BJP president Amit Shah was on Friday appointed as new Union Home Minister. He has replaced Rajnath Singh who has been moved to the Ministry of Defence. Having delivered multiple victories for the party in various states and then a landslide in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, this is the first ministerial responsibility that Shah will take on at the Centre.
Already known to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the portfolio of the Ministry of Home Affairs effectively makes him No. 2 in the government. Having learnt the political ropes through years of work in the RSS and the BJP in Gujarat, Shah will be expected to also push key ideological projects of the Sangh Parivar.
These could include faster rollout of National Register of Citizens and, perhaps, its application in other states. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill could see a renewed push under his leadership. Issues of abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35 A in Kashmir could also see a more pro-active Home Ministry.
As party chief, Shah’s refrain was around issues related to national security, illegal immigration, special privileges available to Kashmir and border security — all hot button subejcts that fall under the purview of his Ministry.
In several speeches in the run-up to the polls, Shah termed illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam and West Bengal as “termites”.
Notably, the BJP manifesto for 2019 polls makes clear the new government’s commitment to these issues. On the issue of “Combating Infiltration”, the manifesto said there had been a “huge change in the cultural and linguistic identity of some areas due to illegal immigration” and that the BJP would “expeditiously complete the National Register of Citizens process in these areas on priority”. The manifesto said NRC would be implemented in other areas in a phased manner.
“If the BJP comes to power we will bring in the NRC here (West Bengal) to throw out all infiltrators and illegal immigrants. We will also ensure that the Hindu refugees are not touched,” Shah had said in a rally in Alipurduar in West Bengal in March.
Connected to this is the issue of sealing borders with Bangladesh. The BJP manifesto makes it clear that the new government has intentions of replicating smart fencing – currently set up as a pilot project in Dhubri (Assam) and Jammu — across all borders. Shah is also likely to take the project of setting up integrated checkposts at various borders with greater interest.
The controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill, which saw massive protests in Assam until the Bill fell through in Rajya Sabha, would also get a renewed push under Shah. The BJP has already said in its manifesto that it is committed to the Bill which aims to give Indian citizenship to religious minorities facing persecution in other countries.
But a manifesto isn’t usually a charter for governance — as Home Minister, Shah will have to take states on board and minimise conflict within the ruling coalition, too. The Janata Dal (U), its ally in Bihar, opposed the citizenship Bill and its views on Kashmir aren’t in sync with that of the BJP.
The new home minister is also likely to have a more hawkish approach vis a vis the Kashmir problem. Shah is known to be in favour of “decisive action” and “firm policy” as far as violence in Kashmir is concerned.
The issues of Article 370 and Article 35 A, which BJP considers as “impediment to development of Jammu and Kashmir”, are also likely to be top of the agenda. “We reiterate our position since the time of the Jan Sangh to the abrigation of Article 370. We are committed to annulling Article 35 A of the Constituition of India as the provisdion is discriminatory against non-permanent residents and women of Jammu and Kashmir,” the manifesto said. The new Home Minister would have to, however, cross legal hurdles of the issues pending in the Supreme Court.