Monday, September 22, 2008

Power & Politics/Mail Today, September 22, 2008

THE CASSANDRAS have got it wrong once again and Shivraj Patil, the Serial Dresser who is also our Home Minister survives, which means a lot of ordinary lives will continue to be at risk. After 9/ 13, the airwaves were crackling with pundits and sundry analysts predicting Patil’s impending political death but last week after hunting down two terrorists in Delhi, he was on TV, scowl replaced by smile, as he congratulated the Delhi Police for a job well done.

Not only has he managed to retain his ornate room in North Block, his backers succeeded in torpedoing moves to appoint a junior minister for Internal Security. Remember, Patil had rejected demands for his resignation saying “ Why should I resign when I have the confidence of my leader?” And so, armed with that trust and nothing else, he continues to preside over the insecurity of 1.10 billion Indians.

I was always certain it would take more than pathetic performance to ease Patil out of office. Because he is special. He lost the 2004 Lok Sabha election from Latur and it is said that had he won, Patil and not Manmohan Singh would have been Sonia Gandhi’s choice as prime minister. The people of Latur truly deserve the nation’s gratitude for their political foresight. But the man dumped by his constituents was resurrected by his political masters because he has in him the virtues necessary for climbing up the Congress ladder.

For one, he is rootless, shuns factionalism, and is a devotee of Sai Baba and 10 Janpath.
The last of these has been a prerequisite for a job at North Block ever since Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980. Be it Giani Zail Singh or Buta Singh, they were all loyalists. Rajiv Gandhi did appoint Arun Nehru and P. Chidambaram as ministers of state for internal security but then one was a relative and other was good at his job.

Sonia Gandhi’s political instincts are quite different from Indira’s and Rajiv’s.
Both mother and son were not known to allow any leader to settle down on the job and kept changing chief ministers and Cabinet ministers. Sonia, on the other hand, is all for stability. Since she took over as Congress chief in 1998, most chief ministers have been allowed to complete their full terms while at the Centre, the UPA Cabinet has seen the minimum of tinkering irrespective of the performance of ministers.

Not many will remember that AR Antulay, Mahavir Prasad and Sisa Ram Ola are Cabinet ministers precisely because they, like Shivraj Patil, do nothing. So why single out Patil alone for punishment, particularly when his utility value has nothing to do with his efficiency as a minister? For one, as home minister, Patil gets to fly out in the ministry’s jet to all the trouble spots in the country and he must thank the Lord, Sonia too is seen commiserating with victims in Hyderabad, Jaipur, Bangalore and other far- flung places.

Lest you wonder how she manages to reach these places in a jiffy, let me tell you Patil’s ministry has an entire aircraft fleet at his beck and call. He then accompanies her. There is not only misuse of the official aircraft, Sonia also gets all the official trappings from state governments which otherwise she is not entitled to as a mere MP from Rae Bareily or even as the Congress chief.

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