New Delhi: That Home Minister Amit Shah is the most powerful man in the Modi 2.0 government has long been whispered in the corridors of power in the national capital. It should then come as no surprise that Shah has emerged as the “go to man” for all major decisions in the Narendra Modi government’s second tenure.
The home minister heads more than seven groups of ministers (GoMs) that deal with issues ranging from the price of onions, scarcity of water, women safety, mob lynching, land to aviation and telecom. It is the highest by any minister in the current government.
A GoM is an informal grouping of ministers that discusses issues involving more than one ministry, irons out differences if any and hands in recommendations to the government.
The GoM on tackling rising onion prices, constituted in November, is the latest that Shah has been appointed the head. Besides Shah, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal are part of this group.
The ministerial group has met once so far on 22 November.
In the six months that the NDA-II has been in power, Shah has become what former union minister Arun Jaitley was in the Modi government’s first term until he fell ill. Or, what former President Pranab Mukherjee was in UPA-I and UPA-II when he headed close to 50 GoMs before heading to the Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2012.
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The trouble shooter
Of the seven GoMs that Shah heads, three are newly formed while four others were reconstituted after the Modi government returned to power in May 2019. In some of the reconstituted panels, Shah has replaced heavyweights such as Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari.
Among the newly formed GoMs that Shah heads is one that has been set up to fine-tune modalities including user fee for the Modi government’s flagship Har Ghar Nal Se Jal scheme, which promises tap water in every home.
Constituted in August, the other members of the GoM include Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri. The GoM has met twice so far.
“The GoM was set up to resolve teething issues that can obstruct the scheme. Once the issues are sorted, the GoM will be disbanded; it’s not a permanent set-up,” said a senior government official who did not want to be named.
The home minister also heads the GoM tasked with reviewing amendments to the Land Registration Act. Set up in July, the group also has Singh and Gadkari as members. It has met a couple of times since July.
Among the reconstituted GoMs headed by Shah is one that deals with the revival of MTNL-BSNL. It also has telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman as members and has met twice so far.
Amit Shah also heads the GoM that was constituted in 2018 to combat lynchings. Since the GoM is position-specific, only home minister can head it.
Shah replaced Gadkari to head the GoM that is chalking out the modalities of the Air India disinvestment plan. Besides Shah, Sitharaman, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal and Puri are part of the GoM.
“The GoM has met only once to discuss modalities for the sale of Air India,” said a second government official who also did not want to be named.
Shah also replaced Rajnath Singh to head the GoM that is looking at the implementation of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act.
The GoM was formed on 24 October 2018 at the peak of the #MeToo movement with Singh, the then home minister, heading the panel.
According to a government source, the GoM has not met even once since its reconstitution.
The GoM will recommend action required for effective implementation of existing provisions — strengthening the legal and institutional frameworks in order to address issues related to sexual harassment at workplace, the source said. “It was decided to reconstitute this committee after consultation with various stakeholders on ways to strengthen it further to prevent workplace harassment.”
The previous GoM too had only met once in eight months and the group was as good as being “defunct”, the source added.
That meeting was held in December 2018 where former WCD minister Maneka Gandhi had recommended measures to strengthen the National Commission for Women (NCW). According to sources, the proposal was to give more power to the NCW, with rights to summon people and even carry out independent investigations in matters of sexual harassment at workplace.
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Shah, the de facto number two in Modi govt
Though junior to Gadkari and Rajnath Singh, government sources said, Shah has become the most powerful person in the government after Modi. Besides the GoMs, Shah also heads the cabinet committee on accommodation and is part of the remaining seven cabinet committees.
“Any important issue, be it political, policy or governance related, goes to him,” said a senior government official. “He is present everywhere. It helps that he is meticulous and does his homework on every issue he is handling, even if the subject is not related to his ministry.”
In the Modi government’s first term, it was Arun Jaitley who had his fingers on most policy and governance-related issues, heading a majority of the GoMs, the official added.
The Modi government scrapped 30 GoMs and EGoMs (Empowered Group of Ministers) in 2014.
The GoMs and EGoMs are, however, an NDA phenomenon — the first one came up when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister.
The two Congress-led UPA governments took them a step further. There were over 80 GoMs and EGoMs during the 10 years of Congress rule. Former President Pranab Mukherjee, who was then a minister, headed over 50 of these GoMs.
The large number of GoMs and EGoMs in the UPA era was blamed for “policy paralysis” in the government.
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It’s only a matter of time before he replaces Modi. Many capable hands in the party have moved on (either to the sidelines or to heaven) under the Modi-Shah watch. Where this will end is open to interpretation.
Amit Sha No.2. No way. Amit sha is No.1
You indeed can be very insulting. about ……..
May one suggest the setting up of one more GoM – it should simply be called 8%.
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