Sampark Se Samarthan: Amit Shah's outreach covers faithful, unsympathetic

Amit Shah (centre) had met Ratan Tata (left) following advice from Devendra Fadnavis
Ratan Naval Tata was among top personalities to host Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah during his ongoing Sampark Se Samarthan (SSS, or contact for support) campaign, which started on May 30. The former Tata Sons chairman made no discreet enquiries about Shah’s food preferences — he gathered the BJP leader was vegetarian. His staff laid out a spread of Gujarati snacks that Shah and his colleagues savoured to the last bite. 

The conversation was polite and anodyne, undisturbed by the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST), demonetisation or the state of the economy. Devendra Fadnavis, Maharashtra chief minister, had advised Shah to begin his Mumbai calls with Tata who, he said, drew more applause than Bollywood celebrities at public events. 

The eminences who Shah has been calling on were told that his objective was to brief them exhaustively about the four-year “accomplishments” of the Narendra Modi government, particularly its thrust on the poor, and elicit their views. 

“Our government has brought about transformational and not incremental change. Those who live in cities have no idea about what the government has done to change the lives of the majority,” said Anil Jain, BJP general secretary and the point person for Shah’s outreach. But Dr Sriram Nene, a cardiovascular surgeon from the US, who’s better known as film star Madhuri Dixit’s husband, was among the few who asked Shah questions about how the Prime Minister National Health Insurance Scheme would be administered and whether it would motivate private hospitals to set up shop in rural India.   

Shah’s campaign, the first by the BJP, kicked off with a visit to former Army chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag in Delhi. “The choice was deliberate. He’s the pride of India, the General who planned and executed the first cross-LoC operation to avenge the death of our soldiers (in Uri in 2016),” said Jain. The SSS, an offshoot of Modi’s accountability promise, was thought up by Shah and implemented through a team that included, apart from Jain, Rajya Sabha MP and Media Cell Convenor Anil Baluni; his deputy Sanjay Mayuk; and Bihar legislative council member and party general secretary Arun Singh. 

Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Rajya Sabha MP and Indian Council for Cultural Relations chairman, gave four reasons in the SSS’s support. “First, it will ensure people’s education through direct dialogue. Second, it will enhance understanding about development governance. Third, it will evolve a structured feedback mechanism and, lastly, it will help people understand a good exchange of views can happen with politicians,” he contended. 

“Engaging with minds” was how another BJP office-bearer described Shah’s brainchild. “It’s a confidence-building move that the Congress could never do because its leaders and ministers were embroiled in corruption cases. We started on a clean slate,” claimed Arun Singh. 

Reaching across to a gamut of persons who Sahasrabuddhe described “loosely as opinion-makers”, the inclusion of yoga guru and televangelist Ramdev was startling because he was one of the first endorsers of Modi-for-PM and largely remained loyal to the BJP thereafter. The BJP initially listed a prominent Haridwar seer, Swami Avdeshanand Giri, but couldn’t get him because he was in the US.

Besides, the maverick Ramdev had critiqued the Modi government for its “failure” to repatriate black money and not making the 2018-19 budget middle class friendly. “He has a following of 10 million people, and we have to humour him,” a source said.   

The BJP and Shah reached out to those classified as “neutral” and “unsympathetic”. For instance, they played up Shah’s visit to Milkha Singh, the Flying Sikh. “For us, Milkha Singh is neutral. But he said in the past four years Indians are treated respectfully abroad and Modi has enhanced our global image,” a source said. 

Two well-known editors — nonagenarian Kuldip Nayyar and a much younger one from television whose name the BJP didn’t want to be splashed — were clubbed as “political adversaries”. When Shah apprised Nayyar of the government’s “achievements”, the veteran journalist said he wasn’t aware of most of them and hence the "achievements" should be propagated forcefully among the poor. The other editor, who was called on by a media cell member, saw off his guest with a signed copy of his latest book, wishing the BJP the best for 2019. 

First signs of blunting dissent? Not surprising, Shah could next visit the celebrated Hindi literary critic, Namvar Singh, who was once associated with the Communist movement.

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