Some ministerial portfolios are glamorous, some politically and strategically significant. India’s home ministry, the backbone of the government, is by nature controversial. No other ministry is completely free from the home department’s intervention or interference.
That BJP president Amit Shah would take charge of the home ministry portfolio became obvious the moment Lok Sabha results gave the BJP a majority on its own.
Amit Shah, by nature, is the perfect fit to take the chair of the home ministry: tough, focused, secretive, ruthlessly efficient and totally loyal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The PM can pass on to him all kinds of tasks, some even unpleasant ones. Amit Shah has done that for Modi in Gujarat.
The de facto boss
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was for long under the home ministry. But during some administrative reforms phase, the CBI was brought under the jurisdiction of the ministry of personnel and public grievances. This reform was actually carried out to strengthen the Prime Minister’s Office. But given the close bonding between PM Modi and his hand-picked home minister, the de facto boss of even the CBI will now be Amit Shah.
We saw during the recent crisis in the CBI, how Prime Minister Modi used his authority to keep the organisation under his command. If the home minister and the prime minister are working in tandem, then they control the entire apparatus of administration. Some opposition leaders have already expressed apprehension that political vendetta will be Modi and Amit Shah’s operational focus. Whether such fears are true or exaggerated, we will know sooner than later.
Amit Shah is like Sancho Panza to Don Quixote Narendra Modi. The quixotic ideas are generally known as impractical, rash and superficially chivalrous. The Quixote-Panza analogy of course is limited only to the relationship between Modi and Shah. They share most of the attitudes and legacy of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
And yet managing the home ministry in these polarised and turbulent times is going to be stormy, if not explosive. Amit Shah has always been upfront about implementing the RSS’ Hindutva project. He does not believe in the sophistry of expressions like those used by PM Modi, who in his first speech after taking charge as the prime minister for a second term had said that “we must remove the illusion of fear from the minds of minorities. We must gain their vishwas, their trust.”
The many tasks for Shah
Amit Shah is bent on implementing the National Register of Citizens exercise all over the country. His campaign for the Lok Sabha in West Bengal was on that plank. He knows that the BJP’s success against Mamata Banerjee was on the strident anti-Muslim (and NRC) mobilisation. He wants to repeat Tripura in that state in 2021, when the assembly elections will be next held. He has threatened that the Saradha scamsters, including those officers who helped them, will be brought to book. He does not mince his words.
He has given enough hints that he also wants to revisit Article 35A and remove Article 370 from the Constitution. Amit Shah is known for not compromising on any beliefs he holds.
All these issues are too sensitive to be pursued further. That can be dangerous and disastrous. They can threaten not only the unity and the integrity of India, but also social peace and harmony. Amit Shah’s aggressive follow up of these ideas can compromise Prime Minister’s public posture (of inclusive politics). Amit Shah will have to be flexible and Modi will have to be tactful. If they walk the RSS talk, the tight rope on which they are walking can break!
Focus on the past
Apart from the Project Bengal and Project Kashmir, the Modi government has also got plans to “fix the history”. George Orwell had said, “Those who control the past, control the future”. Modi and Amit Shah may not know who Orwell was but the HRD ministry is busy preparing for plans to “revamp” the History textbooks for students across India. The prevailing “Idea of India” cannot be changed into Hindu Rashtra, unless the education system is tuned to that political philosophy.
There was a time when the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry was simply the education ministry. It was during Rajiv Gandhi’s term, in 1985, that the ministry was changed to HRD. Rajiv Gandhi’s idea for the HRD was to prepare the education system for the approaching 21st century. He was looking at the future. The BJP under Modi and Amit Shah looks at the past because, as Orwell observed, unless you fix the past, you cannot build the future.
But changing the past is also not going to be easy. It will lead to multiple cultural conflicts. India has many histories, not just million mutineers. Even the release of the film Padmaavat led to month-long violence in Rajasthan and Gujarat.
The play “Ghashiram Kotwal” by Vijay Tendulkar had caused furore in Maharashtra in the 1970s, because some Hindu organisations had objected. They said the play was against Brahmins and had negative depiction of the Peshwas. The film “Bajirao Mastani” led to stoning of theatres for similar objections. In all these cases, the charge against the works of art was that they were distorting history. In India, almost every caste has a history of its own. Often, that past is riddled with conflicts.
Dr Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s classic, “Riddles in Hinduism”, was so controversial that it led to huge violence in Maharashtra. The upper castes, mainly the Hindu Sangh Parivar, protested against Ambedkar’s work which enraged the Amedkarite Dalits, causing a breakdown of law and order.
Similarly, the Dravidian history, distinct from the Aryan version of the past, too has led to massive conflicts in Tamil Nadu. In fact, protests against the Modi government’s move to “impose Hindi” has erupted in southern states once again, with the Dravidian parties and the people challenging the government’s draft national education policy. We have also seen how the imposition of Bengali language in Darjeeling had led to months-long agitation.
The point is that history has become more unpredictable than the future. The HRD ministry’s attempt at rewriting history and enforcing Hindi could lead to problems, which will have to be handled by the home ministry. One could not have thought of this conflicting relationship between the HRD and the home ministries.
Amit Shah’s world view is defined by the RSS. Today, the BJP is appeasing the Dalits and promoting Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar as if he was the associate of Hedgewar or Guru Golwalkar. But this artificial bonhomie, simulated for electoral purposes, has hidden landmines which could explode if the project of rewriting history goes out of hand.
There are also many grey areas where the relationship between defence and home ministries are concerned. The questions of external intelligence are linked with internal intelligence. Just like cross-border terrorism and internal support to the terrorists or sabotage within.
The Narendra Modi government is, therefore, at once sitting on the cusp of history and future. The lightening rod that Modi-Shah are carrying is charged by the RSS.
Winning or manipulating electoral victories may have been successful. The slogans like “minimum government, maximum governance” may sound attractive to the Right. (It did not happen in the previous NDA Regime. In fact, there was expansion of bureaucracy and also considerable intervention). Electoral victories and personality cult driven frenzy are no guarantee of stable polity or governance.
The author is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha. Views are personal.