Implications of second term for Amit Shah as BJP President

Kumar Dhananjay

Kumar Dhananjay is a freelance columnist based in New Delhi.

That Amit Shah would be again be anointed BJP President was a foregone conclusion. With Narendra Modi calling the shots in the BJP, Amit Shah was more than likely to continue as President in spite of murmurs following the spectacular Delhi and Bihar election debacles.

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are amongst the two most divisive figures in Indian politics. Amit Shah’s long-time role as Modi’s only trusted lieutenant and close confidant makes him Modi’s natural choice. The RSS too has fallen in line without many complaints.

But concerns about the Modi-Shah combine’s penchant for over-centralisation and erosion of democracy, that had been simmering in the party for long, surfaced in the open after the BJP’s spectacular rout in Delhi and Bihar. Why, in spite of these, has Amit Shah triumphed in the inner party stakes?

The BJP’s official statement says that Shah is the most successful President in BJP’s history, who has led the party to election victories in four states: Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir, where the BJP had never before never captured power. But the party is on the defensive when quizzed on Delhi and Bihar elections.

Shrikant Sharma of the BJP says that sometimes poll strategies do not work, and this does not mean that the leader at the helm is solely responsible. Obfuscation seems to be the best ploy for the party as it seeks to stave off criticism of Amit Shah over the Delhi and Bihar embarrassments. Quizzed further on 2016 and 2017 on the polls bound states Srikant Sharma told me that the party will stick to the same strategy. Though party insiders accept that the party is not very enthusiastic in its outlook for 2016, its entire focus will be on 2017 when UP goes to the polls.

And this is where Amit Shah’s importance for the BJP becomes clear. It was Amit Shah who played the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 to the hilt, to get the BJP a huge seat tally that the BJP could never have imagined and never achieved even at the height of the Ram Mandir movement. While Amit Shah’s polarization ploys came a cropper in Delhi and Bihar, the party still banks on the same ploy to repeat 2013 in UP in 2017. This is why Amit Shah still enjoys BJP’s vote of confidence.

The situation unfolding in Uttar Pradesh, especially Western UP, makes that amply clear. The intervention of BJP leaders like MLA Sangeet Som in Dadri, threatening riots if the perpetrators were arrested, was a case in point. Since then Union Minister Sanjeev Baliyan has visited those accused of rape and riots in Muzaffarnagar in jail – promising them his support.

But the BJP too realizes that ‘Mandir’ has diminishing returns in the current climate – and therefore banks on what can be called ‘beef’ and ‘beti.’ Perhaps most significant is the fact that the ‘love jehad’ formula of Muzaffaragar 2013 is being repeated by the BJP in Western UP, in spite of damning exposés of previous plots. The Cobrapost sting had caught many BJP leaders – including Sangeet Som and Sanjeev Balyan – on candid camera admitting that no real case of ‘love jehad’ actually exists, and that it is merely a useful and cynical ploy to harvest the widespread hostility to inter-faith relationships to polarize Hindus across castes against Muslims. The Meerut ‘love jehad’ case turned out, predictably, to be one of a consensual elopement, and the couple is now married. Yet, the BJP is again raising the bogey of ‘love jehad’ in Western UP, circulating a sex video purported to be that of ‘rape’ by a Muslim man of a Hindu woman.

Whether the video is one of rape or was filmed consensually is unclear – but it is alarming that it is now being circulated aggressively for political reasons. A case that would ordinarily be viewed from the prism of crimes against women is being skillfully being painted with the saffron brush as exploitation of Hindu women by Muslim men in communally sensitive districts of UP.

Asked about this, Shrikant Sharma says that the onus is not on the BJP or Amit Shah to comment on the statements of Sanjeev Balyan threatening violence if the Administration fails to act. Instead, he says all responsibility rests with the UP Government since law and order is a state subject. He claims the word ‘polarisation’ is a media creation, and that the BJP will never allow riots to take place.

But the fact remains that Balyan is a Union Minister in the Modi cabinet. Modi’s and Shah’s silence show that he enjoys their blessing. And why should he not? During the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, it was Shah after all who, in a speech made at Shamli, epicenter of the Muzaffarnagar riots, justified the riots thus “Why do riots happen? No one is fond of rioting. But when a community violates the honour of our daughters and sisters, and the administration does nothing, people are forced to riot.”

The fact that the UP police, in spite of this and other provocative speeches, have given a clean chit to Shah in the hate-speech cases, is a sign by the Samajwadi Party Government secular posturing will again be accompanied by discreet green signals to such polarising politics, as 2017 approaches.

Amit Shah’s second term as BJP President is a sign that the BJP – forced to concede the failure of communal polarization as a poll ploy in Delhi and Bihar – nevertheless has little else to bank on for the UP polls. Even in 2014, when the appeal of Modi’s ‘Gujarat model of development’ promise was at its peak, Amit Shah and the BJP had needed that other aspect of the ‘Gujarat model’ – it’s communal hate campaign. Now, with growing disenchantment with the Modi Government’s failure to deliver on its promise of magical development, the BJP has little but communal polarization to count on. Will it succeed, is the question – the answer to which will have huge consequences, both for the BJP and for India.