At 52, Amit Shah is at the appropriate age to enter the Rajya Sabha, or the House of Elders, when India is riding on aspirations of the young generation.
It’s not hard to foresee that the man who loves to debate all the time on every issue of national interest is likely to become the centre of attraction in the Rajya Sabha, especially since he is also likely to remain the “adhyakshji” of the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP).
Shah is impelled by the desire, and design, to change the “secular-communal” discourse of Indian politics, and has chosen the constitutional platform to launch his new campaign. Shah’s presence in the Rajya Sabha will be noisy, newsy and a turning point for saffron politics as well as himself.
Imagine the weight of his words when he debates in the Rajya Sabha—while remaining president of the BJP—on cow slaughter and Article 370, issues that are close to him as well as to his party.
The fact is that there are not enough compelling reasons for him to join the Cabinet. The option has been available to him right from the time the last vote was counted in May 2014. At a meeting in Gujarat Bhavan soon after the Lok Sabha election results were out, ahead of his swearing-in, PM-elect Narendra Modi had offered Shah a top ministry.
Incredibly, Shah turned down the offer to become the Raksha Mantri. In doing so, Shah showed he had the audacity to think big at a time when a tectonic shift was underway in Indian politics. In retrospect, that decision of Shah has proved to be the turning point.
The next Cabinet reshuffle is likely to showcase how Modi and Shah visualise the BJP’s future. The Cabinet will empower those who Modi perceives are capable of representing the party’s future.
Shah clearly is among them but still, as said above, he has fewer reasons to join Modi’s Cabinet at this point in time as he is into a game where ministries are less important vis-à-vis fighting the battle of ideas.
In 2014, he remained outside the government to provide the political wherewithal to help Modi reinvent himself after a tremendous electoral victory. It has taken three years for Modi to acquire a total grip over the Centre’s powers and to reshuffle and re-haul IAS, IFS and IPS cadres. Weeding out of pro-Congress bureaucrats from the Congress system of governance was a tricky political task, one that needed to be done, obviously, for political reasons.
It has taken the same three years for Shah to spread the BJP in paths less travelled among Indian states. He has been busy setting up political shop in districts and towns and creating human resources to man them.
Between them, the Modi-Shah duo has captured power along with allies in states housing around 70% of the Indian population.
The sheer size of the electoral victory in Uttar Pradesh showed that Modi maintained his 2014 aura among the people as well as his grip over the levers of power. And Shah proved that he has the nerve to take on the biggest daddies of secular politics.
The unfolding Bihar script, too, was penned by the risk-taker Shah with an eye on the BJP's statewide performance in 2019. It’s advantage Modi, while the losers are Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav.
Truly, only Shah can use Nitish both to the latter’s own disadvantage and also to thrash Lalu so badly. The fallout from using CBI cases for political upheaval has never been managed so perfectly.
No need to emphasise that to resist power in May 2014 was not easy, but Shah showed uncommon patience as he embarked on his new political journey, this time in New Delhi.
When Modi, for known and largely unknown reasons, selected Shah as his party's
President, many Modi watchers were surprised .It was a huge political move of Modi.
In May 2014, due to the size of the victory, Modi and Shah both could carve out a firm and clear space for each other that proved to be mutually beneficial.
Shah transformed the party so much and so fast with the help of the Modi mandate, which in turn helped the Prime Minister transform Indian politics even before he reached the half way mark in his five-year term.
The Shah-Modi choreography had one common aim: to root out the "secular system's old hacks" from New Delhi. Since the early ’80s, Shah has been following a slow route to carve out a sturdy political career.
Amit Bhai, a rich sharebroker's son, would be out on his motor bike pasting posters on Ahmedabad’s walls at election time. He had a fascination to know nuances of the politics of Kanshi Ram, Charan Singh and many other leaders.
He never missed a chance to meet them, or even to hear the speeches of veteran non-saffron national leaders. Quite early in his political life, he forged an acquaintance with Modi, a one-of-its-kind bonding that remains unmatched in recent politics. It’s very different from the relationship between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and completely removed from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s power imbalance with party presidents of her era.
But Shah is not done yet. Next, through his party and the live telecast of RS debates, he will induct new debating points in the national discourse. The ideas to churn minds in post-2019 India will be launched in the next two years.
Modi is determined to redefine the political system that throws up “secular alliances” and “communal” planks. Nitish Kumar’s return to the National Democratic Alliance is part of the same thought process and political package under which Shah will be entering the RS.
Also, at this moment, Shah enjoys unbridled power within the party. He was instrumental in making Yogi Adityanath a Chief Minister, Governor Ram Nath Kovind the President and it was Shah who cajoled M. Venkaiah Naidu to exit from active politics and become Vice-President.
After a political life that is constantly on the fast-forward as party president, Shah has established himself as the second-most powerful leader in the country. All these and more is achieved with unwavering loyalty to Modi.
In the government, however, it is Rajnath Singh who has been next to Modi in these three years. Unless Modi has better plans for Rajnath Singh, it’s politically not conducive for Shah to join the Cabinet as number three or four in protocol. Why would any leader do that, leaving behind the second-most powerful post?
Meanwhile, Shah’s decision to become a member of the Rajya Sabha will link him firmly to the fabled “system” of New Delhi. That’s no mean achievement for a man who has been so pivotal in the formation and cementing of Modi’s legacy.