The North Block Change

With Sushil Kumar Shinde taking over as the new Home Minister, Kashmir Life’s Delhi Bureau offers a keyhole view of the changes that may take place in Kashmir, a hyper-sensitive state that P Chidambaram handled almost directly and personally.

Photo:Bilal Bahadur
Photo:Bilal Bahadur

A day ahead of the Independence Day when the Union Home Secretary, R K Singh was briefing his new minister Sushil Kumar Shinde on the security arrangements and preparations made for smooth celebrations, Singh tried to seek instructions for additional security arrangements in Srinagar. Again on the eve of Eid, when Singh asked for a brief, insiders say, the Home Minister got irritated and told the secretary that J&K had an elected government and he need not seek his instructions on day-to-day law and order functioning; also, his hands were full from Pune blasts to Assam riots.

Shinde told Singh that as per the constitutional scheme of things, usual law and order issues were in the domain of the state government. But when told that that law and order and security situation was not only being constantly reviewed but also governed by New Delhi  since 2010 street protests and that too with permission from, Omar Abdullah’s government, the new Home Minister felt awkward to pass day-to-day law and order instructions. He is stated to have told officials to return to him only in case of emergencies and let the state government take onus of law and order affairs.

It is believed that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, ostensibly to absolve himself from any reckless decision aggravating the fragile security scenario, had allowed the former home minister P Chidambaram to review the situation in valley, take decisions and instruct security grid on daily basis. As per an arrangement laid out by Chidambaram, Home Secretary was to take a report directly from IGs of Jammu and Kashmir Police, Unified Headquarter, and brief Home Minister daily to take order and to pass instructions directly without involving either the Chief Minister or the state home department.

Even the top post police officer in the country, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief, has been interacting with the lower brass of Jammu and Kashmir Police and instructing them directly since 2010. It is more or less a symbiotic relationship. It had insulated the young Omar from charges of failing on security front, though at the cost of parting away his federal powers.

Sources close to Shinde said the new Home Minister wondered that such an arrangement, even with any Congress chief minister in any part of country, would rake a major controversy. The states from time to time have taken umbrage at the intervention of central government. Quite recently, the UPA ally, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee put the Centre on notice that it should not interfere in the country’s federal structure and law and order management system of states in the name of fighting terrorism. “We want all terrorist movements to be stopped. But in the name of fighting terrorism, do not interfere in the federal structure or the law and order because it is a state subject. It is not nice to bulldoze the federal structure,” Banerjee said at the last conference of chief ministers in Delhi. Her views were echoed by other chief ministers as well.

The change of guard in the Union home ministry on July 31, 2012 has been most noticed by the ministry’s Kashmir Division. Though, insiders say, due to his preoccupation with others issues, Shinde is yet to take a full-fledged meeting of Kashmir Division, he has asked officials not to involve him in issues in the domain of the state government.

Many security experts have dubbed Shinde a greenhorn on security issues, in contrast to his predecessor Chidambaram, who had taken over as the home minister immediately after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. He took charge of the India’s internal security at a time when the stewardship of the ministry under his predecessor, Shivraj Patil had come in for severe criticism because of his perceived poor handling of terrorism and insurgency. Chidambaram had earlier held charge creditably as the minister of state for internal security during the prime ministership of the late Rajiv Gandhi.

Chidambaram’s tenure of almost four years as the home minister saw a noticeable improvement in the professional management of

Sushil Kumar Shinde
Sushil Kumar Shinde

internal security apparatus. In the midst of 2010 summer agitation, he lend urgency to resolving Kashmir issue and said it was a unique problem demanding unique resolution. He allowed security agencies to go after Hindu terrorist groups involved in Malegao, Makkah Masjid (Hyderabad) and Samjhauta Express bomb blasts. He invited the ire of Hindu extremist groups and even the BJP for exposing Hindu groups’ involvement in terrorism. During Shivraj Patil’s tenure, even for these blasts, Muslim youth were rounded up and tortured during interrogations. Even confessions were extracted from them. Apart from his other reforms in security structure, this was Chidambaram’s single most remarkable achievement.

It is believed that while Chidambaram’s professional management was very good despite reservations, his political management, which depends on equation with state leaders from different parties and civil society groups, was irregular. His action in having Anna Hazare arrested and detained on flimsy grounds at Tihar jail  and his inability to get the support of some of the chief ministers for setting up the NCTC did not speak well of his political understanding and reflexes. His attitude had angered many chief ministers as well.

Shinde, who stepped into the shoes of Chidambaram, is believed to fill the political void. Not many people know that he has been an old hand in Kashmir as well. As general secretary in-charge at the height of militancy between 1992 and 1995, he has handled affairs of Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC), which was then headed by Ghulam Rasood Kar. Congress activists believe he knows all state leaders by their names and cannot be hoodwinked by the factional leaders. He knows strengths and weakness of the local Congress leaders.

Commenting on Chidambaram’s tenure, former RAW chief B. Raman said he will be remembered for his contribution to the creation of near-normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir as well as a relaxed relationship with the state governments. At a time when the allies in Srinagar, the Congress and the National Conference, are showing uneasiness and fatigue, it is to be seen how long the Shinde, a hardcore Congressman, unlike his predecessor, would accommodate Omar Abdullah at the cost of political fortunes of his own party.

Shinde, the new Home Minister
Sushil Kumar Shinde a Maharashrian Dalit leader, was born in Solapur in 1941. A BA and LLB, Shinde initially joined the Maharashtra police force to seek a livelihood. Encouraged by Sharad Pawar, he quit his job as the Sub Inspector in 1971 and joined politics, earning his first electoral win from Solapur in 1974. He has won 7 state elections and served as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra from 2003 –2004. He has been a part of several key ministries like Finance, Planning, Industry, Urban Development, Youth and Social Welfare, Sports, Transport, Health and Labour in Maharashtra.

Shinde was elected to Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra during July 1992 to March 1998. He acted as Sonia Gandhi’s campaign manager in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh in 1999. In 2002, Shinde contested the election for the post of Vice-President of India against the National Democratic Alliance’s candidate Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and lost. On October 30, 2004, Shinde was appointed the Governor of Andhra Pradesh. He replaced Surjit Singh Barnala, who became the Governor of Tamil Nadu. He served as governor for slightly more than one year before resigning and leaving office on January 29, 2006.

Shinde was elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha for second time from Maharashtra on March 20, 2006. Shinde also became the leader of the house of Lok Sabha after Pranab Mukherjee was elected President. The mild mannered Shinde married Ujwala in 1970 and has three daughters. He is known to be a staunch Sonia Gandhi loyalist and a committed party member. His popularity in Maharashtra is evident from the fact that though a Dalit, he has won most of his elections from General Category seats.

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