RSS not keen on Amit Shah continuing as BJP chief, but wary of displeasing Modi

RSS not keen on Amit Shah continuing as BJP chief, but wary of displeasing Modi
Photo Credit: Manjunath Kiran/AFP
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A deadlock has emerged between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh over the future of Amit Shah, whose term as Bharatiya Janata Party president expires on January 23.

Modi is seemingly adamant on securing a fresh term for his closest aide. But the RSS leadership, which anticipates a protracted negotiation on the issue, has floated the argument that heads of government and the party should not be from the same state. Both Modi and Shah are from Gujarat.

“The Sangh is generally of the opinion that there should be a new president of the BJP, but Modi does not appear ready for a change,” said a senior office-bearer of the RSS. “How to break this deadlock would be the central theme of the discussion when the top Sangh leaders meet at Jalgaon.”

Around 20 top leaders of the RSS will gather for the three-day meeting in the Maharashtra city starting on Wednesday.

“There has not been any discussion between the Sangh and Modi on Amit Shah,” the RSS leader added. “But we have enough indications that despite the disastrous performances in the Delhi and Bihar assembly elections and widespread criticism of Amit Shah’s style of functioning, Modi is determined to get him re-elected as the BJP president.”

Internal dilemma

Given that Modi remains the most powerful individual in the Sangh Parivar, his rigid stand has put the RSS in a fix. While the BJP’s parent organisation does not want to send out a message that it is at loggerheads with the Prime Minister, it certainly favours a change of guard. It wants to replace Shah with someone who has greater acceptability within the party and who remains more loyal to Nagpur, the RSS headquarters, than 7 Race Course Road, the prime minister’s residence.

The president of the BJP officially gets a three-year term. In July 2014, Shah’s appointment as the party chief was a mid-term arrangement technically necessitated by then president Rajnath Singh’s induction into the Union cabinet. Singh, who had been appointed as BJP president in January 2013, had already completed half his term before passing the baton to Amit Shah.

Shah loyalists in the BJP argue that given the circumstances of his appointment, he is yet to get a full term as party chief.

Future fears

As for the RSS, its argument that the head of government and the party should not be from one state is not new. It had resorted to this strategy when Modi had endorsed Shah for party president after the Lok Sabha election victory last year. At the time, however, the Modi juggernaut proved too powerful to be stopped.

According to a senior BJP leader, the RSS is trying this tactic again so that it can gets its wish fulfilled without raking up the real reasons for seeking Shah’s discontinuance. In the process, the power balance in the Sangh Parivar will also remain undisturbed.

It is an open secret that the resentment built up over the last 18 months since Shah assumed charge has turned the party into a tinderbox. The RSS fears that if the individual-centric structure of the BJP under Amit Shah is permitted to continue, the party would be weakened beyond redemption.

According to insiders, the RSS considers the deadlock over Amit Shah a matter of serious concern and will deliberate on it in detail at its Jalgaon meet. Nobody in the RSS, however, is ready to discuss what it fears the most: whether the Sangh will remain relevant in the functioning of the BJP if Modi succeeds in getting Shah a fresh term.

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