'Loyalist' Shinde's elevation reveals poor political culture

Written by: Shubham Ghosh

Several key sectors in the country are reeling under some form of crisis or another but the government of the country prefers to play musical chair with its ministers. The power sector witnessed an unprecedented crisis the other day and the minister in charge was shifted to the home department.

Musical Chair

The Home Minister, P Chidambaram, was in turn, transferred to the finance department for the person who was looking after that department found a new shelter in the Rashtrapati Bhavan! The Power Ministry, meanwhile, was put under the added responsibility of the corporate affairs minister, an incumbent who himself has seen his ministerial office changing address time and again.

Sushil Kumar Shinde Chidambaram

Reshuffle in the ministry is not the issue for it is an important part of the government's exercise. The problem is: What is the top leadership's line of judgement when it comes to make such important transfers? Finance, home or railways are not just another ministries and they need strong hands to thrive. And of course, there is the timing to effect such changes.

Ministers petty pawns today?

Shinde's latest promotion sends across an alarming signal: Have ministers lost their significance in the India of 2012? It is already a known fact that various institutions in Indian democracy have seen substantial decline in their characters over the recent past. Are ministers also being relegated to just pawns in the business? Is that we are facing a severe lack of leadership which can steer the nation towards a better future? New Delhi's reaction to the latest power crisis hints at that. If another failure occurs after Shinde's departure, who will be held responsible? Or it will be just another washing-off hands by the escapist rulers of the country?

Shinde failed in the Power Ministry

Shinde did not do anything extra-ordinary during his stint in the power sector (he was there since January 2006) and following the grid collapse of Jul 31, Shinde was heard saying that such grid failures are a common occurrence and his sector did react to the challenge quite efficiently. The power sector has been in a mess for a long time now.

The power-generation capacity has not improved while populist governments have let the state boards bleed and die a slow death. Several power plant projects have been left stalled due to various reasons, including an inefficient functioning of the leadership, and not mention, the rampant corruption that is exploiting the crucial sector day in and day out. The former minister could not exert any influence to rectify problems on grounds and yet he was gifted with a more important department.

Shocking politics of patronage

It is said the Dalit leader from Solapur in Maharashtra got his prize for being loyal to the Gandhis. His proximity to Sonia Gandhi came into prominence since the late 1990s and he served as the leader's election manager in Amethi during the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. He was fielded in the vice-presidential election in 2002 which he lost.

He was made the chief minister of Maharashtra and the Governor of Andhra Pradesh in 2003 and 2004, respectively, but he did not serve the full term. Once encouraged by Sharad Pawar to join politics, Shinde also served as various ministers in Maharashtra for a long time. Shinde even fell out with Pawar later and remained firmly loyal to the Gandhis. The possibility of making Shinde the next Lok Sabha leader would also be difficult for Pawar to digest.

But while Shinde might smile (he is called 'hasmukh' or happy face for his ever-smiling face), the rest of India would remain apprehensive about the functioning of the new home minister. There will be a huge trust deficit for the new minister for the message would be: Shinde has been awarded not for his performance but for his sycophancy, the rule which rules supreme in the Congress culture. It is said that even the Prime Minister was not happy with Shinde's functioning in the power ministry and wanted to change his portfolio. He could not move ahead for Shinde is a close ally of 10 Janpath Road. There are voices within the Congress itself who feel that Shinde will struggle with the Home Ministry.

Dangerous trends

The current brand of politics leaves a dangerous impression. If leaders like Shinde, who are basically faceless and have zero administrative capacity, are awarded for their non-confrontational attitude, then what is in store for future? Something similar is happening with the railways where a minister with zero-credibility has been given the charges just because his party boss has hijacked the ministry in the name of 'coalition compulsion'.

It took a 26/11 to remove Shivraj Patil

Shinde's fate in the home ministry can go the way of Shivraj Patil, another veteran Congress leader who was known for his loyalty to the dynasty and struggled as a home minister. It took a devastating incident like the 26/11 to remove Patil from the important ministry. Shinde, on his very first day after assuming office, found that the path to the home ministry is not laden with roses, thanks to the Pune blasts.

That dynastic politics and the politics of sycophancy that results from it, have put the country at a great peril today. We are awarding people with 'unshakable loyalty' to hold high positions and not identifying true characters to do the job. How will the Dalit factor deliver in ensuring internal security for the countrymen? Why isn't there a political culture that breeds efficiency by weeding out failures? The Congress is more than happy in promoting people close to the Gandhis instead of new leaders. The young leader in Rahul Gandhi (here too a Gandhi) clearly looks unprepared to discover the party in a new way. It is high time that the government machinery is freed from the evil grips of petty party politics. This is making India more and more vulnerable to disruptive forces.

Removing the minister when his ministry is in crisis: Is this a political culture?

On the timing of the reshuffle, Shinde during an interview to a news channel said that there was no issues with naming him the home minister just when the country struggled with a worst-ever power crisis. He said the cabinet reshuffle was going on for some time and it had nothing to do with the power failure, which was 'just an accident'.

Even Pranab Mukherjee vacated the finance minister's post to become the President when the country was faring poorly in terms of economy. These give a cumulative impression that the rulers of the nation are little bothered about the state of the nation. Narrow-visioned politics have left the millions at the mercy of the Almighty.

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