The expected continuation of Amit Shah as the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party for a fresh tenure of three years clearly indicates that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has consolidated his position within the Sangh Parivar. Some weeks ago, The Sunday Guardian had reported that Shah’s term as the BJP chief was being renewed despite the fact the sceptics were supposing that a new face may be elevated to his position. Shah is Modi’s most trusted lieutenant and has been given a full term since it is felt that the government and the party should always be on the same page.
In addition, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) does not, at any cost, want that there should be two power centres. One of the principal reasons for the collapse of the UPA government was that there were dual power centres—one headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the other with Sonia Gandhi as the supremo. In public perception, Sonia Gandhi was the most powerful entity of the previous regime, even though she did not hold any government office. Her will determined the agenda of the government and Manmohan Singh remained merely a compliant pawn, who undermined his own position by making statements highlighting his willingness to work even under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership.
This kind of attitude made a mockery of our Parliamentary democracy, where the buck stops solely on the table of the Prime Minister. Manmohan Singh was comfortable with being overruled on several occasions and was more focused on remaining in power rather than asserting his authority on major government decisions. Ultimately, situations arose where his ministers started ignoring his position and instead implemented decisions which were detrimental both to the image and prestige of the Prime Minister. This unfortunate reality led to a condition where even three years before the Parliamentary polls took place, it was evident to close watchers of the Congress that the grand old party would never reach the three-figure mark and would simply fold up with about 65 to 70 seats. The reality since the Prime Minister was shirking his responsibility and allowing the party chief to call the shots resulted in a colossal defeat that put the Congress tally to much below the 50 mark (44 to be precise).
On the other hand, Modi has demonstrated right from the very beginning that he is the man in charge of matters and the buck stops with him. There has never been any ambiguity, though eighteen months down the line his popularity may have diminished but his authority remains intact. Every minister knows who the boss is and is more than content playing second fiddle to Modi. However, there are many in the party who believe that the Prime Minister should meet up regularly with his MPs and other leaders to acquire an accurate political feedback of his government and its performance.
When Shah’s first term was coming to an end, there were several PM baiters who thought that this was the right opportunity to strike at Modi and get someone not too close to him as the party chief. Many names came into the public domain and a lot of importance was attached to the meeting of RSS functionaries with elements within the party and Sangh who were opposed to Modi’s style of functioning. There were stories which appeared in some newspapers that showed the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in an adversarial role. It was claimed that Bhagwat was hell bent on downsizing the Prime Minister, who had developed a larger than life persona.
Yet those who published the stories did not realise that Bhagwat and others in the RSS are not cerebrally challenged to allow a BJP government, the first to come into existence on its own strength, to collapse so early during its tenure. They were certainly not in favour of appointing someone as the party president who would spend his tenure in a confrontational mode with the Prime Minister in place of strengthening the organisation in various states. Thus after wide consultations where opinion of several seniors too was sought, the RSS decided to give its nod to Amit Shah’s continuation.
The development has ensured that Modi emerged as the most powerful BJP leader ever. He enjoys the supremacy which even Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani did not have during their heydays. He has apparently been given a free hand to re-organise his Cabinet. However, it has to be seen the extent of freedom accorded to Shah when he constitutes his new team shortly.
Modi, in the meanwhile, could embark on an image makeover exercise to re-assure those who had rooted for him in 2014 that he was committed to providing good governance and stellar leadership. There is speculation that he would now revamp his Council of Ministers by going in for major changes. This exercise may commence shortly post the Republic Day celebrations.
The Prime Minister is likely to use the occasion now to re-assert himself and could give marching orders to some of his non performing colleagues. He has to also decide on names drawn up for Rajya Sabha seats and gubernatorial assignments. His actions would show where the buck stops.