Amit Shah on Sunday got a second consecutive term as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, in a development which was widely expected.
At exactly 1.15pm, the returning officer for the BJP's presidential election Avinash Rai Khanna declared that the 'constitutional process' for the election was over and Shah has been "unanimously" declared elected to lead the party for the next three years.
An election certificate was duly handed over to Shah with all the attached fanfare.
But it did not escape anyone's attention that seniors LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi — part of the BJP's 'Margdarshak Mandal' — were missing from the ceremony. Advani's absence, a departure from a practice that was in vogue since the Jan Sangh days, more particularly since the time the BJP was formed in 1980, raised eyebrows.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Shah's mentor, also didn't make it to the venue.
On the podium inside the lawns of the BJP headquarters at 11 Ashoka Road in New Delhi, high-ranking cabinet ministers, chief ministers of BJP-ruled states and other senior leaders were busy celebrating. It wasn't as if there was any doubt over the outcome but for the BJP, finding occasions these days to celebrate are few and far between.
Also, "re-election" means there would be restructuring in the party with a new set of office-bearers and possibly also a cabinet reshuffle.
That Advani wasn't there to 'bless' the party president was a confirmation, if any was needed, of his total eclipse from the saffron horizon. A logical yet bitter step, perhaps, for a party stalwart who has long been marginalised under the new dispensation.
Modi's absence, though, does not lend itself to any such interpretations. The world knows that Shah is his protege and he owes his presidency to him. Also, the Prime Minister was away in Chandigarh to receive his chief guest for the Republic Day Parade, French President François Hollande.
Shah's second coming (technically he was serving the remainder of Rajnath Singh's term and now begins a three-year regular stint) will, however, be far more challenging.
He had begun on a high note, riding the personal and organisational buoyancy of post 2014 parliamentary elections. Shah's phenomenal year in 2014, when BJP won all the elections that they contested, was followed by a more sobering 2015 when despite being the single largest party on earth in terms of enrolled members, the BJP received a drubbing in Delhi and Bihar.
These losses took away Shah's aura of invincibility and also some sheen as a "master strategist". Perception, in politics, is everything. The BJP president has to regain that aura and build a team around himself which is seen to be functional, effective and carries some weight.
For better or for worse, Shah's task is cut out. He simply has to deliver in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the next few months.
What should take some pressure off him is that unlike in Delhi and Bihar, BJP is not the punters' favourite in these elections. In many of these states, BJP's presence is marginal and it stands to gain even if it is moderately successful. However, the stakes are never too low for BJP which seeks to expand its base and win a good number of seats to be counted as the new pan-national force replacing the Congress.
In Assam and West Bengal, the BJP has already escalated the pitch.
Shah has quite a few things going for him. He is the youngest BJP president; a man with untiring capacity to slog for long hours and live out of a suitcase. He keeps revising the target and attempts for larger numbers. The party workers are in awe of his calibre but seniors rue his inaccessibility.
The 51-year-old Shah is quite used to the ebb and tide of politics.
From being an MLA and minister of state in Gujarat to being hunted by central law enforcing agencies, including the CBI, Shah has seen it all. He has spent jail time, was debarred by the court from entering his home state only to be later exonerated. He became BJP general secretary and accepted the challenge of reviving party's fortunes in Uttar Pradesh. BJP eventually won 72 out of 80 parliamentary seats and Modi declared him the Man of the Match. After being appointed as president, Shah continued to deliver, leading BJP to wins in a series of Assembly elections.
His 'midas touch', though, deserted him when BJP slumped two consecutive big defeats. Questions suddenly began to be raised whether he was really a wizard or if it was all just hype.
As he begins his second term, Shah possesses deep knowledge of the party, its power structures, the men and women at his disposal. He also perhaps now has a better understanding of his own strengths and weaknesses. As and when he constitutes his team, it will be closely scrutinised.
BJP swept UP in 2014 but three years is a long time in politics. Things have changed. Shah, though, knows UP like the back of his hand and party leaders believe his experience of handling the elections in India's largest state would come handy when he eventually launches the campaign.
Towards the later part of 2017, Gujarat will be going to the polls and Shah needs to be at the top of his game. Many party leaders believe his presence in Gujarat is crucial. Chief Minister Anandiben Patel will turn 75 in November 2016. Going by the precedents set by the party and the RSS, she will have to relinquish her post soon after.
This brings the question will Shah last the full term of his presidency ( 2019) or leave it before or after UP elections to take up yet another challenge in his home state? After all, for Modi and Shah, Gujarat is where it all began.
First Published On : Jan 25, 2016 07:06 IST