Rajnath Singh comes into his own

Home Minister reclaims reluctantly ceded political space.

December 03, 2015 04:36 am | Updated March 24, 2016 01:30 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

New Delhi: Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh speaks in Lok Sabha during the winter session of Parliament in New Delhi on Monday.  PTI Photo / TV GRAB(PTI11_30_2015_000050B)

New Delhi: Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh speaks in Lok Sabha during the winter session of Parliament in New Delhi on Monday. PTI Photo / TV GRAB(PTI11_30_2015_000050B)

He is the number two in a government where numbers one to 10 are said to be occupied by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. And yet, in the five days that Parliament sat and debated first the Constitution and then the prickly issue of tolerance, Home Minister Rajnath Singh was suddenly everywhere.

For once it wasn’t because of decisions taken by the government on his Ministry that he is rumoured to have not known about (arrest of gangster Chhota Rajan, removal of former Home Secretary L.C. Goyal or even the Naga accord), but as the face of the government, in a Parliament session dedicated to accord with the Opposition.

Senior leaders of the BJP, ever sensitive to the shifting sands of factional politics, are attributing the Home Minister’s sudden prominence to the fact that the government has decided to reach out to the Opposition. Mr. Singh, known to be affable and social and scrupulously politically correct on most occasions, can be counted on to say the right thing and yet push the ideological point home.

“Therefore, during the discussion commemorating the Constitution, he spoke about how secularism was the most misunderstood word in India, and during the debate on tolerance, sent an appeal to aggrieved writers and artists to talk to him,” said a senior BJP office-bearer in charge of coordinating parliamentary work.

“When the Prime Minister was accused, during the debate on intolerance on remaining silent on the deaths of writer M.M. Kalburgi, Left leader Govind Pansare and rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, the Home Minister said, almost to correct the erroneous impression of a Cabinet overwhelmed by its head, that it was not the Prime Minister’s job to speak on everything,” said the senior leader from the BJP.

“I am the Home Minister and anything concerned with internal security is my responsibility,” Mr. Singh had said, claiming, finally a very reluctantly ceded space.

When CPI(M) MP Mohammad Salim, during the debate on intolerance, said jokingly said that his fondness for Mr. Singh was such that he would rather have had “Mr. Singh elected Prime Minister of India than Mr. Narendra Modi”, the Home Minister smiled mildly at the jibe, while Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu jumped up from his seat to dismiss the remark.

“This is just like saying I would rather have K. Karunakaran as CPI(M) general secretary than Sitaram Yechury,” Mr. Naidu said in his response.

To those sensitive to the changing winds in the political landscape, the remark was not just a jibe, it was an indication of the kind of space that Mr. Singh could occupy in the middle of what is a very divided polity. In a Parliament session being called the winter of the thaw, Mr. Singh seems to have come into his season.

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