Prime Minister Narendra Modi is greeted by BJP President Amit Shah on his arrival at the party headquarters on the occasion of the first anniversary of his government [2015] Image Credit: PTI


  • Shah has described refugees to India as “deemak” (termite) which he is determined to root out, and publicly said Modi’s election promises were “chunavi jumla” (platitude).
  • The loaded language is a feature, not a bug in the Shah lexicon.

“Mujhe moti chamdi pe kathor chot karna ata hai,” (I know how to give a grievous wound to a thick skin) said Amit Shah, Union Home Minister, to a bunch of senior editors in Varanasi when the Uttar Pradesh elections were on.

Shah was replying to a vain, self-serving male editor, who while preening, was holding forth on the thick skins journalists have. Most of the editors were taken aback when one of the two women editors present asked Shah what he meant. Shah smiled and said: “It’s good you have asked me to clarify, I meant shabdik chot (wounding with words). If I hadn’t clarified you people would have written I was threatening you.”

Shah then demanded of the group of journalists: “What have you done for India.” The editors mumbled something anodyne about work. But Shah had got the effect he wanted - the adversary totally off base post the delivery of a typical menacing Shah message.

This incident captures the essence of Amit Anilchandra Shah, 55. Unbothered by the niceties of the rarefied reaches of Indian politics, where most leaders pretend to be nice to editors even while actually loathing the media.

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Shah is unbothered about the nuances of delivery as long as his message goes through. Shah is the face of the most contentious decisions of Modi 2.0. The repeal of Article 370 (taking away Kashmir’s special status within the Indian union), the Citizenship Amendment Act which uses a religious filter to grant citizenship, the National Register of Citizens and the lockdown in Kashmir.

Shah seeks his inspiration from Sangh history and has certainly made a huge space for himself in the Sangh hall of fame. Take his recent response to rumours doing the rounds that he has cancer. Shah issued a statement denying this while taking huge jibes at his opponents.

A senior BJP leader told me that Shah does not have the politician’s disease of seeking popularity. Instead, he has always sought power running rough-shod over all the Opposition.

The BJP is now run as a two-man party and so is the Modi Cabinet. You would be hard pressed to remember the name of the agriculture minister, but everyone knows how Shah looms over the Cabinet.

Shah has described refugees to India as “deemak” (termite) which he is determined to root out, and publicly said Modi’s election promises were “chunavi jumla” (platitude).

Shah's modus operandi

The loaded language is a feature, not a bug in the Shah lexicon. Ever since the BJP government was formed, Shah has jealously aggrandised power. First, as the most powerful chief in the BJP’s history and now as the Home Minister. Along the way he has taken away BJP founder L.K. Advani’s Lok Sabha seat of Gandhinagar and sent Advani packing into retirement. Shah’s only child, Jay, is now secretary, Board of Cricket Control India in a nod to his father’s power. The BCCI runs the billion-dollar money-making machine that cricket in India is.

Shah is perhaps the most long-lasting partnership that Modi has had. And contrary to clueless reports that a rift has arisen between the two, the relationship is rock solid. What does happen is that Shah plays bad cop to Modi’s good cop. While Modi is interested in being portrayed as an international mover and shaker, Shah is profoundly fixated on power in India.

Consider the fact that he brought down the Kamalnath-led Congress government in Madhya Pradesh in March while the coronavirus pandemic raged. Shah’s portfolio is the ministry tasked with handling disaster management. Yet Shah’s focus remains politics - he is trying to topple the Uddhav Thackeray government in Maharashtra which he considers a personal affront.

Says a Home Ministry official ruefully: “He is extremely sharp. No one can take liberties. Yet his focus remains politics 24/7.”

The Modi government has mishandled the pandemic implementing a draconian lockdown ordered at four hours’ notice. The migrants’ exodus was reminiscent of the partition of India. And India is now opening up as infections are increasing after locking down when they were low.

Yet Modi and Shah are unbothered. Knowing they will again drive the narrative and agenda in the upcoming Bihar elections.

Shah has also moved to the bungalow occupied by the late Atal Behari Vajpayee, the first BJP Prime Minister. Make of that what you will, but the power and pelf are strong pointers.

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