The race for 'Number 2' in BJP

Amit Shah or Yogi Adityanath? The race for 'Number 2' in BJP

Yogi Adityanath has made it known openly that he sees himself as Modi’s successor. Where does that leave Amit Shah?

Union Home Minister Amit Shah, undoubtedly the ‘No 2’ in the party and the government for the past seven and a half years, is facing competition from a party leader whom he had helped to become a Chief Minister. Credit: PTI File Photo

It is no news that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is firmly in the saddle and that there is no threat to his authority and influence from anyone within the ruling dispensation. The Opposition remains a pale story.

But with 2022 setting in, the race to become his ‘No 2’ has intensified in right earnest, going by the buzz in political circles. Any keen observer of the Delhi durbar could sense the churning.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah, undoubtedly the ‘No 2’ in the party and the government for the past seven and a half years, is facing competition from a party leader whom he had helped to become a Chief Minister.

Yogi Adityanath is virtually declaring from the rooftop that he is no pushover. The huge posters at various places in the national capital, especially Delhi’s toilets, let everyone know that there are only two leaders in the BJP who matter. The first and foremost is the Prime Minister, while the other is Yogi.

Never in the history of independent India has the Chief Minister of a state, albeit the most populous state in the country, made such a splash in the national capital. 

If the number of advertisements in the print and electronic media, as also the space being occupied by the UP Chief Minister in news, including the sponsored category, is taken into consideration, there should not be any doubt in the mind of anyone that Yogi wants a second term, and more. At least, this is the belief of the bhakts, who feel that the saffron-robed CM is the perfect man to succeed the Prime Minister whenever the latter calls it a day. 

In the eyes of the loyalist, Yogi’s hardline Hindutva is making him the natural successor to Modi, a thing that is a worry for the Home Minister, who has been Modi’s ‘Man Friday’ since their Gujarat days. It is a journey that started two decades back.

Since then, Shah has risen by his hard work. From Minister of State for Home in Gujarat to Union Home Minister is a long journey. Shah had worked hard as BJP general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh that facilitated Modi’s sweep to power at the Centre in May 2014. Shah headed the BJP when Modi secured a spectacular second term. A high point of his career was the way the Home Minister scrapped Article 370 which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir. It is another story how matters have unfolded since then. 

But politics has its own dynamics. Yogi is from Uttar Pradesh. He may be a native of Uttarakhand but for most of his adult life, he has been in Gorakhpur. Besides Modi, he has made a mark on the core constituency of Hindutva across the length and breadth of the country. It is not just a coincidence that he is the only BJP CM who has been drafted for campaigning in almost all parts of the country. 

Another thing is that Yogi is too ambitious and he does not hide it. Besides, like a true Thakur, he does not shy away from a fight. When plans were made last year in New Delhi to foist Modi loyalist A K Sharma, a bureaucrat-turned-politician, as Deputy CM in Uttar Pradesh, Yogi put his foot down. Sharma had to remain content with being made vice president of the state BJP, after becoming an MLC last year. Yogi has also ensured that he remained the tallest Thakur leader in the state. Rajnath Singh might be the Defence Minister and former UP Chief Minister, but he has been systematically marginalised in state politics by Yogi.

So, even if the BJP does not do all that good in UP as it did in 2017, Yogi still will barely lose his stature in the Hindutva hierarchy.   

Shah, by his actions, statements, and work, has shown that he sees himself as undoubtedly the ‘No 2’ and that he enjoys the Prime Minister’s trust and confidence, unlike any other BJP leader. Besides, he has got elected from Gandhinagar, the constituency of party veteran and former Deputy PM L K Advani. Shah has moved to the Krishna Menon Road bungalow, previously occupied by the late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his last years. Shah hails from Gujarat and, unlike Modi, has not been elected from UP, a move that has made a huge impact politically since May 2014.

Soon after becoming Prime Minister in 2014, Modi had made it known in a lighter vein that he would like to be at the helm for 10 years. At a Teachers’ Day function, a young boy from Imphal had provoked a hearty Modi laugh when he asked, "How can I become the PM?" "Start preparing for 2024 elections," Modi had responded, adding after a beat, "It also means till then I do not have any threat.” Unlike the US, where one can be President only for two terms, there is no such term limit for the Prime Minister of India.

The results of the seven Assembly polls, including in UP and Gujarat, this year will show how the race for the ‘No 2’ slot pans out as the BJP appears to have become desperate for victory.

2022 will also show whether the likes of Nitin Gadkari, who is considered the most competent and amiable minister in the Modi dispensation, are looked upon by party cadres for greater glory and whether another sidelined minister Rajnath Singh gains more traction. Interestingly, in no talk on ‘No 2’ in the BJP does the name of party president J P Nadda figure. A telling commentary on how the world’s largest political party is being run.

(The writers are senior journalists and political commentators)