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Rebranding of Amit Shah: From backroom to photo-op frontline

NEW DELHI: Narendra Modi has virtually doubled his campaign rallies in Uttar Pradesh. So has Amit Shah. BJP insiders said the Prime Minister’s most trusted lieutenant was no longer just a backroom strategist and organisational man, he had also become the most visible face of the ruling party, second only to his boss.

If Modi hit the headlines with his smashan-kabristan and Ramazan-Diwali comment, Shah appeared to equal it with his “KASAB” acronym for the Congress, Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

Like Modi, Shah has been focusing his attack on three principal rivals – chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and BSP boss Mayawati.

Amit Shah

Each day, the BJP’s media cell puts out several pictures of the crowd at Shah’s rallies to underline their party chief’s popularity.

Earlier, Shah would hold two rallies a day but, for the last three phases of the Uttar Pradesh elections, he has doubled the number to about four a day, leaving Modi behind. Shah has so far addressed over two dozen election rallies.

Modi was scheduled to hold 12 rallies for all the seven phases but now the final count is set to cross 20. He has already addressed 15.

Union home minister Rajnath Singh, regarded as one of the tallest leaders from the heartland state in the current dispensation, has also addressed many rallies but the number is nowhere equal to the rallies Shah has held. Other notable leaders too are far behind.

Not that Shah’s increased presence in Uttar Pradesh’s electoral arena is a new phenomenon. Ever since he became BJP president after Modi assumed charge as Prime Minister in 2014, Shah has campaigned intensively in every state election. He campaigned in Maharashtra, Haryana, Delhi, Jharkhand, Bihar and Assam. The BJP won most of the states but lost in Delhi and Bihar.

In Bihar, only two larger than life pictures dominated the BJP’s posters and billboards. They were of Modi and Shah, both of equal sizes. Local leaders were relegated to insets.

But the party seems to have drawn lessons from the Bihar debacle: Shah no longer dominates the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh posters. Four local leaders – Rajnath, Kalraj Mishra, Keshav Prasad Maurya (the state BJP chief) and Uma Bharti – find place of prominence. But in the campaign arena, Shah continues to dominate along with Modi.

If the BJP manages to end its ” banwas” (exile) of more than 14 years in Uttar Pradesh and regain power, then, along with Modi, a major chunk of the credit would go to Shah for his solo campaigns. “If we win UP, then Amit Shahji would be described as the most successful BJP chief. After Modiji there would be none but Amit Shah,” a BJP leader said.

The increase in the number of rallies of Modi and Shah have been driven by reports from the ground that the party’s election campaign needed a big push in the last rounds if the BJP were to touch the majority figure in the 403-member Assembly.

The ruling Samajwadi Party’s lone chief campaigner, Akhilesh Yadav, has been addressing five to six meetings a day and, sources said, the BJP chief too wanted to match it.

Apart from hopping from one place to another by helicopter, Shah has also rivalled his opponents by holding road shows. He held a parallel road show in Allahabad last Tuesday coinciding with the road show by Akhilesh and Rahul in the city.

Shah is likely to hold a road show in Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi next week again to take on Akhilesh and Rahul, who are scheduled to hold a road show there on Monday.

“By holding the road shows, Amit Shah is pitching himself against Akhilesh and Rahul in a bid to prove that he was no less popular than the combined strength of the two rival leaders,” a BJP leader said.

-The Telegraph Calcutta

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