Amit Shah exchanges greetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he took oath as a Cabinet minister during a swearing-in ceremony at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi | PTI
In December 2002, Narendra Modi crushed the Congress to win a record 126 seats in the 182-member Gujarat Assembly. The man in his party who won by the highest margin of votes, over 158,000, higher than Modi himself, was Amit Anilchandra Shah from Sarkhej, Ahmedabad.
Sarkhej has elected Shah as its MLA in four consecutive elections. He improved his 2002 margin of victory in 2007, winning by 235,000 votes. In an assembly election, this order of an electoral margin is considered extraordinary. In the Lok Sabha election from Gandhinagar, Shah won by a margin of 557,000 votes, keeping his track record of high margins intact.
Under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime, the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case came to haunt him (he was minister of state for home and jails, and he himself went to jail for 29 days and later was not permitted to return to Gujarat); he has since been discharged in the case in 2014. But, Shah’s stars had been in ascendence, largely also because he had a mentor in Narendra Modi. It was generally believed that if Modi moved to New Delhi, Shah would be his successor in Gujarat. That didn’t happen: Shah became party president instead.
This is not the full story. Few know that Shah owes his rise to some carefully choreographed political moves, especially relating to the delimitation of Gujarat.
Sociologist Prof Vidyut Joshi has done a masterly analysis of the effects of delimitation on Gujarat. His conclusion is: Delimitation strategically changed the social composition of at least 60 seats. More villages were merged in urban areas leading to 50 per cent of the population of the state becoming urban; the population in some constituencies came down, leading to an imbalance in the size of constituencies; and the size of the population in constituencies on an average went up to 200,000. The party that knew its organisation — and the state — was best placed to gain from the delimitation.
Shah, even more than Modi, was that man. Not only did he guide the delimitation, (Shah was one of the key BJP members in the West Zone committee set up by the Election Commission in 2008 for the delimitation of the constituencies in western states), he neutralised the political challenge the BJP was facing: from the NCP and the Congress.
This was not the only asset of Shah. In Gujarat currently, there is no one who knows the structure of the cooperative sector in the state better than Shah. The cooperatives helped establish Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra, and they were a mainstay for the Congress in Gujarat.
Over the years, Shah helped break this and brought the cooperatives over to the BJP.
Matching the party to the newly delimited constituencies, Shah influenced the restructuring of the organisation in such a way that many of the old guards found themselves out. Gujarat has 18,600 villages. Shah set up election management cells in small clusters of villages and then finally in the villages themselves. So while interviewing prospective candidates, he was able to contradict them decisively and impersonally if they made exaggerated claims of their popularity.
Sounds familiar? Shah used the same skills in 2014 and now in 2019.
Shah has a bachelor's degree in biochemistry, was an RSS volunteer and a leader of the RSS’ youth wing ABVP. He has been the president of the Gujarat state chess association, the game his mentor Narendra Modi, too, has said he enjoys. He has also served as vice-president of the state cricket association when Modi was president of the body. The question is: Which skills will he bring to the government — cricket, a gentleman’s game; or chess, that is based on checkmating rivals.