Shinde regrets alright but is Congress on sticky wicket?

It’s not often that a top leader of the country’s oldest political party regrets a remark on the opposition. So is the story before the stormy budget session starting today going to spell endgame for the home minister?

shantanu

Shantanu Datta | February 20, 2013


Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde: After brave action on two hangings, a
Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde: After brave action on two hangings, a

Is Sushilkumar Shinde, the home minister of India and leader of Lok Sabha, becoming too much of a hot potato for the Congress party? Days after prime minister Manmohan Singh expressed displeasure over the secrecy with which parliament attack convict Afzal Guru was hanged — and Singh, or his office, made sure the censure was public enough to make it to media headlines — Shinde on Tuesday evening regretted his remarks about the “Hindu terror camps”.

“My statement given in Jaipur last month has created a misunderstanding. It has been understood to mean that I was linking terrorism to a particular religion and was accusing certain political organisations of being involved in organising terror camps,” the home minister said in a statement, according to PTI.

He further said, “I had no intention to link terror to any religion. There is no basis for suggesting that terror can be linked to organisations mentioned in my brief speech in Jaipur.”

And then the sorry — okay, sorry, not sorry but “regret” — “Since controversy has been created on account of my statement, I am issuing this clarification and expressing regret to those who felt hurt by my statement.”

What’s interesting is, the Congress and its top leaders have never been known to be too eager to issue regrets or apologise for their statements criticising the opposition. The party simply issues a diktat or asks the leader facing heat for the particular comment to stop playing to the gallery and withdraws him/her. As was the case with Shashi Tharoor following his “cattle class” tweet, or with Digvijay Singh, who was issued a gag order after he criticised then union home minister P Chidambaram’s handling of the Maoist issue.

In fact, a circular issued by Congress general secretary and the party’s media committee chairman Janardhan Dwivedi at the time told party leaders to “restrict yourself to your area of responsibility” and “not (to) speak out of turn”. The circular, according to a report in the Hindu, had gone out to as many as 100 persons, including All-India Congress committee (AICC) office-bearers, Congress working committee members, heads of AICC departments and officials of the party’s frontal organisations.

But in recent times not many of its leaders have been known to regret their statements on their own volition. So Shinde’s “regret” today does indicate he was asked to do so specifically by the party high command.

At the Jaipur chintan shivir, Shinde had said, "Training camps of both BJP and RSS are promoting Hindu terrorism. Whether it is Samjhauta Express blast or Mecca Masjid blast or Malegaon blast, they plant bombs and blame it on the minorities.”

Having spelt out the words “BJP and RSS”, there is too little of that curtain left for Shinde to cover his face and hide behind the excuse that he was not “accusing certain political organisations of being involved in organising terror camps”.

So, let’s correct that last sentence in the opening paragraph: Shinde did not regret; he was made to issue that statement of regret.

While the BJP immediately welcomed and “accepted” the regret — "We accept this regret but this ought to have come much earlier,” party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad told PTI — Shinde’s backing-down statement could be construed as a comedown for the ruling party, expected, as it is, to face heat from the opposition in the budget session starting Thursday.

As Governance Now’s deputy editor Prasanna Mohanty wrote in another report, the session is expected to be stormy, to put it mildly. And with the two-day nationwide strike called by trade unions evoking an decent response overall — even the Wall Street Journal headline called it a “mixed response” — the ruling party surely finds itself in a bit of discomfiture. More so, because all four Maruti Suzuki plants in Gurgaon will be shut on Thursday, the second day of the strike, and a trade union of Indian Railways godown employees threatened to launch a nationwide strike if their demands are not addressed in the railway budget, as PTI reported on Wednesday.

So, expect a stormy session, and also expect bit of a big-hearted big-daddyism from the ruling benches. We did regret a part of your opposition, don’t we, the party’s younger leaders are certain to shout back in the din. It sure did. But the wider ramifications would be known only after the session is over. Shinde’s days are numbered, is that the story before 2014?

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