He worked for years, almost anonymously, with Narendra Modi in Gujarat and virtually became his silent shadow. As the state turned into a BJP stronghold, Amit Shah, named the BJP president Wednesday, came to be recognized as a master strategist and, more important, a diehard Modi loyalist - and, perhaps, his alter ego.From the time they met in 1982, the Modi-Shah bonhomie grew and grew, making them a team. And Modi stood by Shah after the latter got into legal tangles, eventually giving him one of the greatest challenges once the 2014 Lok Sabha election was declared.
It was a challenge the portly and bearded Shah accepted -- and scripted the Bharatiya Janata Party's spectacular victory in Uttar Pradesh where it bagged 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats. The Uttar Pradesh tally played a key role in making the BJP the first party in three decades to win a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha. In the years since he was first elected to the Gujarat assembly in 1997, controversy has dogged Shah, a successful businessman who rarely interacts with the media.Some have called him charismatic, some say he is a wily Chanakya, the fabled Indian political strategist of an earlier era.
The 49-year-old wealthy man - his family runs a successful business in PVC - is a five-term legislator and was the minister of state for home of Gujarat from December 2002.Shah and Modi first met in Ahmedabad, according to some accounts. Shah joined the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) in 1983 and later the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the student wing of the BJP.The Modi-Shah duo quietly concentrated in Gujarat's rural areas to build a network of over 8,000 grassroot leaders who helped to undo the Congress in what was once a Congress bastion.
As Modi grew in the party hierarchy, Shah got bigger roles. It was widely believed that Shah kept tabs on BJP leaders in Gujarat for Modi. During the time Modi was the Gujarat chief minister from 2001 to 2014, Shah teamed up with him to marginalize or send to oblivion Modi's rivals.In 2002, Shah became the youngest minister in Modi's cabinet. At one point he handled a dozen important ministries, thanks to Modi's confidence in him.Shah unshered in the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime Act and the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act. The latter became controversial after the opposition said it violated religious freedom. He shot into dubious fame when he was accused of orchestrating the extra-judicial killing, when he was the minister of state for home, of a local criminal, Sohrabuddin Sheikh, and his wife near Gandhinagar. A witness in the case, Tulsiram Prajapati, too was killed later.
Forced to quit the Gujarat government, Shah denied the allegations against him.Prior to that, another police gun battle in Gujarat that left four alleged terrorists dead sparked a furore after it was claimed that one of the victims, a young woman, had no terror links. The CBI gave Shah a clean chit in the case.More recently, he was accused of ordering an illegal surveillance of a woman in 2009 in Gujarat with alleged proximity to Modi, then state chief minister. Shah denied this charge too.By then, Shah was better known as a man of organizational skills - which helped the BJP to consolidate its hold over Gujarat.He applied these very skills with remarkable success in Uttar Pradesh - and then stepped into the shoes of a job once held by the likes of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deputy prime minister L.K Advani among many BJP stalwarts.