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Amit Shah isn’t well-known outside India, but down the road, he could be India’s next prime minister. At the moment, he is India’s second most powerful man, serving as the consigliere to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It’s a role Shah has played for more than two decades, back when Modi was chief minister of the state of Gujarat.

A Look At Amit Shah

Shah was recently profiled by journalist Atul Dev in The Guardian. For close observers of Indian politics, the piece isn’t entirely revelatory. But that is very much part of the story. During the course of his reporting, Dev found that sources were simply unwilling to speak with him — even off the record — due to fear of retribution from Shah, who, as home minister, serves as India’s top domestic security official.

A former home minister told Dev that “he has no opinion about the home ministry any more.” A member of Shah’s own party said, “There are things about Amit Shah that cannot be said.”

Dev’s profile is an essential read for anyone interested in how India really works and what its future leadership might look like.

The TL;DR: Shah is a bad guy. He’s faced charges of kidnapping, extortion, and murder — charges that were only dropped after Modi became prime minister in 2014 and the mysterious death of a judge hearing the case.

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Shah would go on to lead Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and then assume the role of home minister. It seems that everyone of importance feels he’s spying on them.

How Shah Works

Shah is someone Modi could “delegate all the dirty work to.” He’s long orchestrated extrajudicial killings. He answers questions for Modi at press events. He’s also muscled more than $1 billion in donations for the BJP using the state’s investigative powers.

Dev writes:

“Almost half of the 30 top donors to the BJP had made enormous political donations shortly after they had been raided by the government’s investigative agencies. “

Shah and his family are untouchable. Not in the sense of caste, but in that they can act with impunity. Shah’s son Jay heads India’s cricket board, a lucrative post that makes him arguably the most powerful figure in the global sport.

After Modi

Under Modi and Shah, India’s institutions — including its courts and media — have been neutered into submission. The surveillance regime Shah has set up is key to this order.

While Shah is a fearsome character a leading alternative to him within the BJP is just as bad if not worse. They include the Yogi Adityanath, the monk-vigilante group founder who serves as chief minister of India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh. Should the BJP continue to rule after Modi, brutality and fear are also likely to continue to reign.

Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.

He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.

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