New Delhi: Shortly before Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar went for a meeting with agitating Punjab and Haryana farmers over the contentious farm laws Tuesday, he got a briefing from the top BJP leadership — Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP president J.P. Nadda and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
While a breakthrough after the first round of talks over such contentious laws wasn’t expected, what caught everyone’s eyes was Rajnath Singh’s involvement in trying to defuse the crisis.
Shah, as the chief strategist in the ruling dispensation, and Nadda, as the BJP president, were expected to lead from the front and guide the agriculture minister. But the involvement of the defence minister in trying to mitigate the farmers’ crisis drew attention.
It’s not very often that one sees the defence minister arbitrating for the famers. But as political analysts say, when there is a ‘conflict situation’, it’s only Rajnath Singh of the vintage old school who takes up the job to arbitrate, and there have been instances from the past that hold proof of it.
Through the mounting farmers agitation, Singh, a former agriculture minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet who prides himself in being identified as a farmer’s son, has emerged as a key firefighter, working mostly behind the scenes.
According to BJP sources, Singh along with senior party leaders has been chalking out the government’s strategy vis-a-vis the farmers.
Soon after the farm bills were passed, Singh reached out to all stakeholders — farmers, experts, industry leaders — to ensure there were no apprehensions about the bills.
BJP sources said Singh had held a number of these meetings at his residence along with Tomar. He had reiterated the government’s stand while positioning himself as the farmer’s son.
“As a farmer’s son, I want to make it clear that the Modi government will not do anything against farmers’ interests,” he had said in October.
BJP sources said soon after the farmers refused the central government’s offer to shift to north Delhi’s Burari to continue with their protest, it was decided that the government should soften its stand and invite the farmers without any pre-condition.
Party sources said Singh played a key role in ensuring the farmers were given an opportunity for a patient hearing without any conditions.
“He had been in touch with the farmers and unions for quite some time. He understands their concerns and, hence, it was felt that he should strategise the next move, which would get a final approval from the prime minister himself,” said a senior BJP leader.
“He is the second senior-most leader in the BJP. Earlier Arun Jaitely ji used to serve as the troubleshooter, but slowly that role is being taken over by Singh, though in a different manner. Singh is more interested in issues that are close to his heart such as the farmers’ cause. Singh has always claimed to be the son of a farmer and views himself as a farmer at heart. It is but natural that he has been part of these meetings to resolve the stalemate,” added the leader.
A second senior BJP leader said: “As a leader, he is viewed as being grounded and with experience of mass politics and grassroots connect. He was earlier the agriculture minister and, hence, the best person to convey and communicate the government’s narrative to farmers.”
Party leaders also pointed out that his previous involvement in farmer issues propelled him to the forefront of resolving the farmer crisis.
“He had served as the agriculture minister during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. He has been involved in farmers politics and movement for quite some time. He has always maintained good communication with the farmers groups, and has maintained close ties. He has regularly been interacting with them and, hence, can offer insights,” said Gopal Krishna Agarwal, national spokesperson of BJP.
“Both Amit Shah ji and Rajnath Singh ji are involved in the talks. Singh is the second senior-most minister, so it is but natural that he is part of these talks, which are quite crucial,” he added.
Troubleshooter in the past too
Singh remains one of the few leaders from the Vajpayee-Advani era, who continues to hold a top position in the Modi government.
Besides the farm crisis, there have been many instances where Singh has acted as the pillar of support for the party as well as the government.
This is also not the first time that Singh has emerged as the “peacemaker”. Singh had emerged as a troubleshooter earlier also in dealing with NDA allies.
Soon after the Bihar results were announced and the BJP emerged as the key player ahead of its ally JD(U), a number of party leaders were upset over the fact that the BJP remained silent on Chirag Paswan despite the LJP damaging JD(U)’s prospects in several assembly seats.
BJP sources said, following this, Singh was sent to attend the key meeting of the NDA in Patna to formally elect a new leader. Singh had attended the meeting in the capacity of a central observer, wherein Nitish Kumar was elected as the leader of the NDA in Bihar.
In September, when the government received brickbats from the opposition for suspending the Question Hour, it was Singh, who had led the charge and the opposition was left red-faced on the first day of Parliament when Singh, also the deputy leader of the Lok Sabha, told the House that all the opposition parties, who were questioning the suspension of the Question Hour, had agreed to it when their approval was sought.
‘He has had his ups and downs’
However, not all has been rosy for Singh. The defence minister’s political rivals often took a dig at him, pointing out how in the previous NDA regime he was not in loop about the decisions of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet of which he was a member.
BJP sources said that in the previous Modi administration, though Singh was the No. 2 in the government, it was then finance minister Arun Jaitley who called the shots as he had the ears of the prime minister.
Modi relied on Jaitley for all governance-related matters and on Shah for those that concerned the party.
“He has had his ups and downs. In the past, his exclusion from the cabinet committee initially, or when rumours started over his son’s alleged misconduct cropped up gave a sense that Singh’s position and command under Modi (government) was further reduced and that he should not expect an overarching role. But he took it in his stride and continued to focus on his work and his strength — his moderate approach that is appreciated even by the opposition,” said a third senior BJP leader.
The party leader told ThePrint Singh is a tall leader and the party realises his importance.
“Not only in this farmers’ crisis, but in the past too, as far as dealing with our allies is concerned, he follows a conciliatory approach, which works. As far as a defence minister is concerned, he is also quite vocal and is managing well, and the party realises that,” he added.
“Singh understands the difference between the BJP of yesterday and today and he has adapted himself to that nicely. Situations like the farm crisis make the party realise his importance all the more,” added the leader.