The Telegraph
Saturday , May 17 , 2014
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Biochemist who became the alchemist

New Delhi, May 16: Amit Shah is loath to being labelled Narendra Modi’s hatchet man.

He once told this correspondent that as a “serious” student of “political science and public administration” — he holds a degree in biochemistry — the speeches he gave on these subjects in the Gujarat legislature should be perused so that his critics could decide whether he was a “criminal” or a “thinking person”.

Shah feels it is unfair that he was in the public eye not for his abilities but a brush with the CBI in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case and an alleged undercover operation in the Snoopgate controversy.

He survived both crises, although he went to jail in 2008 for the “encounter” killing and had been barred from visiting Gujarat because of a Supreme Court order.

Shah’s association with Modi goes back to 1982 when he was an RSS activist and the Prime Minister-designate a “pracharak” in charge of youth activities in Ahmedabad’s Maninagar. He tapped Shah’s talent. When he became chief minister of Gujarat, Modi handed to him crucial portfolios, including home, parliamentary affairs, law and excise and transport.

It was through Shah that Modi executed his project to break the Congress’s stranglehold over Gujarat’s rural areas, its cooperatives and sports bodies.

In the villages, Modi and Shah identified grass-roots leaders who felt alienated by the Congress. They co-opted these disgruntled elements and erected a parallel structure of institutionalised power. The same strategy was adopted to weaken the Congress’s hold over Gujarat’s influential cooperatives.

Shah has himself fought 28 elections to the Assembly and local bodies and not lost a single one. He oversaw the conduct of 48 elections at various tiers in Gujarat and ensured the BJP won all of them.

In 1998, Shah fought his first election to a primary cooperative body. The following year, he became president of the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank, India’s largest cooperative bank. The bank was on the edge with a share capital of Rs 38 crore and accumulated losses of Rs 36 crore. Shah turned it around in a year and the bank posted a profit of Rs 27 crore. Its bottomline is in the region of Rs 250 crore now.

Management skills seemed to be embedded in Shah’s DNA. His grandfather was an administrator in the old princely state of Mansa and had played host to Sri Aurobindo nearly 100 years ago when he was in the service of the ruler of Vadodara, Sayajirao Gaekwad.

Among the principles of good governance that Sri Aurobindo had advised Shah’s grandfather to follow is that a king should always try to take decisions that benefit the masses and not individuals.

BJP lore has it that Modi too doesn’t believe in the politics of patronising individuals and coaxing personal allegiances through favours. He didn’t “patronise” Shah either.

Modi was a mentor instead, and in more ways than one. It was he who encouraged Shah to read Swami Vivekananda’s works to retain his equanimity.