Monday, July 31, 2006

Why Home Minister Shivraj Patil must resign

Home Minister Shivraj Patil's job is to keep Indian citizens safe from crime and internal enemies of civilized society, including terror attacks.

He has failed miserably, as attacks keep on occurring with increasing frequency -- Mumbai, Srinagar, Ayodhya, Nagpur, Ghatkopar, Delhi -- several of these cities having seen multiple attacks in the last year itself -- the list keeps growing.

Two weeks ago, I called for the resignation of India's Home Minister Shivraj Patil for his complete all-round failure in doing anything to stop the Islamic terrorist attacks occurring with increasing frequency on innocent Indian men, women, and children.

Aditi Phadnis writes on Rediff explaining how Shivraj Patil got the Home Minister's job, and why he is completely incapable of carrying out the responsibilities of this important position.

Why we don't need a tentative home minister

July 31, 2006

Shivraj Patil's tentativeness comes across too strongly for comfort in his current job.

A home minister represents strength and security. He should speak sparingly but must be seen as someone who does what he says. If he promises justice, justice should be done. He must always play a straight bat, must be able to tell it like it is, must be seen as taking harsh decisions fearlessly and should not be hampered by considerations of looking good -- both literally and metaphorically.

Shivraj Patil is a good man. But he's none of the above.

In his defence it must be said that India has had a succession of less than successful home ministers. Expectations were high of L K Advani. But there were too many in his own ranks -- like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad -- trying to trip him up even then. Whether it was the Graham Staines murder or the Gujarat riots, the National Democratic Alliance government could never shrug off the image of being partisan. In their hurry to pack off Lalu Prasad in Bihar, the NDA let itself be party to the most colossal mismanagement. Although the Kargil intrusions by Pakistan created the opportunity to rewrite history on border management and internal security issues, radical solutions stayed safely between file covers somewhere in the home ministry.

When the United Progressive Alliance government came to power, there was some internal discussion on who the home minister should be. A distillation of conversations with those privy to the selection process in those chaotic days would suggest there were three reasons for choosing Patil for the job. First, it was clear the Congress had to keep the post. Pranab Mukherjee would have been ideal for the post, having been a member of the Home Ministry Standing Committee for years. But he had tried to become prime minister once. P Chidambaram was at that time still seen as an "outsider". Although Arjun Singh's experience as chief minister was valuable, it was felt he might not be able to take the strain of the job. Patil had been Speaker of the Lok Sabha and in terms of protocol, that placed him virtually on a par with the prime minister.

There were two other compelling reasons for choosing Patil. Sonia Gandhi wanted him. And Sonia Gandhi wanted him.

There is a history behind this. In 1999, when Gandhi first came to Lok Sabha, for days she didn't speak, didn't interject, said nothing, did nothing, prompting the NDA to crow about the rediscovery of the goongi gudiya (dumb doll) -- she had the last laugh, but that's another matter. This was quite simply because Gandhi was, understandably, innocent about parliamentary rules, niceties and trickery. It was Patil who was her deputy in the house, who was at her elbow, guiding her, supporting her and mentoring her. He did this selflessly with no axe of his own to grind. Gandhi has never forgotten those days.

Patil has been minister of state for defence and was given independent charge of the commerce ministry between 1982-83, from where he was shifted to science and technology -- a job that he believes he did really well. In the Rajiv Gandhi government, he was minister for personnel, defence production and later held independent charge of civil aviation and tourism. All important jobs in their own right, but hardly qualifications to becoming an effective home minister.

It is crucial for a home minister to have been chief minister: that's where the nitty-gritty of law and order management is learnt. So it was clear to everyone that Patil needed to be given a job but that the home ministry was not it. That's what he got. But with all this, Patil never got over a tentativeness, a kind of self-deprecation that was never there when he was Speaker, but that comes across too strongly for comfort in his current job. One reason for this could be that he is a Rajya Sabha nominee -- he lost the Lok Sabha election and was immediately given a Rajya Sabha seat. The self-confidence of Pranab Mukherjee and the annoying self-righteousness of Kamal Nath derive from the fact that they are both directly elected. Patil lost the election because of Maharashtra politics and local political equations continue to cast a shadow on the home ministry.

Patil is a Lingayat (a minority caste with origins in neighbouring Karnataka) from Latur (a constituency dominated by Marathas). Two other important state leaders, both Marathas, belong to this small town -- former chief minister Shivajirao Patil-Nilangekar and current chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. The Congress wins elections on the basis of a combination of votes from the Maratha, Muslim and Lingayat communities here. In the 2004 elections, Patil lost to the daughter-in-law of Patil-Nilangekar, which tells its own story about tensions in the local Congress. If Deshmukh ever wants to enter the Lok Sabha, this is the constituency that he will choose. So already from a caste minority, Patil feels hemmed in from all sides. Hence, the lack of assertiveness, the low profile.

This was clearly evident in the handling of the Mumbai bomb blasts. True, law and order is a state subject. Nevertheless, the home minister of India should not be saying that the Centre had the information about the blasts, just not the time and the place. Deshmukh immediately contradicted this. Mercifully, the situation has not reached a point where the chief minister of Maharashtra and the home minister of India are publicly bickering over intelligence. But wait for it.

Looming on the horizon is the Office of Profit Bill. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has gone to President A P J Abdul Kalam four times already to tell him in various ways that the government is preparing to reject his advice. By rights the home minister should be handling this issue. But Patil is too busy roaring at law-breakers, terrorists and assorted villains who are all trembling at the knees.

Wait. Do I hear laughter?


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