A week after Amit Shah was formally named President of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the strong man from Gujarat has chosen his team. The broad composition of his new team in terms of demographic and caste representation is akin to the BJP ministers at the Centre. Shah, like Modi, has also given special importance to inculcate relatively younger leaders (when it comes to Indian politics), with 80% of the team below the age of 60.
The biggest talking point of the team has been undoubtedly, the surprising exclusion of Varun Gandhi. Multiple theories are going around about why the saffron Gandhi failed to make it to Shah's crack team. Many believe the aversion of Modi and Shah to the Nehru-Gandhi family has played its role in his exclusion. The fact that Maneka Gandhi pitched her son's name for the post of chief minister of Uttar Pradesh hasn't gone down too well with the rank and file of the party. While Varun played down such talks, the perception of him getting impatient to be a part of the big league was always there. Amit Shah is a hard nosed politician who believes more in sound organisation than personal flair. Hence, this may well be a move to send a message across to Varun to get his act together. But Varun's supporters in BJP are still hoping against hope that he is probably being held back for a bigger responsibility later. One has to wait to see if their hunch comes true eventually.
Meanwhile, like during the Lok Sabha elections, Uttar Pradesh continues to be the key focus for Amit Shah, with 10 out of 47 team members from the state. Also, states which are slated to go to polls shortly have got a decent representation in the team, with the sole exception of Jammu and Kashmir. BJP is organisationally weak south of the Vindhyas and this is reflected in the team with only 9 leaders from the entire region. But most notable among them is the inclusion of BS Yeddyurappa. The person who was a pioneer behind BJP's rise in Karnataka has been nominated as vice president. Modi reportedly thwarted Yeddy's bid for a ministerial post as he was scam-tainted, but Shah's criterion seems to be less stringent. Yeddy's closeness to the wise men from Nagpur also facilitated his smooth rehabilitation in the party.
RSS's handiwork in the party is extremely clear in Amit Shah's team. Ram Madhav who till recently was in the RSS has been given the post of general secretary. Infact, four out of the five new general secretaries are RSS men. All the four general joint secretaries are from RSS. The likes of Ramlal will continue to play an important role as a link between the Sangh and the party. Will BJP get increasingly insular to lateral entries? The likes of Varun Gandhi and others who are from a non-RSS background may find their space increasingly squeezed if the parivaar starts to exert itself forcefully. Varun's exclusion is not a message against dynasty politics as many would like to believe. If it was indeed so, then Poonam Mahajan and Anurag Thakur wouldn't have made the cut either.
The dilemma Amit Shah will face in the coming days is to determine the ideological direction he wants to steer the saffron unit. Modi is trying to strike a centrist note and the party is expected to imitate that line. However, the RSS has already stated indirectly in the last few months that it wants Hindutva to be a dominant agenda in the country's polity. The Sangh sharing the “Akhand Bharat” map on its Facebook and Twitter pages on August 15 with a call for unsettling the partition is certainly an indication in that direction.
The question for Amit Shah will be how far he is willing to pursue Sangh's agenda without jeopardising the future of BJP. The overwhelming youth population which voted in unison for Modi and BJP primarily gave their mandate for change. The overtly aggressive Hindu agenda of the larger Sangh parivaar calling for bans in bikinis and trying to rewrite history may put them off. Thus, like Modi in the Centre, Shah in the party has to draw the fine line. The challenge for him particularly being relatively young will be to control the Sangh workers who are now being parachuted to important positions in the BJP. If they start working in cross purposes then it can wreck havoc for the party.
Already Modi has waxed eloquent about Shah, calling him the “man of the match” while RSS promptly said that no single person can be separately credited for the election victory. The RSS is keen to exert its political authority to fulfill its agenda and people like Ram Madhav will try to ensure that. With Shah announcing his new team, the party and the government have three power centres. But whether it can work seamlessly as one cohesive unit will determine the future of the BJP.