Sometimes, gaps can be filled only by leaving holes behind. With P. Chidambaram emerging as an automatic choice to head the Finance Ministry in the wake of Pranab Mukherjee’s departure, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was left with another big vacancy in North Block. Sending Sushil Kumar Shinde to the Home Ministry may be an uninspired decision but it is a safe choice. Over at Finance, the need of the hour is strength and direction and Mr. Chidambaram seems the person best equipped to provide both. He has been there and done that. And, he enjoys the confidence of the Prime Minister, who knows the person to pick when “animal spirits” are flagging. After all, Mr. Chidambaram was pulled out — not pushed out — of Finance to deal with the security challenges facing the nation after 26/11. That the economy is what needs mending now says a great deal about his reputation as a man who knows how to get down to business. At Home, he set up the National Investigation Agency to deal with terror crimes with inter-State or external ramifications. He also pushed for better intelligence sharing between different agencies, even if his plans for a National Counter-Terrorism Centre got stuck. On the negative side, the major internal security challenges remain where they were — the Maoist insurgency, the alienation of people in Kashmir and areas of the northeast — but this has more to do with the lack of imagination within the security establishment, not to speak of dissonance within the Centre on key questions.
If Mr. Chidambaram comes back to Finance by design, Mr. Shinde has got Home by default. The Congress needed its own man in the Ministry and his seniority and loyalty tilted the scales in his favour. Though he has not had a particularly successful run as a Minister so far, he might score over Mr. Chidambaram in his political handling of non-Congress, non-UPA Chief Ministers while pressing for greater powers for the Central security agencies. Mr. Chidambaram had gotten used to having his way on all issues and, at times, seemed unprepared for the opposition to his proposals. Mr. Shinde, less sure of himself, could bring all the States on board where a coordinated response to a particular threat is needed. Political acumen can, at times, make up for the lack of technocratic prowess and it is possible the new Home Minister may also make his mark in finding a way out on issues like Telangana and Manipur. Regrettably, the vacancy Mr. Shinde has left in Power has been filled on a temporary basis. The fact that the Prime Minister did not see fit to get someone to run the Ministry on a permanent basis — that too at a time when Delhi received a nasty reminder of the looming power crisis — speaks volumes for the UPA’s continuing torpor.