In the last week of August 2014, three months after the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office, Rajnath Singh relinquished the post of BJP president. Rajnath became Union home minister, the number two according to official protocol and the mood about the new government was euphoric.
Suddenly, news based on an unsubstantiated source put the government, particularly Rajnath, in an awkward position. It was picked up by outlet after outlet until it became a talking point inside the corridors of power. The news pertained to a supposed conversation between Modi and Rajnath’s son Pankaj, now an MLA in Uttar Pradesh Assembly.
Rajnath was livid — and rightly so — for it cast aspersions on the integrity of the then home minister’s family. Through his four-decade political career, Rajnath has always been conscious of his image, maintaining a certain grace and dealing with people with dignity.
The news and the consequent gossip around it could have demolished Rajnath's hard-earned reputation. Rajnath met Modi at his official residence and immediately after returning to his then Ashoka Road residence spoke to the media. Rajnath appeared visibly agitated, his kurta sleeves rolled up, literally flexing his muscles and assertively talked about his son of the soil upbringing, the transparency he maintained in public life and stating that he would quit politics if what was being talked about in the media was ever proved.
Shortly thereafter, the Prime Minister's Office and BJP president Amit Shah issued a statement terming the news "baseless and motivated." The matter ended there and Rajnath continued in office for the next five years.
The beginning of the second Narendra Modi government also had an awkward beginning for Rajnath, though not exactly the same way as in August 2014. News of him being shifted from home to defence had its share of wild speculation. Then came the official list issued by the Press Information Bureau that the prime minister had constituted two new Cabinet committee of ministers and reconstituted six existing Cabinet committees.
It sent the rumour mills in national capital churning. Rajnath’s name figured only in two committees, CCS and CCEA, whereas Shah, his successor in home ministry was a member of all the committees, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was also in all the committees barring the Cabinet Committee on Appointment and Transport and Highway Minister Nitin Gadkari was in all but three committees. Rajnath was earlier part of all Cabinet committees.
After that list of committees was notified on Thursday, the message that went out — that the number two in the government was “dropped” from four committees and not included in two new committees — was not healthy for the government, that too when the celebratory mood was still on.
It was perceived to be kind of a vote of no confidence in Rajnath. By evening, government leadership realised a mistake had been made that was in urgent need of correction. The Modi government, fresh off its 350 seats in the parliamentary elections, couldn’t afford to start the term with speculation of a trust deficit at its highest level. This time around. Rajnath didn't to roll up his sleeves and flex his muscles, but the impact was much the same.
Rajnath has long been in public life. Those who know him say that the thing he cares about most is his dignity. He'd be humble when dealing with people and always open to meet at his office or home and expect the same in return.
Rajnath began his term in defence ministry with a visit to Siachen, spending his time with soldiers guarding the borders at a high altitude under most severe climatic conditions. He was there to express solidarity with them, to send the message that he would stand shoulder to shoulder with defence forces.
It should be noted when Modi was anointed as BJP prime ministerial candidate (first as chairman of the BJP election campaign committee) in July 2014 in Goa, Rajnath was BJP president. Later, at a public rally in Goa, he chose to speak before Modi, saying he believed that Modi had emerged as leader of the party by popular acclaim and thus should be the one making the concluding speech.
He was one of the first leaders in the BJP to recognise that Modi had the ability and appeal to lead the 2014 campaign even as some of Rajnath's supporters believed he had the right credentials (as a consensus leader). Since then, Rajnath has established a new personal bond with Modi, which has only strengthened.
Sources said when leadership realised that a gross oversight had been committed, it went into a damage control mode swiftly. It believes it is better to suffer headlines for a day which could slightly embarrass the government rather than let the gossip mills churn for days.
And Rajnath's supporters are happy.
Updated Date: Jun 07, 2019 19:45:50 IST