What is wrong with Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde?

There are politicians and then there is Sushilkumar Shinde. Whether it is the comment on ‘Hindu terror’ or the handling of Telangana issue or Afzal Guru hanging or for that matter his preposterous comment on coalgate – the man seems to be getting it all wrong. No wonder he is increasingly being dismissed as one of the most incompetent persons to wear the hat of the Union Home Minister in India’s history by the Opposition.

After the Prime Minister’s chair, the portfolios of Finance, Home, Defence and External Affairs are the most coveted in the cabinet and come with an added sense of responsibility. But how responsible does it sound when your Union Home Minister says almost mockingly that the people of this country will forget the coalgate issue in a matter of time just as they forgot the Bofors scam. Or for that matter how prudent is it for the same man to have stirred a hornet’s nest by using Congress’ chintan shivir in Jaipur by talking about ‘Hindu terror’. Or to talk about intelligence inputs after the recent Hyderabad blasts or the naming of rape victims of Bhandara in Parliament.

For a man who was a sub-inspector once, Shinde has, as they say, done well in life by rising through the ranks of Indian politics and becoming the home minister of the country. He has been the Chief Minister of Maharashtra and the Governor of Andhra Pradesh and is the Dalit face of the Congress. However, many credit his rise in the party to his loyalty and closeness to the Gandhi family. How else would one explain the fact that after his not so great stint as the power minister he was rewarded with the Home Ministry’s post and that too after India saw one of the worst power failures since 2001 when the Northern Grid failed in July 2012 due to which almost 370 million people were affected along with rail and air services.

And what was the then power minister’s reaction? In almost what sounded like an achievement Shinde said that when the grid had collapsed in 2001, it had taken 16 hours to restore services but this time it was back within six hours. He also gave a bizarre explanation that India was not the only one to suffer major power outages, as US and Brazil too had experienced similar blackouts.

Anyway, that was then as the power minister but then not much seemed to have changed when the man donned the home minister’s hat.

In what was totally unbecoming of a Home Minister, Shinde said in September last year that the controversy over the coal block allotment will be ‘forgotten’ in the days to come, much like the Bofors and petrol pump distribution scams. His exact comment was – “Such controversies come and go. Earlier, there was the controversy regarding Bofors, but it faded away. No one remembers the petrol pump allotment issue today.”

It goes without saying that this statement of his was highly embarrassing for the party which at that time was besieged by scams left right and centre, be it the 2G or coalgate or Adarsh or CWG. Later Shinde tried to make light of the statement by saying that he was just trying to add a little ‘humour’ to a function that he was attending. Can it get more illogical?

Shinde’s handling of the Delhi gang-rape protests in December last year also attracted severe criticism. Many said that the use of water cannons and lathicharge on peaceful protesters were uncalled for. And on being asked on a television channel as to why he did not go to meet the protesters at India Gate he said – “It`s very easy to say that the home minister should go meet protesters there. Tomorrow if BJP workers demonstrate or if Maoists demonstrate with weapons, will I go and meet them too?” If this is not being insensitive then what is?

Well the Union Home Minister was not done yet. In January this year Shinde’s remark on ‘Hindu terror’ created another embarrassing situation for the Congress party and almost derailed the Budget Session of Parliament. The Opposition was predictably up in arms threatening to boycott him and demanding his resignation and challenging him to ban the RSS and BJP. Later, Shinde had to eat his words and express regret on the eve of the Budget Session for saying that BJP and RSS were running terror camps and promoting Hindu terrorism. The Congress must have heaved a sigh of relief by somehow managing to wriggle out of the imbroglio.

A man who is in charge of the internal security should be seen to be doing anything but provoking people in the name of religion and polarizing voters. His job is to unite and not divide. Either he has got his politics wrong or he needs to change his coterie of advisers. There is a limit to doing vote bank politics.

The Home Minister’s handling of the Afzal Guru hanging also came under the scanner. Yes, he did manage to shut the BJP up which had been accusing the Congress of minority appeasement by ordering the Parliament attack convict’s hanging but then when he came out and said that Afzal’s family was informed by speed post which apparently did not reach them in time, then many were not so impressed. Afzal deserved the punishment for what he did but then even hardened criminals are allowed to meet the family before they die or at least the family is informed of the same.

On the contentious matter of Telangana statehood, Shinde announced that he would come up with something in a month’s time. Many months have passed since then. However, the government is still procrastinating.

And yes, how can one forget Shinde putting his foot in his mouth in December last year in Parliament when he addressed alleged 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed with the honorifics of ‘Shri’ and ‘Mr’. Read his statement - “Mr Rehman Malik, Interior Minister of Pakistan has been telling us repeatedly that he had arrested Mr Hafiz Saeed thrice and that on each occasion, he was let off by the courts for lack of evidence. When we pursued this matter, they have given us papers pertaining to the detentions of Shri Hafiz Saeed in 2002 and 2009.”

Also remember when he snapped at Samajwadi Party MP in Rajya Sabha and actor Jaya Bachchan for which he had to apologise later. The Home Minister was replying to a debate on Assam violence and when Bachchan said that the minister was not responding to specific questions raised by members he said, “This is a serious matter. This is not the subject of a film.”

Post Script: Not to be missed is the latest in the long list of blunders committed by our Home Minister. This time what does he do – he goes ahead and names the three minors, who were raped and murdered in Maharashtra’s Bhandara, on the floor of the House, when it is prohibited by law to do so. When pointed out by Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, Shinde said that he was handed out the information by his team of bureaucrats and he merely read them. Strange to think that our politicos do not go through what they will be answering in Parliament. Mr Sushilkumar Shinde appears to be a classic case of a politician who needs a crash course in the art of politics or rather the art of speaking. Any takers?