Where is Amit Shah? The question has been puzzling Shah baiters since the coronavirus pandemic swamped us. As the man in charge of the nodal ministry for disaster management (the pandemic has been officially notified as a national disaster), surely Shah should have been leading from the front. Or at least been visible on television, in social media, directing operations, briefing the press, doing whatever it is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and other leaders in COVID-19-affected areas are doing to reassure their worried people.
Why, Shah was missing from all public platforms even when the country clapped in unison for our medical warriors at the frontlines on March 22, the day of the Janata curfew. A man who tweets on everything under sun did not post a single picture of himself participating in that day’s national applause which had been mandated by no less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.
- Union Home Minister Amit Shah was missing from all public platforms.
- Shah’s absence from the all consuming coronavirus discourse is starker still because of the high profile he had acquired in Modi 2.0.
- Shah remains in hot pursuit of the saffron agenda, as Modi battles the coronavirus pandemic.
- Shah has made it his mission to snatch the state for the BJP.
- Delhi Police has been pulled up to fast track investigation into the February communal riots.
- The home ministry quietly slipped in a notification announcing new domicile rules for Jammu and Kashmir.
Speculations Around the ‘Missing’ Amit Shah?
Shah’s absence from the all consuming coronavirus discourse is starker still because of the high profile he had acquired in the months since the Modi government swept back to power for a second term. He had virtually become the face of the government as he aggressively piloted the implementation of Hindutva’s core agenda items: notably a law banning triple talaq, the withdrawal of Article 370 from Jammu & Kashmir and the state’s subsequent bifurcation into two union territories, and the passage of an amended citizenship law that rocked the country with daily protests and unending sit-ins till coronavirus overwhelmed everything. In fact, people had begun to ask whether Shah had taken over the running of the government from Modi!
Come the pandemic, Modi and Shah seamlessly exchanged positions. Shah vanished into the wings as Modi occupied centre stage and took over the narrative.
It was so smooth and so quick that Shah baiters took time to register their bete noire’s disappearance from the radar.
Since then, there’s been an avalanche of speculation about Shah’s wings being clipped, that he’s no longer the second most powerful man in the government, that Rajnath Singh’s appointment as head of the Group of Ministers on COVID-19 (instead of Shah as the man in charge of the nodal ministry) is further proof of changing power dynamics in the ruling dispensation, that deploying National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to handle the Tablighi Jamaat crisis at the Nizamuddin Markaz is a subtle rap for the home ministry’s intelligence mess-up and so on.
Amit Shah is Busy As Ever
Nothing could be further from the truth. Modi’s larger-than-life presence in the foreground as the general leading the war against COVID-19 is proving to be a perfect cover for Shah to continue his Hindutva run. He may be silent but he’s as active as ever. The style has changed but not the substance. Shah remains in hot pursuit of the saffron agenda.
Consider these moves by the home minister who is going about his business with ruthless precision even as the entire nation is preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout.
One, there is no let-up in the political attack on Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal where assembly elections are due next March-April.
Shah has made it his mission to snatch the state for the BJP.
So while Modi uses the Vajpayee touch to seek cooperation for a unified fight against a deadly virus, Shah delivers the political punches.
The latest is a missive from his ministry warning Mamata’s government about the lack of proper implementation of the lockdown in seven areas. Significantly, five of them are Muslim-dominated. The letter seeks to substantiate BJP charges that Muslims are having a free run in Bengal while Hindus are being forced to stay indoors during the lockdown.
Home Minister Has Told Delhi Police to Buck Up
A Trinamool Congress leader pointed out that fish and meat markets are open in Hindu areas, too, but the centre has chosen to focus only on Muslim pockets. Predictably, the letter sparked off a war of words between Mamata and the BJP with the Trinamool chief lashing out against the spread of a “communal virus’’. She also raised the issue in the last video conference Modi had with chief ministers.
Two, the Delhi Police is under intense pressure from the home ministry to fast track investigation into the February communal riots in northeast Delhi and the anti-CAA violence at Jamia and arrest the culprits. Police work in these cases had ground to a virtual halt because of the lockdown.
But two weeks ago, at a high level meeting in the home ministry, the police were pulled up and told to get back on the job pronto.
There was a slew of arrests after that. Two student leaders were picked up from Jamia as were some activists. And the total number of arrests for the riots has gone up to 800 already. Needless to say, a large number of those picked up in both cases are Muslims.
Shah’s Handpicked ‘Soldier’ is Marching On
Three, despite an appeal from BJP president J P Nadda to refrain from communalising the pandemic by blaming the corona spread in India on the Tablighi Jamaat, the campaign continues on social media. Leading the attack is the BJP’s IT cell chief Amit Malviya who was handpicked for the job by Shah when he was party president. The campaign dovetails neatly into the anti-Muslim narrative that was the hallmark of Shah’s BJP and continues to colour the party’s politics.
Four, while everyone’s attention was focused on the battle against the virus, the home ministry quietly slipped in a notification announcing new domicile rules for Jammu and Kashmir to facilitate the acquisition of property and jobs by non-Kashmiris and non-Dogras. This has been a long standing demand of the RSS which feels that changing the demographics in the state is the only way to integrate it into the country.
The timing was interesting. Perhaps Shah hoped that the preoccupation with the pandemic would allow the notification to go through unchallenged.
However, this was one move on which he had to bet a hasty retreat following protests not only from political parties in the Valley, including the newly formed Apna Party but also from BJP leaders in Jammu who were outraged by the prospect of being swamped by outsiders from the heartland.
The notification was withdrawn and the home ministry has agreed that the old rules of domicile will continue to apply for jobs.
No Trouble in Modi-Shah Paradise
Those who have watched the Modi-Shah bond over the years laugh off all suggestions that the relationship is in any way strained or frayed. Shah is Modi’s alter ego. With Modi now wanting to don the mantle of Vajpayee by assuming the role of a consensus maker, Shah has become Advani the hardliner, mandated to pursue the Hindutva agenda at all costs. He has receded into the background background only because Modi has moved in front as the face of the war against COVID-19.
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)