Has Amit Shah fallen out of favour with Modi?
Till recently the second most important man in the govt, the Union Home Minister seems to have lost his perch due to inept handling of the Delhi riots that happened during US President Trump’s visit
One of the major fall outs of the recent Delhi riots is the complete lack of coordination between the top government functionaries, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, who otherwise are known to work in unison.
Modi was reportedly not happy with Shah for his failure to control the riots in North-East Delhi while the US President Donald Trump was visiting the national Capital. International media headlines were more on the riots than on Trump visit. A livid Modi took charge himself as soon as Trump’s aircraft left the runway.
Modi not only issued a peace appeal but also deputed National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to the riot affected areas. It was a clear indication that the PM was increasingly losing trust in Shah’s capabilities as it came close on the heels of a crushing defeat in Delhi Lok Sabha polls. This was BJP’s fifth defeat in the past six assembly elections.
Doval holds a Cabinet minister rank and reports only to the PM. More than that, he doesn’t share good vibes with Amit Shah. Shah has long been resisting the NSA’s interference in internal security matters. But, first the Kashmir situation and then the Delhi riots seem to have given him an opening.
Their mutual dislike for each other was clearly noticed by those who attended the post-Independence Day Presidential high tea. When Doval reached the venue and noticed Shah speaking to some people, he abruptly turned right and busied himself.
Shah’s inept handling of riots did not help his cause either. Shah himself confided in his close associates that Delhi Police officials did not take his phone calls when he returned to Delhi from Ahmedabad after attending Trump’s Motera Stadium event. He also claimed that almost all the information he was receiving on riots was from party workers. That is a telling comment on his efficiency as Home Minister.
It was indeed strange behavior from a person who was responsible for maintaining calm in the national Capital. A person who was visiting door to door only a fortnight ago, distributing BJP’s pamphlets during Delhi Assembly elections, refused to step out from his home and office. He was only concerned with meeting officials, hardly producing any tangible results. Had he realised that the violence was in reaction to his party colleagues and his own incendiary statements made during elections, like “Traitors should be shot”, “Muslims daughters and wives should be raped” and “Press the EVM button so hard that people in Shaheen Bagh feel the current”?
Experts believe that Delhi Police could have shown a little more spine and it could have checked the violence much more effectively had it wanted to do so. So, if the police displayed a deliberate apathetic attitude and in certain cases it even actively participated in anti-Muslim pogrom, was it under specific instructions from certain quarters to do so? Was there a deliberate ploy to get India a bad name in the international media? Is that the reason why Modi seems to have differences with one of his closest aides?
Things became so bad that when Delhi Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik, known for his proximity to Amit Shah, was coming to meet Ajit Doval who was taking a meeting of senior police officials in Seelampur DCP office, he was asked to go back. Doval apparently had no faith in Shah’s men. In the meantime, SN Srivastava, a Modi loyalist, was appointed as Delhi Police Commissioner in place of Patnaik. Although Patnaik had already retired and was on extension, the fact that Union Home Minister was not consulted by the PMO in selecting the Police Commissioner for Delhi speaks volumes about the credibility he enjoys now.
Similarly, while riots were at their peak, in another strange move, the government on February 25 granted promotion to DG Vanzara, six years after the highly controversial IPS officer of Gujarat cadre had retired from service. Known for his closeness to Modi, Vanzara was an accused in fake encounters of Sohrabuddin, his wife Kaiser Bi, Isharat Jahan and Tulsi Prajapati. He had to spent several years in jail, but he never blamed Modi for this. He once called Modi his God.
Vanzara however, never saw Amit Shah eye to eye. May be because he was so close to Modi that often he used to be invited by Modi for secret parleys at CM House in Gandhi Nagar while Amit Shah was kept out. That is why when Shah rose in stature, he ensured Vanzara remained behind bars; at least this is what Vanzara has been accusing Shah of. That is why Vanzara’s promotion with retrospective effect was seen at a snub to Shah.
Sending Doval to violence probe areas too was clear indictment of Amit Shah. It indeed is a steep fall for a person who was known as a hard task master as BJP’s national president. It was probably first time that a person holding the second most important job in the government was also the national president of the BJP. He was so powerful that he often convened inter-ministerial meetings attended by top ministers of Modi govt. As Union Home Minister he had piloted important legislations like Triple Talaq and abrogation of Article 370. He had endeared himself to both Modi and the RSS by engineering thumping wins during Lok Sabha polls both in 2014 and 2019. In both the elections, BJP swept Uttar Pradesh — winning over 70 seats out of 80. He was also credited with leading the party to win over three-fourth seats in UP Assembly polls.
But the failure to control Delhi violence seem to have wiped out all his gains. Shah’s miseries were further aggravated by the fact that Doval managed to douse communal fires within 24 hours of taking over the task. He wasn’t present at the Presidential banquet organised in honour of President Trump, which saw presence of lightweight ministers like Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Smriti Irani along with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Shah’s rival in the Cabinet.
After having lost the party presidentship to another Modi loyalist, JP Nadda, Shah has been effectively reduced to being just another minister in Modi cabinet like Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh or even Smriti Irani.
Turning the knife in Shah’s back, Shiv Sena has severely castigated Shah for his inept handling of Delhi riots. An editorial in Sena’s mouthpiece Saamna, asked Shah to tender his resignation. ‘If there was a non-BJP government at the Centre today, people would have asked for resignation of the Home Minister. There would have daily protests and demonstrations on the streets. But, nothing of the sort is happening because the Opposition is very weak. Still Sonia Gandhi had asked for Shah’s resignation,’ it read.
Actually, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath had already set a standard in riot control in his state when he gave the police a free run to deal with CAA protestors. Though a few people were killed and the police was accused of excesses, the state was saved from becoming a cauldron like Delhi. RSS leaders feel that Shah should have dealt with the rioters more sternly like Adityanath. A tweet by RSS leader BL Santosh, saying it’s just a beginning, is seen in this context only, though he deleted it later. RSS wants the riots to be handled decisively and that no particular community should be allowed a free run or softer approach.
Amit Shah’s relations with the Prime Minister Modi might come under scrutiny once again, during the much-awaited Cabinet reshuffle. Modi had already spoken to allies like Nitish Kumar and Parkash Singh Badal for their nominees. A similar shake up is also anticipated in BJP-run states like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana. People who get dropped by the Modi government at the Centre and in the states might be accommodated in the party as Nadda too would be reshuffling his team of office bearers. So far he has been working with Shah’s men like Bhupendra Yadav, Anil Jain and Arun Singh.
This will decide the future course for the once most-powerful BJP leader.