It is not easy being a Home Minister in a country like India. Ask L.K. Advani, the leader who so desperately craved to be recognized as the natural inheritor of the legacy left behind by India's first Home Minister Sardar Patel. Despite his image as a hard liner and a nationalist, Advani himself knows that his performance as Union Home Minister was not something that historians will rave about. But he can find comfort in the fact that his far from sterling performance looks incredibly good when you compare it with some politicians from Maharashtra. Just pause and think about it for a moment: how can a state that has given so many towering leaders throw up such abysmal home ministers?
This correspondent wrote a cover story in 2007 for this magazine with the headline: Where Next? That story basically told what everybody in Delhi and beyond already knew. It was about how clueless the dapper Shivraj Patil was as Union Home Minister in UPA-1 and how he appeared more interested in changing his clothes after a terror attack than goading his officials to go after terrorists. In case you have forgotten, the track record of UPA-1 when it comes to terror attacks is worse than that of the NDA regime when terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament and when India had to suffer the ignominy and indignity of the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight to Kandhar. The capital Delhi was rocked in 2005 by a series of bomb blasts that left hundreds dead and more scarred for life. The next year, bombs planted in local trains in Mumbai killed scores of innocent commuters and inspired a film called "A Wednesday" where Nasseruddin Shah plays an "aam aadmi" who sets out to kill terrorists in his own unique way. In the meanwhile, Naxalites had been rampaging in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha. Then came the shocking exposures that most Indians were afraid to admit: the first that some Indian Muslims via the Indian Mujahideen were waging their own twisted version of Jihad and second, that some Hindu groups were plotting terror strikes of their own as revenge. Of course, our honourable Home Minister seemed to prefer calling all these bloodthirsty killers misguided Indians. Even as terrorists struck at will across India, Shivraj Patil seemed very secure in his job and kept proclaiming his undying loyalty to the Gandhi family. By the time the Batla house encounter, where some alleged terrorists and a policeman were killed, Shivraj Patil had become a national joke. And yet he remained the Home Minister and kept changing his dress before every TV appearance. It was only the outrage and perfidy of 26/11 that perhaps persuaded the real ruler of India Sonia Gandhi to let go of this embarrassment of a Home Minister called Shivraj Patil. In any other functional democracy, this man would have been hounded and exiled for his abject failure to protect Indian lives. But then, we have democracy Indian style so the dapper gentleman is now a Governor.
It would be difficult even for the cynical to compare Shivraj Patil with fellow politician from his state Sushil Kumar Shinde who now embarrasses the country almost every week with his laughable performance as the Home Minister. Shinde is another Congressman who pledges and proclaims his undying loyalty to the Gandhi family. Just recall how he reacted and behaved after the horrific gang-rape and murder of Nirbhaya when citizens in Delhi took to the streets to protest. He sounded genuinely puzzled in an interview with the behaviour of the protestors who refused to be cowed down by police brutality. In his opinion, Madam Sonia Gandhi had given an audience to some protestors and listened to them and so the grateful citizens of Delhi should have gone back to their homes because Madam had heard them. Just look at the perverse audacity of his sycophancy.
But then, Sushil Kumar Shinde, like fellow Maharashtrian Shivraj Patil is in the race to be anointed the worst Home Minister ever by future historians. So don't be surprised when he actually manages to repeat a statement in the Parliament without realising he is making a fool of himself on live television. In fact, his appointment as Union Home Minister reflects the casual arrogance with which the Congress treats Indian citizens as subjects.
When Shinde was Minister of Power, half the country shut down because of an unprecedented collapse of the power grid that prompted many across the world to laugh and mock at the sheer incompetence of Indians. Within 48 hours of this disgrace, Shinde was rewarded with the critical post of Home Minister. He has since performed as expected, with the nonchalant incompetence that only a sycophantic courtier can manage.
There is indeed a mystery here: the abysmal performance of Maharashtra politicians as home ministers. The whole world blames the then Prime Minister P.V. Narashima Rao for his failure to prevent the demolition of the Babri Masjid and its horrific aftermath that India is still suffering from. But how many remember that it was S.B. Chavan who was the Union Home Minister at that time? For that matter, do you know that Narashima Rao, though a product of Andhra Pradesh, used to contest Lok Sabha elections from Maharashtra? The irony is: Rao was Union Home Minister in 1984 when Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her own body guards and the Congress presided over the massacre of innocent Sikhs.
Just look at things in perspective. In the last three decades or so, 1984, 1992, 2001 and 2008 are the most disgraceful moments in contemporary Indian history. And barring 2001, it has been a Maharashtra politician who has been home minister. A Marathi friend explained the logic. According to him, even though the Marathas were among the last to be subdued by the British, it is they who threw up the most pro-British royals in Gwalior, Indore and Baroda.