There is a picture from the recent Congress chintan shivir strategy session that succinctly encapulates the tragedy of India in just one telling frame.
Rahul Gandhi, the yuvraj who is being primed for coronation for the top job, is seated centre-stage; his regal gaze is directed at the assemblage of courtiers seated on the dais, and his hand is raised in acknowledgement of their ritual show of propitiation. The attention of virtually everyone on stage is focussed on Rahul Gandhi, given that it was his 'coming-out' party worthy of a Lion King moment, and each of them in turn is performing bodily contortions and craning their necks to ensure that their show of wholesale deference doesn't miss the yuvraj's eye.
But the one whose head is bowed the lowest, the one whose callisthenic contortions have him virtually scraping the floor of the dais, is the man who is notionally India's Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde. As in the comical scene from The King and I, where the King of Siam's subject bows low to abide by courtly protocol that dictates that no head be held higher than the king's, Shinde can be seen performing the nearest thing to a flat-out genuflection to someone who is about half his age, but who will preside over his political destiny.
If Shinde, as a loyal party worker, wishes to make a public spectacle of his servitude to the de facto royalty that lords over the Congress, at what is after all a party event, who can stop him? After all, the man has in the past disgraced himself with comments suggesting that as party president Sonia Gandhi's "soldier", he would "shoot to kill" if she directed him to.
But what Shinde said at the party platform - that the BJP and RSS were running terrorist training camps and sponsoring "Hindu terror" - is not just an affront to the BJP and the RSS, but a dangerous gambit in the politicisation of terrorism that has already profoundly embarrassed the country and made a mockery of our diligently built-up case in the court of public opinion that India is the victim of terrorism sponsored by Pakistani.
At one fell stroke, Shinde has scored a spectacular self-goal against India, creating the space for jihadi low-life terrorists such as Hafiz Saeed - and his sponsors within the Pakistani Army and ISI - to go on the offensive against India and clamour for India to be declared a "terrorist state".
Far more seriously, Shinde has provided jihadi terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and its front organisation, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the propaganda platform from which they can use his comments as a hook to enlist and indoctrinate foolish minds in visceral anti-India hatred, in the way that they already do.
As the excerpts, published in The Hindu, of the book Headley and I (written by Hussain S Zaidi and filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt's son Rahul Bhatt) establish starkly, there is a thriving hate industry in Pakistan that is directed at India and flourishes with the active direction of the Pakistani Army and the ISI. As David Coleman Headley, the man who "recce-ed" Mumbai ahead of the November 2008 terror attack, narrates, the ISI harnessed the indoctrinated jihadis, who had been trained in terrorism techniques by the LeT and primed to lay down their lives in the cause of Islam, and channelled them in the cause of the ISI's own agenda: the destabilisation of India.
All this was, of course, always known and has been sufficiently well-documented. Yet, the Home Minister of India has never conveyed any sense of perturbation over the very serious threat to India posed by the jihadi hate industry across the border. For him now to pick on random acts of low-intensity terror allegedly perpetrated by breakaway renegades (whose trials have not even fully established their culpability) from right-wing groups in India and project the BJP, a mainstream political party, and the RSS, the above-board mothership organisation, as the real existential threat to India, is perverse - and dangerous - in the extreme.
There is, of course, much that fringe far-right fundamentalist organisations even within India have to answer for for their role in creating an enabling atmosphere for random acts of terrorism to be perpetrated. But if Shinde had compelling information on any such terrorism activity, his first responsibility should have been to initiate action against them - rather than sound off on a party platform and inflame communal passions.
In any case, such 'hate laboratories' exist across all religious denominations, as the Owaisi brothers' manifest attempt to feed Muslim victimhood - and radicalisation - establishes.
For the Home Minister of India to wilfully ignore these far more egregious examples of hate-mongering and jihadi indoctrination and instead pick on the anecdotally fewer instances of renegade acts of terror (that haven't had their day in court) and blatantly politicise and communalise the debate on terrorism is lethal.
It isn't often that it can be said that the Union Home Minister represents a clear and present danger to national security. But with his motormouth indiscretions and his blinkered and partisan worldview on terrorism, Shinde has established the validity of that statement.
It isn't just enough for Shinde to apologise to the BJP or the RSS. For the grave damage he has inflicted on India's case in the court of international opinion (vis-a-vis Pakistan-sponsored terrorism) and for the additional security threat that he has exposed Indians to (by providing the LeT and other terror groups the oxygen of propaganda to recruit more jihadists for their anti-India campaign), Shinde should resign as Home Minister - and devote himself to a lifetime of performing ritual genuflections before party royalty.
And the Congress owes the nation an apology for having inflicted such a demonstrably incompetent sycophant in so important a portfolio as the Home Ministry and for putting India's security on the line and the lives of ordinary Indians in grave danger.