The importance of being Amit Shah in Gandhinagar

Why has the BJP fielded party president Amit Shah from Gandhinagar? It is after all such a safe seat for the BJP that even a lamp post would have won


Nachiketa Desai

Why did the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decide to field its president Amit Shah to contest from the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha seat, in place of 91-year-old party veteran L K Advani?

After all, Amit Shah could well have continued to remain a Rajya Sabha member till August 2023.

Gandhinagar is considered a safe seat for the BJP. The constituency has elected a BJP candidate as many as nine times out of the 14 elections held so far. It was from Gandhinagar that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1996 and Advani for six terms since 1991.

Even a ‘lamp post’ on a BJP ticket could have won the election from Gandhinagar, such is the common perception of people.

Why then did the party choose to field Amit Shah, its president, from such a ‘safe seat’? It is a baffling question the answer to which only Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah would know.

The immediate explanation offered was that by moving to the Lok Sabha Amit Shah wanted to consolidate and legitimise his position. But then several stalwarts of the Modi cabinet are from the Rajya Sabha and Amit Shah could also have joined the ministry, though his term would have ended in the Rajya Sabha a year before the next general election in 2024. This may have prompted him to take the plunge and make the switch to the Lok Sabha.

However, some observers believe that the BJP decided to field Amit Shah because his presence in the fray would leave no scope for faction fighting among rival claimants. Among the claimants for party ticket to contest from Gandhinagar were daughters of two party heavyweights - Pratibha of L K Advani and Anar Patel of former Gujarat chief minister and Madhya Pradesh governor Anandiben Patel.

Though she has moved to occupy the gubernatorial position in Madhya Pradesh, Anandiben continues to take keen interest in BJP affairs in Gujarat and is considered to belong to the rival camp of Amit Shah. Deputy chief minister Nalin Patel is her close ally in Gujarat.

Another explanation to the party’s decision to field Amit Shah from Gandhinagar parliamentary constituency is that BJP wants to convey to its cadre the importance the party attaches to Gujarat.

Even after his elevation as the national president of the party, Amit Shah has a stranglehold over some of Gujarat’s important financial, social and cultural bodies. The most powerful organisation among these is the Gujarat Federation of Urban and District Cooperative Banks. He is the director of the country’s biggest cooperative bank, namely the Ahmedabad District Cooperative (ADC) Bank.

The ADC bank netted the highest deposits among such banks of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes that were abruptly demonetised on November 8, 2016. The ADC bank secured deposits of Rs 745.59 crore of the spiked notes in just five days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the announcement.

Besides the cooperative banks, Amit Shah is also head of two important sports bodies - the Gujarat Cricket Association and Gujarat State Chess Association. He also managed to get his son, Jay Shah, as the secretary of the cricket association.

What made Amit Shah wield more power over the state administration was the fact that he held important portfolios in the state cabinet during the chief ministership of Narendra Modi. In the Modi cabinet, Shah held as many as a dozen portfolios: Home, Law and Justice, Prison, Border Security, Civil Defence, Excise, Transport, Prohibition, Home Guards, Gram Rakshak Dal, Police Housing, and Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs.

With such an extensive experience of managing financial, banking, cultural and sports bodies in addition to handling important departments of the state government, Amit Shah is expected to galvanise party workers, use and manipulate the state administration to the advantage of the BJP nominees in all the 26 parliamentary constituencies in the state.

Amit Shah had recently claimed that in the ensuing Lok Sabha elections, BJP would repeat its tally of winning all the 26 seats from Gujarat. In the 2017 assembly elections, he had made similar claim for the party of winning 150 of the total 182 seats. The BJP’s tally, however, had then stopped at 99.

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