With as many as 21 divisions – including internal security, de-radicalisation, centre-state, border management, police modernisation, disaster management, women safety – the ministry of home affairs (MHA) is one of the most crucial and powerful ministries in the central government.
With Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president, Amit Shah, fresh from a remarkable electoral success, assuming charge as the 31st Union home minister of India, the political weight of the ministry has increased manifold. Given Shah’s proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the relationship of trust they share, the home minister’s autonomy to take decisions is expected to be far greater than any other cabinet minister.
In the last five years, the MHA focused on older ideas and maintained a degree of status quo. Security Infrastructure such as the National Intelligence Grid (Nat Grid), suggested after 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, materialised. Crackdown on Non- Governmental Organizations, (NGOs) for allegedly misusing foreign funding – an exercise that began under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government after protests broke out against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu in 2011 – was intensified and carried through in the last five years.
But officials in the ministry now expect disruption.
Changes in the functioning of the ministry are visible and priorities have become clear in the first four weeks. Shah has been patiently going through long briefings, asking questions, allowing bureaucrats to clarify. “He goes through every detail, all the figures and nuances,” a senior officer, who did not want to be named, said. Shah’s previous stint as home minister of Gujarat gives him an understanding of how the internal security apparatus works at the state level.
Shah’s maiden visit to Jammu and Kashmir – a key area for the ministry – is a clear indicator of the priorities and what lies ahead. During his two day visit, he did not meet either representatives from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)- a former ally of the BJP – or the National Conference; the two main mainstream political parties in the Valley. Instead, Shah met a delegation of Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference (JKPC), a body of Sarpanchs and Panchs, leaders of elected village bodies. The message could not be clearer; Shah wants a different narrative for J&K and he is ready to reach out to the people. This was subsequently reflected in his speech in Parliament where he said that political power has moved away from select families in the states to those on the ground.
On the security front, Shah also does not seem to endorse the views of Governor Satya Pal Malik that there should be talks with the Hurriyat Conference – a grouping of separatists leaders. On the other end of the spectrum, the Hurriyat did not call for a boycott or a bandh during the visit as it had done on previous occasions.
The “muscular” Jammu and Kashmir police – characterised by vigorous counter-terror operations, a hard line against separatists – is likely to continue. Simultaneously, there will be attempts to reach out to ordinary citizens, re-energise delivery mechanisms, and, ensure delivery of developmental schemes.
There are likely to be structural changes as well. For instance, Shah has asked the National Disaster Management Force (NDRF) to map all equipment – for instance, heavy earth movers, cranes, systems and platforms that can be used to rescue lives – with the public and private sector that could be of use in disaster relief. The Centre will surely aid capacity building, he told the top brass of disaster relief, but “assets available outside” will be utilised during a disaster.
The home ministry, however, remains in firefighting mode continuously because of its very remit.
Shah is likely to face testing times sooner than later. The final list of National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is in the process of weeding out so-called illegal immigrants, in Assam will be out on July 31.
In all, it appears that nearly 4.1 million people will not qualify to be Indians as per the NRC. And, although, those who do not qualify to be Indian citizens will still have a legal recourse, the MHA will have to take the final call on how to deal with those who finally are found be “illegal”.
Earlier, the broad consensus in dealing with those who did qualify to be “Indians” was to issue “work permits” taking away their political rights. “The NRC event is unlikely to peaceful,” a senior official who did not want to be named said. The Assam NRC experience is important for another reason. It is likely to decide whether NRC is implemented in West Bengal – a state that sends as many as 42 members to Lok Sabha and where the BJP is making major inroads.
Despite the challenges, Shah has an edge because of his role heading the BJP, which directly or indirectly controls 15 state governments. Changes, crucial or controversial alike, are likely to face lower resistance from the states.
“ I see there is renewed and resolute focus back on internal security which is a very positive development. In the neighbourhood, there have been strikes by Islamists, and we need to prepare. Importantly, in India, policing is a state subject. We need strong, resolute leadership to be able to smoothen issues that may arise. Importantly, the home minister is close to the PM. Besides, with the BJP in government in most states, coordination issues are unlikely to hold us back. Finally, home minister and national security adviser are on the same page. In sum, I see a positive change” former secretary of internal security, Anil Choudhary, said.
Jun 30, 2019 07:10 IST
Amit Shah’s entry adds heft to MHA; Kashmir, NRC twin challenges – Hindustan Times