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Cong fumes as Shinde puts foot in mouth

New Delhi, Nov. 22: Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s assertion that even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was not aware that Ajmal Kasab would be hanged and learnt of the execution from television channels has created extreme unease within the Congress.

While ordinary party workers who grew up listening to tales about Indira Gandhi and yearn to spot signs of bravery in the modern leadership were livid, some senior leaders felt the statement was “an unpardonable mistake” and betrayed political immaturity.

Shinde had yesterday said the Prime Minister and others got to know of the hanging “from television” and even UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was “not part” of the decision. “It is my nature to keep (my) work a secret,” he had added.

Today, some leaders said Shinde’s “unpolished articulation” had defeated the party’s decision not to hype the sense of triumph and conveyed their displeasure to Sonia. “The government is recognised by the Prime Minister,” a senior leader said. “It is Manmohan Singh government and everybody understands such a decision cannot be taken without the Prime Minister’s clearance. Can you expect the American establishment to claim that Barack Obama didn’t know about the Osama (bin Laden) operation?”

Some AICC functionaries felt the home minister had undermined the institution of the Prime Minister. “There was no need to take credit or to give credit. We said it was the culmination of a judicial process and that was the best way of articulating our position,” said an office-bearer.

The anger is more palpable among younger leaders, who feel there was no need for such explicit claims for credit as the incident was big enough to yield political dividends.

“These are landmark events which go into the making of a leader. It goes without saying that the current leadership would have debated and cleared the decision,” said a party MP. “Where is the need to say that they were in the dark and came to know about it through television channels?”

Some leaders said Shinde’s claim was unbelievable.

“We have officially said even the Pakistan government had been informed. We also said the Maharashtra government was told much in advance about the date of hanging,” a senior leader pointed out. “The home minister now says the Prime Minister came to know from television news. What can be more absurd?”

Shinde, who is also the leader of the Lok Sabha, is a seasoned politician. He has been a chief minister, governor and the Congress’s candidate for Vice-President. But he didn’t sufficiently prove his ability to manage parliamentary discords as leader of the House in the last session, prompting the Prime Minister to draft in a stronger parliamentary affairs minister, replacing Pawan Bansal with Kamal Nath.

But Shinde, a former police constable who rose from the grassroots, has so far handled the home ministry to the leadership’s satisfaction since taking over from P. Chidambaram.

Party leaders hope the veteran Maharashtra leader will soon improve his communication skills as well.