Delhi by-election: Bawana bombshell for BJP

BJP President Amit Shah (left) greets Prime Minister Narendra Modi prior to a meeting with chief ministers of BJP-ruled states, in New Delhi, last month | Photo: PTI
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) defeat in Delhi’s Bawana by-election on August 28 is perhaps a smudge on its president Amit Shah’s ledger of electoral wins and losses.

To BJP observers, the voters’ rebuff of Ved Prakash — a defector from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to the BJP who was “gifted” the ticket reportedly against the claims of more “deserving” contenders — revealed an unknown aspect of Shah’s working style: His resolve to redeem a promise made impulsively or after forethought at the peril of ignoring ground realities.

“Our workers had warned the president that Ved Prakash was unpopular and people didn’t want to see his face. Our surveys had confirmed this. The president’s answer was, who are you to advise me?” a Delhi BJP source said, adding Shah had “resolved not to renege” on his promise to Ved Prakash, whom the BJP welcomed in March this year with fanfare.

Adhering to an esprit de corps may not be the hallmark of Shah’s working template. But, he has put in place a team to which work is delegated on a “need-to-know-and-do-basis”. That is, each office-bearer is told only what his assignment is and no more. That’s a departure from the old days in 11, Ashoka Road, the BJP headquarters when the president’s court often cohered into a single entity and sometimes worked at cross-purposes. 

During LK Advani’s presidencies, come a crisis in a BJP-ruled state, as in Gujarat, almost every office-bearer was around to counsel him. They were rushed to Gandhinagar to fire-fight, regardless of whether a member was familiar with the internal power equations. The tendency of every cook wanting to stir the broth yielded unwanted consequences. That was Advani.

Shah does not preside over Camelot’s court. He doesn’t play favourites. A handful who fancied themselves as that were pulled up and brought down to earth. “He has a clear vision. He knows what’s happening (in the BJP and outside), who’s doing what. He is result-oriented. Nobody can stand between him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi because he is closest to Modi,” an office-bearer said. 

Another member said: “To be his favourite, a single attribute is required and that is scrupulous honesty. He can’t be taken for a ride. Everybody is made accountable for what’s done.”

Old-timers who worked with presidents Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Kushabhau Thakre, M Venkaiah Naidu, and Rajnath Singh said they were “troubled” by Shah’s inclination to rush through resolutions adopted at the party’s national executives in the increasingly compressed sessions. “The debates have disappeared. These often resulted in critical amendments. Once Jaswant Singh drafted a resolution that said no to nuclear tests. Some of us forced him to change the line and succeeded,” a veteran recalled.

In the view of some, the closest Shah came to was the late Thakre, whom he revered. “Thakreji was a ‘pracharak’ (RSS whole-timer) who lived in the party office because he didn’t have a family. Shah’s a family person. Out of Delhi, he puts up in the BJP offices and not hotels. Like Thakreji, he has gone back to the Jana Sangh roots,” a team-member said.

Another person pointed out that just as Thakre refused to countenance the “shenanigans” of leaders, however “powerful” they were, for Shah nobody, except Modi, was sacrosanct.

A senior leader summed up the differences between the past and the present in the following terms: “Presidents can’t be compared. (Nitin) Gadkari was president at a time when we were out of power in Maharashtra (his home state) for 10 years. Rajnath Singh was president when there was no BJP government in Uttar Pradesh for over 10 years. Shah’s from Gujarat, where the Congress is out of power for about 20 years. The fact that he became president after Modi became PM gave him a moral stature. Our government is not buffeted by coalitions and alliances. So from day one, Shah’s target has been to make the BJP outpace China’s Communist Party as the world’s largest party, which he did.”

A younger member said: “He has seamlessly blended the party with the government and made party workers responsible to promote the flagship schemes as well as Modi’s leadership. When Vajpayeeji was PM, this didn’t happen because the BJP didn’t coalesce into one to project Atalji’s leadership. Certain individuals took it upon themselves to do this.”


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