At Home: Merit or Birth Certificate?

Does India deserve Sushilkumar Shinde to be the home minister?

Updated: Aug 02, 2012, 20:01 PM IST

Rakesh Khar

It was a day of wide celebrations in the Valley when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed became independent India’s first Muslim home minister on December 3, 1989. Sayeed joined the exclusive club featuring some of the best known statesmen and academicians like Vallabhai Patel, C Rajagopalachari, G B Pant, Lal Bahadur, Gulzari Lal Nanda, Indira Gandhi and Moraji Desai.

As celebrations soaked in one wondered as to what exactly had Sayeed done to merit the escalator? But there was no room for any doubt since the moment got celebrated as India’s finest hour of secular democracy where a minority leader got the chance to become the home minister of the country.

The wide proclamations stopped only when the news of abduction of his third unmarried daughter, a medical intern, came with Sayeed being in the office just for five days. Freedom for Rubaiya Sayeed would come in exchange for five hardcore terrorists caught after months of painstaking coordinated efforts by state police and central intelligence agencies.

The VP Singh government literally ordered the reluctant Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah to release terrorists to secure the release of home minister’s daughter with two central ministers I K Gujral and Arif Mohamad Khan air-dashing to the Valley to personally supervise India’s abysmal slide into a soft state eternity.

But, what is the price of sacrifice of a few dedicated police officers in the face of political master stroke of not only having Sayeed as the home minister but also reuniting Rubaiya with her parents.

To be fair to Sayeed he then posed an impressive CV: joined National Conference (NC) in 1950, deserted it to join Congress to be rewarded with a state ministership in 1971, but subsequently lost two elections there, before being re-discovered by V P Singh. Of course, since then his politics has undergone a few momentous somersaults that strengthened his survivor traits.

Did Sayeed set a trend or simply follow it? He preceded Buta Singh, a political lightweight, who made it big given his ability to stay forever the family retainer. Of course, his being a minority representative made life easy not just for him but suitably for those who put him in that chair.

Cut to today’s ground reality. The question that begs an answer is: what is common between Giani Zail Singh, Buta Singh, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Sushilkumar Shinde? The obvious common connect is that they have been home ministers of this country at some point or other in independent India. But if you dig deeper the critical commonality lies in them all being apt symbols of appeasement politics perpetuated by their respective political masters. Congress undoubtedly takes the leadership role in perpetuating the choice of the home minister based on their vote bank calculator.

The point that most often is deliberately and conveniently slipped under the carpet is of merit and not caste, colour or religion. And it has been proved beyond doubt in fields (perhaps other than politics) that talent and excellence is more secular since it embraces one and all if they deserve it.

Shinde, who presided over what has come to be widely described as India’s ‘darkest’ days since independence, has now the distinction of being the home minister of a country that has more than mountain of a challenge in terms of a highly precarious internal security situation made worse by open and vocal abetment by external forces including state actors across the South Asia region.

While the Constitution ordains equal rights to each citizen thus making it possible for anyone to take the highest office, it also lays down the unwritten maxim that to take office of importance you have to be a resource of proven credentials and an impeccable track record that even the worst critics too find difficult to negate.

But does India deserve him to be the home minister? Why is that the life and times of 120 crore citizens is entrusted to people who are necessarily not there purely because of their merit? India did breathe a bit easy post 26/11 three years ago under a home minister who, even his worst critics, would not accuse of inefficiency. There was a visible change in levels of terror violence and above a no-nonsense approach to deal with complex issues at hand. He has his own issues including his inability to build greater rapport with his colleagues inside the government here and in states.

Shinde, contrary to his claim to be excellent, has come to be easily identified with pretty mediocrity. He himself might have risen to feel more than happy about his performance for this indeed has been a remarkable journey from being a sub-inspector to being the home minister of the country and who knows someday the prime minister (something the earlier Dalit home minister in Buta Singh could not achieve) of the country.

Did we miss the south and the west being spared the darkness? Get set ready as (appeasement) politics takes complete centre stage.

(The writer is Editor-Zee Research Group (ZRG))