Home minister Shivraj Patil has apparently bought time but not a lease of life in the sensitive ministry under attack for its failure to curb terrorism. In fact, his role will be under greater scrutiny after the Cabinet’s approval of his wishlist to tone up the counter-terror mechanism.
From all available indications, the Congress-UPA leadership has “neither shelved nor abandoned” the proposal to appoint a minister of state for internal security, on the lines of Rajiv Gandhi's 1985-86 experiment when Arun Nehru held the charge. The problem, however, is about paucity of talent.
“There isn’t a clear candidate yet among the younger leaders,” said a Congress source. He said if the change happens, it would be done in a manner that denies credit to the BJP, which is seeking Patil’s scalp.
But the home minister’s position has been damaged as much by UPA allies like Lalu Prasad, who had at the time of government formation in 2004 offered himself for the portfolio. The irony in his criticism now cannot be missed as he had welcomed lifting of the ban on SIMI. With polls around the corner in six state assemblies, including Delhi, even CM Sheila Dixit found it expedient to criticize the functioning of Patil’s ministry to assuage popular sentiment after the recent blasts.
In this backdrop, Patil would have to shape up to avoid being shipped out. By reverting to the Rajiv formula, the UPA can, if it gets a good candidate, kill two birds with one stone. “Patil can be retained to do political management while leaving operational tasks to his junior,” said a minister. But what form such segregation takes remains in the realm of conjecture.
For instance, as internal security minister, Nehru had a special secretary who didn’t report to the Union home secretary. Even the IB reported directly to him. “It was a ministry within a ministry that gave Rajiv Gandhi and me direct control of things,” Nehru told HT. He claimed the terms of engagement changed after he left the ministry.
“The issue might be revisited once the PM returns from his foreign tour next month,” Congress sources said.