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Soft on Shivraj Patil

I know this won’t make me terribly popular among the armed forces, the well-heeled and the firm-jawed, but I can’t help but think that we’re being a bit rough on the old dearie, Shivraj Patil, writes Indrajit Hazra.

india Updated: Sep 20, 2008 23:05 IST
Indrajit Hazra

Main daaru peeke baitha hoon? (Am I drunk and just sitting here?)
Shivraj Patil, September 16

Main daaru peeke baitha hoon. (I am drunk and just sitting here.)
Indrajit Hazra, September 20

I know this won’t make me terribly popular among the armed forces, the well-heeled and the firm-jawed, but I can’t help but think that we’re being a bit rough on the old dearie, Shivraj Patil. On the evening of the Delhi serial blasts, the man changes his suit thrice and the unwashed masses and the well-scrubbed media pounce on him like a pack of ex-home ministers.

So this Lingayat is Brahminical about personal hygiene. So what? It was a warm, muggy Saturday evening and the chaos of terrorist attacks and television cameras would have made even the likes of Rudi Giuliani break into a sweat. And as an informed source — Patil himself, actually — said: if in the course of “13 hours of work” a man takes a few baths and changes his “dress” a few times, is it a “crime”? (Before you answer that, the correct answer is ‘no’.)

The problem with Home Minister Patil isn’t that he suffers from a sartorial variant of obsessive-compulsive disorder, or that he should have stopped the Delhi bombings. Frankly, anybody on his beat wouldn’t have been able to stop such an attack with the present laws and policies against terrorism in place. The problem is that Patil heads a Ministry of a government in which the lights are on but nobody’s Home.

There’s much talk in the last few days about installing an Internal Security Minister. As with so many other bright ideas that this government has had over the last 203 years in office, this one too smells ‘Lakmé product’ all over.

For starters, the news from Blockhead Block is that ‘young blood’ is being sought for the job as it will bring “an energetic feeling” to tackling terror. I’m not too sure who high up in those towers has been seeing those Rambo: Director’s Cut DVDs. But I very much doubt whether we’ll be hearing jehadi knees knocking against each other just because someone who can do a dozen push-ups with one hand will become India’s first Internal Security Minister. And to complete the whole paradigm shift in the country’s counter-terrorism policy, who will Young Johnny Bravo report to? Why, the wise, but right now not-quite-the-Poster Boy Shivraj Patil, of course.

But Patil isn’t the Lone Ranger that everyone — including his bosses — wants him to be seen as. He’s just wearing the sheriff’s badge while the town’s getting ransacked by Islamic terrorists, Naxals, born-again Jammu-Kashmir hardliners, Christian-bashers...

Then there’s us. The same folks now demanding tougher anti-terror laws, will be the first ones to dash off emails to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights when a guard attempts to pat us down before we enter a shopping mall.

Simply wanting tougher anti-terrorist laws — something that both my driver Murugan and my Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit want — is being as helpful as desiring world peace. The nuts and bolts of a more stringent law are to be hammered out by the bunch of which Shivraj Patil is just one bad sound-bite, good dress-sense entity.

But this bunch is terribly anxious about all kinds of repercussions:

What if the Opposition agrees to a tougher law? Will that mean losing our USP of being ‘secular’? What if being nasty to potential terrorists is mistaken by certain quarters as being nasty to other people? Will that mean losing lots and lots of votes? What if terrorists can be won over by tender love and care? Won’t that be worth the feet-shuffling in the long-term?

What if Shivraj Patil stops taking the flak for the mess the country’s in? Oh dear. We’ll then be exposed.