Amit Shah’s responsibilities are increasing. Apart from being Home Minister, he is also a member of all eight Cabinet committees. In addition, he spends around two-and-a-half hours a day handling party affairs. Although party working president J P Nadda is to eventually replace Shah, until now Shah continues to call the shots. Recently, Shah has taken on yet another onerous duty, a fact which has escaped the attention of most. As Home Minister, he is now in charge of the police force in Jammu and Kashmir. The state has been divided into two Union Territories and hence law and order comes under the purview of the Home Ministry in Delhi, as in the case of other UTs such as Delhi and Puducherry.
At Arun Jaitley’s funeral at Delhi’s Nigambodh Ghat, the VVIPs, whether chief ministers or Central ministers, did not try to pull rank but mingled freely with other mourners. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman stood throughout the ceremony refusing to take the seat offered to her, as did Smriti Irani. Chief Ministers such as Devendra Fadnavis, Manohar Lal Khattar, Nitish Kumar and Vijay Rupani came without any escorts and were left to fend for themselves. A thunder storm broke out towards the end of the ceremony after the funeral pyre was lit. Amit Shah set an example by refusing to budge from his seat even though he was completely drenched. Rajnath Singh sitting next to him followed suit. Even when the chief ministers and Central ministers were leaving the venue there were few umbrellas to hand around. Khattar could be seen manfully holding up his pajamas and trying to wade through the water, while Sushil Modi sat patiently in a spot with overhead cover waiting for the rains to subside. The egalitarianism of Modi’s ministers was commendable, although at the same time one could not help wondering whether the lack of any real security was advisable in such sensitive times. Many read the rain shower, which was curiously confined only to the funeral ground and did not douse the flames of the covered pyre, as a good omen.
Grace under Fire
Behind every great man there is usually an inspiring wife. Sangeeta Jaitley, known universally as Dolly, was Arun Jaitley’s anchor who conducted herself with amazing dignity and grace during his long bout with illnesses. Despite the trials and tribulations she faced, she kept a composed front and was ever the caring hostess to the stream of visitors who came calling at her house enquiring about her husband’s health. Once asked how she coped, she replied simply, “What choice do I have?’’ In fact, Dolly was trained to take over the responsibilities of running a politician’s household early in life. At a young age she served as political hostess for her father Girdhari Lal Dogra, a freedom fighter and an eminent Congress leader who was finance minister of J&K for 26 years.
Missing in Action
Though BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya is in charge of the BJP’s parliamentary office, it was noticeable that he was missing through much of Parliament’s Budget Session, even though he has his own room next to the BJP’s parliamentary office. The buzz in the BJP is that Vijayvargiya has retreated into a shell ever since the Prime Minister, at a parliamentary party meeting in which Vijayvargiya was present, lashed out at the behaviour of his son Akash, who had hit a civic official in Indore with a cricket bat. Modi said pointedly that anyone indulging in such antics should be taken to task no matter whose son he was.
Expenditure Secretary G C Murmu, a Gujarat-cadre IAS officer, is due to retire this November. A favourite of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, Murmu is expected to be appointed to the Central Vigilance Commission, the powerful statutory apex body which monitors Central government corruption.
Nipped in Bud
The nascent rebellion in the BJP’s Karnataka unit was nipped in the bud by Amit Shah and the party general secretary (organisation), B L Santosh. Shah made it clear to the five ministers who publicly displayed their unhappiness for not being adequately rewarded with a deputy chief minister’s position, that they could be thrown out of the party. Santosh warned that the party was prepared for fresh elections. Anger in the Karnataka BJP is intense over the appointment of Laxman Savadi as a Deputy CM. Savadi is not even an MLA and gained notoriety after once being photographed watching porn in the Assembly. Since Savadi is a Lingayat, the party seems to feel he can be groomed for an important role when CM B S Yediyurappa retires. Also Savadi is from Belgaum where the BJP wants to cut to size two powerful political families.
This article first appeared in the print edition on September 1, 2019 under the title ‘Shah’s new role’.