Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Delhi political circle feels the Mumbai firing heat: Home Minister resigns

It is time for the serial dresser to hang his boots as well as his crisply-tailored suits. The news of his resignation is yet to sink in one really did not expect the sworn 10, Janpath, loyalist to be shown the door after having miraculously survived in office despite serial blasts shattering national peace time and again during his tenure, more so over the last 4-5 months. Each time, he got away with customary "never again" and "perpetrators will be punished" assurances. So much so, the Prime Minister himself repeatedly defended Mr Patil for doing his job well as a home minister. So when the minister did quit on Sunday taking "moral responsibility" for the security goof-up that led 10 terrorists to lay siege to prime locations in Mumbai and butcher 183 innocent people, one wondered whether Mr Patil's decision to own up was too little and too late. But the truth is that Mr Patil's time was clearly running out. With the minister under constant attack from the Opposition over his shoddy handling of the key home portfolio, senior leaders within the Congress had already started complaining, albeit in a hushed tone, about the impact of his continuation in North Block on the party's electoral prospects in the coming round of assembly polls as well as the 2009 Lok Sabha election. With the party's stand against a tougher terror-law, whether at the Centre or in the states, exposing it to the Opposition's "soft-on-terror" charge, the Congress could ill-afford a home minister who is known more for his natty dressing than his performance on the internal security front. In fact, it was this point that was stressed at Saturday night's CWC meeting, leading to unaninimity that the buck for the UPA's poor track record on tackling terror must stop at none other than Mr Shivraj Patil.

The absence of Mr Patil from the high-level security review meeting chaired by Prime Minister on Saturday afternoon and attended by three services chiefs, intelligence heads and key MHA officials, was the first indication that Mr Manmohan Singh had had enough of the home minister's excuses and alibis.

At the CWC meeting later in the day, Mr Patil is said to have come in the line of fire and was left with no option but to accept a decent exit from the home minister by taking recourse to moral responsibility. Ms Sonia Gandhi, for this time, decided to play the shrewd politician and chose the party over playing favourites.

But now the moot question. With just three months to go for the Lok Sabha poll announcement, it is anybody's guess how far the change in the home ministry will go in achieving the attempted image makeover by the UPA and the Congress. After all, the terror laws will remain unchanged and three months is too little a time to effect any major structural changes in the security apparatus. In fact, the Prime Minister's 100-day taskforce on terrorism will barely manage to take a cursory look at the inadequacies of the security and intelligence systems and offer suggestions to remove them. Given the poor track record of the Centre in evolving a consensus among states on the much-needed federal investigation agency for crimes with inter-state and foreign ramifications, the implementation of the new action plan on terror would at best be left to the next government.

Some security experts are also wondering if Mr Patil's exit will rid the UPA government of its security woes. After all, NSA M K Narayanan, who has himself been speaking about the threat from marine jihadis for over two years now, too failed miserably to get the Navy, Coast Guard, BSF and police of coastal states on a common platform and devise a coordinated action plan to counter terror through sea route.

Intelligence agencies have failed time and again to come up with specific and actionable intelligence on terror plots, exposing key cities like Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Delhi, Hyderabad and Guwahati to deadly terror blasts with daring frequency.

At the end of the day, it would take the UPA more than a portfolio reshuffle to get its act together on the internal security front. A relook at the laws, which must treat terrorists differently from a petty criminal, an overhaul of the internal security apparatus by, possibly, creating a dedicated anti-terror agency like the US department of homeland security and carrying out the death sentence awarded to Parliament House convict Mohammad Afzal without any further delay are some of the measures that may infuse voter confidence in the Congress' ability to tackle terror
Patil was out of sync with the requirement of the job
Finally the Manmohan Singh government has conceded that it does not have a favourable national security image. Mr Shivraj Patil who was dramatically out of sync with the requirement of the job, has vacated his corner room in the North Block for P Chidambaram.

The minister as well as the security establishment that operates out of the Prime Minister's Office have been proving daily that they were woefully unprepared for the international security assignment. While the minister had been robotically repeating puerile "root cause" theories of the seminar halls after every terror outrage, the security brass has not been able to guide or lead the challenges from jehadi terror.

But is a change of face enough for combating the overwhelming public perception that the government does not have a plan to deal with the terror menace. It is a tough task as appeasers in the ruling side, either blind to the threat or having donned blinkers, have been inhibiting the country's fight against terror. While a section within the UPA has been routinely clamoring for according our enemy combatants the benefits of the due process of law, the security leadership has preferred to treat terror as a mere law and order problem.

It is this myopic approach that has led to the huge terror death tolls in the last four and half years. The prime minister's assertions that his government will fight terror sound spurious when his own party leaders deny police forces the right to gun down jehadi menaces without "foolproof evidence". For them, the men who wreaked mayhem in Delhi two months ago were "regular guys" from a reputed university in Delhi and the cop who encountered them was on a suicide mission. As if that weren't enough, some of his ministers want illegal fence-jumpers on our eastern border to be given baraathi status. And worst of all, the government refuses to provide teeth to the laws needed for tacking terrorism.


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