Defence Minister Rajnath Singh
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh

Even as all guns have started firing in Maharashtra and Haryana for their State Assembly elections, one should not ignore the developments those are happening in Delhi, particularly when they pertain to the national defence and thus Indian security. Here in Maharashtra, while we are hearing the slogan shouting for or against the sitting government of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his poll partner Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena, in Delhi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh seems to be leaving no stone unturned to warm Pakistan of dire consequences if it does not fall in line.

The 68-year old Defence Minister has taken to breathing fire at Pakistan at well-calibrated intervals, running the gamut of bellicose claims about Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) to warnings about India not being bound by a policy of "no first use" of nuclear weapons. He said last Monday that Pakistan can soon be blacklisted by the international anti-terror body FATF; Ten days ago, Singh reminded Pakistan about its break up and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 and issued a warning to "mend your ways".

Talks with Pak on PoK Only

A week before, he repeated an earlier declaration that "any future talks with Pakistan will be on PoK not J&K". It only exhibited that India's line of thinking is loud and clear. By no means has India intended to make J&K a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. India is stuck to its guns that J&K is India's internal issue and does not intend to tolerate making it 'international'. Even as India refused to allow intended intervention of the US President Donald Trump in this matter despite he throwing hints about his willingness, Singh is also convinced that even Pakistan has no business to poke its nose into J&K affairs.

Many say that it’s a new ‘Avatar’ of the Defence Minister that many had not experienced before. However, Rajnath Singh's makeover into a hawk is no accident. He was the strong, silent and capable Home Minister in the first Modi government, maintaining a very low profile in keeping with the unwritten script that Modi's ministers were to be seen not heard. This time around, the move from North Block (MHA) to South Block (MoD) seems to have galvanised Singh. Three weeks ago, he took a ride in the indigenous fighter plane Tejas dressed in a compression suit, a far cry from the dhoti-kurta look he prefers. This was not just by accident or a fashion. But Rajnath Singh wanted to make a 'statement' that he presented loud and clear.

We hear from politically reliable sources that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked Singh to take on a starring role in India's comprehensive attack against Pakistan. This does two things: protects Modi, the principal leader, from having to sound the most aggressive of them all, and allows him to be above the India-Pakistan fray as a statesman. It also quite neatly snubs Pakistan Prime Minister, Imran Khan, when Modi does not bother to react to him, leaving it to his ministers to respond to Khan's many provocations. Singh, a shrewd politician close to the RSS, has also grabbed the opportunity to endear himself to the Sangh and the BJP base to whom attacks on Pakistan are always a good thing. So while Modi is now cast in a global gatekeeper role, Amit Shah, Home Minister, talks tough on Kashmir and Assam, and Rajnath Singh takes the fight to beyond the borders.

The UP strongman who is a two-time BJP President, Singh had earlier cast himself in the mould of a farmer leader and modelled his speeches on his political idol, the late former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In fact, he was asked in a television interview whether he owed his political mien to Atalji. Singh had laughed and said that both of them were from Uttar Pradesh and that the former PM was his political idol. This was not a meagre casual comment but a confirmation, that yes, he was the heir of Atalji.

Enjoying the New Job

Rajnath Singh is surely enjoying this tenure as Defence Minister with a much higher profile than before. He projected himself earlier as a dove and talked about ‘Atalji's promise of insaniyat (humanity) in Kashmir’. But that was then, and now he is thrilling the Sangh Parivar. This has also allowed Singh to break the perception that he was part of the Lutyens' leadership of the BJP. Singh was bracketed as a trio with the late Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj. Singh has broken out of that casting to be seen now as closely attached to the Modi-Shah duo, quite  a huge leap within the party and government. This means He will continue to make the threats to keep Pakistan off balance.

In short, Rajnath Singh is playing his new role as the Defence Minister as per the design. This is a welcome change after a long but unenthusiastic term of A K Anthony of the Congress before 2014 and then shuttling of this important portfolio between Arun Jaitley, Manohar Parrikar and lastly, Nirmala Sitharaman.

The writer is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).

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