Amid the entire Covid-19 pandemonium and the Narendra Modi government’s frenzied efforts to tackle this newfound enemy, Home Minister Amit Shah has been jarringly missing in action.
Between Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, the roles have appeared to be more or less etched out since May 2019. Modi will be the persuader and Shah will be the implementer. But it’s during coronavirus pandemic where implementation was going to matter the most. Amit Shah should have been visibly tracking and directing the dashboard of coronavirus information, which is coming up on an hourly basis.
However, in perhaps the biggest crisis that the Modi government is facing, given the global pandemic’s unpredictable scale, Shah seems to have receded into the shadows.
It seems that Modi-Shah’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has its action plan clear — the PM with his ‘family elder’ image will be the face of the fight against this crisis and the one reaching out to people, while Shah with his hardline, tough and aggressive projection will remain in the background, even though his ministry has a crucial role to play.
This is a grim crisis that requires the government to rally everyone together by reaching out and establishing a personal connect, and clearly Shah’s more combative image might not work. This, to put it straight, is just not a role Amit Shah can seamlessly fit into.
Modi’s care over Shah’s aggression
Shah is not used to being silent. Not as the home minister of Gujarat, not as the firebrand BJP president and certainly not as the country’s home minister.
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In fact, over the last 10 months or so, Shah had emerged as the face of this government, at par with Modi on that front. In this Covid-19 fight, however, it has been Modi all the way.
It was Modi who decided to address the nation on 19 March to talk about the gravity of the issue and urge people to follow a ‘janata curfew’ on 22 March. Then again, it was the PM who addressed the nation to break the difficult news of a 21-day lockdown, and explain to people why this was needed.
Then again, Modi addressed his constituents in Varanasi via video-conference, but the message, of course, was meant to be amplified for the entire country. Playing his part as the ’empathetic but firm’ family elder, Modi then devoted his entire ‘Mann ki Baat’ episode on 29 March to the crisis, apologising to people for the inconvenience. The PM has also been tweeting regularly and interacting with nurses and students to boost their morale.
Forget Modi, even minister of state for home affairs, G Kishan Reddy is doing more from the front by holding regular video conferences and Facebook lives to reach out to the Telugu audience.
Shah, however, has been completely in the backdrop — even though the home ministry, besides health, is the nodal agency and crucial implementer. He hasn’t addressed one press conference, or made any meaningful statements. Home ministry officials say he has been holding regular review meetings and interacting with state chief ministers but again there is no sign of him leading the charge from the front.
Amit Shah’s very obvious silence has led many, including the opposition and several on social media, to raise questions.
Amit Shah, making noise through silence
Amit Shah’s role in this crisis is a sharp contrast from the one he has played so far during this tenure of the Narendra Modi government.
Since Modi 2.0 took oath in May 2019 and Amit Shah took charge of the very critical home ministry, the former BJP president has been at the forefront of a slew of high-profile decisions and processes — from diluting Article 370 in Kashmir, pushing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, amending the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to making the Centre more powerful and heading over seven ministerial groups.
Of course, these fall directly in the domain of his portfolio. But given the criticality of the home ministry in the Covid-19 situation, and the fact that it was ultimately Shah’s ministry that issued the order for lockdown by invoking the Disaster Management Act 2005 to bring states under the Centre’s control, the home minister’s silence does generate noise.
Kashmir, CAA, NRC, UAPA and others required this tough, aggressive exterior; the ‘do what you want to but we will have our way’ person leading from the front. The coronavirus pandemic, however, is a humanitarian crisis — one that needs a firm yet gentle approach by a leader who the masses can connect with.
Modi, as the popular PM with his smooth talk, carefully orchestrated image and skilful acting abilities can easily slip into the role. Amit Shah, the eternal aggressor with the ability to unapologetically bulldoze his way through, may not be the best suited to be projected as a key person in this crisis. Not yet, anyway. Not till this government reaches a point where it needs to read out its diktat and wield its iron hand.
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