Prime Minister Narendra Modi is considering a proposal to create a separate department or ministry of internal security on the lines of the Homeland Security apparatus in the United States, say sources in the Sangh Parivar. This follows the terrorist attack on the Pathankot airbase last week. PM Modi, who visited the Air Force station on Saturday, is likely to carve the new entity out of the existing Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to exclusively deal with any kind of threat to the country’s security from external forces. The action, if it gets the Prime Minister’s approval, would involve putting several government departments and the premier intelligence agencies under the proposed ministry, in order to cut down red tape, as well as share the responsibilities of the existing MHA.
The announcement of the new internal security set up could be made any time after 14 January (Makar Sankranti), when the auspicious period as per the Hindu calendar commences. According to Sangh Parivar sources, Modi is understood to have been appalled at the lack of coordination between various government departments and agencies during the attack and is determined to straighten matters out. The failure to act on specific intelligence input about a possible attack on the airbase has also been viewed by him with extensive concern.
In 2003, the then US President, George Bush (Jr) had, after the considered opinion of both Houses as well as his key advisors, constituted the Homeland Security, an umbrella Cabinet department to monitor and oversee the concerted efforts to ensure a homeland that was safe for the American citizens from any form of threat, terrorist or otherwise. The thinking for the establishment of the new department began soon after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and entailed bringing the 14 agencies that constitute the US intelligence apparatus, in addition to 187 Federal agencies and departments under one head.
Modi has, according to these sources, viewed with equal seriousness the necessity of creating a ministry on similar lines as many of his key advisers are also of the view that the current system had time and again proved to be inadequate. The arrangements for both anticipating attacks on the Indian soil as well as neutralising terrorists who strike needed to be formalised in order to have greater responsibility and accountability.
The Centre, in the past, has had a department of internal security functioning in the MHA under the overall control of the Prime Minister. This had happened during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as the Prime Minister, when P. Chidambaram was the Minister for Internal Security, and again during the Prime Ministership of P.V. Narasimha Rao, when Rajesh Pilot held the portfolio. However, the system may be different this time, with the Prime Minister carving out a totally new entity under his personal supervision to augment the increased security requirements.
The proposal could get its final shape over a period of time, but at its core is the objective of dealing with acts against the Indian State that would form the basis of Modi’s new policy for greater security and safety of Indian citizens. There is speculation that the announcement could even coincide with the expected reshuffle of the Union Cabinet, which has got delayed as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had taken time to make up its mind on the new BJP president.
Sources said that it was virtually certain that Amit Shah, who enjoys the full confidence and trust of the Prime Minister, may get a fresh term shortly, as the RSS has concluded that the party chief and the head of government need to be on the same page for better coordination. Earlier, two names, that of Haryana Governor Kaptan Singh Solanki and Union Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot were doing the rounds as possible successors to Shah. Both belong to Madhya Pradesh and Gehlot is seen as the Dalit face of the BJP.
Sources said that the issue of the BJP president was discussed by the RSS on the sidelines of its recent meetings in Indore and Jalgaon. Senior BJP leader Ram Lal, who functions as a coordinator with the RSS had also travelled to Jalgaon to ascertain the Sangh’s thinking. It is now only a matter of time before the announcement about Shah getting a fresh term is made. Of course, there will always be the option in the future of his joining the Union Cabinet in a key responsibility, such as Home or Defence, before the new term ends.
The Prime Minister has, in the meanwhile, allowed the Ministry of Overseas Indians Affairs to be merged with the Ministry of External Affairs, since it was felt that there was extreme overlap in the functioning of the two ministries.
In the past, key ministries have been bifurcated or merged to suit the functioning of respective Prime Ministers. In the mid 1970s, a young Pranab Mukherjee was given independent charge of the Departments of Banking and Revenue by Indira Gandhi at the behest of her son, Sanjay Gandhi, who was close to the upcoming leader from Bengal. At the time, both Sanjay and his close buddy Kamal Nath would often address Pranab Mukherjee as MRB (Minister for Revenue and Banking). The practice continued till Morarji Desai’s tenure, when his key colleague H.M. Patel was known as Minister for Finance, Revenue and Banking. The re-merger took place subsequently. However, there is no indication whether Modi would divide some of the other key ministries, though there has been demand for merging all the transport related ministries under Nitin Gadkari.
The Prime Minister is expected to take path breaking steps in the immediate future in order to send a clear message that he was serious in improving governance in the country. The New Year decidedly could see a Modi makeover taking place.