Amit Shah is not just the BJP national president but is also the party’s master maven with consummate skills in plotting election strategies. He is the grandmaster of political chess, a modern Chanakya and the driver extraordinaire of Narendra Modi’s high-octane election juggernaut. Shah is to Modi what General George Marshall was to American president Franklin D Roosevelt during World War II.
And Shah donned an altogether new role while on a three-day pre-election recce of Karnataka that concluded on Monday. He became a teacher.
Sensing that not everything was as it should be with the party in Karnataka, he held a marathon class to teach the local leaders a thing or two.
Short of rapping their knuckles with a ruler — he frowned at some of them for not carrying pens and notebooks — Shah questioned them point blank about BJP’s chances of winning the state Assembly election less than a year away. Leader after leader poured out expert assessments, but the teacher only had a grim face.
Shah’s face didn’t brighten up even when BS Yeddyurappa, BJP's state president and chief-minister-in waiting, gave his own opinion. Yeddyurappa expressed supreme confidence that the party could fulfill its “Mission 150”. This was the awesome title the party gave to its target of winning 150 of the 224 seats in the Assembly.
"No," Shah told his best prefect in the class, shaking his head. Shah said that he had seen three survey reports and hinted that the party could expect no more than 80 seats if "elections are held today".
Shah then proceeded to give the local leaders a tongue-lashing for not working hard enough and rising to the challenge. He seemed amazed that the party had not taken the agitation path to exploit the issue of corruption under the state Congress government and was flabbergasted that the local unit had not even demanded the resignation of minister DK Shivakumar who had been raided by Income Tax officials earlier this month.
The teacher gives homework
Like a good teacher, Shah then gave his party leaders plenty of home work and went home. Their work is to study and prepare "action plans" on four issues. These are:
- Demand to make the Hindu upper caste of Lingayats a separate religion
- Allegations that the Centre is thrusting Hindi on Karnataka
- The Congress government’s move to have a separate flag for the state
- The Mahadayi river water row between Karnataka and Goa
Karnataka's Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah is using all four issues to strike emotional chords in the run-up to the election. As he readies for elections, Shah always knows when the red lights are up. When the situation appears normal to others, Shah spots snafus.
And just in case the local leaders thought they could go back to their ways of all-play-no-work once he turned his back, Shah, the hard taskmaster, said he would be back in Bengaluru next month for a “review”.
That parting remark is keeping the BJP leaders on toes. Shah even said that, once he was through with the Gujarat Assembly elections, he would stay in Bengaluru. In an obvious reference to the bickering between Yeddyurappa and senior leader KS Eshwarappa, Shah also delivered a stiff warning to his partymen to stop breathing down each other’s necks.
All this was behind closed doors. But what happened earlier in front of television cameras was different. A confident-looking Shah had thundered before the press and euphoric party workers: "I have come here to realise the slogan Ab Ki Bar BJP Sarkar and won’t rest till the corrupt Congress goes."
At another point, he had said, “When the Vijay Rath of Narendra Modi comes rolling to Karnataka, it will open a new road to South India for the party in the 2019 Genereal Election to Lok Sabha.”
Modi juggernaut faces speed breakers
Shah, of course, knows better. He is aware that Modi’s victory chariot may be slowed, or even stopped, by four speed breakers. These are the four issues that he told his local satraps to do homework on.
The demand from Lingayats for a separate religion, with tacit support from Siddaramaiah, is threatening to divide the community, with some favouring it and some opposing it, which is bad news for BJP. The community, to which Yeddyurappa belongs, forms a substantial chunk of the party’s support base in northern Karnataka. A final acceptance of the demand rests with the Centre. A cautious local BJP unit has kept mum on this, as it has on the alleged imposition of Hindi and the Income Tax raids on Shivakumar, for Congress is blaming the Modi government for both the issues.
Shah also asked party MLAs, MPs and vistaaraks (volunteers working at booth-level) to fan out and meet as many people as possible and get “inputs”.
This is in tune with how Shah dealt with past elections, especially the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election earlier this year. He took inputs from whoever possible and acted on them with deadly precision. In fact, Shah treats BJP like a company and himself like a CEO — chief election organiser, in this case — taking calculated boardroom decisions based on available data and pie charts.
Clearly, Shah doesn’t believe that winning an election is like rolling the dice in a Goa casino and hoping for a lucky turn. For him, success depends on keeping a cool head and going into the details.
One such detail goes by the name of Sri Nirmalanandanath Swami, pontiff at the Adichunchungiri Mutt of Vokkaligas, the other upper caste that dominates the politics of southern Karnataka. Shah sang extempore paeans to the seer because keeping him in good humour amounts to keeping at least a section of the Vokkaligas happy. And that isn’t a bad thing, considering the doubts over support from Lingayats.
In sum, Shah told local party leaders to stop slacking and press Ctrl-Alt-Del to pump up themselves. The party president’s visit to Karnataka also means that Shah doesn't fully trust the local leaders and he will now virtually lead the party with remote control from Delhi.
Shah’s students seem to have learnt at least one lesson as within 24 hours after his departure from Bengaluru, Yeddyurappa announced a week-long agitation against corruption in the Congress government.
The author tweets @sprasadindia
Updated Date: Aug 16, 2017 06:32 AM