The majestic right corner chamber in North Block on Raisina Hill in New Delhi has always exuded a stamp of authority. There have been occasional exceptions but the centrality of the home ministry in the Union government had been evident since Independence when Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel became first home minister of independent India.
Since Patel’s time (15 August 1947 to December 1950), there have been instances when the person at the Ministry of Home Affairs has either been de jure or de facto second most powerful man in the country.
The last time this happened was when LK Advani was in the home ministry from 1998 to 2004. Advani came to North Block with a reputation of a no-nonsense man, a man with proven organisational, administrative skills, and a person who built BJP, along with then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, from a two-member party in Lok Sabha in 1984 to the single-largest party in 1996, to catapulting to power in 1998.
North Block was then the hub of all kinds of activities – the home minister’s office was not limited to overseeing just internal security but ministers of all ministries would line up there for a variety of issues. So would party leaders and corporate honchos. Senior RSS leaders would also turn up to discuss issues relating to “current situations and internal coordination issues".
Advani had his task cut out, manage all kinds of conflicts, contradictions, bruised egos in the government, in the party and in the coalition. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the unquestioned leader of the BJP and of the NDA but when a matter was referred to Advani, or when Advani had given his opinion on a subject it was very rare that Vajpayee would overrule that.
Over the last five years through his hard work and skilful strategic organisational Amit Shah more than inherited Advani’s position in the BJP and government. It is only incidental or perhaps symbolic that Shah now represents Gandhinagar seat in Parliament, won it greater margin than what was BJP veteran’s record.
Shah journey is the most fascinating story for students of politics – a relatively young minister of state of home, law and justice in Gujarat who had to quit government under most adverse circumstances, an adversarial UPA government trying to fix him in an alleged encounter case of some alleged terrorists and based on CBI’s plea Supreme Court on 30 October 2010 ordering him to leave territories of Gujarat in less than 24 hours for an indefinite period to become one of the most powerful and impactful names in political history of India.
With the arrival of Amit Shah at that right corner chamber in North Block, the centrality of the home ministry has yet again been restored in governance and polity of the ruling party. One need not go into details of how Prime Minister Narendra Modi trusts him and places complete confidence in him.
Anybody who has a slight understanding of BJP and followed politics political developments in the past six years had no doubts as to how things would unfold in days to come.
In less than 48 hours of him assuming office of home minister it became more than evident what clout he would be enjoying in the government – Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made him a member in all the cabinet committees he formed – the two new committees he formed on Investment and Growth and another on Employment and Skill Development; and reconstitute eight existing committees including Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, Cabinet Committee on Accommodation, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs, Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs, Cabinet Committee on Security.
Though some positions in these committees are the ex-officio fact remains that Prime Minister has decided that Shah’s has to be part of the consultation process and decision making on all important issues relating to governance is a clear indicator to Shah’s stature.
An early indication to it had come a day earlier when Shah chaired a meeting of top ministers, including External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Railways and Commerce Minister Piyush Goel, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, on India’s strategic options in Africa, particularly those relating with energy sector — petroleum trade with Mozambique. Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant also visited his office for briefing and consultation. Senior party leaders like Bhupender Yadav and Uma Bharti have also visited him at his new office.
Visit of four high-profile ministers and the Niti Ayog CEO to Shah’s North Block chamber sent a loud and clear message to all concerned about the kind of authority and aura Shah is going to enjoy in his new role. There is hardly any doubt that he is de-facto number two in the government (though as per official list Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is placed over Shah) and in public perception, the second-most powerful man in the country after Modi.
Consider some other noteworthy things that happened since Monday – first, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took three Kashmiri separatists Masarat Alam, Asiya Andabi and Shabir Shah into custody. Though the custody — as per law — was granted by a special court, this could not have been possible if the NIA had not pushed its case and its background well before the court.
Second, he held a series of meetings on Jammu and Kashmir. Security assessment for Amarnath Yatra, particularly in the wake of the Pulwama attack was one of them.
Then there are reports that that Centre and the Election Commission might like to hold delimitation exercise (of Assembly constituencies) in Jammu and Kashmir. This is an issue if pursued might draw a sharp reaction from Kashmir based parties and groups. Then there were separate meetings on the North East and Left Wing Extremism.
It is no mean coincidence that the Election Commission on Tuesday announced that it would consider holding elections in Jammu and Kashmir only after the conclusion of the Amarnath Yatra. Two things should be noted here: holding elections in Jammu and Kashmir would mean that President's Rule would have to be extended in the state, and to conduct elections and finalise the schedule, the Election Commission holds active consultations with the home ministry for provision of security forces.
Third, in one of the unusual moves media was informally told that Shah had sharply reprimanded Cabinet Minister Giriraj Singh for his tweet on allies Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan. Shah, it seems, wanted everyone to know that the Modi government meant business and no deviation from particularly those going against its slogan 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas and Sabka Vishwas’ would be tolerated.
Sources told Firstpost that ministry officials are already on their toes and trying hard to adjust with new realities that dawned on them when Shah was named the new home minister.
Shah is known to work till late at night and get back at work early in the day. During election season, whether during state Assembly polls or parliamentary polls, several of his party leaders privately spoke of the gruelling work schedule Shah followed. But they were not really complaining, because those sessions and work culture ultimately benefited the party in winning and expanding.
With Shah at the helm, North Block will be abuzz with activity of multiple dimensions through the days.
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Updated Date: Jun 06, 2019 14:09:04 IST