There was excitement in Delhi’s power circles last week as NSA Ajit Doval visited the riot-hit areas of the national capital. The buzz was that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was extremely upset about ‘split’ TV screens, with one half showing visiting US President Donald Trump and him and the other the rioting mobs and burning vehicles under the watch of Delhi Police. Therefore, the moment Trump left the country, the PM asked the NSA to take charge.
Here comes the conspiracy angle that generated excitement: the National Security Advisor (NSA) was deployed as the PM wasn’t happy with Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s inept handling of Delhi riots.
Modi’s global image was taking a beating with the international community keenly watching the capital city burn during the US president’s visit as the Delhi Police reporting to Shah remained mute spectators. The conspiracy theorists recalled how the PM had publicly rebutted Shah’s declaration about the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). India’s capital city is not new to conspiracy theories. In fact, what would life be without them for the who’s who of Lutyens’ Delhi? With Modi firmly in the saddle and Shah emerging as the new ‘iron man’ of India, such theories about a possible rift between the two were bound to float, with or without the NSA coming into the picture.
Modi, Shah on the same page
By the way, it’s amazing how Doval’s midnight visit to the riot-affected areas abruptly ended the cycle of violence. What did he do in hours that Shah couldn’t for three days?
Coming back to the capital city’s penchant for conspiracy theories, the latest one is as much a figment of creative minds as most others were in the past. Shah and Modi are and will be, on the same page.
They may be different in their personal lives. One may be a family man and the other may not be; one may love ghazals and songs and the other may not. But in public life, they are alike, absolutely. They think, eat and live politics. Their worldviews are so similar that if you don’t hear their speeches and are given the transcripts, you wouldn’t know who delivered which one.
Modi is not known to believe in enduring relationships in politics. Former chief minister Keshubhai Patel was once his political guru but he replaced him as the chief minister (CM). The man responsible for Modi’s ascension to the CM’s chair and his continuation post-Godhra riots, LK Advani, is today a ‘margdarshak’ who finds himself at a dead-end. Then there is Praveen Togadia who used to drive around in Ahmedabad with Modi on the pillion of his scooter. Togadia is irrelevant today. There is a long list of politicians who fell by the wayside as Modi marched on. All along, only Shah stayed by him.
There have been many who came close to Modi but their utility had an expiry date. If some of them felt emboldened to cold-shoulder Shah, they were left out in the cold. Anandiben Patel was once very close to Modi and succeeded him as the chief minister in 2014. But her rivalry with Shah continued. She is cooling her heels in Lucknow Raj Bhawan today. Election strategist Prashant Kishor thought he was instrumental in making Modi the PM. He soon found himself in Shah’s crosshairs and ended up in the opposition camp.
Modi and Shah have worked together since mid-1980s and not once has a chink surfaced. There are many reasons for his indispensability to Modi. Every ruler needs a confidant who is his eyes and ears and alerts him about the Trojan Horse if any. Shah has been doing it for three decades, even during 1995-2001 when he was in Gujarat and Modi in Delhi.
A PM has many constraints. He can’t be seen playing or supporting communal politics. He must condemn Pragya Thakur if she calls Mahatma Gandhi’s killer Nathuram Godse is a patriot and he must express outrage over party legislator and senior leader Kailash Vijayavargiya’s son beating up a civic official with a bat. But there must be someone else to polarise voters for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and also ensure that no action is taken against Thakur or Vijayavargiya while the party stands solidly behind hatemongers like Kapil Mishra and Parvesh Verma. There must be someone else who could give the right directions to the Delhi Police during riots and ‘guide’ the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Enforcement Directorate and income tax authorities when political rivals are involved.
If someone was to be inducted as a minister, the call would go from the PM’s Office. But if a minister has to be dropped, it’s someone else who breaks the bad news to him/her (check with former skill development minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy, for one). There must be someone who is willing to be the fall guy, if need be, say, for Delhi riots although the PM himself waited for three days to even appeal for peace.
Every Modi needs a Shah but it holds equally true the other way around. Shah is what he is, thanks to his equations with Modi. Otherwise, he must contend with other PM aspirants — Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari, the two other former BJP presidents, to start with.
The conspiracy theories about the possibility of a rift between Modi and Shah are largely based on presumptions — and wishful thinking, in some cases: that No.1 and the No.2, most powerful person either in terms of mass appeal or political stature can’t get along. There are precedents — Jawaharlal Nehru vs Sardar Patel, Indira Gandhi vs Morarji Desai, Narasimha Rao vs Arjun Singh, and Manmohan Singh vs Pranab Mukherjee, among others.
Modi-Shah duo doesn’t fit in this category though. These past rivalries had their genesis in the No. 2 asserting himself in the belief that he is more qualified for the top slot. Shah has no such delusions. In 2016, when the BJP parliamentary board met to choose Anandiben Patel’s successor as Gujarat chief minister, Shah was said to be interested in the job. Modi entered the meeting and said, “Amit bhai ke alaawa baaki naam par charcha hogi (discussion will be on names other than Amit bhai’s).” Shah didn’t say a word — not then, never after. Modi’s wish is a command for him. A rift between them may be the last hope of their detractors. But they are in for a disappointment.