Amit Shah was unanimously appointed president of the BJP on Wednesday, marking a generational shift in leadership of the party that is looking for election victories in three politically crucial states this year.
The 50-year-old, known as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most trusted associate, is credited with singlehandedly winning for his party 71 of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh in the recently held Lok Sabha elections. The party now hopes he will replicate this success in assembly polls in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana.
Shah’s elevation also marks a tightening of Modi’s grip over the BJP and, possibly, greater synergy between the government, the party and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
“He will take the BJP to greater heights,” home minister and outgoing BJP chief Rajnath Singh said. Shortly after the appointment, cleared by the BJP’s parliamentary board, Modi posted a message on Twitter saying Shah had started as a party worker and repeatedly proved himself.
Shah is a controversial figure. The former Gujarat minister faces murder charges in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case, and had his name crop up in the Ishrat Jahan case before getting a CBI clean chit. He is alleged to have used state machinery to snoop on a young woman on behalf of his “sahib” and was banned briefly during the poll campaign for making hate speeches.
But his stellar performance in UP sealed the deal.
Shah’s immediate task will be to choose faces to lead the party in the poll-bound states. The BJP alone or with its allies rules just eight of India’s 29 states.”
Modi's confidante Amit Shah takes over as new BJP chief
Shah is young compared to the grandfatherly figures that have been the BJP’s past presidents, signalling that the party is seeking to move away from its old guard and some of its antiquated ways of running the organisation. He could also leverage the youth cadre of the RSS, which has deputed Ram Madhav, its urbane face, to work in the BJP.
BJP leaders told HT Shah’s appointment will hold till Decem-ber 2015 but that he could be at the helm of party affairs when Modi seeks re-election in 2019.
The parliamentary board also passed a resolution saying, “Rajnath Singh’s tenure was the highest point in the history of the BJP and an epoch-making time in Indian politics.”
The party’s constitution, amended in 2010, allows a chief to have back-to-back terms of three years each.
This means Shah stands a chance of continuing as BJP chief till 2018, if he gets a fresh term, with the possibility of another stint lasting till 2021.
In signs of Modi’s expanding clout in the RSS, the latter, initially not very welcoming of the idea of Shah heading the BJP, relented on an unwritten rule that the PM and the party president should not be from the same state (both are from Gujarat).
Also, road transport minister Nitin Gadkari, a former BJP chief known for his proximity to top RSS leaders, played a crucial role in persuading the Sangh leaders to tone down their reservations.
BJP national general secretary JP Nadda and Rajya Sabha member Om Mathur, who is also in-charge of party affairs in Gujarat, were the other contenders for the post.