Sixty-eight-year-old Prime Minister Narendra Modi first met fifty-three-year-old Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah in the early 1990s. The partnership between ‘saheb’ and his ‘adhyakshiji’ began when Modi ensured a ticket for Shah to contest the Gujarat assembly elections from the Sarkhej seat in 1996.
Shah was only 32 and ambitious beyond belief. The Gujarat BJP wanted to clip his wings and had been putting road blocks in his progress. Shah had wanted to become Gujarat youth BJP president. But Keshubhai Patel, Modi’s sworn enemy, ensured that Shah was not selected. A furious Modi then made sure that Shah took a quantum leap and got him selected as the Secretary General of the All-India BJP Youth Organisation.
The durable all-weather alliance of the duo endured even when Shah was jailed for his alleged role in encounters and even when he was externed from Gujarat. The two have reduced a once robust cadre-based party, which used to take huge pride in its inner party democracy, to a pale shadow of itself. Even Modi’s Cabinet is filled with cardboard cutout leaders who are unable to exercise any real authority.
Every single leader in the BJP concedes that Modi and Shah are a package deal and that they have reduced the BJP and the government to a two-man show. Earlier, it was two-and-a-half with Arun Jaitley, the Finance Minister, getting a look in, but his recent kidney transplant and the Vijay Mallya escape controversy has rendered him effect-less.
A leader in the BJP’s Margdarshak Mandal, a glorified old age home, where Modi and Shah ruthlessly consigned all senior leaders who were a threat to Modi, says angrily: “They are partners in crime. Modi needed someone to act with a heavy hand against people such as Pravin Togadia. And Shah provided the thuggish edge.” The leader adds grudgingly: “Shah is very sharp politically, but has an arrogant thuggish way of bulldozing through all situations as he has bulldozed through the BJP.”
Senior leaders say that both Modi and Shah have huge chips on their shoulders – a sort of provincial attitude, which sees any compromise as a defeat. This has ensured that Modi has possibly the most talentless cabinet, filled with people of dubious qualifications simply because they pose no threat to Modi. The results of this inferiority complex are writ large in the mediocre, lacklustre track record of the Modi government.
A senior leader, who holds a very important portfolio on paper, but admits disarmingly that he has no real powers, says: “We now know after Shah’s term as BJP president was extended without election recently that Shah will be coterminous with Modi. But can our party and India survive this iron control?”
He points out that in the history of the BJP, the Prime Minister and party chief have never been from the same state, but this convention was brushed aside by the duo who has also ensured that all senior IAS officials from Gujarat wield all the power levers of the central government. “Currently, it is Gujarat ruling India. We in the BJP now wonder when India will take back control?” says a minister who comes from Uttar Pradesh.
Shah’s recent hubris laden statement that “if the BJP wins 2019 we will rule for 50 years” caused a lot of shock even in the reduced to quiescent BJP. Shah has thrown away all the traditional fig leaves that politicians cloak the pursuit of power with. Shah virtually put India on notice that if the BJP wins again, even the Constitution of the republic would be up for review.
Shah, who took control of the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank in 2000, is learnt to have massive interests in the cooperative sector. A traditional route of power, money and influence for politicians. Like most Gujaratis, he apparently also plays the stock market.
Both the men are dogmatic, rigid and don’t take well to the niceties of democracy. It took the Supreme Court to point out recently that “dissent provided a safety valve in a democracy”.
Shah has reduced the BJP to a ruthless election winning machine, but both his and Modi’s metaphors are crude and replete with violence. His war cry of “Congress mukt Bharat” even drew censure from the mothership of the Sangh, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In Bengal, he repeatedly talks of “uprooting Mamata Banerjee”.
Even the Supreme Court rebuke did not deter Shah from congratulating BJP Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on his crackdown of what Shah described as “urban naxals”.
With the economy stalling and tall promises undelivered, both Modi and Shah are in the search of creating new enemies to ensure polarisation and another victory.
History will judge the duo as they have been together since Modi was Gujarat Chief Minister. The only friction between the formidable duo is Shah’s dream of being Gujarat Chief Minister.
For some reason, Modi is denying him this prize. Shah engineered the removal of Anandiben Patel as Chief Minister and the current incumbent, Vijay Rupani, functions as Shah’s Governor to the state. This may eventually cause friction between the duo.
Modi will be remembered for the voodoo economics of the dodgy demonetisation. Shah and Modi will be remembered for reducing politics to a dangerous zero sum game, destroying democracy in a cadre-based party and unleashing the now routine lawless lynchings.
With all this and the controversial IT cell of the BJP, which even trolled party leader Sushma Swaraj, both the men have reduced the BJP and India to their own image.
Will this new India of lying and lynching last? We will know in 2019.
Swati’s book “I am a Troll – Inside the BJP’s secret digital army” has received international acclaim. Her twitter handle is @Bainjal.