After initiating the discussion with chief ministers on handling the nationwide lockdown and making his opening remarks on April 11, PM Narendra Modi handed over the proceedings to home minister Amit Shah to moderate. Though Centre-state relations come under the purview of Shah’s ministry, the CMs were taken by surprise when he took charge of the video conference. He had been present in their earlier meetings with the PM too—on March 20 and April 2—but except urging the states to implement the lockdown strictly at the second meeting, Shah had mostly been silent. Much like the other two ministers participating in the meeting—defence minister Rajnath Singh and health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, along with the principal secretary to the PM, the cabinet secretary, the home secretary, the health secretary and the DG of Indian Council of Medical Research.
Asking Shah to moderate the meeting would not have been seen as significant in the normal course as his ministry is at the forefront of enforcing the lockdown and coordinating with the states. However, it raised some eyebrows because Shah, known for his hardline image, had somewhat receded into the shadows after the back-to-back decisions to abrogate Article 370, pushing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and to amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. His uncharacteristic reticence since riots broke out in Delhi in February was being talked about within the BJP and also among Opposition leaders. Congress leader Kapil Sibal had questioned his silence, tweeting on March 28 that while people were locked down and lakhs of migrants were walking home, the home minister was neither seen nor heard.