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Aide anointed, Modi tightens grip
Sangh seal on BJP chief choice

New Delhi, July 9: Narendra Modi’s closest aide Amit Anilchandra Shah was crowned BJP president this afternoon in an abbreviated ceremony that was as inconsequential as the political subtext of the elevation was significant.

The expected coronation, which came at a meeting of the BJP’s parliamentary board, completed Modi’s stranglehold over the government and the party.

Shah, Modi’s political confidant, is the new CEO of the party’s 11 Ashoka Road headquarters to work and implement decisions at the Prime Minister’s behest.

The crowning, on the propitious day of “Aashadi Ekadashi”, was, however, correct on procedural niceties. The board, represented by outgoing chief Rajnath Singh, veterans L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, and Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, endorsed the choice by “consensus”. Rajnath, who announced the decision, lauded Shah’s “managerial and organisational skills”.

A source said Shah, who at 49 is the BJP’s first president from the post-Nehru era, had Modi’s “trust and confidence”. Together they ensured that Advani and Sushma, who exercised a veto in the past, were out of the BJP’s decision-making apparatuses.

Conversely, the source said, RSS sarsanghchalak Mohanrao Bhagwat and some of his colleagues who mattered most to the Sangh chief — like Suresh Joshi, Dattatreya Hosabale and Krishna Gopal — were on board Shah’s anointment. It is learnt that in the prelude, Bhagwat’s message was that if Jaitley, Rajnath and Nitin Gadkari (Nagpur’s nominee on the BJP’s governing board) agreed with Modi on Shah, the Sangh had no issue.

A BJP insider said Modi, who had observed the government-party irritants in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee era from his vantage point as a general secretary, was clear from day one as Prime Minister that the two wings must be on the same page. “Hence it was important for him to install his own person who would also ensure that every person in his team was a Modi loyalist.”

Shah is an accused in the 2005 fake encounter deaths of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kauser Bi. But BJP sources said the charges were “politically motivated” and “legally unsustainable” because the CBI couldn’t produce a sliver of evidence to suggest that as Modi’s home minister in Gujarat, Shah had ordered state police to kill the couple.

The charge lies buried under encomiums Shah earned when he brought to the BJP a “dream” win in Uttar Pradesh — 73 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats — after a year of hard work on the ground when he lived in party workers’ homes in far-flung places on a diet of fennel-spiced “khichdi” and buttermilk.

While his 2014 success vindicated the popular “jo jeeta woh hi Sikandar” (he who wins wears the crown) adage, Shah has his task cut out. “He has to rerun the Uttar Pradesh success in the Maharashtra, Haryana and Delhi elections,” a source said, adding that Delhi was “tricky” because the BJP lacked a focused and “inclusive” leadership.

An early indication that Shah wouldn’t care to keep the entrenched power cliques was his move to induct RSS pracharaks (whole-timers) Ram Madhav and Shiv Prakash in his team. “A section of the media made out as though he and Modi were out to please the Sangh. That’s not true because Madhav and Prakash have valuable qualities that will stand the party in good stead,” a source said.

At the coronation, the “band baaja”, a must for party festivities, was marshalled as an afterthought with a quartet of drummers and trumpeters blaring tunes intermittently outside the central office. Even the customary shower of petals was meagre.

The fact that Modi was ensconced as the Prime Minister had converted Shah’s coronation into a stylised ritual bearing the symptoms of power: from the multi-layered security wraps around the BJP headquarters to Modi’s token appearance at the parliamentary board meeting and his ensuing tweet.

“Amit bhai started his journey as an ordinary ‘karyakarta’ (worker) and has repeatedly proven himself through tireless hard work and determination,” Modi tweeted.