Becoming Patel’s True Successor
The office of the Union Home Minister in India has a special significance. That is mainly because the first occupant of this office after the country became independent was none other than Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. He was the number two in the Nehru cabinet. In fact, many considered him to be more eligible than Nehru to become independent India’s first Prime Minister. In any case, as long as Patel was alive, he was treated as the alternate Prime Minister of India.
Of course, during the successive Congress governments, the position of the Home Minister lost some of its clout, and he was not necessarily the number two to the Prime Minister. But as far as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is concerned, the two times that it has led the central government, the Home Minister has been the number two in the Union Cabinet. It was the case with L K Advani in the cabinet of Atal Behari Vajpayee. And it is the case at present with Rajnath Singh in the cabinet of Narendra Modi. Maybe it is due to the fact that Patel has more admirers in the BJP than in the Congress.
Advani was always the Prime Minister-in-Waiting after Vajpayee. The same seems to be the case with Rajnath Singh, given his varied experience as a former BJP President, senior Union Minister under Vajpayee and Chief Minister of a major state like Uttar Pradesh – a formidable bio-data that any other minister in the Modi-cabinet lacks.
However, beyond a point, and I hope I am not wrong, Rajnath Singh will not like to be compared with Advani. Despite his exalted status,which he richly deserved in the BJP, Advani was a very ordinary Home Minister. He was impeccably honest and impartial; his integrity was beyond scrutiny. I have heard many senior officials who had worked under Advani saying he was a wonderful Boss who never interfered in their workings or pressurised them to do something dishonest or unlawful even if such requests came from the ruling party leaders. But my problem with Advani is not his integrity or working style. For me, there were no concrete achievements of Advani as a Home Minister that one could remember.
When Advani left after six years as Home Minister, as many as 160 districts of the country had been affected by the Maoist/Naxal challenge. Under him, the Parliament building was attacked. Prior to that, the Lashkar-e-Taiba had attacked the Red Fort. It was under Advani that there were frequent terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir – attacks on Raghunath temple and Srinagar airport, to cite just two examples. Advani-years in the Home Ministry also witnessed the rapid mushrooming of Pakistani ISI-financed madrassas along the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bangladesh borders. In fact, the ISI had succeeded in building up a formidable ‘destroy India machinery’ within Indian-territory. Advani’s promise of bringing out a white paper on terrorism in India never saw the light of the day, nor did, for that matter, his scheme of issuing “work permits” to the immigrants from Bangladesh so that they could commute legally without staying illegally in India for ever and changing its political course through bogus voting during elections. In fact, under Advani, illegal immigration from Bangladesh had all but changed the demography of the North-east. Besides, Advani could not bring the much talked about police reforms in the country. In other words, however much one liked him for his erudition and integrity, Advani, as Home Minister, did no better than any one of his predecessors in Post-Patel era. Will, then, Rajnath Singh like to be another Advani? I hope not. Fortunately for him, and he deserves some credit for it, the menace of Naxalism has lost some sheen. The North-east is much more stable now than in the past. With relations with Bangladesh improving and Bangladesh itself developing economically, the wave of illegal immigration has ebbed a bit. But then, the fact remains that there has been an attack by Pakistani terrorist on Pathankot airbase. The attackers were facilitated by the drug mafia that operates freely along the Indo-Pak border in Punjab. Obviously, there was an intelligence failure. There have been also attacks on the BSF personnel in Udhampur and Srinagar. Actually, there is an upsurge of fundamentalism now in the Kashmir valley, thanks to the resurgence of Hizbul Mujahideen.
Regrettably, there are no signs as yet of the government devising any concrete counter-terrorism policy. During the UPA days, there was an idea of creating a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). That time, some of the Chief Ministers belonging to the non-Congress party, including Modi (then Chief Minister of Gujarat) had opposed to the idea under the plea that it would be a threat to federalism as policing is a state-subject. This argument of “threat to federalism” has further strengthened under the Modi regime, with some Chief Ministers now even refusing to allow the National Investigative Agency (NIA) to undertake terror probes, which need an all-India approach. How the government in general and Rajnath Singh as Home Minister in particular will develop an alternate model to tackle terrorism in the days ahead remains to be seen. Similarly, Singh has not yet shown any urgency on undertaking the much-delayed police reforms and modernisation, something that has been instructed by none other than the Supreme Court of the country.
Then there is the curious role of the National Security Advisor (NSA), a post created by the Vajpayee regime. It has so happened that the NSA deals more with the external issues than with the internal ones. But then, the NSA is supposed to work as a part (chief executive) of the National Security Council (NSC), which also deals with internal security. To the best of my knowledge, the NSC under the present government has been quite inactive. There are no signs of the much anticipated National Security Strategy document. The National Security Advisory Board (a part of the NSC) is yet to be reconstituted even though two years of the Modi government have already gone. In my considered view, Rajnath Singh will do a great service if he impresses on Prime Minister Modi to clearly delineate the NSC’s responsibilities, one of which should be the regular provision of intelligence inputs to the Home Ministry.
In fact, the Home Minister has a lot of things to do on vital issues such as national security, inter-state problems, central paramilitary organisations, disaster management, border policing and illegal immigration, all of which need bold reforms. I hope Rajnath Singh will live up to the expectations from and challenges to an Indian Home Minister in the remaining three years of the Modi-government. Unlike Advani, he should prove himself to be a worthy successor of Sardar Patel, in whose memory the government is erecting the world’s tallest statute (182 meters) near Sardar Sarovar Dam at Kevadia in the Narmada district of Gujarat.
By Prakash Nanda