As BJP president Amit Shah has had his three-year stint as BJP president renewed, the tasks cut out for him will pose insurmountable challenges. Shah, though a political lightweight, occupies a unique position in the BJP as he possesses the unquestioned trust of the prime minister. His predecessors like Kushabhau Thackeray, Jena Krishnamurthy, Bangaru Laxman, M Venkaiah Naidu or even Rajnath Singh never shared as cosy a relationship with the top leader of their times as Shah doees with the party’s numero uno: Narendra Modi.
But Shah is still under tremendous pressure on account of the formidable expectations he is supposed to match in his new term:
There is little doubt that after successive defeats in Delhi and Bihar, the party’s cadre across India is quite pessimistic about the future. Despite the tall claims of Shah’s organisational abilities, he turned out to be neither an imaginative leader, nor an affable one. That he relies more on his own band of loyalists than local workers had alienated the cadre in Delhi and Bihar. Shah’s image, rightly or wrongly, is pervasive across the country. Will he go in for an image makeover? Given his tenacity and devil-may-care spirit, it is unlikely that he will change his style of functioning.
After a long time, the BJP once again seems to be stuck in the Brahmin-Bania groove of identity politics. Its leadership and battery of acolytes in the top leadership are largely drawn from a social stock identified with the traditional support base of the BJP: Brahmin-Bania. In the Hindi heartland where caste consciousness is quite high, the party’s discretion is proving to be costly in political terms. Not only OBCs and Dalits but a section of upper caste is also getting alienated from the party leadership.
State Assembly elections
After facing humiliating defeats in Delhi and Bihar, the party is desperately in need of a victory to break the jinx. The aura of invincibility and strategic astuteness attributed to Shah is blown to smithereens. And there is no sign of even partially regaining that aura in the upcoming elections in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala or Punjab. But that can be explained as the states are not favourable to the party. The same cannot be said about Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP and its allies won 73 seats out of 80. Apparently, there are signs of the party losing ground in the country’s most populous and politically-significant state.
Possibility of a lame-duck government
If the party continues to get drubbed in the 2017 elections, particularly in UP, the efficacy of the Modi government will be highly compromised. It will be largely a lame-duck government, whose writ will not even run within the walls of New Delhi’s Lutyens' zone. This will be a scary scenario for a party that won a clear mandate nearly after three decades in India. With Shah at the helm of affairs, this will be an ignominy that he will find difficult to live down.
Neither money nor strategy wins elections, politics does
In the Delhi and Bihar elections, Shah with his battery of loyalists did indulge in an aggressive display of money and marketing strategies. He was however outsmarted by his much-less resourceful rivals. Evidently, this should have shattered his belief that semantics is substitute for substance. Has he learnt his lessons?
Organic growth of state leaders
There is a serious dearth of state leaders in the BJP. In Delhi, Bihar, such a deficiency cost the party dearly. In Uttar Pradesh, the absence of a leader is being felt long before the election. Except for the states in which the party is in power, the growth of natural state leaders is being dissuaded, if not curbed. Unlike the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-LK Advani era when leaders like Sikandar Bakht, Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and even Ambedkarites were roped in to cultivate as parallel leaders, the party seems averse to attracting talent from outside. How will Shah address this question? In all likelihood, he may be dismissive of such suggestions. But that will limit the party’s growth as the BJP’s expansion within its own ideological fold has its limitations.
The party seems to be going through a serious case of intellect deficit. Unlike the past when the BJP leaders used to coin terms like “minority-ism or social engineering”, that gained currency in political lexicon, the idioms and language used by the party leadership have a ring of frivolity if not lumpenisation. The BJP’s national executive which used to throw up new ideas like “economic nationalism”, has been reduced to be a mutual appreciation society. In the post Vajpayee-Advani phase, the party’s political resolutions, economic resolutions or presidential addresses have become an exercise in insipid verbosity. The party seems to be in the grip of morbid intellectual atrophy. Will Shah’s new term diagnose the ailment and attend to it? It is difficult to hazard an answer.