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Shinde: Home And Homely

Updated: August 18, 2012 11:42 am

On the morning of July 30th at 4.30 in the morning Congress President Sonia Gandhi called up Sushil Kumar Shinde and wanted to know what was being done to resolve the major power crisis in north India with many states in the midst of a power blackout. Shinde, the country’s Power Minister was in Mumbai getting ready to go to Tirupati for a programme.

After the call, he changed his plan and returned to Delhi by the 6.30 am flight. The last two and a half days of July have seen large parts of the country facing a power crisis and continued blackouts for hours on end. Even before the power crisis could be resolved, Rashtrapati Bhawan issued a notification appointing Shinde as the new Home Minister of India, in place of P Chidambaram.

While television channels put out the breaking news “Shinde rewarded for power crisis in the country”, a wag commented: “The law and order problem created by lack of power can now be resolved by Shinde as the Home Minister.”

For the fair, blue-eyed, ever smiling and ever genial dalit leader from Kolhapur in Maharashtra it has been an impressive and upward climb from the days when he was a sub-inspector. Part of his beat was the Maharashtra Congress office and it was here that Sharad Pawar picked him up and asked him to join politics. The story goes that Shinde was the Investigating Officer (IO) in a case involving Sharad Pawar who was then the general secretary in the party and that is how the two became close. He won the 1973 by-election and was made a minister in the Maharashtra government headed by VP Naik.

Shinde remained loyal to Pawar and left the Congress with him when he floated his own party in 1978 but after 1986 when Pawar merged his party with the Congress, Shinde remained loyal to the Gandhi family and after that never looked back.

Once Chief Minister of Maharashtra, twice PCC President of Maharashtra, longest service finance minister of the state presenting 9 budgets, AICC General Secretary, union minister, governor, Shinde has held innumerable posts having always been promoted as a caste leader by the high command in Delhi but interestingly never been recognised as a caste leader in Maharashtra.

The joke in the Congress is that the party could never use Shinde as a dalit leader since he neither looks like a dalit nor has the habits and attitude of a dalit. His own wife is a Kayastha from the same caste as Bal Thackeray which is why the Shiv Sena has never attacked him on the grounds that “he is one of us” and two out of his three daughters are married to upper castes. His third daughter Praniti is a first-term MLA and unmarried.

Known to be a colourful person, he loves the good things of life and always goes for the best quality whether it be his clothes, his food or his drink. His shoes are specially hand crafted by the Chinese in either Connaught Place or Khan Market and whenever Shinde travels there are people in the staff who reach earlier to ensure the arrangements are more than up to the mark. So much is spoken about his good taste that Rajiv Gandhi visited his farm house in Kolhapur since it had been praised by a lot of people.

Shinde was promoted in national politics and brought to Delhi by PV Narasimha Rao who wanted to build him up to use him against Sharad Pawar. He made him an AICC General Secretary and while Sitaram Kesri was the treasurer, it was Shinde who brought in the big bucks for the Congress from Mumbai where he had innumerable financial, business and corporate connections.

But it was when he became incharge of UP that Shinde became close to the Gandhi family where he would spend from his own pocket to help the workers from Amethi and Rae Bareilly since these workers were in constant touch with the Gandhi family.

“Loyalty” and “ flexibility” are the two words used to describe Sushil Kumar Shinde’s rise from a sub-inspector to the Home Minister of India. As Chief Minister he brought the Congress back to power in Maharashtra but instead of being sworn in as the Chief Minister he was packed off to Andhra Pradesh as the Governor and Vilasrao Deshmukh was made the Chief Minister. But to give him credit, he never spoke a word against the decision after which he returned to Delhi as a union cabinet minister. He was also fielded by the party as a vice presidential candidate during the NDA regime knowing he would lose the election but on the assurance that he would be given a bigger post later. Many in the Congress see him as a future Prime Minister or President, who wears his loyalty to the Gandhi family on his sleeve.

Known to be pro-industry and pro-business house, Shinde was seen as Anil Ambani’s man in the Power Ministry. He awarded mega power projects but many of them were surrounded by scandals and controversies. When a power project was awarded to Anil Ambani in Madhya Pradesh, captive coal mines were also given on the assurance that they be used specifically for the power project. Later, Ambani decided to divert the coal to other projects and areas which was wrongly cleared and given permission by the Power Ministry. In retaliation Tata wrote to the minister saying “if this was the case, we would also have applied”.

But later there appears to have been a falling out with Anil Ambani and the latest reports talk about his extreme closeness to a senior and very powerful Congress leader with whom he built bridges over a period of time.

Government is full of stories about how the Prime Minister has been deeply unhappy with the performance of Shinde and has wanted to change his portfolios many times but 10 Janpath has been a major roadblock in that direction. The fact that there have been zero power reforms in the ministry, that there has been no movement in the power sector with foreign companies preferring to opt out rather than stay put has been a big impediment in boosting the infrastructure required for bringing in foreign companies to invest in India.

The talk in the government now is that after the tough talking and tough acting P Chidambaram, how will the soft-spoken Shinde, who appears incapable of either acting or talking tough, manage to step into Chidambaram’s shoes?

P Chidambaram, on the other hand, appears to be on a roll, having been handpicked by Sonia Gandhi to return to Finance in the wake of Pranab Mukherjee’s elevation to Rashtrapati Bhawan. The Prime Minister was keen to keep Finance for another few months till the economy stabilised but a not so gentle push from 10 Janpath helped the Prime Minister make up his mind. Sonia Gandhi apparently did not want bureaucrats to act as proxy for the Prime Minister and run the Finance Ministry. Senior AICC leaders were clear that “the Prime Minister’s health would not allow him to keep finance”.

While the decision on Shinde and Chidambaram were dictated by Sonia Gandhi, zeroing in on Veerapa Moily had the backing of both the Prime Minister and Rahul Gandhi, it is said. After the activities of Salman Khurshid in corporate affairs it was decided to bring in Moily there and now the much in the news Power portfolio has been given to him as additional charge with strong criticism of why a crucial ministry like Power has been given to a part-time minister.

Moily’s son and daughter are both known to be close to Rahul Gandhi apart from the fact that he is seen as a competitive minister who has written extensively on power. Sources say he is close to the controversial Reddy brothers of Karnataka, Moily’s home state and they have major stakes in the power sector.

With Rahul Gandhi still undecided about taking the plunge into the government, Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh have undertaken a very limited exercise in their bid to recast the cabinet where a number of ministers are holding dual charge of key portfolios.

For a government which has been accused of policy paralysis and indecision, Shinde would be watched with a hawk’s eye. Maoists activities have increased in a large number of states and the question has also arisen whether the Congress-led government would take a tough stand in dealing with right wing “Hindu terror outfits” in the run up to the 2014 general elections.

Sources say that while the Congress key ally Sharad Pawar is not happy with the elevation of Shinde as Home Minister, he would be the flexible Home Minister when it comes to dealing with crucial files like the one on Lavasa where Pawar has a deep interest. After the pandora’s box had opened up Prithviraj Chavan against Pawar, the Congress leadership may need to tone down the Pawar anger and Shinde could just be the man to do it.

While Chidambaram is likely to face the opposition heat in the monsoon session of Parliament over his role in the 2G spectrum scam and Shinde may be targeted for his incompetence in power, the Congress has obviously decided it is business as usual for the ruling party even as it goes all out to back its men to the hilt!

By Renu Mittal

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