Our new Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde could do with a few lessons on what to say and, more importantly, when to say it. He began by doing what a number of ministers have now made a habit of — profusely thanking UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Thank you for giving a ‘dalit’ the responsibility of this critical ministry, he said, automatically implying that caste could have a bearing of some sort on how a person executes a particular role.

He went on to remind us all, for reasons known only to himself, that he was only the second dalit to hold the key post after Buta Singh. What that statement was supposed to mean is still unclear to us.

Soon after Shinde assumed his new post came this comment by BJP leader LK Advani: ‘I believe the UPA-II is an illegitimate government.’ It managed to provoke an otherwise placid Sonia Gandhi into action. What this meant, however, was that Shinde was compelled to attack Advani on his party leader’s behalf. It was all played out live for the benefit of the nation.

Then came yesterday’s episode involving SP member Jaya Bachchan. The latter accused Shinde, rightly, of not responding to specific queries during a debate on the violence in Assam. Shinde reacted with this comment: ‘This is a serious matter. This is not the subject of a film.’ Naturally, Bachchan took serious objection to this, triggering an uproar in the House. Our Home Minister was forced to back down and placate Bachchan. In the process, the debate — a matter of national security — was abandoned.

Balbir Punj of the BJP had an interesting thing to say about Sushilkumar Shinde. He likened him to a student who memorises his subject the night before, then repeats the same thing regardless of what the questions are.