Why Amit Shah is India's modern day Chanakya

Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

The month-and-a-half-long suspense is almost over. India is expected to be ‘Modi-fied’ again.

Most exit polls predict that a Bharatiya Janata Party-led government is returning to power, although on its own the BJP may fall shy of majority.

As per NDTV poll of polls, the National Democratic Alliance is expected to bag 302 seats, UPA 122 and Others 118. While the NDA has managed to contain losses in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand despite facing a strong ‘Mahagathbandhan’, it has made gains in eastern India to compensate for these losses.

Everything has gone as per plans for the BJP. Amit Shah, BJP president, had scripted this meticulously. No hiccups. With this massive victory, once again the BJP’s Chanakya, as he is fondly called, has proved his mettle.

So what does Amit Shah do that the Opposition cannot? He loves contesting elections. Nobody can match the passion he displays. And he fights to win. He is not satisfied with participation certificates. One question on everyone’s minds is ‘how does he manage such wins for the BJP’.

Let’s try to understand that.

1. Understanding the landscape of the country (50:20 Principle)

Amit Shah is a smart campaigner. He has formulated a 50:20 principle based on the famous 80:20 theory. 20% of India’s states, account for nearly half of the total seats of Lok Sabha. These are UP (80), undivided Bihar (54), Maharashtra (48), West Bengal (42) and Tamil Nadu (39).

These 5 states account for 263 seats. He understands well that Indian democracy works on the first past the post system.

The BJP had done well in three out of these states in 2014 – UP, Bihar/Jharkhand and Maharashtra. In Bengal and Tamil Nadu, the party had won only 4 seats. So, Shah formulated a detailed strategy to checkmate Mamata in Bengal and in Tamil Nadu, taking advantage of death of stalwart politician Jayalalithaa, it cajoled AIADMK for an alliance after 15 years.

The exit poll of polls suggest that the BJP is gaining 12 seats in Bengal and 9 in Tamil Nadu.

2. Honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses (Flexibility)

Out of the 5 states discussed above, there were two pain points in terms of seat distribution. In Maharashtra, Shah was facing a disgruntled ally in Shiv Sena that was actually playing the role of opposition.

Day in and out it was seen attacking Modi and BJP. Shah sat on the table, ceded a few seats, and finalised a seat distribution of 25-23 which was acceptable to all.

He knows that if the BJP and Sena each contested alone, NDA’s tally of 42 in 2014 could reduce to below 20 in 2019. He clearly understands the arithmetic of the alliances: a simple theory which Congress has failed to decipher.

In Bihar, Shah was facing a strong ally Nitish Kumar’s demands of equal seats. After all, Janata Dal (United) was the leading party in Bihar. Problem was that the BJP had 22 sitting MPs and had to adjust allies like Ramvilas Paswan as well. Things had reached a standstill.

But Amit Shah sees the larger picture and for the sake of common good, the BJP dropped 5 MPs in Bihar and settled for 17 seats, same as the JDU, to keep the alliance partner happy.

Shah understands well that elections are increasingly becoming presidential in style and although Modi’s popularity levels remain intact, he also needs the support of regional leaders who are popular and enjoy tremendous fan following, such as Uddhav Thackeray, Nitish Kumar, the Badals, to name a few.

Wherever the party is not strong and does not have an organisation on the ground, he masterly poaches strong disgruntled leaders from the opposition ranks. In 2014, Himanata Biswa Sharma was a prize catch: this led to significant gains in the North East for the BJP.

This time in Bengal, the BJP brought onboard Mukul Roy, the man behind TMC’s success story in decimating the Left citadel. In Odisha, the party took BJD’s Jay Panda and Damodar Rout who wielded considerable clout in the state.

3. Reliance on professionals

Amit Shah and Modi were the first to understand the utility of third-party neutral professionals in election campaigns. They have used them in state elections in Gujarat. Coupled with technology, these professionals have given an edge to BJP in public relations/publicity, social and digital media.

In fact, the Congress has just recently matched the BJP’s might on social media.

Bringing in neutral professionals also has other adMany crucial aspects like surveys, identification of probable candidates and rebels, putting up dummy candidates, managing call centers for feedback, media monitoring and providing a true and honest assessment is provided by these professionals. It is not marred by the bias of the internal party workers.

So even if the party state organisations send names of potential candidates, Amit Shah has his own file ready and he verifies all the details before making final decisions.

4. Focused campaign / set priorities

A significant part of the BJP campaign (rallies and roadshows of PM Modi) was focused on the states where BJP was facing stiff competition -- like Uttar Pradesh and states where it expected to make inroads and compensate for losses in UP, such as West Bengal and Odisha.

Almost 40% of the prime minister’s rallies were held in these three states, 58 out of 144 as per an NDTV report. He held 36 rallies in UP (which helped to contain losses), 17 rallies in Bengal and 8 in Odisha (which helped to make up for losses).

As per the exit poll of polls, while the BJP is expected to lose 24 seats in UP where it was facing a formidable alliance, it gained 23 in Odisha and West Bengal, totally nullifying the losses.

Contrast this to Rahul’s rallies, his top four states were UP, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala. He should have left UP for the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ leaders. Why Kerala? Even if the Left would have won more seats in the state, it would still have backed the UPA, like in 2004.

5. Taking risks & putting image at stake

Amit Shah takes risks, even if it means putting his neck on the line. In the UP state polls, when most pollsters where predicting a hung Assembly, he made Modi camp in Varanasi for 3 days.

Imagine if the party had lost what would have happened to Modi’s image. It would have made headlines. Even in 2019, if the party was not successful in Bengal and Odisha, despite Modi’s strong push, critics would have made mockery of PM’s popularity. ‘Mamata and Naveen defeat Modi’ would have been the headlines.

Contrast this to Rahul and Congress. Rahul contested from a second/safe seat, showing weakness. He didn’t let Priyanka contest from Varanasi fearing defeat, forgetting the positive impact it would have had on the other seats in eastern UP.

To sum up, Amit Shah is truly an extraordinary strategist and a master of the political game, which is the art of managing contradictions.