A question that many have asked and keep asking of Shah, who is often referred to as the Chanakya of modern Indian politics, is about the evolution of his multidimensional personality – political, educational and personal.
Born in Mumbai on 22 October 1964, in a wealthy Nagar-Vaishnav family to Anil Chandra Shah and Kusum Ben, Shah spent his formative years in his ancestral village. His grandfather shifted the family from Mumbai back to their ancestral home in Mansa in Gujarat, soon after Shah was born.
‘My grandfather wanted me to have a traditional education,’ he recalled…’In my early years, I was taught by traditional teachers- Acharyas-Shastris.’ Shah recalled one evening …, ‘My grandfather was soft towards me but also insisted that I follow a strict regime. At the age of four, I would be woken up at 4 am and I would get ready and be dressed in traditional attire and sit before my masters who would then begin their lessons on the Indian scriptures, epics, grammatical texts, stories, history, etc.’
Shah’s great-grandfather and grandfather had been the nagarsheth of the princely state of Mansa. It is said that the family had also hosted Sri Aurobindo, then Arvind Ghose, who was attached to the Gaekwad of Baroda, the legendary Sayaji Rao….’The Gaekwad had sent out some of his most trusted and senior administrators and officers to apprise other princes and rulers in the region of the reforms and progressive measures that he had undertaken,’ Shah narrated one evening, leading among ‘and among those who had fanned out to impart the message was Sri Aurobindo.
He had enumerated nineteen points of governance and administration to my greatgrandfather.’ One advice that Sri Aurobindo is said to have given to Shah’s family elders was that a ‘king should always try to take decisions that benefit the masses and not individuals.’ ‘The chair in which Sri Aurobindo had sat when he visited our home is still preserved, my grandfather had told me once that a great personality had once occupied that seat and that we had to preserve it for posterity I have preserved it, it remains intact.’
THE FRUITS OF SAMVAD
Shah believes in continuously infusing dynamism in the party. He sees the party as the most effective instrument for samvad, especially for countering false propaganda that is regularly dished out by opposition parties with the Congress in the lead.
When the Congress announced it would observe the anniversary of demonetisation on 8 November as Black Day and decided to protest before the Reserve Bank of India in Delhi, Shah had already thought of organising a Kaala Dhan Virodhi Diwas (Anti Black Money Day) across the country on the same day.
While the Congress protested in Delhi, Shah ensured that the BJP’s programme would fan out across the country.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s moving words spoken on 28 May 1996 in the Lok Sabha come to mind: ‘Our efforts are backed by a devotion, dedicated action of forty years, this is not a sudden mandate, no miracle has happened, we have worked hard, we went among the people, we have struggled, this party works for 365 days. This is not a seasonal party which only appears among the public during the election season.’
When Vajpayee had spoken these words, the BJP had not expanded as extensively throughout the country, its power and presence was not as widespread and its grassroots reach was not as extensive as it is today under Modi and Shah, but yet it had succeeded, through years of struggle, in reaching a pinnacle and in eventually forming a government at the centre. Today, the party has expanded exponentially, it has 11 crore members, its organisational reach up to the level of the booth is extensive and strong and it has created for itself an organisational base in every state, all this has happened because it is a party which works for 365 days.
AMIT SHAH AND THE MARCH OF BJP
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As the director of the BJP’s think-tank, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, Anirban Ganguly enjoyed impressive access to party chief Amit Shah. In an exclusive interview with India Today, he explains how the book provides a rare glimpse into the mind of the master strategist who is now the Union home minister.
Why is the Amit Shah era significant in BJP’s history?
Shah says he has only built upon groundwork done by leaders, workers and presidents in the past. It’s that continuum which has led to this peak. But as we’ve noted in the book, in the last five years since the BJP got this huge majority in 2014, it didn’t become complacent. Shah is very clear when he tells his colleagues: You can’t sit back and enjoy the fruits of power. Keeping in mind that it is now in power, the party now has to act as a bridge between the government and the people.
What are the biggest highlights of his tenure?
At one point, the BJP had formed governments in 20 states on its own, or in the coalition. Also, it emerged as the largest political party in the world. I enjoy telling the Communist Party of China officials that we [the BJP] have overtaken them. In the membership drive, he reinvented the role of the booth worker. Also, he took forward the concept of expanding the organisation through pravas (travel) and sampark (contact), which have been integral to the Jan Sangh and the BJP.
What is one defining trait of Shah’s personality?
It is the ability to take quick decisions: He doesn’t usually prevaricate or hesitate.
Some of the passages in the book begin with ‘Contrary to false propaganda…’ Which myths about Amit Shah have the authors busted?
A section of the media prefers to portray him negatively. That there is not much of a strategy behind what he does. I think that is absolute bunkum. He is a mass politician. But there is a wellthought-out strategy behind his approach to politics.
Two, he is deeply immersed in the ideational world of Indian civilisation. He has a deep knowledge of and appreciation for the worldviews of both Chanakya and Savarkar. He reads extensively and he remembers what he reads.
You have seen him at close quarters. What’s the secret of Amit Shah’s success?
One, he is extremely hands-on. He goes into every last detail. He delegates and gets regular feedback right till the booth level. His approach is one of purva yojana and purna yojana (advance planning and complete planning). Plus, he has a phenomenal capacity to feel the voters’ pulse.
Why do you maintain that Uttar Pradesh, 2013 is a turning point in Shah’s career trajectory?
When Shah became national general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh, people thought he was a Gujarat politician who would have a tough time understanding the complexities of the Hindi heartland. But the manner in which BJP reached out to the small parties was significant. Before that nobody had been able to breach that wall.