It was before an impressive crowd at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan in January last year that Prime Minister declared Amit Shah, his trusted lieutenant, as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) “most successful president”.
It was an occasion to felicitate the chief ministers of Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand – three states that the BJP won emphatically under Shah in 2014.
Prime Minister Modi also described him as the “man of the match” of the last Lok Sabha elections.
In a little over one year, questions have started cropping up about Shah’s ability to deliver in times of pressure. The Uttarakhand fiasco, which has caused acute embarrassment to both the party and the government, is the latest to take some sheen off the feisty “master strategist”, as his colleagues describe him.
Uttarakhand adventurism follows the party’s near-annihilation in Delhi and a rout in Bihar, which brought Shah’s leadership skills under scrutiny for the first time.
A common thread runs between these three events. Shah ran the show himself in these three states. The unease among local leadership in Delhi and Bihar over “Shah’s army” taking over war posts was palpable. Uttarakhand was no different. The local leadership was in dark about his mission till the end.
As the BJP chief, Shah is credited with putting tremendous energy into building the organisation and having its synergy with the government. The BJP is the world’s largest political outfit in terms of its membership base – over 11 crore. This feat was achieved under Shah’s leadership. But, electoral reverses coupled with the misadventure in Uttarakhand have started to dent his image.
Shah might hope to salvage his reputation on May 19 when election results of four states and one union territory are out. Assam is the only state where they have hope to put an end to a series of electoral reverses.
If the BJP manages to form the government in Assam, a first for the party, it would be projected as re-affirmation of the political acumen of Shah who decided to go in with an alliance with regional parties. If he fails to deliver in Assam, his critics within the party might get emboldened.
A victory in Assam is also needed to lift the morale of the party cadre ahead of three big poll challenges next year, in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand. Of them, Uttar Pradesh, which Shah swept for the party in 2014, is crucial. It could shape the country’s political contours ahead of 2019 election.
Although the BJP is not a big player in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the party hopes to open its account in Kerala.