Twitter timelines can often be the simplest clue to what’s playing on one’s mind. Look at union home minister Amit Shah’s on Saturday, the day a Colonel, his wife, their eight-year-old son, and four jawans were killed in a terrorist attack on Assam Rifles’ convoy in Manipur near India-Myanmar border. The incident happened at 11 am.
Shah had a packed schedule in Uttar Pradesh on Saturday. He addressed an official language conference in Varanasi where he disclosed how no files in his ministry are written or read in Hindi and explained how “adarsh pati, adarsh patni…adarsh shatru” could all be found in the epic Ramayana. The next in his itinerary was Azamgarh where he asked the people to choose between Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav’s JAM — (Mohammad Ali) Jinnah, Azam Khan, Mukhtar (Ansari) — and UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s JAM — Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, Mobile — in the forthcoming assembly election. Then he was in Basti where he inaugurated a sports event by lighting a lamp and kicking a football.
These events are captured in his twitter timeline, too. It was at 8.24 pm that he tweeted his condolence message to the bereaved families of the soldiers killed in Manipur. Knowing how seriously Shah takes such incidents, especially the killing of soldiers, his late reaction had to do with his engagements in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh. Such incidents are otherwise followed by an immediate review of the security situation as also some tough messaging to terrorists. For all you know, he could have taken a brief from authorities on the phone.
Once he was free from his official-political engagements in the evening, he immediately tweeted his condolence message, before flying to Andhra Pradesh. The killings must have come as a shock to Amit Shah who had visited Assam Rifles headquarters in Shillong on 25 July and interacted with the soldiers. Assam Rifles is under the administrative control of his ministry.
Challenges galore for Amit Shah
As India’s home minister, he is confronted with huge challenges, especially on the internal security front. Shah often talks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for an “insurgency-free” Northeast. The latest terror attack in Manipur shows it’s not going to be so easy. It’s been a tightrope walk, anyway.
The last time terrorists had targeted security forces’ convoy in Manipur was in 2015 when their attack had resulted in the death of 18 soldiers. Niki Sumi, military commander of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), was the prime accused. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) had even announced a reward of Rs 10 lakh for information on Sumi.
In September 2021, however, the Modi government signed a ceasefire agreement with the Niki Sumi faction of the NSCN (K). Sumi had formed the faction in 2019.
In August 2015, in a well-publicised event, the Centre’s interlocutor R.N. Ravi had signed a framework agreement with NSCN (I-M) in the presence of the Prime Minister. Over six years later, a final accord still eludes even as the interlocutor has been changed.
Boundary disputes between north-eastern states add to the complexities in the region. Last July, the killing of six Assamese police personnel by the Mizoram police had created tensions between the two states, leaving the Centre in a bind with neither PM Modi nor HM Shah making any public statement for days.
The Union Home Minister isn’t facing challenges only in the Northeast. He had started his tenure with a bang, invalidating the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (Article 370) and bifurcating the state into Union Territories. He then got parliamentary approval for the Citizenship Amendment Bill and even declared his intent to roll out the National Register of Citizens (NRC) across the country.
From early 2020, however, the ride has been rough, beginning with northeast Delhi riots during then-US President Donald Trump’s visit to India. The CAA remains only on paper two years after parliamentary approval because the home ministry has been unable to frame rules. Even in Kashmir, terrorist attacks on civilians, especially Pandits, have dashed hopes of a return to normalcy soon. Even Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat, in his Vijayadashami address this year, pointed out the “spate of targeted killings of nationalist-minded citizens”… “to re-establish the reign of terror in the valley.” “The citizens are braving and shall brave the situation with courage but efforts for curbing and finishing off terrorist activities needs speeding up,” said Bhagwat.
Need for Nadda to step up
Amit Shah obviously has his work cut out. If he was preoccupied with political — and some ostensibly official — programmes in Uttar Pradesh on Saturday, blame it on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s over-dependence on him. The party has big stakes in the UP assembly election and Shah must lead it from the front. He has been the architect of the BJP’s political domination in UP since 2014. Yogi Adityanath, if he gets a renewed mandate in 2022, may hope to emerge as a Prime Ministerial candidate some time in future, but the credit must go to Shah if the BJP does it again in UP. The home minister and ex-BJP president, however, seems to be riven between the government and the party in terms of his time and commitments. He is known to be a workaholic but there are only so many hours for the chief crisis manager and strategist of both the BJP and the governments at the Centre and in party-ruled states.
That’s why BJP national president Jagat Prakash Nadda needs to step up. He was elected to this post in January 2020. He has been following Shah’s footsteps, travelling extensively and holding meetings with office-bearers from the booth to the central levels. When Shah sat out of the Bihar election last year, leaving Nadda to run the show, the latter came up trumps, with the BJP tripping Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) to become the big brother in the ruling coalition, for the first time.
Nadda still remains Shah’s understudy, almost two years after succeeding him. Given the challenges on the internal security front, it’s probably time the Union Home Minister stepped back a little and focussed more on governance. One never knows Nadda may spring a surprise.
The author tweets @dksingh73. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)