It seems union transport minister Nitin Gadkari has been taken down several pegs after he was projected as a consensus prime minister if the BJP failed to get a majority in the 2019 general election. His showpiece amended Motor Vehicles Act is coming apart over the steep hike in fines for traffic penalties with as many as eleven states rejecting the new fines.

What is significant is that the revolt has come largely from BJPruled states with Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani leading the charge. It is well known in BJP circles that not a leaf stirs in Gujarat without the approval of the Modi-Shah duo. So Rupani’s rejection of the new fines is being seen in the party as a sign of disapproval from the very top.

Not a single BJP leader or spokesperson has come forward to defend Gadkari. The minister is doing the rounds of TV channels to explain the reasons for the new harsh penalties. Gadkari was known as Modi’s most efficient minister in the first term of the government. And it was said that no-one could touch him because of his most favoured status with the RSS.

After Modi’s second win, with a larger majority than before, power equations have changed. The big four in the first term – Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh and Gadkari – were all shown their place. Swaraj was not inducted as a minister. Nor was Jaitley. Both passed away subsequently. Rajnath Singh was moved out of the home ministry. Although he is officially the number two man in the union cabinet, everyone knows that the real power behind the throne is his successor, Amit Shah. Now Gadkari too has been shown his place.

Over to ‘PK & PK’

From “Misra & Mishra’’, Narendra Modi’s PMO has moved to “PK & PK’’ with the appointments of P K Mishra as the new principal secretary and P K Sinha as principal advisor. It’s a pure coincidence but Modi’s love for alliteration found reflection in the names of the top two in his PMO, both in his first tenure as well as his second. Modi’s first PMO was run by principal secretary Nripendra Misra and additional principal secretary P K Mishra.

Bureaucratic and political circles had jokingly dubbed that PMO “Misra & Mishra’’ because of the common surnames. With Nripendra Misra suddenly resigning, P K Mishra has been appointed principal secretary and former cabinet secretary P K Sinha has been appointed as principal advisor, a newly created post. So, now the PMO is known as “PK & PK’’.

Interestingly, while Mishra has been given the rank of cabinet minister, there is no word yet on whether Sinha will be given equal status or will remain a notch below at minister of state. In the PMO listing, the hierarchy of top officials is quite clear. Mishra is placed at number one, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is in second place and Sinha comes third.

Striking gold

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat seems to have struck gold with his quiet meeting with Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind general secretary Mahmood Madani. They met a little over a week ago at the invitation of the Sangh. Subsequently, Madani has softened his line on sensitive issues like the NRC, Kashmir, etc. In fact, his comments at a recent press conference must have been music to the Sangh’s ears.

Madani said he supported the NRC, stressed that Kashmir is an integral part of India while blaming Pakistan for stoking trouble in the state, called for the creation of a sadbhavana manch where Hindus and Muslims can exchange ideas and get to know each other better and promised to work for education reforms in madarsas to bring them in line with the CBSE system. Clearly, Bhagwat’s behind-thescenes diplomacy with the Muslim community on behalf of the Modi government has paid off.

Madani is an influential leader of his community and was a Rajya Sabha MP. Now, of course, he has to persuade his flock to join him in this outreach with the RSS and BJP. Perhaps it would help if the motormouths in the saffron parivar are silenced from making unnecessary provocative remarks.

Population register

The NRC controversy in Assam notwithstanding, the Modi government has decided to go ahead and extend the preparation of a citizens’ list across the country in keeping with Amit Shah’s vow to weed out every single infiltrator and illegal immigrant. The first step towards this has been taken with the announcement of an exercise to prepare a National Population Register. The NPR will be a compilation of residents in localities across the country.

It will include citizens and noncitizens and every resident in India must compulsorily register his or her name in the NPR with details of personal data including biometrics. The NPR data base will lay the foundation for the preparation of a nationwide National Citizens Register to weed out illegal immigrants. Interestingly, the NPR announcement was made on August 3. But it went unnoticed because of the dramatic developments related to Jammu & Kashmir which followed on August 5 when Articles 370 and 35A were annulled in the state.

But according to BJP circles, the government is dead serious about the NPR exercise. It will commence on 1 April 2020 and end on 30 September 2020. After that, work on the NRC will begin. While Shah is known to be a man who delivers what he promises, two predecessors, L K Advani and P Chidambaram, tried and failed to compile a NPR.

In both cases, the proposal ran into all kinds of legal hurdles including on the issue of collecting biometric data. As per a Supreme Court judgement on Aadhaar, submission of biometric data is not mandatory.