You cannot ignore this as a gaffe, insensitive ministerial conduct or a gross oversight. Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde sat clueless in the Rajya Sabha when Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley pointed out to him that he had published the names of the Bhandara rape victims in his statement. The minister looked awkwardly at the Deputy Chairman who was presiding over the House and tried to figure out what had gone wrong. It was only when PJ Kurien asked for the names to be expunged did the minister become aware of the error.
It is worrying that the minister who is entrusted with the country’s security is not even aware that he is breaking a law, and flouting Supreme Court guidelines. Had he not enjoyed immunity for having made the statement on the floor of the Parliament he would have attracted penal provisions which could have entailed handing down a six month jail-term along with a hefty fine. Had it been a case of negligence alone, one could have been slightly more sympathetic towards him. But it seems that the statement had passed through half a dozen bureaucrats in North Block without being corrected.
Such is the efficiency of the civil servants that they make a laughing stock of their powerful minister. And Shinde is worse off because he has routinely exposed the shallowness of his ideas in his numerous public articulations. That he suffers from a foot-in-mouth disease is a proven charge. Earlier, the same bureaucracy in the home ministry had prepared a list of most wanted fugitives which was handed over to Pakistan in March, 2011 and which, embarrassingly enough, contained a few bogus names including that of a Mumbai resident. At the time, even the mighty Palaniappan Chidambaram had to regret the serious mistake.
In fact, on the afternoon of his blunder, Shinde read out two very insipid statements, first on Jaitley’s telephone tapping and then on the gruesome Bhandara rape and murder case. The statements appeared to be tight-lipped clerical accounts of police investigation. The MPs complained in a chorus that they knew much more than what the minister had revealed from private television channels. Shinde appears to have replaced Chidamaram and immediately pushed back statement drafting to the Cold War era. You can almost see a peremptory Indira Gandhi of the early Eighties sitting next to him in the first row of the treasury benches and not a placid, blue-turbaned Manmohan Singh.
A month ago in Jaipur, the minister had accused the BJP and its ideological mentor – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – of inciting “Hindu” terror. It was a politically unwise move. As a senior leader of his party he was well aware that his party’s official line was not to mix terror with any religion. Soon after that ill-advised statement, the Congress distanced itself from the home minister, arguing that saffron was one of the chosen colours of the national flag and couldn’t be an inspiration for something as vile as terrorism. Shinde had to express his regret before the BJP withdrew the party’s official boycott of the home minister.
That Shinde is capable of stooping low became evident the day he snapped at Jaya Bachchan. The film actor turned Samajwadi politician was on her toes protesting against the manner in which she thought the home minister was evading specific questions on the Assam violence. Shinde taunted her: “This is a serious matter. This is not the subject of a film.” Again, Jaitley put his foot down and demanded the minister apologise for hurting the sentiments of an important Parliamentarian known for her immense contribution to the world of films. The Minister, realising that matters were going out of hand, promptly asked for the MP’s forgiveness and even added that she was like “my sister”.
These are not the only examples of Shinde’s bungling. When asked why he did not visit the protest site after the Delhi gang-rape, he famously said: “Tomorrow if BJP workers or Maoists demonstrate with weapons, will I go and meet them too.” On Coalgate too, he had made yet another unforgettable remark. Shinde said that the coal block allotment would be buried in oblivion just like the Bofors and petrol pump distribution scams. He went on to add that public memory was short.
If there were stricter eligibility criteria for a Union home minister, Shinde probably wouldn’t have made it this far. He has survived essentially because he is a sycophant par excellence and has inveigled his way into the good books of 10 Janpath. It is remarkable that even 10 Janpath has always been forgiving and ensured the political longevity of this Maharashtra politician.
Diptosh Majumdar is national affairs editor of DNA