The book is a first real insight into the man who took the nation by storm in 2014 and has further built on that legacy in these five years.

 

 

New Delhi: Why does the Narendra Modi juggernaut seem unstoppable today? And why is the Opposition in such a pitiable situation? The answer to these two questions lies partly in the fact that the Opposition led by the Congress has, in the past five years at least, shown very little political imagination and pragmatism. But the loss is primarily the result of the failure on their part to gauge the two reigning stars of Indian politics. While the first in Narendra Modi was already a force to reckon with in 2014, thanks to his four successful stints as Gujarat Chief Minister, Amit Shah was hardly known beyond the hardcore BJP-RSS circle. Unfortunately, even Modi was mostly evaluated from a communal prism, as if he was just the sum total of the 2002 post-Godhra violence in Gujarat. No wonder, the political class in Delhi was in for a shock. It had no inkling about how the arrival of Modi and Shah at Delhi’s Raisina Hills would change the very nature of Indian politics, its lead characters and tools, and of course the ideological rooting.

Amit Shah and the March of the BJP
By Anirban Ganguly and
Shiwanand Dwivedi
Published by Bloomsbury
Price: Rs 399

Even after five years, the disconnect remains. The two, especially Shah, remain a riddle, which the old establishment has failed to crack. Anirban Ganguly and Shiwanand Dwivedi’s new book, Amit Shah and the March of BJP, in that way is timely. It attempts to unravel the enigma that is Amit Shah and does a decent job. No doubt, it’s a book that doesn’t conceal the authors’ admiration for the new Home Minister, but that doesn’t come in the way of its objectivity, lucidity and even novelty. The authors’ affinity and closeness, especially Anirban Ganguly’s with Shah is evident through the book, and it helps create a portrait of the man that’s a far cry from what the “Lutyens Consensus” would want us to believe.

So, who is Amit Shah, according to Ganguly and Dwivedi? Far from being merely Modi’s Man Friday, the Home Minister comes across as a well-educated, culturally-rooted and ideologically committed person. Born in Mumbai on 22 October 1964, in a wealthy Nagar-Vaishnav family, his grandfather left his large business establishment in Mumbai to settle at their ancestral home, Mansa, in Gujarat so that the young Shah could have a traditional upbringing and education. The book quotes Shah as saying, “At the age of four, I would be woken up at 4 am and I would be 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 the period when I received a thorough grounding in India parampara.”

It’s this rooting in Indian culture and tradition that explains Shah’s eagerness to inaugurate a library in the BJP’s central office, then in New Delhi’s Ashoka Road, soon after he shifted his political base to Delhi. He accomplished the work in February 2016, for the benefit of the party workers, leaders and office-bearers. Highlighting his love for books, the authors quote Shah as saying, “We had a massive library at home in Mumbai when a part of it was transferred to our village Mansa.” Shah, in fact, has extensively read K.M. Munshi and “admires him for his writings on Indic thought”, though very few people know about his reverence for the poems of Sudhir Ludhianvi and Kaifi Azmi. His reading of Chanakya and V.D. Savarkar is equally exhaustive. One can gauge the impact of the two personalities, separated by at least 2,000 years if not more, from the fact that their portraits can be seen hanging in Shah’s drawing room in Delhi. “Anyone who aspires to understand and govern India must read Chanakya and Savarkar; there’s no alternative to these two epochal personalities,” Shah observes.

So, when Shah talks about nationalism, when he derides the “Tukde Tukde” gang, he does so out of sheer ideological certainty and rootedness. He doesn’t say so just to get votes, or to spread the wings of the party. “The political workers must develop a sense of history. They must concretely feel that they belong to and are part of a long political and ideological movement,” Shah cautions. “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…in 50 years we too shall become like the Congress.”

It’s this ideological certitude that encourages Shah to take that extra mile. It keeps him hungry to strive for more, explaining his enduring quest to travel across the country. To quote the book, “Shah covered more than 790,000 km between August 2014 and September 2018, undertaking major outreach programmes in this duration of 49 months. The average distance covered by him during this period was about 519 km a day.”

These yatras were marked with Shah’s eagerness—and ability—to connect with the masses. There are several stories that tell how Shah would stop at small-town dhabas and engage with locals over tea and paranthas. Ganguly and Dwivedi, too, have a story to share: Of Shah sleeping on the terrace shed of a Dalda manufacturing unit in Amethi after the party meeting, organised at the last minute, continued till 2 am. “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,” write the authors.

Interestingly, the voracious traveller in Shah eschews foreign trips, with his last journey abroad probably being a visit to Munich in 2006. The book recounts an interesting anecdote: Once, when a party office-bearer told Shah that he wished to organise a tour of his to Germany leading a delegation, Shah jokingly remarked if the trip would fetch him votes in that country. Yet, remind the authors, “contrary to perceptions in some quarters, Shah has a well-informed understanding of international affairs and trends”.

The book is a must read for those willing to crack the Amit Shah code. It is a first real insight into the man who took the nation by storm in 2014 and has further built on that legacy in these five years. The book is also a compulsory reading for those interested in understanding the rise of the BJP in national politics, and also the simultaneous decline of the Opposition, especially the Congress.