Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil is under attack, now from all sides including members of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
Even his Congress colleagues have begun to shake their heads in disapproval. And it is not simply about his suits.
“There is a question mark over him,” conceded a senior Congress official close to the party’s decision-making process. But, he quickly added, Patil’s removal was not going to be easy.
His exit would come as a confirmation of the Opposition’s charges of the ruling UPA being soft on terror. “We don’t want to play into the hands of the Opposition which has singled out Patil for attack,” the party official said.
But the home minister seemed unperturbed by the storm swirling around him. He told CNN-IBN: “I enjoy the full faith of my leadership.”
Questions about Patil’s future came up on Monday after word went around that he had been kept out of a meeting Congress president Sonia Gandhi had with party leaders to discuss terrorism.
The party, however, played down the meeting. “She met some senior leaders in groups on issues like the Delhi blasts and the attack on churches in Karnataka,” said a source.
Among those whom Sonia met included Union ministers Pranab Mukherjee and A.K. Antony, and party functionaries Ahmed Patel, Margaret Alva, Digvijay Singh and Veerappa Moily.
On his part, Patil dismissed reports of being kept out of the meeting. “This is all baseless. My party and my leader do not act in this manner,” he said.
But Congress sources said there was unease in the ruling alliance over a growing public perception that the home minister had under-performed.
Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, whose RJD is a part of the UPA, demanded on Monday an all-party meeting and a special session of Cabinet to discuss and evolve a national response to the threat posed by terrorists. This was seen as a veiled attack on the home minister.
“I met the PM and Sonia Gandhi today,” Yadav told HT. “I urged them to call a special Cabinet meeting and a meeting of the UPA allies to discuss issues arising out of the Delhi blasts.”
The railway minister then went after the intelligence units — which are administered by the home ministry — for failure to prevent terrorist strikes. But he did not attack Patil himself.
While the Opposition was always critical of the home minister, now the allies had turned against him, and some people in his own party. And not in the least for his sartorial sense — he is believed to have to changed thrice on Saturday, the day 23 people died in a series of five bomb explosions in Delhi.
“His sartorial tastes do not sit well with the challenges of internal security,’’ said a UPA leader.
Patil reacted: “Just because I don’t shout or scream doesn’t mean I’m weak.”
The Congress has not abandoned him, yet. “The Opposition’s demand for his resignation is cheap politics. How many times did L.K. Advani, home minister during the NDA regime, resign?” asked spokesman Abhishek Singhvi, recalling the terror strikes, including the attack on Parliament House.
The Samajwadi Party too spoke in his defence. “The only mistake he made was to change his clothes three times. Can you remove him for this?” asked Amar Singh.