Skip to main content

The enigma called Amit Shah

Those were turbulent days. It was, I remember, second half of March 2002. The post-Godhra riots in Ahmedabad, as elsewhere in Gujarat, may have lost their intensity, but rioting had still not stopped. It was my first meeting with Amit Shah, Gujarat’s former minister of state for home, who has shot into prominence after the CBI arrested him in 2010 allegedly for being an accomplice in a triple murder case, involving the fake encounter of a gangster, Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kauserbi, and aide Tulsiram Prajapati. At that time, he was MLA from what then was one of the largest state assembly constituencies, Sarkhej, in Ahmedabad, with a voters’ strength of 10 lakh. All that I knew of him was, he was “very popular” in his constituency, almost invincible. He had just met chief minister Narendra Modi, and I had a very vague idea on his proximity to Modi, who had taken over reins in Gujarat.
Shah was coming out of the chief minister’s office (CMO), situated on the fifth floor of Block No 1 in Gandhinagar Sachivalaya, and I was about to enter in. Zealously wanting the riots to stop, I decided to have an informal chat with Shah, to which he agreed. I asked him: “Why don’t you take an initiative in Ahmedabad, especially in your constituency Sarkhej?” My question to Shah was relevant. The Sarkhej constituency had Gujarat’s biggest Muslim ghetto, shaped as a result of frequent riots, starting with 1969, where above 2.5 lakh Muslims lived. Even today, Shah is seen by many, including some of my near and dear ones in Ahmedabad, as a “great defender” from “unruly” Muslims of Sarkhej. One of them told me, “We would have been wiped out but for Shah.” Indeed, ruling on the Hindu majoritarian sentiment, Shah would win hands down, leaving his weak Congress counterpart far, far behind. Riddled with frequent, though small, incidents and rumours on both sides, the riots saw unprecedented tension in Sarkhej. Prohibitive orders would be clamped now and on.
My first shock was when Shah wondered why I was showing so much concern about stopping the riots. Unable to understand why as a public representative he was posing to me such a question, I decided to tell him what I did not want to – that, though staying in Gandhinagar, I had a flat in his constituency, and the Sarkhej area was constantly under stress. “Why don’t you take an initiative? Why don’t you call influential Muslim and Hindu leaders across the table and talk over, so that the area becomes tension free? It would raise your prestige”, I quietly told Shah. To this, Shah asked, smiling, “Which side your house is situated? Ours or theirs?” I told him the location, and he replied instantly, “Don’t bother. Nothing will happen to you. Your side has nothing to worry. Whatever incidents happen, they will take place on the other side of the border.” His reference was clear – the Hindu-Muslim divide in the Sarkhej region is loosely referred to as “Indo-Pak border” by sections of middle classes in Ahmedabad. I wondered: How could a public representative be so insensitive? The conversation ended. We parted, only to meet a year later, when he was handed over home department.
A decade has passed by since then. I interacted with him frequently as a newsperson till he was arrested in 2010. I found him a person full of contradictions. Initially, I noted, his worldview was extremely narrow. Once we were discussing out higher education, and I told him how Gujarat lagged behind in the sector. He was indifferent, “Our higher education is good enough, we need no improvement, we are producing good students, what more do you want?” However, as years passed by, he began to show up. Ahead of his arrest, Modi would ensure that he attended meetings of departments which were not under him. Shah would intervene in hot state assembly debates on issues other than law and order, whether it was Narmada, energy or industry. Many began calling him the next chief minister, in case Modi moved to Delhi. I would find him extremely intelligent and incisive, but at the same time very arrogant and very sarcastic. Most babus who worked with him would complain that Shah wouldn’t ever take their phone. A former home secretary told me once how he tried to contact Shah for an urgent matter. On failing to get Shah despite frequent calls, the disgusted babu had to leave a message!
In 2007, Modi began finding that Shah was trying to act independently of him. A senior bureaucrat told me then how Modi, during an internal meeting, fired Shah for “failing to manage” the top police establishment, especially the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, leading to the arrest of IPS official DG Vanzara and others. This bureaucrat, who claimed to be in the meeting, told me, “Modi holds Amit Shah solely responsible for the current indiscipline in the police force. He believes Shah has failed to understand the state's top cops' behaviour, placing wrong cops at key positions. He told Shah that this has affected the case adversely and brought bad name to him.” Modi was particularly displeased with Shah handing over the investigation of the false encounter case to then IG CID (crime) Rajneesh Rai “without verifying the antecedents of the top cop’s no-nonsense approach during his previous posting in CBI”. Rai, it is well known, arrested Vanzara in a high drama, which took place at the Police Bhawan in Gandhinagar in 2007. As a consequence of Modi’s reprimand, I was told, Shah would remain absent from weekly Cabinet meetings. He also stopped going to top-notch functions. His visit to his office in Sachivalaya became infrequent. He would operate from his residence.
Yet, to Modi, Shah remained a political necessity who would manage polls. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, all know how Shah ensured the defeat of powerful Congress candidate Shankarsinh Vaghela from Godhra at the hands of a political non-entity Prabhatsinh Chauhan. It is said, Shah managed to put up two independent Muslim candidates, who snatched away 32,000 votes which led to Vaghela’s defeat. During the same polls, LK Advani, fighting from Gandhinagar, felt extremely jittery after he took a round of the Kalol town. Finding popular response extremely lukewarm, it is said, Advani called Shah and another Modi minister Anandiben Patel and told them angrily: “This has happened for the first time in my life. I had to go with a begging bowl asking for votes. I am surprised how you have managed.” Amidst reports that the numerically strong Patel voters were turning way, Shah acted fast. On the day of the polls, a Patel community leader told me, “A word has spread out in our community. We have got specific message to vote for Advani. We will act accordingly.”
Shah had other managerial capabilities as well. A former home secretary told me how he was privy to the demonstration of an Israeli machine shown to Shah, in the presence of some senior police and home department officials. The device was meant for mobile phone tapping. “You just enter in certain mobile numbers, and you could hear, at random, whichever phones you wanted”, this bureaucrat said, adding, “I don’t know whether, after seeing the demonstration from the Israeli firm, Shah decided to buy it up and where it was installed, but it has left a lurking suspicion among us all – that our phones are being tapped.” This bureaucrat added, “Phone tapping fear, real or imaginary, has left us all with the option of keeping two mobile phones, one official and another personal. Not only us, IPS officials also do not talk anything personal on their official mobiles. They use their private numbers, revealed to a small group.”
Eagerly waiting for a Supreme Court order on a plea to allow him to enter Gujarat from his forced exile, Shah right now stays in Gujarat Bhawan in Delhi. Those who have met Shah have found him under stress – often extremely critical of the way things are happening in Gujarat. A senior bureaucrat told me how Shah told him that much of the statistics dished out on Gujarat’s development were “fake”. Shah was quoted as saying: “They speak of high Gross State Domestic Product growth in agriculture, which is eyewash. One must actually see the real production figures instead of GSDP. Just leave aside cotton, and you will see that agricultural production in Gujarat hasn’t gone up.” Amidst rumours of “differences” between Modi and Shah, there are indications that Modi actually needs him badly in the upcoming assembly elections to manage out things. Though state revenue minister Anandiben Patel, Modi’s closest ally, has long been suspicious of Shah’s ways, Modi wants Shah. “Whenever Modi is in Delhi, he meets Shah at least for an hour”, one official told me. In fact, a top Modi aide is always in Delhi every time a Supreme Court hearing on Shah takes place!
---
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/true-lies/the-enigma-called-amit-shah/

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Surprised? Communist candidate in Ahmedabad bypoll in a Hindutva bastion

On October 11, 2019 morning, as I was scanning through daily news online (I don’t read papers now), I found that both BJP and Congress candidates from Ahmedabad’s Amraiwadi assembly constituency, which fell vacant following the victory of its BJP MLA in the Lok Sabha polls, have been asked to explain as to why they had cash in hand for election campaign, and why they did not deposit their money in a bank account. Fighting the bypoll, BJP’s Jagdish Patel and Congress’ Dharmendra Patel had declared they possessed Rs 1.81 lakh and Rs 1.70 lakh as cash in hand, respectively, for election expenditure.

Tree-felling for greenery? Gujarat govt 'accepted' proposal; awaits implementation

The other day, I went to Nadiad, a town in Central Gujarat, about 55 kilometres from Ahmedabad. For a change, I took an alternate route, which falls between two toll roads – the Expressway and the National Highway. What surprised me was, I saw truckloads of wooden logs moving to and fro on this state highway soon after I left Ahmedabad. I was immediately reminded of a "tree enthusiast" I had met in 2007. Introduced by former chief secretary PK Laheri, who was then chairman of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL), Jayantibhai Lakdawala came to my Times of India office in Gandhinagar with a unique proposal, which, he said, he had put up before the Gujarat government to grow more trees.

What was wrong with Rahul Gandhi's Chowkidar chor hai campaign?

A few days back, I came across an interesting Facebook post by Vinod Chand, an FB friend. I always read his comments with great interest. This one was on Rahul Gandhi launching what he called “a broadside on Narendra Modi” during the initial phase of the campaign during the last Lok Sabha polls -- “Chowkidar chor hai.” However, during the later phase of the campaign the slogan appeared to have been dropped, not because it seemed derogatory, but perhaps because it was not having the “desired impact.”

When Gandhi said Congress can 'only die with the nation'; warned of its weedy growth

I don’t recall when, why and how, but I have been under the impression for decades that Mahatma Gandhi wanted the Congress dissolved after India attained Independence. However, a few days ago, I was pleasantly surprised on seeing a Facebook post by Hari Desai, a well-known Gujarati journalist and a Sardar Patel expert, putting on record and claiming that this, indeed, was never the case. Desai released the photograph of “Harijan”, edited by Gandhi himself, dated February 1, 1948, which carried an article by Gandhi written on January 27, 1948, three days before he was murdered, clearly stating that the “Indian National Congress ... cannot be allowed to die”, and that it can “only die with the nation.”

A top Gujarat High Court lawyer who lived and worked for the underprivileged

When I came to Ahmedabad to join as assistant editor of the Times of India in 1993, I didn’t know Girish Patel was a senior advocate of the Gujarat High Court. Apart from assisting the then editor, Tushar Bhatt, my job was to specifically look after the editorial page, which also meant I should be selecting from among the letters to the editor that we would get, edit them appropriately, and put them in the Letters to the Editor column.

Nitish Kumar a 'Modi-fied' chief minister 'refusing' to hark to reason

Yesterday, I came across an unusual Facebook post by my veteran journalist colleague, Law Kumar Mishra. It recalls an incident which took place when Mishra was posted in Rajkot as the Times of India correspondent during of the worst droughts in the region in late 1980s. At that time Amarsinh Chaudhury was Gujarat chief minister. Currently Patna, Mishra compares how Chaudhary handled drought with the way Nitish Kumar has been handling Bihar floods.

Enlightened Buddha didn't want monks to get enchanted by the glance of a woman

Some of my Dalit friends, including Martin Macwan, whom I respect as one of the best human rights activists I have met, have a great fascination for Buddhism. Nearly all Dalit rallies or functions I have attended carry with them Buddha’s photographs. Probably, one reason could be that Dalit icon Babasaheb Ambedkar converted to Buddhism because he believed this was the only religion of India which does not believe in casteism. Many Dalits, not without reason, get converted to Buddhism.

Attack on Gandhi: Where diehard Left and extreme Right appear to meet

Another Gandhi Jayanti has come and gone. Several of the top comments – some which we also published in www.counterview.net – on this occasion hovered around US president Donald Trump calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi “father of India”. Perhaps things wouldn’t have taken a turn that it did had not Modi’s “diehard” followers like Union minister Jitendra Singh going so far as to say that those who “do not feel proud” of Trump’s comment that Modi is the “father of India”, do not consider themselves Indians.

Why Gujarat imposed mobile internet curfew during the Patel agitation

It was Wednesday, October 31, 1984. After finalizing the semi-left Link newsweekly, for which I worked then, the office driver boldly drove the Ambassador late at night through Delhi streets, which were already in the grip of anti-Sikh riots, erupted following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The driver squeezed his way through burning vehicles. At several places we could see houses in flames and heard painful, shrieking voices. It was a ghastly scenario, of the type I had never witnessed, or even imagined, before. I reached home, a middle class South Delhi locality; to my consolation all was quiet, though we had a Sikh neighbour.