Amit Shah is on trial for ordering three murders, kidnapping witnesses, running an extortion racket and hiring criminals to shoot up a rival’s headquarters. Between court hearings he’ll now be running India’s ruling party.
Shah was named president of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party today, two months after its anti-corruption platform helped secure the biggest electoral mandate in 30 years. Shah is accused of ordering extrajudicial killings carried out by police in Gujarat almost a decade ago when he served under Modi. He denies wrongdoing.
“There is no need to introduce Amit Shah,” Rajnath Singh, home minister and outgoing BJP president, told reporters in New Delhi today. “He has enormous imaginative abilities, is rich in organizational skills and has tremendous management abilities to ensure victories.”
The move helps consolidate Modi’s power in the party while leaving him open to criticism that he’s doing little to change the political culture in India, where a third of lawmakers in the national parliament face criminal charges. Despite the accusations, Shah’s record running campaigns is exemplary: he hasn’t lost in about three decades.
As Shah awaited trial this year, Modi put him in charge of the BJP’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. The party took 71 of 80 seats, its highest total ever. Shah was a fixture in Modi’s campaign, standing next to him during victory celebrations along the Ganges river after the BJP’s win. Shah made no comments at today’s press briefing.
‘Master of Strategy’
“When it comes to elections, he’s proven to be a master of strategy,” said Jay Narayan Vyas, a BJP spokesman in Gujarat and former cabinet minister under Modi, adding that a Shah-managed campaign hasn’t suffered defeat in 28 years. “Like a good chess player, he plots, carefully plans and then makes his moves, which is why he has so much success.”
Shah, 49, met Modi in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a conservative Hindu nationalist group linked to the BJP. Even though they’re from different backgrounds -- Shah is a former stockbroker from a wealthy family, while Modi is the son of a tea stall owner -- the two men became close.
Shah’s appointment “represents the culmination of Modi’s takeover of the party apparatus,” said Milan Vaishnav, an associate in the South Asia program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “Modi is, of course, the de facto party leader already. This makes him the de jure leader as well.”
In 2003, two years after Modi was elected as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, he appointed Shah as the youngest member of his cabinet. He oversaw a dozen portfolios, including home, prisons, and law and order.
During that time, Shah ran an extortion racket with the help of police officers as well as Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a local businessman, according to a 2010 report filed by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation. In one case, Shah extracted 7 million rupees ($117,000) from a businessman after threatening to harm his family, the report says.
In 2005, Shah and Sheikh had a falling out, according to the report. Soon after, it said, police in plain clothes picked up Sheikh and his wife while they traveled on a bus in central India. The pair were brought to Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s biggest city, where Sheikh was killed in a murder that was made to look as if he was shot while trying to escape, the report said.
Sheikh’s wife, who witnessed the abduction of her husband, was murdered and cremated in the home village of one of the policemen, according to the police report. Another witness in the case was killed nearly a year later, it said.
Shah made phone calls to the accused officers during the period when Sheikh and his wife were abducted and murdered, the police report said. The Gujarat government subsequently acknowledged that the officers killed Sheikh, according to court documents.
Ram Jethmalani, Shah’s lawyer, declined to comment when contacted last month, saying he isn’t authorized to talk to the press. Shah has routinely denied any involvement in the killings.
“The fact that this gentlemen has an alleged involvement in various criminal cases reflects poorly on the BJP’s claim of probity and clean government,” Manish Tewari, a spokesman for the Congress party, which ruled the country for 10 years before Modi took power, said by phone.
A special CBI court in Mumbai last week exempted Shah from appearing in court because of his political work in Delhi, and scheduled another hearing on July 17, The Hindu reported. The nation’s top court banned Shah from Gujarat in 2010 after being charged amid concerns that he would intimidate witnesses. The case was transferred to Mumbai in 2012.
“Shah ran the police force in Gujarat like it was his own private army,” said Rubabuddin Sheikh, a brother of Sohrabuddin Sheikh. “The BJP is just a two-man team now between Shah and Modi. Everyone else is just a bunch of goats following the hands that feed them.”
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at firstname.lastname@example.org Jeanette Rodrigues