July 10, 2014

India: The importance of being Amit Shah | Rana Ayyub

Daily News and Analysis, 9 July 2014

The importance of being Amit Shah

by Rana Ayyub

With stories on the Indian elections dominating the headlines, a piece of news that appeared on the front pages of most dailies in Ahmedabad went unnoticed. Abhay Chudasama, one of the first few IPS officers to go behind bars in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case in 2010 was released on bail.

Chudasama , a Gujarat cadre IPS officer, created a furore after the CBI arrested him in the Sohrabuddin and Tulsi Prajapati fake encounter case in an investigation being monitored by the Supreme Court. Within months of his arrest in Gujarat, the investigating agency went on to arrest Amit Shah on charges of murder, conspiracy, kidnapping and extortion. This was the first instance in the history of independent India that a serving home minister had been arrested.

Abhay Chudasama was considered one of the top cops in Gujarat, who enjoyed great proximity to Shah and became famous as the phone tapping cop – the officer who introduced the culture of snooping in Gujarat. In its chargesheet, the CBI claimed that Chudasama was arrested after he was found tapping telephone calls of witnesses and CBI officers connected with the Sohrabuddin case. It claimed that witnesses in the case had been speaking on the phone with Chudasama before showing up at the CBI offices for questioning. The CBI has no less than 197 complaints of extortion and harassment against Chudasama, filed within days of his arrest. A fact that also went against him is that on the day of his arrest, Rs 1.5 crore was deposited into the accounts of three of Chudasma’s family members, accounts which Chudasama thought wouldn’t be checked by the CBI. On the day he was produced in court, BJP workers turned up to shower petals on him and hail him a hero.

The reason we are discussing the case of this corrupt IPS officer is because it reveals a great deal about his mentor Amit Shah, the man almost singlehandedly manning the poll strategy of BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Uttar Pradesh, and also considered his confidante. Shah, the ex-home minister of Gujarat, was released on bail last year in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case.

Chudasama was one of the most well connected police officers in Gujarat’s home ministry. A regular at Shah’s bungalow, Chudasama knew every possible arms and ammunitions handler and smuggler in the state, and was known to negotiate notorious illegal deals. Such was Chudasama’s proximity to Shah that right after his arrest, Modi flew down to Delhi to meet BJP leaders Nitin Gadkari and LK Advani. Subsequently, Modi also travelled to Nagpur to discuss the developments with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. The results showed in the form of LK Advani and BJP MPs sitting on a dharna outside parliament to protest against the mishandling of the CBI by the UPA government. Subsequently, Gadkari also issued a three-and-a-half page statement on this, of which two pages were devoted to defending the Modi government’s record.

It is for this reason that Amit Shah’s elevation in the BJP’s top leadership is not very surprising. It follows the same pattern as his rise from an RSS pracharak to becoming second in command in the Modi dispensation in Gujarat. Both Shah and his mentor ran Gujarat with a firm hand since 2003, when he was inducted as the youngest minister in his cabinet with the distinction of holding ten portfolios: home, civil defence, prison, excise, law and justice, legislative and parliamentary affairs (independent charge), transport, police housing, home guards, prohibition, Gram Raksha Dal, and border security.

It is believed Modi relied heavily on Shah, garnering support for him, when the then Minister of Home and Modi’s rival Haren Pandya refused to vacate his Ellis Bridge seat. It was Shah’s high handed approach and tactical mindset, which was considered antagonistic to the Patel community that got him to oust then Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel from power in 2002.

The youngest of six siblings, Shah hails from a business family from Mansa in Gandhinagar district. As a teenager, he would frequent the RSS shakhas for which he would be reprimanded by his family. However, his ambitious nature saw him get into active politics in Gujarat and he rose to prominence in the Gujarat RSS, where he was first noticed by Modi.

It was Modi who first introduced Shah into the Gujarat BJP, making him the treasurer. He later became secretary and finally served as vice president of the BJP in the state. Shah, who was later embroiled in the Madhopura cooperatives scandal in which he was accused of taking a Rs 2.5 crore bribe, was first made in charge of the Gujarat State financial corporation by his mentor.

It hardly took any time for Shah to take over the reins of the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank (ADCB) and the Gujarat Cricket Association, both largely seen as conduits to gain money and power. The ADCB, which had a total of Rs 2,000 crore, had two Congress strongmen Ghanshyam Amin and Dashrath Patel. In a smart move, Shah played some Congress leaders against them and gained complete hold over the cooperative after getting the senior leaders ousted from the bank. Once he had established total control, he looked for loyalists who he could place as his trusted lieutenants in the bank.

It was at this time that he used the services of Abhay Chudasama , the cop who was then rising in stature under his tutelage. Abhay got his cousin Yashpal Chudasama and another loyalist Ajay Patel to stake claims over the bank as directors. Interestingly, both Yashpal and Ajay Patel were later chargesheeted by the CBI in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case for using his help in extorting money and later being party to the encounter. It is believed that the funds that were gathered through extortion by Chudasama’s henchmen from Sohrabuddin, Azam Khan and Tulsi Prajapati were parked at the ADCB, over which Shah had gained complete control by 2009. Narendra Modi was not oblivious to the development. He saw in Shah the potential of turning around the most difficult tasks without a whiff of suspicion.

Shah reciprocated by being a staunch loyalist who would brief him every week on the activities of various politicians and cops in the state. An insider from the BJP in Gujarat once revealed how it baffled him that Shah even knew which gymkhana his daughter went to, and most of them found their activities being monitored on an almost daily basis.

Many complained to the top RSS leaders in Gujarat that they felt uncomfortable with this culture of being monitored. The message was communicated to the chief minister’s office in Gandhinagar but was overlooked as Modi felt that he needed constant supervision of his detractors, including Keshubhai Patel and Pravin Togadia, who he suspected could plan a rebellion against him. Such was Shah’s loyalty to Modi that when Haren Pandya refused to vacate his Ellis Bridge seat for Modi, Shah offered his Sarkhej seat to his master, who refused the offer. It had become a prestige battle for Modi, who felt Pandya was becoming too big for his shoes in Gujarat and could help strengthen Keshubhai’s rebellion against him.

In 2012, when the Supreme Court granted bail to him, on condition that he stay out of limits of Gujarat, a restless Shah would get officers from Gujarat, including his then favourite GL Singhal to the Gujarat Bhavan in Delhi, where he was parked with his wife and son. It was from here that he used his intimidation tactics to get witnesses to turn hostile and overlook the CBI development.

With some of his officers incarcerated in jail for over a period of seven years, Shah felt an increasing threat of revolt – he was sure that they would reveal some of the most damning secrets of his political career. It was around this time that Modi came to his rescue again, making him one of the general secretaries of the party by using his veto power and made him the in-charge of the very crucial state of Uttar Pradesh that could change the dynamics of the elections. With most senior leaders in the party up in arms, Modi felt the need to install his man in a commanding position. It was also a strategic decision for Modi, as this was the time that the Ishrat Jahan encounter case and the snooping scandal had surfaced, with incriminating evidence against Shah

By placing him in a senior position in the BJP’s national leadership, Modi ensured that Shah remained unscathed from the CBI’s clutches. In election season, vindictive politics is most easily proved and Modi knew this well. The strategy worked well for Shah, who has managed to evade any criminal procedure against him in the Ishrat case and the snooping controversy. His indictment in the Tulsi Prajapati and Sohrabuddin fake encounter cases, however, still remains unchallenged.

As Narendra Modi looks to take charge in 2014, should the BJP get an enviable majority, Shah will be seen as his master’s shadow in Delhi where he has been promoted for his loyalty. Senior leaders in the BJP, though upset with this, have maintained a stoic silence over the issue. Shah, who is seen addressing press conferences with Arun Jaitley, is already doing the numbers game sitting in his office in UP and Delhi. Two of his top cops have been issue bail this week, with one of them, Dinesh MN, already being reinstated by the Rajasthan police. Shah’s prowess to get things done is only strengthening with each day with absolute power and manipulation rights granted to him. Will the man once notorious for being Modi’s dirty tricks department head in Gujarat rise high in the political corridors of Delhi? If Modi has his way, this will indeed be a reality.

Rana Ayyub is a journalist and a writer. She tweets at @RanaAyyub.