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Right-hand man returns
- Out on bail, Modi aide takes charge of poll strategy

Ahmedabad, Oct. 31: Amit Shah, the former junior home minister of Gujarat out on bail in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case, is back in poll action — plotting the party’s strategy and choosing the constituency he will contest from.

Among all the good news pouring in for Modi — opinion polls predicting a landslide win, the UK ending its decade-long freeze in ties and the US appearing ready to follow suit — the best must be the return of his right-hand man to Gujarat after a two-year court-ordered exile.

Shah, 49, has taken charge of the BJP’s strategy planning since his return last month.

“In Gujarat, only two politicians know every BJP worker by his name. One is the chief minister himself and the other is Amit Shah,” claims Hemant Chauhan, a resident of Sabarmati Ashram who is willing to campaign for the former home minister although he says he is not a BJP supporter.

Whether or not this is true, there is no doubt that Shah knows the state’s constituencies better than most. He 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.

“He knows where the BJP is strong and where it is weak after the delimitation,” a senior BJP leader said, underlining the importance of Shah in selection of candidates, planning the campaign and social engineering in each constituency.

Many believe Shah had a role in the increase in the number of urban seats in the 182-member Gujarat Assembly. The total number of seats in urban areas have gone up by 18 and in semi-urban areas by 20 after the delimitation, adding to the BJP’s advantage. Despite all the Congress’s promises, Modi remains an unchallenged leader in the urban areas.

In BJP circles, Shah is seen as “Advani’s political son” — it was L.K. Advani who recommended him for the home minister’s post — and “Modi’s right hand man”.

Advani and Arun Jaitley, the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, called on him in Sabarmati Jail when he was being held there in the 2005 fake encounter case before being banished from the state.

Shah can also harness the BJP’s newfound strength in the co-operative sector, sources said. As a pro-active junior home minister and Modi’s key strategist, Shah had brought 70 per cent of the co-operative sector under the BJP fold, uprooting the well-entrenched Congress from Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation, Gujarat state co-operative banks and the Gujarat Cricket Association.

Such is his clout even after two years out of the state that in all three Assembly segments carved out of the Sarkhej seat he won from last time — Vejalpur, Ghatlodia and Sabarmati East — workers have told party observers they want him as candidate.

The prime accused in the fake encounter deaths of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kauser Bi and witness Tulsi Prajapati is yet to pick his constituency. Shah is confident he can win from any of them with a “comfortable margin” and points to his 2.5-lakh victory margin in 2007.

Sources said even if Shah is re-arrested — this cannot be ruled out because the CBI will this week approach the Supreme Court to get the stay on his arrest vacated in the Tulsi Prajapati encounter case — he would still contest. The court had stayed Shah’s arrest till November 23.