On January 20, when an unassuming Jagat Prakash Nadda took over as BJP president, he inherited shoes far too big, left by a man who expanded the party’s footprints across India. Nadda’s predecessor Amit Shah transformed the predominantly cow-belt party into a pan-India force—from ruling seven states in 2014, when Shah took over as the party chief, the BJP went up to 21 states in 2018, before the number came down to 17. Its membership stands at 18 crore, making it the world’s largest political entity.
Many within the party, and also outside, credit BJP’s growth to Shah and his single-minded obsession on winning polls. Even his critics—and he has many—grudgingly concede that Shah has changed the way elections are fought in the country. “It is no more about empty promises made casually. It is not about a constituency or an assembly seat. It is about booth-level management. It is about understanding the voters and their psychology. It is about unabashedly appealing to their baser instincts. It is about being unapologetic about wanting to win,” says a senior party leader, who does not always agree with many of Shah’s methods.
The tactics and methods definitely seemed to have worked for the BJP as it won 303 seats on its own in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Badri Narayan, professor at the Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad, says Shah’s biggest achievement is the expansion of the BJP into all parts of the country , including the Northeast. “Nothing was out-of-bounds for BJP under Shah. The party’s victory in Tripura, the Left bastion in the Northeast is noteworthy. As are attempts at forming a government in Jammu and Kashmir,” he says.
The BJP went beyond its core areas in the Hindi heartland, looking for other spaces to occupy...