Narendra Modi's key lieutenant, Amit Shah, may be the mastermind behind the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP's) stunning election win in Uttar Pradesh this summer. But now that he's running the ruling party, the Gujarat politician is looking at a bigger political challenge: engineering a BJP win in state assembly elections this year.
For that, he may go for a complete overhaul of the party and bring in a new team of younger leaders, both at the centre and in the states.
Shah is the youngest party chief and his rise signals a sustained, yet quiet, effort by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to push younger leaders up the party hierarchy.
He belongs to the new crop of BJP leaders who have never been part of its Delhi circuit, which has so far controlled the party's decision-making process, but have managed to rise to the top.
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Dealing with a reluctant old guard may not be an easy task for Shah. But the backing of the RSS may make his job easier. The RSS has already deputed its senior leaders and pracharaks to help Shah in his new role.
Shah has demonstrated in Uttar Pradesh that he is a man with exceptional organisational skills who is also willing to take risks. But those skills may not be enough.
He has a tough job ahead with serious challenges within and outside the party. He will have to deal with factionalism in state units where rivals groups are fighting for survival in the fast-changing party.
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An electoral drubbing in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand this year will not only undermine his image as a leader with a Midas touch, but may even dent the enthusiasm of the party cadres who think he has a magic wand. But if Shah pulls off another spectacular win for the BJP in the assembly polls, he will consolidate his already-powerful position within the party.
Shah is likely to replicate his Uttar Pradesh experiment of forming a formidable OBC-upper caste alliance, a social grouping that led to the rise of the BJP during the Ram temple movement but could not sustain the onslaught of Mandal politics.
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Shah will also have to consolidate the party’s new-found base of Scheduled Caste voters. "Strong caste leaders and those having a mass base will make it to his team," a union minister said.
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