegraph, 17 May 2014. The episode of Sri Aurobindo visiting Shah’s ancestral house was also narrated by Shah to the trustees of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, while on a visit to Puducherry in August 2015. 7. In conversation with the authors. 8. Patrick French, op. cit. 9. Ibid. 10. Manibehn polled 62.96 per cent votes, defeating her opponent from the Congress, Amratlal Gagabhai Patel, by a margin of 122,112. 11. In conversation with members of the BJP Library. 12. In conversation with the authors. 13. Shah’s repeated reference to this during his interactions with workers, address to intellectuals across the country during his countrywide tour. Also spoken at the National Writers Meet, New Delhi, 31 July–1 August 2016 (from transcript). 14. Anirban Ganguly, ‘BJP’s Journey to Scale New Heights Has Begun’, The

Pioneer, 3 May 2017. 15. In conversation with the authors. 16. Bharatiya Janata Party: Presidential Speeches: Part-II, Party Documents (1980-2005) Vol. 3. New Delhi: BJP, 2005, p. 149. 17. The term ‘minoritism’ was used in the report of the high-powered commission of the Government of India on Minorities (1980–1983) headed by Dr Gopal Singh. 18. . Party Documents, Vol. 3, op. cit., p.152. 19. Ibid., pp. 154–155. 20. Ibid., p. 157. 21. Ibid., pp. 164–165. 22. Ibid., p. 176, National Council address in Delhi in May 1986. 23. Ibid., p. 177. 24. . Bharatiya Janata Party: Evolution of BJP: Party Documents (19802005) Vol. 10. New Delhi: BJP, 2006, p. 23. 25. Ibid. 26. Swapan Dasgupta, ‘Ayodhya: 25 years Later—The Hindu Inflexion’, The Open Magazine, 1 December 2017. 27. . Bharatiya Janata Party: Evolution of BJP: Party Documents (19802005) Vol.10, op. cit., p. 28. 28. . BJP’s White Paper on Ayodhya & the Rama Temple Movement. New Delhi: BJP, 1993, p. 2. 29. . Bharatiya Janata Party: Evolution of BJP: Party Documents, Vol.10, op. cit., p. 26. 30. Ibid., p. 28. 31. . BJP’s White Paper on Ayodhya & the Rama Temple Movement, op. cit., p. 2. 32. Ibid., pp. 33–34. 33. Anirban Ganguly, ‘The Symbolism of Tiranga Yatra’, The Pioneer, 31 August 2016. 34. Ibid. 35., accessed in March 2018. 36. . Bharatiya Janata Party: Political Resolutions: Party Documents (1980-

2005) Vol. 5. New Delhi: BJP, 2005, p.136. 37. K. C. Pant, ‘Pokharan-II and Security Ramifications: External & Internal’, Bharatiya Janata Party: Achievements & Looking Ahead: Party Document (1980-2005) Vol. 9. New Delhi: BJP, 2006, p. 85. 38. Party documents, Vol. 5, op. cit., p.105. 39. Ibid., p.112. 40. . Political Resolutions: Party Documents (1980-2005) Vol. 5, p. 31. 41. Ibid., p. 32. 42. Ibid., p. 33. 43. Uday Mahurkar, ‘Narendra Modi’s Gaurav Yatra Acquires Sharper Political Edge as Gujarat Polls Draws Near’, India Today, 4 November 2002. 44. ‘Land Act a Fraud, Learn from Gujarat, Says SC’, The Indian Express, 5 August 2011. Ironically, the Congress government at the centre in a report sponsored by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry in early May 2014 spoke of Gujarat as having the best land acquisition model. See, for example, ‘Gujarat Has the Best Land Acquisition Model: Commerce Min’, Outlook, 6 May 2014. 45. Sheela Bhatt, ‘Exclusive! Amit Shah: I Won’t Do Anything against the Principles of My Party’,, 18 November 2013. 46. Sheela Bhatt, ‘Terrorism and Riots are Not Interlinked’,, 29 July 2008. 47. Ibid. 48. Ibid. 49. ‘Sonia Gandhi Cried bitterly after Seeing Batla House Encounter Images: Salman Khurshid in Azamgarh’,, 12 February 2012. 50. ‘Exclusive! Amit Shah: I Won’t Do Anything against the Principles of My Party’, op. cit. 51. Rashmi Rajput, ‘Amit Shah Discharged, Court Finds No Evidence’, The Hindu, Mumbai, 30 December 2014. 52. ‘Amit Shah Returns to Gujarat, Offers Prayers’,, 28 September 2012. 53. In conversation with the authors.

54. ‘Today’s Chanakya & His Struggling Rivals’, op. cit. 55. ‘Election Results 2014: My Mission was to Deliver in UP, Amit Shah says’, The Times of India, 17 May 2017. 56. Ibid. 57. Ibid. 58. Ibid. 59. ‘LS Polls Will Demolish Old Assumptions: Amit Shah’, The Times of India, 10 February 2014. 60. Sheela Bhat, ‘Exclusive Amit Shah Interview: People are Waiting to Vote for Modi’,, 3. 61. Amit Shah, Presidential Address at BJP National Council Meet, 9 August 2014. New Delhi: BJP, p. 2. 62. Ibid., pp. 1–2.

Chapter 3 1. Kushabhau Thakre, ‘Presidential Address at BJP National Council Meet, 2–4 May 1998, Bharatiya Janata Party—Party Document (1980-2005): Presidential Speeches, Vol. 2, New Delhi: BJP, 2005, p. 265. 2. Prime Minister’s address on the occasion of the inauguration of the new central office building of BJP at New Delhi on 18 February 2018. 3. Amit Shah, ‘Ideology and Politics Today’, transcript of address at the National Writers Meet, New Delhi, 31 July–1 August 2016. 4. Kushabhau Thakre, op. cit., p. 261. 5. Amit Shah, ‘Ideology and Politics Today’, op. cit. 6. Ibid. 7. Amit Shah, Presidential Address at BJP National Executive, Talkatora Stadium, New Delhi, 25 September 2017. 8. Amit Shah, ‘Ideology and Politics Today’, transcript of address at the National Writers Meet, New Delhi, 31 July–1 August 2016. 9. Amit Shah, Presidential Address at BJP National Council Meet, 9 August 2014. New Delhi: BJP, p. 1. 10. ‘We are a Party of Ideology’, Amit Shah’s interview to Millennium Post,

7 October 2017. 11. Kushabhau Thakre, Presidential Address at BJP National Council Meet, 2–4 May 1998, op. cit. 12. Ibid., p. 265. 13. Amit Shah, Presidential Address at BJP National Council Meet, 9 August 2014. New Delhi: BJP, p. 6. 14. Amit Shah, ‘Ideology and Politics Today’, transcript of address at the National Writers Meet, New Delhi, 31 July–1 August 2016. 15. Alan Ryan, On Politics: A History of Political Thought from Herodotus to the Present. London: Allen Lane, 2012, p. 913. 16. Deendayal Upadhyaya, ‘Integral Humanism’, in Devendra Swarup (ed.), Deendayal Upadhyaya’s Integral Humanism: Documents, Interpretations, Comparisons. New Delhi: Deendayal Research Institute, 1992, p. 18. 17. Amit Shah, ‘Ideology and Politics Today’, transcript of address at the National Writers Meet, New Delhi, 31 July–1 August 2016. 18. On the issue of Gandhi’s wanting to dissolve the Congress, for example, his close confidant Pyarelal, was categorical in this respect when he observed that ‘Bapu devised the Lok Seva Sangh concept with the Congress specifically in mind. He was afraid that the way Congress was going about its work; it would end up as a mere shadow of the original Congress. The Congress is enervating itself in the power struggles of the day. He saw this and wanted to transform the Congress in a way that would transform politics, the politics of power. The source of Congress’s strength was its moral weight. It is because of this that Bapu wanted to distance the Congress from the politics of power and convert it into an organisation that would generate moral strength. This was the objective of the Lok Seva Sangh...’ See, for example, my ‘Delving beyond the Surface’, in Millennium Post, New Delhi. Veteran journalist Durga Das narrates how Gandhi in his last days was working on a ‘revolutionary plan’ of dissolving the Congress ‘and a Lok Seva Sangh (Servants of the People Society) take its place’. Gandhi ‘drew up a constitution for the Sangh and decided to place it before the Congress overlords’ (Durga Das,

India from Curzon to Nehru and After. New Delhi: Rupa & Co, 2009, p. 277). I have dwelt at some length on this issue, because it is a subject that Shah, himself, often returns to in his addresses to intellectuals, in his discussions on ideology, political parties in India, post-independence and their trajectories and ultimate political condition. In June 217, when Shah referred to this subject, it had generated a furore with a section among public intellectuals alleging that there was no historical basis to what Shah had said. 19. Craig Baxter, The Jana Sangh: A Biography of an Indian Political Party. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969, p. 70. 20. Bharatiya Jana Sangh—Party Document (1952-1980): Policies & Manifestoes, Vol. 1. New Delhi: BJP, 2005, p. 283. 21. Ibid., p. 284. 22. Ibid., p. 285. 23. Amit Shah, ‘Ideology and Politics Today’, transcript of address at the National Writers Meet, New Delhi, 31 July–1 August 2016. Amit Shah, ‘Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s Three Historic Interventions that Saved India’, Special Address, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, 29 June 2016, in Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee: A Selfless Patriot. New Delhi: Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, 2016, p. 23. 24. Anirban Ganguly, ‘A Tribute to Deendayal Upadhyaya’, The Daily Pioneer, New Delhi, 7 September 2016. 25. Ibid. 26. Anirban Ganguly, ‘Both Visionary & Pragmatic’, The Pioneer, 14 September 2016. 27. Devendra Swarup (ed.), Deendayal Upadhyaya’s Integral Humanism: Documents, Interpretations, Comparisons. New Delhi: Deendayal Research Institute, 1992, p. 59. 28. For a detailed reading of Upadhyaya’s Integral Humanism, see, for example, Devendra Swarup (ed.), Deendayal Upadhyaya’s Integral Humanism: Documents, Interpretations, Comparisons. New Delhi: Deendayal Research Institute, 1992. 29. For a detailed exposition of the ‘Five Commitments’ see, for example,

Bharatiya Janata Party—Party Document (1980-2005): Evolution of BJP, Vol. 10. New Delhi: BJP, 2006, pp. 77–83. 30. Ibid., p. 83. 31. Amit Shah, ‘Ideology and Politics Today’, transcript of address at the National Writers Meet, op. cit. 32. Amit Shah, Presidential Address at the BJP National Council Meet, 25– 25 September 2016. Kozhikode: BJP, p. 26. 33. Ibid., p. 25. 34. Ibid., p. 39. 35. Amit Shah, ‘Ideology and Politics Today’, op. cit. 36. Amit Shah, Presidential Address at BJP National Council Meet, 9 August 2014, op. cit., p. 7. 37. A term used in an interesting study. Kanchan Chandra (ed.), Democratic Dynasties: State, Party & Family in Contemporary Indian Politics. Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2016. 38. Anirban Ganguly, ‘A Refreshing Narrative’, Seminar #667: A Symposium on the Current Political Dominance of the BJP, New Delhi, November 2017. 39. Pratul Sharma, ‘Torrential Reign’, The Week, July 2017. 40. Anirban Ganguly, ‘Transformative Leadership’, Millennium Post, 8 October 2017.

Chapter 4 1. Prashant Kumar Chatterjee, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and Indian Politics. New Delhi: Foundation Books, pp. 248–249. 2. Dr Mahesh Chandra Sharma, Deen Dayal Upadhyay: Kartavya Evam Vichaar. New Delhi: Prabhat Prakashan, pp. 65–66. 3. Ibid. 4. Ibid. 5. Punj Balbeer, ‘Editorial Page’, Dainik Jagran, 25 March 2014. 6. Prabhash Joshi, Jeene Ke Bahane. New Delhi: Rajkamal Prakashan Limited, p. 143.

Alok Kumar. ‘Dadhichi Deh Dan Samiti’. Interview by the author Shiwanand Dwivedi. 8. Political Diary: Deen Dayal Upadhyay Ke Lekho Ka Sankalan. New Delhi: Suruchi Prakashan, p. 4. 9. Ibid., pp. 80–81. 10. Ibid. 11. 12. Lal Krishna Advani, Drishtikod: Blog Par Baatein. New Delhi: Prabhat Prakashan, pp. 145–146. 13. Govindacharya K. N. ‘70 Varsha Ki Yatra’, Panchjanya Magazine, Special Issue, January 2018. 14. Ibid. 15. Kamal Sandesh, 1–15 August 2017, p. 20. 16. 17. Ibid. 18. Rajnath Singh Speech, Bhartiya Janta Party Rashtriya Parishad, 9 August 2014. 19. 20. Amit Shah Speech, Bhartiya Janta Party Rashtriya Parishad, 9 August 2014. 7.

Chapter 5 1. ‘BJP Transits to Modi-Shah Era’, The Hindu, 10 August 2014. 2. India Today and Aaj Tak ran programmes with these titles after Shah became BJP National President. 3. Extracted from Presidential Speech booklet published by BJP. 4. A part of a speech delievered during Rashtriya Parishad Baithak, 9 August 2014, New Delhi. 5. 6. Interview with Shah’s office worker. 8. August 2014 to September 2018. 9. Based on the conversation with some BJP functionaries staying on Pravaas with Shah during the national Pravaas. 10. 11. Presidential address given in Bhubaneswar National Executive on 15 April 2017. 12. Till the year 2017. 13. 14. Information received from the Organization Dialogue and local newspapers issued by the Presidential Office during the migration of West Bengal under national migration. 15. From the testimony given to Nistula Hebbar in The Hindu, 25 May 2017. 16. During the Gujarat elections, on the basis of the documents related to the meetings and programmes and the staff working at the media centre. 17. 18. Interview with India Today. 7.

Chapter 6 1. The Economic Times, 30 March 2015, available at: ‘The ruling BJP has become the largest political party in the world with its enrolment drive in the past five months taking its membership to 8.80 crore. The Communist Party of China was until now considered the largest party with about 8.60 crore members.’ 2. The Times of India, 30 March 2015, available at: 3., 31 March 2015, Manu Balachandran and Saptarishi Dutta,

available at: 4. China Daily, 30 June 2017, available at: 5. According to the ‘Mahamantri Report’ (2013–2016), submitted by Ram Lal, the National General Secretary Organisation of the BJP. 6. BJP, Constitution and Rules, September 2012; Section 9, pp. 3–4, available at: 7. 8. Ibid. 9. On 1 November 2014, Narendra Modi launched the membership campaign in the form of the first missed call member. 10. Membership Maha Abhiyaan started on 1 November 2014 during Narendra Modi’s speech in a programme. 11. Vinay Sahastrabudde, Ten to Ten Crore, A Document. New Delhi: BJP. 12. Ibid. 13. 14. Bhalchandra Krishnaji Kelkar, Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay: Vichar Darshan Volume 3. New Delhi: Ashchi Prakashan, p. 80.

Chapter 7 1. 2. Ibid. 3. Bhartiya Jan Sangh, Party Document, Volume-6, History of Jan Sangh, p. 119. 4. Ibid.Those 11 states were Bombay, Madras, Odisha, Hyderabad, Saurashtra, Travancore-Cochin, Bhopal, Bilaspur, Kurga, Kutch and Manipur. 5. BJP, Party Document, Volume-10, Evolution of BJP, p. 86. 6. Based on a conversation with a national office bearer of BJP.

From the document issued by BJP on Deen Dayal Upadhyay Extension Plan. 8. Part of the 40-minute conversation with expanses in Haryana under Rashtriya Pravaas. 9. On the basis of information received from a colleague of Amit Shah who stayed along with him in Odisha during the Rashtriya Pravaas. 10. Ibid. 11. 12. After the Tripura Core Group meeting, information gathered on the basis of internal report submitted to the BJP National President. 13. From the document issued by BJP on Deen Dayal Upadhyay Extension Plan. 7.

Chapter 8

1. 2. 3. 4. BJP, Mahamantri Prativedan, 23 January 2013–24 January 2016. 5. 6. 7. 8. Ibid 9. 10. u=bharatsuraksha-yatra-hi 11. Rajnath Singh, Bhartiya Rajneeti Aur Hamari Soch. New Delhi: Prabhat

Prakashan, p. 24. 12. Paul Wallace, India’s 2014 Elections: A Modi-led BJP Sweep. New Delhi: SAGE Publications, p. 266. 13. Information received from the BJP President’s office. 14. 15. Ananta Vijay said this while sharing his experience with the author. 16. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Bindu Bindu Vichaar: Suktiyon Ke Suman. New Delhi: Kitaabghar, p. 109. 17.

Chapter 9 1. Department: For conducting permanent activities of BJP organisation. Project: For the temporary activities of the BJP. 2. 3. Part of the detailed discussion of Amit Shah in the meeting of Department and Project Officers in Madhya Pradesh during Rashtriya Pravaas. 4. Ibid. 5. 6. Amit Shah’s presidential address in the national executive held on 15–16 April 2017 in Odisha. 7. Part of the detailed discussion of Amit Shah in the meeting of Department and Project Officers in Madhya Pradesh during National Migration. 8. According to information received from the BJP office building and accounting report. 9. 10. From the 25 May 2017 issue of the Organization Dialogue published during Amit Shah’s Rashtriya Pravaas.

Chapter 11

1. and 2. and 3. 4. According to the Pravaas report received from the BJP president’s office. 5. Programme department, BJP.

Chapter 12 1. Flower of Gular. This proverb in Hindi-speaking areas is meant to be ‘rare’. 2. Amit Shah had said this in a byte and press conference to some TV channels. 3. 9 August 2014, National Council, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi. 4. In the interview of Amit Shah by Rahul Kawal on August 2016 for Aaj Tak TV channel. 5. 6. 7.

Chapter 13 1. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, ‘Redefining Party Building: Amit Shah is Leading BJP with Courage of Conviction’, The Times of India, 17 August 2017. 2. Anirban Ganguly, ‘Through Years of Toil the “Hindi Heartland Party” Has Emerged as a Pan-Indian One’, The Sunday Standard, 11 March 2018. 3. Anirban Ganguly, ‘Amit Shah Has Transformed BJP, the Intellectuals are Wrong about Him’, DailyO, 9 August 2016. 4. ‘Rahul Gandhi Trashes Ordinance, Shames Government’, The Times of

India, New Delhi, 28 September 2013. 5. Rasheed Kidwai, Ballot: Ten Episodes That Have Shaped India’s Democracy. New Delhi: Hachette India, 2018, p. 67. 6. Ibid., p. 72. 7. J. B. Kripalani, My Times: An Autobiography. New Delhi: Rupa & Co, 2004, p. 714. 8. Ibid. 9. Bharatiya Janata Party—Party Documents (1980-2005) Vol.2, Presidential Speeches (Part 1). New Delhi: BJP, 2005, p. 264. 10. Ibid., p. 265. 11. Ibid. 12. Amit Shah in conversation with the authors on 31 January 2018. 13. Anirban Ganguly, ‘How the Lotus Bloomed’, The Pioneer, New Delhi, 6 April 2018. 14. Amit Shah, Presidential Address at the BJP National Council Meet, 9 August 2014. New Delhi: BJP, p. 8. 15. Dhananjay Keer, Lokmanya Tilak: father of our freedom struggle, Published by V.D.Limaye, Bombay, 1959, p.365. 16. Amit Shah, Presidential Address at BJP National Council Meet, 9 August 2014. New Delhi: BJP, p. 13. 17. Ibid. 18. Ibid. 19. Ibid. 20. Ibid., p. 15. 21. Ibid., p. 15. 22. Ibid., p. 6. 23. ‘PM Launches PRAGATI: A Multi-purpose, Multimodal Platform for Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation, 25 March 2015, available at: 24. Amit Shah, Presidential Address at BJP National Executive, 6–7 January 2017. New Delhi: BJP, p. 13.

Chapter 14 1. Uday Mahurkar, ‘We Began Working on 2019 in 2014’, India Today, 29 March 2018. 2. Ibid. 3. Swapan Dasgupta, ‘Lyuten’s Circuit Resilience against Modi-led Changes’, The Pioneer, 8 April 2018. 4. Ram Swarup, Hinduism and Monotheistic Religions. New Delhi: Voice of India, 2009, p. 106.

AMIT SHAH’S THOUGHTS If one looks for the convergence of these four unique dimensions of our national life—swadeshi, self-reliance, self-respect, self-employment— one finds it unmistakably in Khadi and nowhere else. (Address after inaugurating the world’s largest charkha (khadi spinning wheel) at the New Delhi airport on 5 July 2016) Our peoples’ representatives in the Northeast must primarily work on three aspects: first, that this region becomes an impregnable wall in so far as India’s national security is concerned, second, to work together to completely stop infiltration so that India’s sovereignty and unity is safeguarded, third, to focus on the inclusive and all-encompassing development of the region. (Delivering the valedictory address at the MLA training workshop in Guwahati, 13 July 2016) If we are incapable of preserving our culture, our languages, civilisation and history, we shall never be able to work for the greatness of our country… …Every country in the world is a geopolitical nation, it is only India which is a geo-cultural entity… …Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee ji gave up his position as a minister and inspired by his principles sacrificed his all for the service of the country. He founded the Jana Sangh inspired by the fragrance of India’s ethos and began working for the regeneration of the country… Today Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal are integral parts of India because of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s sacrifice. (Special address while inaugurating a national exhibition on ‘Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee: A Selfless Patriot’ at the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, Teen Murti Bhavan, New Delhi, 29 June 2016) The world’s riches and development can come to India, but when the entire world is plagued with problems and challenges it is only India’s spiritual wisdom which can radiate peace in the world.

(Address during the Mahamastak Abhishek at Bade Baba Mandir, Kundalpur, Madhya Pradesh, 18 June 2016) The philosophy of Integral Humanism and Antyoday is our ideal and Garib Kalyan (Welfare of the Marginalised) is our only aim… …Yuga-Drashta (Seer) Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya gave the country an alternative ideology. The aim of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya’s ideology is not to achieve power but to work for the integral regeneration of the country… …Deendayal ji would say that as long as we cannot make sure that the flow of development reaches those standing on the last rung of the societal ladder, as long as we do not include them in the national mainstream of development, till then there is no real meaning of freedom. (Presidential address at the launch of the Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya Birth Centenary celebrations at the BJP National Council meet in Kozhikode, 25 September 2016) If one were to ask to clarify today the fundamental difference between the Jana Sangh and the Congress party, then the following aspect emerges. The Congress wanted to construct anew the country while Jana Sangh aspired to regenerate India based on her glorious and rich civilisational past… …I believe that the philosophy of Integral Humanism that Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya articulated and which encompasses and dwells on the individual as well as the collective is a vision that can not only address India’s challenges but those faced by humanity as a whole. (Presidential address at the Lucknow launch of the Complete Works of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, 29 December 2016) Whether it was the struggle for the liberation of Goa, whether it was the struggle for integrating Hyderabad in the Indian Union, whether it was the movement against cow slaughter, whether it was the Kutch Satyagraha or the movement to integrate Kashmir as an integral part of India or the movement for constructing the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, we were always driven and inspired by the spirit of cultural unity. (Presidential address at the Patna launch of the Complete Works of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya, 10 January 2017) The Bharatiya Janata Party will lead the efforts for electoral reforms, for ushering in greater transparency in public life and for eradicating black

money from Indian politics… …It is not the time to see this golden phase of the BJP as the pinnacle and be satisfied with its achievements. We have to keep moving ahead and higher… …While basing ourselves on the founding ideology and principles of the party, we have to also usher in changes in our working method in keeping with time. We have to adapt ourselves to technology through which we can construct such offices in each district which will enable us to remain actively connected from Kanyakumari to Arunachal Pradesh… …We have to document our political movements and historic interventions so that future generations can derive inspiration from the BJP’s ideology, its work culture and the sacrifices of thousands of its leaders and workers. (Address during laying the foundation stone of the new central headquarters of the BJP in New Delhi, 18 August 2016) People say that this is the BJP’s golden period, but I say that the golden phase will truly come when in states like Kerala, West Bengal, Tripura, and Odisha, the BJP will have formed governments… …Now that the BJP is seeing repeated victories, let us not become complacent, instead, let the thirst for expansion inspire us to work very hard. (Presidential address at the BJP National Executive, Bhubaneswar, 15 April 2017) I am the president of such a party which has thousands of such workers who have no families, whose families are the party’s workers themselves. The party’s organisational growth and its political glory are the results of the sacrifice, toil and tapasya of such workers… …Among about 1,650 small and big parties, the BJP is the only one in which internal democracy is alive and vibrant. It is the only party in which workers are given an opportunity based on their performance… …That party which does not function based on certain principles can never have the right objective, and the party which does not have the right objective can never work for the welfare of the country… …We all have to reflect on how to emerge as dedicated and exemplary workers. If we are successful in bringing about this improvement in ourselves, then there will an overall improvement in the politics of the

country… …Today, when the BJP is at the peak, in this crucial moment our responsibilities and duties increase by manifold. We have to work harder and with greater purity… …The weakness of the Congress can never become the strength of the BJP. Our strength lies in the dissemination of our ideology, a strong organisation and the positive attitude of our leaders. (Addressing an intellectual meet on 4 May 2017, Palampur, Himachal Pradesh) Without the values of patriotism and nationalism, no country can remain united. It were the cries of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ and ‘Vande Mataram’ which united the brave sons of Mother India and inspired them to die for her… …I wish to appeal to the youth of India and to urge them to read well the history of India, so that know the real narrative of the sacrifice of our immortal martyrs for their motherland. The youth must derive inspiration, not from those who chant anti-India slogans, but from such stalwarts as Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Chandrasekhar Azad, Mahatma Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose… …The following objectives must drive our quest for an ideal nation: first, the protection of our borders and sovereignty, second, self-respect and dignity of our nation on the world stage, third, strive to make the nation prosperous and noble, and fourth, the establishment of a kalyan rajya (welfare state). In a true sense, it is under the leadership of Narendra Modi that the BJP government is working towards achieving all the four objectives that lead towards making India an ideal nation. (Address while launching the Tiranga Yatra, Ullal, Mangalore, 21 August 2016) A political party can be assessed on three parameters: first, the health of internal democracy within the party, second, the values and principles on which the party functions and third, the manner in which the party functions after having received the peoples’ mandate. (Address at an intellectuals’ meet in Akota, Vadodara, 4 May 2017) During our struggle for freedom, Lokmanya Tilak emerged as the symbol of people’s disaffection with our colonial rulers and he had asserted that ‘Swaraj is my birthright’. In 2013, when there was a deep sense of dissatisfaction in the country, Narendra Modi emerged as the

symbol who could lift the country out of that despondent mood. Today, if there is one leader who has become the symbol of the hopes of the country’s youth, the poor, Dalit, farmers and jawans guarding our borders, it is Narendra Modi… …The country does not need mere reform, it needs transformation. The BJP has risen above the politics of dynastism, casteism, regionalism and appeasement and has ushered in the era of the politics of performance in the country. (At the ABP News Summit, New Delhi, 2 December 2016) When governments run for 25 to 30 years, there are some of its achievements which are called historic, whereas the Narendra Modi led BJP government at the Centre has, in just three and a half years, achieved at least 30 such milestones which can be termed as historic… …The Narendra Modi government has succeeded in establishing the culture of cleanliness through Jan Bhagidari—peoples’ participation— and has spread it throughout society as a peoples’ movement. I believe that for generations the culture of cleanliness will now drive people to keep the country clean. (Maiden speech in Rajya Sabha (Upper House), 5 February 2018) Acharya Chanakya imparted the philosophy that it is the country —rashtra—which is great, and not the king. The king is only the first servant of the constitution and the first servitor of the people. Today, it makes us proud to see that the country has a prime minister in Narendra Modi who calls himself the principal servitor of the people… …Acharya Chanakya laid such a strong foundation for India that for a thousand years after no foreign power dared to invade India. He laid the foundations for a socially, economically and culturally secure and strong nation. It was Acharya Chanakya who, for the first time, had openly come out against dynastic rule. He clearly believed that it is the most capable (shrestha) who ought to be at the top (jeshtha). Chanakya believed that if the king had only one heir and if he was not humble and capable, the royal priest had the prerogative to select someone else. (Special address on ‘Acharya Chanakya: Life & Work in Today’s Context’, Pune, 9 July 2018) None other than the greatest patriot can think of addressing one’s motherland thus, ‘Death in your service is equal to a hundred birth, and life without you, is like death for me.’ When the one, from whose heart

and pen such words spring forth, is assailed by some people who cast aspersion and criticise his patriotism by indulging in politics over it, if I do not criticise them, I do not have the right to speak at all… (Speaking on Veer Savarkar)

SELECTED VIDEOS LINKS WITH QR CODES 1. Shri Amit Shah on Narendra Modi at a book launch of ‘Narendra Modi: Creative Disruptor - The Maker of New India’ (10 Dec 2018)

2. Shri Amit Shah addresses ‘Yuva Swabhiman Samavesh Rally’ in Kolkata, West Bengal (11 Aug 2018)

3. Shri Amit Shah’s address on “Life and Mission of Chanakya in today’s context’ (08 July 2018)

4. Shri Amit Shah’s address on 1st Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay Memorial Oration (27 June 2018)

5. Speech in Rajya Sabha on Motion of Thanks to President’s address (05

Feb 2018).

6. Shri Amit Shah on RSS at book release function on Five Sarsanghchalaks of RSS in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh (10 Oct 2017)

7. Shri Amit Shah addresses National Executive Meeting of FICCI in New Delhi (09 Sep 2017)

8. Shri Amit Shah on “Why BJP in Politics” at Intellectuals meet in Akota, Vadodara, Gujarat (31 May 2017)

9. Shri Amit Shah on Veer Savarkar at 29th Savarkar Sahitya Sammelan in Thane, Maharashtra (21 April 2017)

10. Shri Amit Shah on Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee at the inauguration of Exhibition “Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee- A Selfless Patriot” (29 June 2016)

11. Shri Amit Shah addresses at National Writer’s Meet, New Delhi (30 July 2016)

12. Shri Amit Shah on BJP Organisation while interacting with MP & MLA’s of North Zone at Zonal Maha-Sampark Abhiyan meeting, Delhi (12 July 2015)

13. Shri Amit Shah on BJP Organisation while addressing the concluding session of Zonal Mahasampark Abhiyan meeting of Central Zone in Bhopal (13 July 2015)

14. Shri Amit Shah on BJP Organisation while addresses the Opening session of Zonal Maha-Sampark Abhiyan meeting of West Zone in Mumbai (09 July 2015)

15. Shri Amit Shah’s maiden address as National President of BJP at BJP National Council in New Delhi(9 August 2014)



his effort would not have seen the light of day without the support and help of a large number of elders and friends.

Foremost among those without whom this volume would not have been as comprehensive and authentic as it professes to be is Shri Amit Shah, who, after a lot of convincing and appeals, finally agreed to meet us and to speak to us on this issue. He was patient with our over exuberance and candid with our questions. He was always more forthcoming, though, when speaking of the organisation, its history, political evolution, ideology and struggles. About himself, he continued to be his usual reticent self. On our part, we tried as best as we could to sift out the essential Amit Shah! Our gratitude also to those leaders, party workers and friends who supported us, shared their experiences, facilitated the flow of information, gave us inputs, ideas and suggestions and saw to it that we could carry on with the work unhampered, while they remained in the background. Our team of young researchers tirelessly supported us with unfailing efficiency. That this book could be completed in a short span of a few months in itself shows the manner in which the BJP’s systems have evolved today, with documentation, data and dissemination driving its outreach. We would like to thank Shri Rajat Sharma, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of India TV, for penning a thought-provoking foreword to the book. As an observer and interpreter of Indian politics, for more than a quarter century now, Shri Sharma’s perspective has greatly enhanced the richness of the effort. Our gratitude is also due to the Bloomsbury team, especially to Praveen Tiwari and the editors for their meticulous approach to the project, for their

affirmative attitude and their patience with our timings, our calls for extensions and our hectic and often erratic schedules. To bring out an English and Hindi edition simultaneously is no mean feat, but we succeeded in retaining the flair and the flavour, and this was largely because of them. In the end, it is the thought that we were chronicling a portion of the history, the struggles, the sacrifices of this long political movement—that began with the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and continues with the BJP—and how it is being restated and redefined today, that pushed us on with the work, over long hours, while carrying on with our often fast-paced and demanding daily routine.

Parents of Amit Shah

Kusumben Anilchandra Shah • Anilchandra Gokaldas Shah

Amit Shah on his wedding day with wife Sonal Shah (22 December 1987)

Amit Shah with wife Sonal Shah, Son Jay Shah, daughter-in-law Rishita Shah and

Granddaughter Rudri Shah

Amit Shah as BJP secretary of Ahmedabad city with Lal Krishna Advani and Narendra Modi during Advani’s campaign from Gandhi Nagar Lok Sabha constituency in 1991

Inaugurating Veer Savarkar Marg as an MLA, Sarkhej (6 June 1997)

Amit Shah taking oath as a minister in Narendra Modi’s cabinet (22 December 2002)

Amit Shah taking oath as a minister in Narendra Modi’s cabinet (4 January 2008)

Amit Shah as a minister of Gujarat inspecting the flood- affected area in Chandlodia, Gujarat (14 July 2005)

CM Narendra Modi and Law Minister Amit Shah interacting with Delhi Bar Association members (23 December 2008)

Home Minister Amit Shah at Navy Week celebration in Porbandar, Gujarat (2 December 2009)

Amit Shah with Narender Modi at GCA’s First Annual General Meeting and Election (15 September 2009)

Amit Shah as Vice-President of GCA, felicitating Sachin Tendulkar at Motera Stadium, Ahmedabad (16 November 2009)

Amit Shah as the President of Gujarat State Chess association at National B Chess Championship, 2006

Felicitation of Amit Shah on his return to Gujarat after the exile (28 September 2012)

Amit Shah at 2014 Lok Sabha victory celebration at BJP HQ, New Delhi (16 May 2014)

Felicitation of Amit Shah with Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad for BJP’s stupendous performance in 2014 Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh (20 May 2014)

Amit Shah taking charge as the National President of BJP (9 July 2014)

PM Narendra Modi felicitating Amit Shah after taking charge as National President of BJP (9 July 2014)

Re-election as National President of BJP (24 January 2016)

Amit Shah addressing a public meeting in Malda, West Bengal (22 January 2019)

Amit Shah at a public meeting in Contai, West Bengal (29 January 2019)

Amit Shah addressing a public meeting in Kolkata (30 November 2014)

Amit Shah’s welcome on his arrival at Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh (22 April 2018)

Amit Shah leading Jan Raksha Yatra in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala (17 October 2017)

PM Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah after Karnataka election results at BJP HQ, New Delhi (15 May 2018)

Amit Shah at BJP CM Council meeting at BJP HQ, New Delhi (28 August 2018)

BJP Parliamentary Board meeting at BJP HQ, New Delhi (26 July 2017)

With President Ramnath Kovind and Narendra Modi (26 July 2017)

With the then President Shri Pranab Mukherjee (9 December 2014)

At Yogi Adityanath’s oath-taking ceremony (19 March 2017)

Amit Shah after taking oath as Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha (25 August 2017)

PM Narendra Modi felicitating Amit Shah on his three successful years as BJP President and on being elected to Rajya Sabha (10 August 2017)

Amit Shah made a courtesy visit to Lal Krishna Advani after taking oath of Rajya Sabha MP (25 August 2017)

Amit Shah Inaugurated Karnavati Premier League in Ahmedabad (15 May 2016)

Amit Shah at Ujjain Simhasth Kumbh Snan at Shipra River, Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh (11 May 2016)

Amit Shah with Jagadguru Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati ji on the occasion of Sahasra Chandra Darshan (23 March 2016)

Amit Shah met Maa Amritanandamayi (Amma) in New Delhi (3 April 2016)

Amit Shah taking blessings from Swami Nischalanand Saraswati Maharaj at Govardhan Math, Puri Peeth, Odisha(7 January 2015)

Amit Shah with Sri Sri Sri Shivakumara Swamiji of Siddhaganga Mutt, Tumakuru, Karnataka (26 March 2018)

Amit Shah with Sri Pramukh Swami ji Maharaj

Amit Shah and PM Narendra Modi, taking the blessing of Lord Somnath, Gujarat (8 March 2017)

Amit Shah taking blessings of Lord Shiva at Mahakal Temple in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh

Amit Shah at Shri Harmandir Sahib, Golden Temple, Amritsar (1 November 2016)

Amit Shah paying homage at the Samadhi of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother in Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry (25 August 2015)

Amit Shah with veteran journalist Shri Kuldip Nayar as a part of Sampark for Sampark Se Samarthan in New Delhi (9 June 2018)

Amit Shah met Bharat Ratna, Lata Mangeshkar ji in Mumbai, as a part of Sampark SeSamarthan campaign(22 July 2018)

PM Narender Modi and Amit Shah at Atal Yatra (Atal Ji’s last journey) 17 August 2018

Amit Shah paying last respects to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee at Rashtriya Smriti Sthal, New Delhi (17 August 2018)

Amit Shah having lunch with a Dalit family in Amit Shah had puffed rice jhal-muri Naxalbari, West Bengal (25 April 2017) at dalit’s home in Basantpur village in Odisha (6 July 2017)

Amit Shah doing door-to-door campaign as vistarak in Nagarjuna Sagar assembly (23 May 2017)

Amit Shah with more than 30 Muslims vistaraks from Kashmir valley in Jammu (30 April 2017)

Amit Shah had puffed rice jhal-muri at dalit’s home in Basantpur village in Odisha (6 July 2017)

Amit Shah trying his hands at hathkargha (handloom machine) in Nalgonda, (22 May 2017)

Amit Shah at a meeting of BJP National Departments and Projects (28 November 2016)

Amit Shah with a kid in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala (3 October 2017)


Anirban Ganguly is the director of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation (SPMRF), the think tank of the BJP. He is the national co-in charge of the Library and Documentation Department of the BJP and member of the Policy Research Department of the party. He has extensively worked in the areas of public policy, political research and ideological issues. Dr Ganguly is also a scholar of civilisation, history, politics and culture and is a member of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), Ministry of Human Resources Development, member of the Governing Board of Auroville Foundation (MHRD), member of the Visva-Bharati Samsad (Court), Santiniketan. Between 2010 and 2013 he was a Research Fellow at Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), New Delhi. Dr Ganguly had his early education at Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Puducherry, and holds a master’s degree in International Relations, a postgraduate diploma in Mass Communication and Journalism and a PhD in education

from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. Dr Ganguly has authored, edited and co-edited the following books, Cellular Jail: Pilgrimage to Freedom (forthcoming), Making of New India: Transformation under Modi Government (2018), Syama Prasad Mookerjee: His Vision of Education (2017), The Modi Doctrine: New Paradigms in India’s Foreign Policy (2016), Redefining Governance: Essays on One Year of Narendra Modi Government (2015), Swami Vivekananda, Buddha & Buddhism (2014) and Debating Culture (2013), Education: Philosophy & Practice (2011). Besides these, he has authored a large number of papers and research monographs, has extensively traveled across the world and spoken in leading educational and public policy institutions. He is also a regular columnist with a few English dailies.

Shiwanand Dwivedi is a Senior Research Fellow at SPMRF. Born in Sajawon, a village in Deoria district of UP, he received primary education from the public-funded school of his village and completed higher education from Buddha Post Graduate College, Deendayal Upadhyaya University, where he showed his keen interest in reading and writing on issues of national importance. He is a prolific author, writing regularly in Hindi on topics related to politics, democracy and social-economy in reputed newspapers and magazines.

Dwivedi has edited the book Parivartan Ki Ore which was published after the completion of two and a half years of the Modi government. He recently edited the book Naye Bharat Ki Ore on the completion of the five-year term of the BJP government.