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Amit Shah Moves To Divide Yadavs In UP, Nitish-Lalu In Bihar

Published: January 10, 2017 14:47 IST
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Amit Bhai, as he's referred to by most members of the BJP, is single-handedly responsible for two of the most important political divisions taking place in India: the one splitting the seams in Uttar Pradesh, and the other brewing in Patna between Lalu Yadav and ally and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. While both have the trappings of a saas-bahu saga, each flashpoint has been carefully maneuvered by Shah, who is cleverly weaving his Gandhinagar brand of magic in the North Indian states. From being a local Gujarati leader, Shah has transformed into a political pundit, weaving alignments (and webs of deceit, per his critics), identifying the vulnerabilities and ambitions of leaders, and then exploiting them with intricacy and craft.

First, Uttar Pradesh: When the Yadav family feud went public about six months ago, many political commentators called it a noora kushti (fixed fight) between patriarch Mulayam Singh and his son Akhilesh Yadav to create sympathy for Akhilesh as a counter to anti-incumbency. However, those in the know will vouch that this was the culmination of a bitter family fight which started as early as 2014. Mulayam's second wife, Sadhna Gupta, wanted her son and Akhilesh's younger (step) brother Prateek Yadav, who has major stakes in the real estate and fitness industry, to contest from Azamgarh. Insiders in the party who spoke to me said that it was Amar Singh who had Sadhna's ears and suggested this to as a move to counter Akhilesh's growing influence in the party.

It was Ramgopal Yadav who intervened and finally Netaji, as he's popularly known, had to contest from both Mainpuri and Azamgarh to quell the sparks of division in his family. Ramgopal later announced that the decision to field Mulayam from Azamgarh had been taken on the demand of party workers and leaders from Poorvanchal. This, however, could not contain the feud and Amar Singh, according to party insiders, asked Sadhna and Shivpal Yadav to get Ramgopal sacked from the party if they were serious about creating a power centre parallel to Akhilesh in the Samjawadi Party.

Shah, who led the BJP to a massive victory in Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 general election, had sensed this simmering feud and it is alleged that he used Amar Singh ably to fuel the fire that now has the party virtually split. In an overnight meeting that allegedly took place in South Delhi sometime in September last year and was facilitated by Amar Singh, the Shah-Mulayam communications began with discussions of many packages for Netaji including that of being made the next President after Pranab Mukherjee.

Simultaneously, Akhilesh Yadav was spinning another set of mathematics. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the Congress gained 7.5 percent of the total vote share, while the SP managed a decent 22 percent. A Congress-SP alliance together could yield more than 30 percent if the parties were to aggressively fight against BJP, especially in the western districts which were most likely to be polarized along religious lines.

According to the schedule announced by the Election Commission, the western districts will see the first phase of polling and an aggressive BJP has already begun its campaign with the likes of Sakshi Maharaj on the loose making anti-Muslim remarks; the party strategy will use demonetisation and surgical strikes rhetoric generously. But Shah has learnt from the Bihar election, where the mahagathbandhan between Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav and the Congress defeated his party. So he has calculated that the SP-Congress alliance is a cogent threat in Uttar Pradesh, and a sure-shot way of creating a weak opposition to the BJP is in breaking the Samajwadi Party.

But the Chanakya has not restricted himself to a gameplan for Uttar Pradesh. The increasing hostility between Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar has given the BJP chief a chance to make a strong play in Bihar. Between October 2016 and now, Shah, who has been visiting Patna often, has allegedly been among the strongest reasons for Nitish Kumar's support to Modi on the notes ban. Nitish, who despite being the Chief Minister of Bihar has to virtually have all decisions voted by Lalu, who won many more seats than him, is tired of having a supra Chief Minister. No surprise then that just around the time the Yadav family split started making headlines, Amit babu made his presence felt in Patna politics, when, at a public meeting in November, he lauded Nitish Kumar saying "I publicly commend Nitish Kumar for the support he has given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's fight against black money and corruption...He first supported demonetisation. He yesterday made it clear that JD(U) is not supporting the Bharat Bandh call given by some parties. We also acknowledge his support to the GST Bill."

Then, this week, Nitish Kumar hosted Modi at a celebration in Patna of revered Sikh leader Guru Gobind Singh. The PM hailed Nitish Kumar for banning alcohol successfully in the state. Miffed with this public complimenting, Lalu Yadav called on Rahul Gandhi who had been one of the facilitators of the mahagathbandhan to warn him of Nitish Kumar's growing proximity to the BJP. He also reportedly told Gandhi that "the same camp" was making a similar attempt at creating a rift in Uttar Pradesh. So no surprise that Lalu also publicly asked both Akhilesh and Mulayam to bury their differences and be vary of a larger conspiracy courtesy the BJP parivaar.

Over the last few weeks, reports have surfaced that Nitish has been unhappy with Congress favoring Lalu Prasad over him in the decision-making process and is looking to cut him down to size before 2019. The rumors of an Amit Shah-Nitish Kumar meeting organized allegedly by a poll strategist in November last year, have gained credence with Shah's increasing visits to Patna including one today to release a 15-volume complete works of Deendayal Upadhyay. Before the book release, Shah is expected to visit Takht Harmandir Sahib in Patna. It is also quite a coincidence that this very morning, Bihar BJP President Nityanand Rai announced that his party will participate in the January 21 human chain organised by Nitish Kumar in favor of alcohol prohibition in the state. With the BJP's regional allies like the Shiv Sena and Akali Dal increasingly making their dissatisfaction clear, Shah knows the importance of gaining the support of Nitish Kumar, a political heavyweight, for 2019. 

Whether Shah manages to make big gains with the Yadav feud in Uttar Pradesh and Nitish Kumar in Bihar will take time to unfold. But what is established is that Shah is to be taken seriously as the big divider.

(Rana Ayyub is an award-winning investigative journalist and political writer. She is the author of 'Gujarat Files', a book on the politics of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in Gujarat.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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