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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2759

'Shahansha' And His 'Shah'

By Atul Cowshish* – Syndicate Features

If the Lok Sabha polls are to be viewed with the benefit of the hindsight it might be said that it was a predictable contest in which the ‘Shahzada’ (prince) was comprehensively trounced by the ‘Shahanshah’ (the king).

As everyone would remember, Shahzada was the sarcastic term Narendra Modi, now the prime minister and then the BJP’s candidate for the post, had used throughout the poll campaign for Rahul Gandhi, the Congress vice president who was spearheading the unequal fight against Modi’s BJP. Of course, nobody called Modi the ‘Shahanshah’, either prior to the polls, or afterwards. But just a few weeks into his rule he has proved, if proof was needed, that he is the sole centre of power in his party (BJP) as well as the NDA government that he so imperiously heads. And that is what a Shahanshah is.

‘Shah’ is also a term that denotes a centre of authority or power. But, as stated above, since Modi is the epicentre of all power in his party, this ‘Shah’ (Amit Shah) who is the president of the BJP, has volunteered to act as a trusted general of the ‘king’ rather than a sidekick ruler. Together the two have created a real ‘party with a difference’, the eulogizing reference to the BJP first chosen by L.K. Advani. Advani to emphasis the fact that unlike its principal rival, the Congress, the BJP has no single centre of power as important decisions are taken collectively by a college of leaders rather than a ‘dynasty’ or a ‘family’.

The ageing patriarch, who had forced the first NDA government (under Atal Behari Vajpayee) to designate him as the deputy prime minister, had hoped that he would be the next BJP/NDA leader to head the government. He was so sure of realising his dream at the end of NDA 1 in 2004 that he did not take kindly to the fact that Man Mohan Singh had ‘usurped’ through an unexpected poll outcome and a ‘sacrificial’ ploy by the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, a post he was entitled to. Then when another opportunity appeared on the horizon his one-time protégé, Narendra Modi, ungratefully blocked his path to 7, Race Course Road/South Block. Modi escaped from Advani’s clasp when he found that he would not allow him to meet his soaring political ambition.

But wouldn’t you expect a ‘Shahanshah’ to outwit his rival by means fair or foul? Meanwhile, Advani’s humiliation has been completed by removing him from the post of the chairman of the NDA, the only important office held by the man who is credited with building the BJP from the ruins when it had only two members in the Lok Sabha in early 1980s.

Lest anyone be under the mistaken notion that the ‘Shahanshah’ is weak, Modi went about building his image as an invincible warrior in the party who would always get what he wants. If he wants a particular favourite as the party chief nothing should stop that. Certainly not ‘politically motivated’ charges against Amit Shah, an accused in a case in which Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kausarbi and a witness Tulsiram Prajapati, were allegedly killed in a false ‘encounter’ by the state police nearly a decade ago.

The opposition to the elevation of Shah to the post of the head of the ruling party was muted in opposition parties, including the Congress. That was attributed to the fact that the Congress, demoralised after the poll debacle, has its own skeletons in the cupboard to raise the pitch against Shah’s appointment. There is no dearth of ‘criminals’ in most other parties.

But there was a ‘surprise’ in the muted voices of protest heard from one party which claimed to be radically ‘different’ from the rest. Even a cursory scan of the political spectrum in India would show that at least one political party, which was hailed as the brightest star on the political firmament when it appeared on the scene about two years ago, could claim to be on a higher moral ground than the rest of the crowd. One of the factors that suddenly catapulted the Aam Admi Party of Arvind Kejriwal to an exalted status in the otherwise sordid political surroundings was the near absence of ‘criminal’ faces in its ranks and leadership.

With AAP unable or unwilling to play the moral card the Modi graph will rise and rise towards a pinnacle of absolute power, not very different from the days of Indira Gandhi. Does he fear any ‘constitutional’ institution? No! The ‘Shah’ must take his cue from his ‘Shahanshah’ and swiftly work around the problem of embarrassment that comes from having to appear in a special court in Mumbai that is hearing the ‘snoopgate’ charges against him.

During the parliamentary poll campaign, Modi had established himself as a person who was going to give the country a clean, transparent and responsible government which will erase the bad memories of the past regimes. Today, many see his government as a copy of UPA II where one irksome feature was the ‘silence’ of the prime minister. Modi has steadfastly refused to speak on any subject since he took over and, what is more, has made sure that the Prime Minister’s Office stonewalls all queries from the media. He has further decided that he would never travel with a media jamboree on his foreign outings and thus keep himself insulated from the media even when the media is still singing his praise.

It is said that when the king roared in his court in medieval India the subjects would fall silent. In modern India a pin-drop silence may be difficult to achieve, given our deep love for noise and chaos, but the nearest to it is the practice of accepting the fait accompli unquestioningly. The task becomes easier and looks even guilt-free when many of the so-called leading lights of the intellectual community, including ‘star’ political commentators, join the legions of gawky fans. And yet, Modi bemoans the denial of ‘honeymoon’ period to his dispensation!

• The author is Delhi based senior journalist

- Asian Tribune -

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