Subtle tussles for subsidiary power at Centre: Who is No 2?
GUWAHATI: Usually, an overwhelming majority in Parliament would signal clear authority at the top of the hierarchy and given the mandate BJP has received in the just concluded Lok Sabha elections, Narendra Damodardas Modi’s hold over the party and the government has only been strengthened. This was amply demonstrated in the manner through which the new cabinet was formed and portfolios distributed and accordingly, the hierarchy was established. However, a few days after the council of ministers took oath of secrecy and allegiance to the Constitution, an unnecessary situation was created and an impression has since gained currency in political circles that there is a quiet struggle for the No. 2 position in the newly constituted Modi Cabinet. The catalyst for such an impression giving rise to hushed whispers in the corridors of power is the formation of various Cabinet Committees that advise the Prime Minister in discharging his duties.
While the union home minister, Amit Shah, was named in all eight Cabinet Committees formed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was named in 6/8, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman in 7/8 and railway minister Piyush Goyal was included in 5/8 committees. What raised the eyebrows was the fact that defence minister Rajnath Singh, who took oath immediately after the Prime Minister on 30th May, 2019 signalling his number two status in the union cabinet, was included in only two of the eight panels viz. Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs and Cabinet Committee on Security leaving him out of the crucial Political Affairs Committee. Conventionally, the number two in the cabinet presides over the Cabinet and Political Affairs Committee in the absence of the Prime Minister and Rajnath Singh’s exclusion gave out a signal that notwithstanding the sequence maintained in the oath-taking ceremony, the de-facto number two in the Modi cabinet is none other than the home minister, Amit Shah. In the previous Modi Cabinet, Rajnath Singh was part of the crucial Political Affairs Committee and presided over its crucial meetings when the PM was absent.
Knowledgeable sources said that the exclusion of Rajnath Singh from these crucial committees has irked both the defence minister and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) functionaries and after consultations and intervention by RSS, by evening, Singh was included in four more committees barring only the ones on appointments and accommodation. So, as per the revised list, Rajnath Singh’s name has been added to the committees on parliamentary affairs, political affairs, investment & growth and employment & skill development as well apart from the ones on security and economic affairs.
The questions that have been raised now is who was responsible for the omission of Rajnath Singh’s name from these crucial committees? It simply cannot be termed as an oversight because a person who has been sworn in at number two position is too big a name to be erroneously excluded from these committees. Was it deliberate and why was the list revised within a few hours? These questions do not have answers now but it clearly signals a subtle tussle for consolidation of position at No. 2 behind the Prime Minister. The answer will be forthcoming in the coming days through actions and counter actions and the last words on this matter has not been said at all.