Not India’s most successful power minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde might make a better home minister, says Aditi Phadnis
Sushil Kumar Shinde will leave a ministry where unedifying leadership has become a kind of a tradition. 2012 was when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government promised the people of India there would be electricity for all. Today, when half of India has been plunged into darkness, Shinde, in his second term as power minister, has proved that to be a successful power minister, you need to be half a policeman.
India has had a series of amiable but clueless power ministers, beginning with P M Sayeed—a decent, upright, righteous, non-performing asset in a ministry as crucial as power. Sayeed would have been lost without his secretary, RV Shahi, who was apparently so indispensable to the power ministry that he served two governments and three ministers without skipping a beat. PM Sayeed refused to replace him, and he continued as secretary during a part of the Shinde dispensation as well.
So, you could say indiscipline on the part of the states and a laid-back bureaucracy let Shinde down in the power ministry. But what about Home ? Half the problem in the home ministry is managing the states. This is why in a sort of unstated convention, the home minister should have been a chief minister at some point in his career. This practice was discontinued in the case of the last four home ministers —Indrajit Gupta, LK Advani, Shivraj Patil and P Chidambaram.
Now, that is about to change. Shinde is not a novice at administration. He was brought into politics by Sharad Pawar, giving up a job in the lower bureaucracy in 1971, through a by-election in Solapur. He became a minister soon after. He’s been the chief minister of Maharashtra and it was on his watch in 2004 that the Congress won the election, though with significantly fewer numbers. This could be because during the earlier assembly elections, the Congress offered free electricity to farmers and a package to Vidarbha cotton farmers—both promises it was unable to keep. Shinde is a Dalit from Solapur. Dalits of Maharashtra were promised reservation in private sector units that had come up on land given by the government. This is yet to be implemented.
Obviously, Shinde owes a debt of gratitude to mentor Pawar, which he has repaid in full measure. The story of how the Congress was cheated out of forming a government in Maharashtra on its own terms after 2004 is interesting. In 16 seats, Congress was placed at number two. Sharad Pawar laid claim to these 16 seats. They were conceded. So, at one stroke, 16 seats, in which the Congress could have had a chance to win, were lost to it. Pawar won 13 of these 16, which immediately strengthened his negotiating power.
If the Congress had contested these seats and won even 10 out of 16, it may have been able to negotiate from a position of strength. Shinde’s wife’s nomination for the Assembly elections was seen as a quid pro quo for the deal. She lost.
Now, Shinde’s name has been mentioned in the Adarsh Housing scam. As chief minister in 2003-04, Shinde gave the final sanction to Adarsh. You could say he merely initialled something that came up the chain. In its chargesheet filed two weeks ago, the CBI had given him the benefit of doubt. Both he and his friend and colleague Vilasrao Deshmukh (known in Mumbai as do hanson ka joda) have been named as witnesses.
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