New Delhi: In December 2002, Narendra Modi crushed the Congress to win a record 126 seats in the 182-member Gujarat Assembly. The BJP man who won by the highest margin of votes, over 1.58 lakh and even higher than Modi himself, was his close confidant Amit Anilchandra Shah in Sarkhej, Ahmedabad.
Sarkhej has elected Amit Shah as its MLA in four consecutive elections. He bettered his 2002 margin of victory in 2007, winning by a lead of 2.35 lakh votes.
Till the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case came back to haunt him, Shah had only risen, not least because of his mentor, Narendra Modi, whose second-in-command he had been for some time. Before the CBI net started closing in on Shah two years ago, he was even considered an option for Chief Minister if Narendra Modi had to move to national politics.
The last two years have seemed to decimate those ambitions. Mr Shah was charged, arrested and jailed and when he was granted bail by the Gujarat High Court, a rider followed that he leave Gujarat and stay away till the Supreme Court decided on a CBI plea that his bail be cancelled. The top court has decided that bail for Mr Shah stands and he can now return to Gujarat and participate in the campaign for assembly elections two months later.
The BJP needs Mr Shah back. He has been a key strategist and planner of the party and, among other things, is credited with wresting control of Gujarat's milk cooperatives from the Congress. But ground reality has also changed in the year that he was away, mostly, say sources, in Delhi. In Gujarat, people have moved on. Shah supporters complain they have been marginalised by the rise of another powerful leader, Revenue Minister Anandiben Patel.
Shah, now 47, is not popular among colleagues. His fellow ministers were quoted as saying that the Minister of State for Home was remote and autocratic, some said arrogant, and had not bothered to keep the best of personal relations with his colleagues.
Thus, many in the Gujarat government began to distance themselves from Shah once the net started closing in upon him. Mr Shah went virtually underground in the months before his arrest. Forced to quit office after the CBI named him in its chargesheet for the murder of Shohrabuddin Sheikh, he had even stopped attending office ever since the arrest of Ahmedabad crime branch top cop Abhay Chudasama on April 27, 2010.
By May, his absence at important functions was telling; even functions he had fondly and prepared for. He stopped using his official mobile phone and his official car. A national daily reported in June 2010 that he had lost over 10 kg from stress since the CBI began investigating the fake encounter case. On July 25, 2010 he was arrested. He left jail three months later on bail.
The CBI took over investigations into the death of small-time historysheeter Sohrabuddin and his wife Kausar Bi in January 2010 on the direction of the Supreme Court. The CBI says Mr Shah was in constant touch with senior policemen now in jail in the 2005 case.
The state CID, which had investigated the case earlier, had arrested DG Vanzara and Rajkumar Pandian, both IPS officers of the Gujarat cadre and Dinesh M N, an IPS officer from Rajasthan along with 10 other policemen, in the case.
Mr Shah holds a Bachelor's degree in Bio-Chemistry, was an RSS volunteer and a leader of the BJP's youth wing, the ABVP. He then rose up the ranks holding various posts in the Gujarat unit of the BJP. Amit Shah has been the president of the Gujarat state chess association, the game his mentor Mr Modi professes a fondness for too. He has also served as vice-president to Mr Modi's president of the state's cricket association.