On Monday, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah spent a few hours at the party's Makar Sankranti lunch. The usually gruff 51-year-old was self assured, and indulged in banter as he walked around, meeting party workers and journalists.
Whether Shah continues to be the BJP president is expected to be decided by the end of the week. But Shah has shown no sign of nervousness about the approaching election - in fact, he has gone about taking important party decisions.
On Monday evening, Shah issued a statement to nominate Union ministers Prakash Javadekar, Piyush Goyal, J P Nadda and Rajiv Pratap Rudy to plan the party's campaign for the Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, which are due by April. It was yet another signal from Shah that he continues to have the confidence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and is assured to get his first full term as the BJP's 10th president.
Shah completed his truncated presidential term on Saturday. The BJP president is elected once in three years by an electoral college, part of which, in turn, is elected at the end of exhaustive organisational elections. But Shah did not face the election when he was appointed to the post in August 2014. BJP insiders say if there is another contender, an election to the party president's post will take place on January 24. Otherwise, another term for Shah will be announced the same day.
Shah was appointed by the BJP's 12-member Parliamentary Board to serve the remainder of the presidential term of Rajnath Singh. Singh, who had by then joined the Union council of ministers, had quit to adhere to the BJP's "one man, one post" rule. The BJP's national council later stamped its approval on Shah's appointment.
In a party that is believed to be the most democratic in the Indian political system, it is difficult to say whether Shah will face a challenger in the elections. But most in the party agree that Shah is set to be elected by "consensus". But Shah's re-election wasn't as obvious after the BJP's embarrassing debacle in the Bihar Assembly polls in November.
Several, including the BJP's senior-most leaders - such as L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi - had criticised the centralised nature of decision-making under Shah. Questions were also asked of Shah's style of functioning, particularly his arrogance. But the leader from Gujarat has tried to counter this since November by coming across as humbler and more accessible. He now smiles often and seems to be making an extra effort not to snub people, particularly journalists.
A website, amitshah.co.in, tabulates in detail Shah's contribution in his 20-month tenure. The website explains how the BJP has become the biggest party on the planet and how Shah has travelled more than 500 km a day to all parts of India. Shah has also reached out to the state party units. The 37 state party units, currently undergoing organisational elections, play a crucial role in electing the BJP's national president.
By Wednesday, the party had completed the elections in 21 state units. According to the BJP constitution, at least 50 per cent of state units should complete the election process from district, block to state level before the party's new national president can be elected. The party's "returning officer" for the elections, Rajya Sabha M P Avinash Rai Khanna, is expected to issue the notification for the election of the national president in a couple of days. Any 20 members of an electoral college of a state can jointly propose an active member as a candidate for the elections to the post of national president.
In another departure from the recent past when state presidents were rarely given a second consecutive term, Shah has had to strike a compromise with powerful regional satraps. Some of these state units have, therefore, persisted with incumbent presidents. In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Nandkumar Singh Chauhan and Ashok Parnami, respectively, have been re-elected. The two are close to the respective chief ministers of their state. In Haryana, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar's pick, Subhash Brala, was elected by "consensus".
Shah, if elected, will face a series of difficult Assembly elections and will be around at least until the time BJP prepares for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. That election would determine whether Shah might go on to lead the BJP for a longer period.