It was late afternoon in North Karnataka’s Belgaum district. Sudden rain had threatened to disrupt the roadshow altogether. But as the showers diminished, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah decided he would go ahead as scheduled and got on a modern van converted into a chariot.
Despite the rain, the crowds were huge and went beyond just party workers. They occupied every inch of the narrow street, stared from rooftops, threw petals, played the drums, sought selfies, crowded around the rath door , and tried to step in. Shah stood with a microphone, and interspersed his remarks with slogans of the party. He paid his respects to local religious and cultural icons. He energised the crowd, and then he cajoled — almost scolded — them to move away, conscious that he was getting delayed for his next rally a short chopper ride away. He bent down, telling the rath driver to hurry up; he got up, going back into campaign mode. And he kept repeating the cycle. An aide said, “Till he does everything himself, till he takes full control of the situation, he is not satisfied.”
In how he regulated the speed of the rath on that day, in the midst of the crowd, may lie a clue to Shah’s energy, meticulousness and micromanagement — the three skills which have given the BJP consecutive electoral wins and may well explain how the party emerged as the single largest party in the Karnataka assembly polls. Take energy and hard work first. Since December, Shah spent 34 days spread over five months in Karnataka. He visited 28 districts and covered over 57,000 kms. He addressed 59 rallies; did 25 roadshows; held 38 interactions with specific social groups; visited 33 temples/mutts; and convened 18 organisational meetings down to the level of shakti kendras, which are an aggregation of booth committees.
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This had immediate consequences in terms of management of elections. It gave Shah deep knowledge about the local dynamics, the party’s strengths and vulnerabilities across a wide swathe of Karnataka; it ensured that in all regions he visited, Shah was able to infuse energy in the organisation and ensure that internal divisions were reconciled. It meant that Shah was personally visiting influential locals and winning them over to the party’s side. The symbolic import of a national party chief doing so is huge in local politics.
It allowed him to understand the exact social dynamics in each constituency. Shah is often known to remark that six months before an election, the voters have made up their mind about whether they want a government to stay or go. The rallies, the political publicity, the social coalition, and the organisational work at the end of the campaign cycle is to ensure that the support of those who are favourable translate into real votes.
Shah has proven himself to be a master at precisely this. He is, by some stretch, India’s most formidable vote-converter.