Home Minister Amit Shah – The Man With Multiple Responsibilities

Ahead of the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Amit Shah had focused entirely on establishing and bolstering the BJP in old and new areas and succeeded too. Now that he is also the Union Home Minister, with additional internal security responsibilities, it remains to be seen how he will handle the twin responsibilities he has been shouldering so far

By Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar
  • Amit Shah was the party in-charge of UP when BJP won 73 of the 80 seats to form its first government at the Centre
  • under Shah, It won elections in the states of Maharashtra, Haryana, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Manipur
  • The incidents related to Left Wing Extremism, which is popularly referred to as Naxal violence had dropped by 76 percent in 2022
  • After abrogating Article 370, the reduction in terrorist violence has created an atmosphere, which is conducive for tourism

PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI and Home Minister Amit Shah first met in 1984 when Modi was a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak and Shah a member of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of RSS. The two appear to have bonded well as Shah was appreciative of Modi’s view of the political-social world and Modi saw in Shah a youth leader who was in sync with the ideology of the Sangh and had clarity of thought on issues of importance. Later both of them got into the Bharatiya Janata Party.

A BOND THAT GOES BACK NEARLY FOUR DECADES NOW

That both of them hailed from Gujarat only helped them in forging closer ties. The two also came together to script BJP’s rise to power in Gujarat in 1995. And when Modi became the Chief Minister of the state, he gave several important portfolios to Shah – making him his de facto Number 2.
Following the arrest of Shah in the Sohrabuddin encounter killing case, the bond between the two grew stronger as Shah was careful in not saying anything that could have linked Modi to the case. In fact, only in late March this year, following Rahul Gandhi’s conviction in a defamation case and allegations of misuse of central agencies, he had spoken about how during the UPA rule the Central Bureau of Investigation had put “pressure” on him to “frame” Modi in the alleged fake encounter case.
It was during the ‘News 18 Rising India’ programme that Shah accused while responding to the charge that the Modi government was misusing central agencies to target the opposition leaders, made the reference to show how the agency was used for “putting pressure” on him during the Congress rule.

HOW SHAH PAVED THE PATH FOR MODI’S RISE IN 2014

As the old guard at the BJP made way for the new and the party prepared for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with Modi as its prime ministerial face, Shah played a crucial role in drumming up support for the saffron party in the states. He was the party in-charge in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh and it was here in the Hindi heartbelt that BJP won 73 of the 80 seats and mustered the numbers to form its first government at the Centre with complete majority.

From 2014-19, Shah worked on strengthening the party’s organisational structure and ramping up the party in the states. As a result, the BJP quickly grew into the “largest party in the world”

When Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014, he got Shah elevated to the post of National President of BJP. For the next five years, Shah worked on strengthening the party’s organisational structure and ramping up the party in the states. As a result, the BJP quickly grew into the “largest party in the world”. In March 2015, it claimed to have registered 8.80 crore members.

In terms of electoral politics too, the party witnessed several gains under Shah. It won in the states of Maharashtra, Haryana, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Manipur. However, it also suffered setbacks in Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Amit Shah has also been the President of the National Democratic Alliance since 2014. While the BJP has been in power since that year, it has lost three significant allies in Janata Dal (United), Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal during this period. While the support of these allies was crucial in BJP’s return to power in 2019, their having turned into rivals may not augur well for the party in the 2024 polls. Though Shah was inducted into the Rajya Sabha in 2017 he did not enter the government just yet.

THE UNOFFICIAL NO. 2 IN MODI GOVERNMENT 2.0

Following BJP’s return to power in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when it won 303 seats on its own, improving upon its tally of 282 of 2014 by 21 seats, Shah was inducted into the Union Cabinet. Though in the pecking order, Shah was behind Rajnath Singh, who sat next to Modi during the oath ceremony and took the oath immediately after him and was made the second most senior minister, it was not lost on anyone as to how the power was flowing in the Modi Government 2.0.

Shah was given the important Home portfolio and was made a member of all the eight Cabinet Committees, the final decision-making body on matters related to employment, economy, parliamentary affairs, investment, security, appointment and accommodation. Rajnath Singh, who was divested of Defence and given Home, was initially put on only two of the Cabinet Committees, namely economy and security. However, he was later put on six of these panels and made in-charge of the panel on parliamentary affairs.

These ceremonials apart, it soon became clear to everyone that Shah had been given Home by Modi for a reason. Just two months of the new government being formed, the BJP pushed forth with one of its old promises of abolishing Article 370 of the Constitution which conferred special autonomy on Jammu and Kashmir.

SHAH PLAYED A KEY ROLE IN READING DOWN OF ARTICLE 370 IN J&K

On August 5, 2019, then President Ramnath Kovind issued an order for reading down of Article 370 and for splitting the state of Jammu and Kashmir into the Union territories of J&K and Ladakh. The same day, Shah moved a resolution in Rajya Sabha to scrap Article 370 and divide the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two, with Jammu and Kashmir serving as one of the union territories, and Ladakh serving as a separate union territory.

Prior to this move, Shah is learnt to have studied in detail the files on the state of Jammu and Kashmir and discussed with Modi the course of action needed to fulfil BJP’s long-standing promise of abrogating Article 370. Dealing with the issue had become a priority for the Modi government following the Pulwama blast in early 2019. The government, however, waited for the general elections to get over before taking the decision.

At the time this decision was taken BJP had already parted ways with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and had imposed Governor’s Rule in the state. Before the decision to repeal Article 370 was announced, the government took several measures to prevent any large scale protests. These measures included cutting short the Amarnath Yatra, placing three former CMs of J&K – Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – under house arrest and detaining a large number of others across the state and imposing a communications blackout.

VIOLENCE DECLINES, TOURISM INCREASES IN J&K

With the state being ruled directly by the Centre, there has been a marked decline in the number of incidents of violence. While in the three years prior to the reading down of Article 370 there were 930 incidents of violence, the number came down to 617 in the three years following it.
The reduction in terrorist violence has created an atmosphere, which is conducive for tourism. In 2022, over 1.88 crore tourists visited J&K and in Kashmir the arrivals more than doubled from 12.99 lakh in 2016 to 26.73 lakh in 2022.

The challenge for Shah in the state now is to create a political climate which could ensure the conduct of free and fair elections. The demand for restoring the status of J&K to a state is also being made by the political parties there as well as outside and the government would be required to take a call on this.

SHAH WILL HAVE TOO KEEP AN EYE ON CHINA TOO

From the point of view of national security too, J&K remains extremely crucial and sensitive especially in light to attempts by China to redraw the positions on the border.

Amit Shah was given the important Home portfolio and was made a member of all the eight Cabinet Committees, the final decision-making body on matters related to employment, economy, parliamentary affairs, investment, security, appointment
and accommodation

Incidentally, in January this year, several media outlets reported how a research paper submitted at a police meet had claimed that ‘India lost 26 of 65 Patrolling Points in Eastern Ladakh’ and how China had installed pickets there. Though this paper was submitted, it was not presented at the meet, which was attended by both Modi and Shah.

The issue flagged by the research paper would beg some serious brainstorming as it had noted how India’s “play safe” approach which prevented the movement of district administration and locals in forward areas has led to these turning into informal “buffer” zones. The paper had also flagged ‘salami slicing’ by China and how the neighbouring country’s People’s Liberation Army moved to occupy the PPs which lacked patrolling.

As in J&K, Shah also has to deal with the border situation in other parts of the country. The International Border with Pakistan has started witnessing large scale use of drones for dropping of weapons, money and drugs. With the political situation in Punjab on a boil following the recent rise in pro-Khalistan activities, this poses a grave threat.

Similarly, China remains a major challenge in Sikkim and other north-eastern regions – which have also been witnessing sporadic incidents of violence against the central paramilitary forces which come under the Home Ministry.

DECLINE IN NAXAL VIOLENCE, BUT STILL A THREAT

Another area of concern in the field of internal security remains Left Wing Extremism (LWE) which is popularly referred to as Naxal violence. The Home Minister had himself in February this year stated that such incidents had dropped by 76 percent in 2022 as compared to 2010.

However, as the latest incident in Dantewada in Chhattisgarh on April 26 – in which 10 security personnel and a driver were killed in an IED blast – has shown, the fight is far from over. With general elections due in 2024, Shah would have to act fast if safe polls are to be ensured in the affected areas.

RAM TEMPLE VERDICT HAS NECESSITATED HIGHER SECURITY IN AYODHYA

Another development which took place in 2019 was the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Ayodhya matter. The Centre had urged the court to expedite the hearing on the review petition of the 2010 verdict of the Allahabad High Court by having day-to-day hearings. Heading a five-judge bench, then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had fixed a 40 day period for the hearing. In its order on November 9, 2019 the Supreme Court gave the disputed site to the Hindu litigants and allowed the construction of a Ram temple. It granted five acres in an unspecified location to the Muslim litigants in compensation. This verdict paved the way for fulfilment of another promise of the BJP – of construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya.

Shah would now have to ensure that the new temple, expected to be readied before the 2024 polls, and the city of Ayodhya incident-free as the inauguration is likely to incite both euphoria and anger among impressionable minds at the same time.

CAA-NRC DID NOT BENEFIT BJP ELECTORALLY

Soon after Shah took over the reins of the Home Ministry, the Centre had in 2019 also decided to set up a National Register of Citizens (NRC) to weed out Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants and had brought in the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to facilitate grant of Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The two appear to have bonded well as Shah was appreciative of Modi’s view of the political-social world and Modi saw in Shah a youth leader who was in sync with the ideology of the Sangh and had clarity of thought on issues of importance

As Shah had pushed forth with the CAA and spoke about setting up an NRC to identify and remove the illegal immigrants, protests erupted in various parts of the country. Following prolonged street blockades at Shaheen Bagh in South Delhi, when a similar attempt to block a road in North East Delhi was made, it resulted in violence which quickly spread to several parts of the district, resulting in the death of 53 people and injuries to over 200 others. Properties worth thousands of crores were gutted by rampaging mobs during the three day carnage in February 2020.

The NRC was seen by many as an attempt to render nearly 19 lakh Muslims staying in Assam as stateless. While many blamed the BJP for targeting the 20 crore Muslims, Shah had dismissed the Opposition’s charge.

The BJP was not able to capitalise on the CAA-NRC sentiment in the West Bengal polls. In fact, the violence in several states over the issue, only made the Opposition parties more nervous and many of them like Janata Dal United of Nitish Kumar, who was then an ally of BJP in Bihar, and others like Naveen Patnaik of Biju Janata Dal, K Chandrashekar Rao of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and YS Jagan Mohan Reddy of YSR Congress had distanced themselves from BJP over the issue.

CAA RULES NOT FINALISED YET, NRC TOO ON BACKBURNER

The CAA-NRC issue also figured prominently in several international meets as it was projected as an anti-Muslim move. With then Japan PM Shinzo Abe cancelling an informal summit in Guwahati; Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen cancelling his visit; and US Congress representatives raising the issue during a visit to the country by Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, India was quick to sense the mood.

Subsequently, Modi had to step in. At a rally, he said NRC was never discussed and assured that Muslims born in India should not fear losing their citizenship. A couple of days later, the Government announced that it would be moving forth with the National Population Register (NPR) from April 2020. Shah explained that the NPR would help create a database for policy-makers and would not require any identity proof from those surveyed.

During the last four years, there has been little progress on these registers. As for the CAA, its rules are yet to be framed and therefore it too has not been implemented thus far.

In the last four years, the BJP has also suffered some major political setbacks. The party – which had won 11 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Jharkhand – lost the Assembly polls there to a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Congress-Rashtriya Janata Dal combine. It also lost the Delhi Assembly election to the AAP in 2020 and the Himachal Assembly election to the Congress last year.

CHALLENGES REMAIN AS KEY ALLIES PART WAYS

Then in Maharashtra, it failed to form a government despite winning 105 seats in the 288-member Assembly as its alliance partner Shiv Sena, led by Uddhav Thackeray, moved away following a failed power-sharing arrangement and formed the government in alliance with Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The BJP later managed to split Shiv Sena and form a government led by the leader of the breakaway group, Eknath Shinde. This faction was later recognised as the original party by the Election Commission.

Shah would now have to ensure that the new temple, expected to be readied before the 2024 polls, and the city of Ayodhya incident-free as the inauguration is likely to incite both euphoria and anger among impressionable minds at the same time

Similarly, the JD(U) parted ways with the BJP in August 2022 and Nitish Kumar became CM with the support of Congress, RJD and some other parties. In Punjab, the SAD (Badal), which was the longest ally of BJP in the NDA, moved out of the coalition during the farmer’s agitation.

Ahead of the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Shah had focussed entirely on the political aspects of establishing and strengthening BJP in old and new areas. But now that he is also the Union Home Minister and has additional internal security responsibilities to look after, it remains to be seen how he would meet the twin responsibilities – he has been shouldering thus far.

Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar is a senior journalist who has worked with The Statesman, The Hindu and The Wire covering diverse issues ranging from politics and governance to law and order and rights

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