For the past few days, home minister RR Patil has been facing tremendous criticism over the state of law and order in Maharashtra. This is mainly because of two incidents that took place within a week — the murder of anti-superstition activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar in Pune and the brutal gang-rape of a photojournalist in Mumbai.
Unlike previous incidents, Patil has decided not to defend his department. He has also refrained from giving any data claiming how the crime rate is actually falling in his tenure — something he used to do often previously.
Either Patil has learnt the art of keeping quiet in the face of criticism or he has decided to let the storm pass.
For quite some time Patil — once NCP’s poster boy — has been at the receiving end with colleagues from his party as well as NCP’s ally Congress targeting him over matters related to his department.
In the past few years, he successfully tried to keep both NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and his local boss and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar in good humour. However, lately, something seems to have gone wrong between him and Ajitdada.
The latter picks each and every opportunity to slam the home department. When the ambitious project to install a closed circuit television network for surveillance in Mumbai ran into trouble, Ajit pointed fingers at Patil’s department. On August 20, the day Dr Dabholkar was killed, Pawar did not waste time in criticising the police over the incident.
Patil was also locked in a bitter tussle with chief minister Prithviraj Chavan over powers to transfer police officers. Chavan’s aides are still pointing out how any discussion on the home department’s inefficiency comes down to his demand for restoring powers to transfer the police.
But then, over the past decade or so, the post of home minister of Maharashtra has been regarded as a hot seat. In 2003, Chhagan Bhujbal, who came under fire over the Telgi scam, had to quit the post following an attack on a media house. Then Pawar Senior put Patil (who had by then earned the reputation of being a down-to-earth politician) in charge of Home.
Soon after taking over, Patil came up with the dance bar ban and his party even counted it among its achievements during the 2004 assembly polls. Patil’s stakes rose in the party and he was made deputy chief minister after Congress-NCP returned to power in 2004.
His stint in the department was largely peaceful (for him) till the 2008 terror attack on Mumbai. Patil lost the chair following controversy over his remarks and had to sit out of the government till the 2009 assembly polls. To make matters worse, the post went to arch rival Jayant Patil.
After the elections, as the Congress-NCP formed their third government in the state, the NCP chief brought Patil back to the home department. Patil’s adversaries say this was done because he insisted that he wanted to wipe out the blot of the 2008 incident.
However, it also led to a bitter fight between RR and Jayant, who was denied a second stint in the home department. The fight continues till date. Since 2009, RR Patil has been sitting pretty in his chair though there is no dearth of controversies involving his department.
How deep is the trouble he is in now with the home department coming under heavy criticism? Going by what his party colleagues say, the NCP leadership has, so far, not indicated that Patil’s seat is in danger. And with barely a year before the next assembly elections, there will be a few takers for the hot seat…