Sunday, February 10, 2013

Noose you can use..../Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/February 10, 2013

Noose you can use: Shinde takes on opposition, one hanging at a time

If it is the chair that makes the individual, then Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has finally justified his elevation. By dispatching Afzal Guru to the hangman on early Saturday morning, the spirit of the former cop in him triumphed over political conviction. For the past five years, on one pretext or the other, the UPA had been dithering over the issue of sending Afzal to the gallows. With one stroke of his pen, Shinde not only disarmed his most vociferous opponent, the Bharatiya Janata Party, but also regained his lost reputation as a politician who always spoke before thinking. In retrospect, his slips of tongue while speaking at the Jaipur Chintan Shivir weren’t acts of political indiscretion. For the first time, an Indian home minister defined terrorism in terms of religious colour. He accused the RSS of organising camps to train Hindu terrorists, on which he later backtracked saying, “There is no colour to any terrorism… My thought is the same as party’s line.” But now it seems that his action of sending Guru to the gibbet speedily is a calculated attempt to acquire neutrality and legitimacy. It was only after the return of the Congress establishment from Jaipur that the home ministry moved Guru’s fatal file. Shinde also ensured that all the stakeholders were taken on board, including Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who was apprehensive about the move. With the BJP mounting pressure on the government that Shinde should apologise for his remarks or else he should be dismissed from the Cabinet, the UPA leadership was forced to bite the bullet.

Guru was an agent of the evil forces that assaulted the idea and institution of India by attacking Parliament on December 13, 2001. Had the terrorists and their plans succeeded, over half of the Union Cabinet and about 250 MPs would have been slaughtered by the bullets of the would-be assassins. It was the valiant sacrifice of seven security officers which saved the symbol of Indian democracy. Despite the due process of judicial scrutiny at the highest level, Guru had acquired the cult status of being the most powerful symbol of votebank politics, with various parties finding fault with the legal process or the intentions of the government in power. He must have been the only convict whose file for execution meandered up and down the decision route for over six years, covering two presidents, three home ministers and two chief ministers. At every juncture, questions of procedures and law and order were raised. While the government bought time to decide the time of Guru’s execution, the BJP and its allies made it their most potent weapon to attack the UPA for playing votebank politics.
But Shinde had decided to work according to his own mind. He chose his own manner and method to silence his most bitter critics. The home minister, who didn’t think twice while promising to shoot any person if ordered to do so by his political boss Sonia Gandhi, put the file rejecting Guru’s mercy petition on the super-fast track. Curiously, President Pranab Mukherjee accepted the home minister’s recommendations on January 26. Within the next couple of weeks, the file moved from Rashtrapati Bhawan to the home ministry and finally to the Lt Governor’s office in Delhi, clearing the decks for the execution of India’s most politicised terrorist.
Shinde may have been perceived as an embarrassment to the party for his soft and casual attitude, but he has been working according to plan after taking over as home minister on July 31, 2012. He understood that decisive action on terror files would make or mar his political career. As chief minister of Maharashtra, he had learnt the art of handling communally sensitive issues. Quite predictably, he decided to address the concerns of his home constituency. Within two weeks, he moved heaven and earth to get Ajmal Kasab hanged since it was on his watch that 166 Mumbaikars and foreigners were killed in one of the worst terror attacks on India. Once the deed was done, he embarked on the path of taking on the Sangh Parivar. Hardly a day passed when he did not make the RSS or BJP his preferred target. Despite having a cordial relationship with the BJP and RSS leadership, the wily politician didn’t deviate from his secret agenda of sending terrorists to the scaffold.
Shinde’s strategy has been crystal clear. Let the people judge him by his work and not just by his words spoken at political platforms for political expediency. Shinde’s conduct during the past four months is a clear indication that he wouldn’t take on the states, but would definitely take the wind out of the sails of his adversaries. If the sources in North Block are to be trusted, his next target is Balwant Singh Rajoana, who has been awarded the death sentence for the gruesome killing of former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh. The state’s ruling Akali Dal has strongly opposed the move. But with Lok Sabha elections just over a year away, Shinde is quietly preparing the ground for Rajoana’s hanging, which may benefit the Congress at the BJP’s cost. In addition, he has also started building a political consensus for getting Rajiv Gandhi’s killers executed. If he succeeds in his mission, Shinde would only establish his credibility as a home minister who is willing to jump the queue by ignoring religion, caste or region when it comes to dealing with terrorists.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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