BJP stalwart Rajnath Singh seems determined to not go gently into the night, even as power equations are being rewritten in the Narendra Modi 2.0 government.
With the induction of Amit Shah as Union home minister, the doughty Thakur from UP fought and won his first battle for space and respect commensurate to his seniority.
The tussle was over his marginalisation within the Union Cabinet. Singh was excluded from six of the eight Cabinet committees, which are the apex decision making bodies of the Union government, while Shah, newly inducted into the ministry, was named in all eight.
According to sources within the BJP, Singh made his displeasure known. Some reports suggest that he even offered to quit rather than stay on in such humiliating circumstances.
The message obviously got through because 17 hours after the committees were constituted, the government’s mouthpiece, Press Information Bureau (PIB), put out a revised list.
The first list was uploaded on the PIB website at 5:57 am on 6 June. The revised list was released at 10:19 pm the same day.
The changes were significant. Singh was now included in six of the eight committees.
He was also appointed chairperson of the Cabinet committee on parliamentary affairs, which chalks out the government agenda for each session of Parliament.
The powerful appointments committee remains out of his reach though, with Modi and Shah as its only members. This committee decides all senior bureaucratic appointments in the central government and public sector undertakings.
The silver lining in this is that Singh has been taken into the political affairs committee, from which he was excluded earlier. This is an important body for it reviews and decides all big political issues confronting the government.
Is Shah the Real Power Centre?
Singh must feel sweet pleasure to have set right a perceived wrong. Unfortunately, it may turn out to be a pyrrhic victory ultimately.
While his honour has been restored and he has been given the trappings of Modi’s second-in-command, no-one is in any doubt that the real power centre is Shah.
Yes, Singh took the oath of office immediately after Modi and before Shah. He sits in the place of honour, to Modi’s right, at Cabinet meetings while Shah sits on the left, the place that used to be occupied by ailing former finance minister Arun Jaitley.
Singh may even get the privilege, on the odd occasion, of chairing a Cabinet meeting when Modi is travelling abroad.
But it is Shah who enjoys Modi’s confidence and will be de facto ‘number two’. Singh is acutely aware of this.
Having established his unquestioned dominance on the country’s political landscape as well as the BJP after his sweeping victory in the parliamentary polls, Modi has all the freedom to cast his government in his own image without being hampered by baggage from the past.
‘Old Stalwarts No Longer Around to Weigh Modi Down’
Modi is also helped by the fact that many of the old stalwarts are no longer around to weigh him down. Party patriarchs LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi did not get tickets to contest the elections and are well and truly consigned to the defunct ‘Margdarshak Mandal’.
Sushma Swaraj opted out of the poll battle on health grounds and that paved the way for her non-induction into the cabinet. Arun Jaitley is unwell and asked Modi to relieve him of ministerial responsibilities so that he can attend to his health problems.
Other old faces are gone as well. Venkaiah Naidu is now vice-president. Ananth Kumar passed away recently.
The Vajpayee-Advani era is well and truly over. The only shadow from the past is Singh.
He too may not have been made defence minister but for three grace marks. One, at 67, he is well short of the 75-year age limit that has been imposed for holding a post in the new Modi-Shah BJP.
Two, he won handsomely from Lucknow. This is a prestige seat once held by late prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh through which, it is said, the road to Delhi runs. Three, Singh is still held in high esteem by the RSS which believes in having several strings to its bow.
As Modi 2.0 roars to life, Shah will be the minister to watch. BJP circles believe he will emerge as the lynchpin of the government. Singh, meanwhile, will have to be content winning small battles for self-respect.