The home minister's detractors are wrong; Amit Shah was as busy as ever during the lockdown, doing what he does best
Home Minister Amit Shah has been seen on the front page of newspapers after a significant gap of time. He is back to doing what he revels in: campaigning for elections. And he’s doing it in his typical no-holds-barred style. No expenses barred either.
Home Minister Amit Shah has been seen on the front page of newspapers after a significant gap of time. He is back to doing what he revels in: campaigning for elections. And he’s doing it in his typical no-holds-barred style. No expenses barred either: the BJP arranged 27,000 LED screens for the former party president's 8 June Bihar rally, where elections are due in October this year. This in a state where the government, of which the BJP is a part, was reluctant to pay the train fare for the returning Bihari migrants until they were shamed into doing so by Opposition leader Tejasvi Yadav, who offered to pay.
At any rate, this kind of dazzling display would be called unseemly when images of hungry and exhausted workers and reports of millions rendered jobless have filled our consciousness over the last two months? Nonetheless, our determined and tireless home minister has marched on.
Social media and the opposition have blamed the home minister for indulging in politics at a time when his immediate concern should be the rising cases of coronavirus in the country – we recently overtook Britain as the fourth worst-hit nation in the world. That is doing injustice to the home minister. In fact, not for a moment during the lockdown did Amit Shah take a break. He was at his job all through these last 10 weeks.
A home minister doesn’t need to announce to the world what he’s busy with. We have got used to our home minister being in the headlines constantly either because he is campaigning – he is the BJP’s no 2 campaigner after Prime Minister Narendra Modi - or giving belligerent speeches in the Lok Sabha.
During the lockdown, there was no such arena for Amit Shah. So, he just did his job quietly. Here’s how.
The nationwide lockdown was announced on 24 March. On 31 March, the Centre changed the domicile law of Jammu and Kashmir, for the first time making government jobs open to non-Kashmiris who met certain criteria.
There was no urgency to change the law at a time when the coronavirus pandemic had just started to be taken seriously by the Centre. In Kashmir, two persons had already died from the virus.
The new law provoked a storm of protest, even from those politicians propped up by Delhi in Kashmir. But the home ministry, acting as if the situation was absolutely normal, went ahead and announced the rules for getting the new domicile certificate on 19 May.
The day after the home ministry stunned Jammu and Kashmir with the new law, another development took place, this time in Delhi. The police arrested Meeran Haider, a PhD student at Jamia Milia Islamia. It was a week into the lockdown, and Haider, president of the Delhi youth wing of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, was providing food to the needy.
The charge against him? Inciting the communal riots that had taken place in Delhi more than a month earlier.
The Delhi Police, which reports to the home minister, had been arresting people for the February 23-26 riots all through March. On 11 March, the home minister told the Lok Sabha that more than 700 FIRs had been filed in connection with the riots, and 2647 persons arrested. He also spoke of future arrests in connection with the "conspiracy’’ to foment the riots.
Actually, Amit Shah’s speech in the Lok Sabha on the Delhi riots is all you need to recall to understand both the bewildering series of arrests over the last few weeks in Delhi, as well as Shah’s supposed "disappearance’’ from the news during the lockdown.
In his 50-minute speech, the home minister explained the "conspiracy’’ behind the Delhi riots. He traced the violence to the way the youth and minorities had been "misled’’ about the provisions of the CAA. Specifically, he quoted three speeches:
1. Sonia Gandhi’s 14 December speech at the "Bharat Bachao Rally’’ held by the Congress at Ram Lila Maidan, where she exhorted people to come out on the roads and wage an "aar ya paar’’ struggle for their very existence.
The Congress president, in fact, spoke of the need to struggle against the troubles affecting every section of the population, and mentioned the CAA only at the end. Shah laid it out as if her speech was only about the CAA and pointed out that two days after it, the Shaheen Bagh protest began. "It was from here that all this started,’’ said the home minister.
2. A 17 February speech made by a member of the organisation 'United Against Hate' at an anti-CAA rally in Amravati, where the speaker (the home minister did not name him) exhorted the audience to block the streets against the government during Donald Trump’s visit. An FIR was registered as early as 6 March against ex-JNU scholar Umar Khalid, founder-member of United Against Hate, linking this speech to the Delhi riots.
3. A 19 February remark by ex-AIMIM MLA Waris Pathan at an anti-CAA rally in Gulbarga wherein he said 100 crore Hindus would prove no match for 15 crore Muslims if the latter came on the streets. (He later withdrew this remark.)
Shah’s Lok Sabha speech also tells us why neither BJP minister Anurag Thakur, who exhorted his Hindu audience to "goli maro saalon ko’’ at a BJP election rally on 28 January; nor Kapil Mishra, who threatened to clear anti-CAA protesters if the police didn’t do so, just hours before the riots began, have been arrested. The home minister did refer to both these speeches but all he said was: "These might be hate speeches; the police is looking into them.’’
But what set Amit Shah’s speech apart from those of previous home ministers who have briefed Parliament on communal violence, is that it wasn’t only full of figures of deaths and property damaged. He also told the House he had not only been sitting with the cops during the violence, but had attended meetings where evidence against the rioters, specially video evidence, was reviewed. Aadhar and voter ID details had been fed into the software to identify more than 1100 rioters, he said.
"No one will be spared; wherever they are, the police will hunt them out; the stringent action of the Delhi police will be a lesson to rioters that this is the fate that awaits them,” he concluded.
So while the coronavirus rages across Delhi, we see youngsters, including a five-month pregnant student, in Delhi’s jails under an anti-terrorist act, despite a Supreme Court order to decongest jails during the coronavirus outbreak. With over 3,000 cases and 38 deaths in Jammu and Kashmir, we see residents in the Union Territory fearful about outsiders getting into top administrative posts, thanks to the new domicile law.
And we think Amit Shah was doing nothing during the lockdown.
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