I was in Gujarat for approximately two and a half weeks around Deepawali time. My travels took me to interiors of Saurasthra region and North Gujarat but this blog is not about my experiences there, though they could become subject of a future blog.
Here I want to talk about my interaction with a Muslim shop owner in Karnavati, tha tis, Ahmedabad. Whenever I am in Bharat, I am a loyal customer of a laundry, owned by a Muslim person. All these time, I had never discussed with him politics because one is always on his guards when it comes to Muslim vis-a-vis BJP. However, this time it was different. I was at the laundry just after Deepawali when commerce in all of Gujarat comes almost to a standstill for full five days! I was lucky that this laundry was open. As the owner, Ganibhai and I looked at the deserted road which otherwise is a tidal wave of two wheelers and four wheelers, Ganibhai commented on the stillness of time and tranquility. I reminisced about my college days in early sixties and told him how this was a dirt road at that time. That led to a talk about the development in Karnavati. Ganibhai praised the all-round development, not only in Karnavati but also in Gujarat. he asked me if I agreed with him, based on my limited exposure. Then, he surprised me when he said, it was all due to the leadership.
Ganibhai at his Laundry
Cautiously I probed. I asked was it not true that Muslims had a distrust for the leader, that is Narendra Modi? Ganibhai said: “One has to forget what had happened (reference to Godhra and post Godhra riots) and move on. Fact was that Narendrabhai had done wonderful work for all. I asked, “how so? ” Ganibhai: “Before (Modi’s development), where we live, there were dens of gamblers and illicit liquor; our children were becoming hoodlums; there were so many without work. Today men earn honest money, even though they may be hawkers on the street. Our girls now aspire for education and some of them come in the first ten in Board examinations.” So what about Congress? Ganibhai: “They have used Muslims as pawns:” I asked him if that meant he was going to vote for BJP. His answer was an emphatic Yes and for a good measure he added, “I am a BJP man.”
I came home digesting what I had heard. I realized that up until now I had heard stories of Muslims coming on board with BJP from BJP leaning friends only. But today, I had heard it from the source. I decided that I should write a blog on this and for that I needed Ganibhai’s photo. So, next day I went to the shop and explained to him that I was going to write an article on Gujarat election from USA and wanted his photograph. He was very glad to hear that and I clicked away.
Thank you, Ganibhai.
Gaurang G. Vaishnav
Narendra Modi and the Muslim votebank
9 July 2012
Before, if ever, Narendra Modi becomes India’s prime minister, he will have to break the stranglehold of the Muslim votebank on Indian politics. His sadbhavna yatras (goodwill missions) to win the confidence of Muslims are good as far as they go. However, even hundreds of such yatras will not take him even an inch closer to the throne of Delhi. Hindus, and Hindus alone, can propel him to power at the Centre, if they choose to.
For BJP’s central leadership, Narendra Modi poses a dilemma: he is viewed as a great asset and also as a great liability. Modi’s popularity crossed the borders of Gujarat long ago. He emerged as a national leader on the back of resolute leadership, efficient administration and a clean image. He enjoys a good deal of support from the RSS, which in BJP is a trump card.
With ears close to the ground, easy accessibility and a sound track record of delivering on promises, Modi has acquired a measure of credibility and charisma which none of the BJP’s central leaders possess. Shivraj Singh Chauhan of Madhya Pradesh and Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh have also earned popularity on similar strengths, but neither appears to be keen, as of now, to play a leading role at the Centre. Modi is a different case. BJP bigwigs cannot ignore him or his ambitions.
However, if Modi is selected to command BJP forces in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election, many BJP leaders will have to forget their ambitions and rein in their lust for power. The pull of such lust should not be underestimated.
These leaders want Modi to campaign for the party, not only in Gujarat, but also in other states where his presence can make a difference, while expecting him to confine his own ambitions to Gujarat. Modi is unwilling to oblige them, unless he could augment his own political capital by campaigning outside Gujarat. He wants to be the commander, not a foot soldier. This subtle tug of war is slowly becoming visible and will emerge out in the open by the time of the Lok Sabha election.
It is equally certain that if BJP selects Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, it will have to forget not only about the few (if any) Muslim votes it gets, but also about allies who are mortally scared of annoying Muslim votebanks. Therein lies the rub. Barring the Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena, all other parties in the NDA are enamoured of the ‘secular’ label. The hypocrisy of leaders like Nitish Kumar is infuriating. By insisting that the NDA candidate for prime minister must have a ‘secular’ image, he is playing to the green gallery while trying to keep a powerful rival off the field. The ploy is too transparent to be missed, but, unfortunately, it threatens to work.
Muslims are naturally amused to watch the game. In their view, their security (actually, political clout) lies in keeping out of power any party or leader who enjoys any credibility – real or fake – among the Hindus. And if Hindu leaders can articulate that position for them in as many words, so much the better.
This is a decisive moment, not just for the BJP or NDA, but for Hindu society. The modern Hindu intelligentsia has failed to grasp a basic fact: clout, influence, power or authority is central to human relations. Power that is not exercised eventually wears off and vanishes. Hindu intellectuals rarely examine any issue, development or trend in terms of Hindu influence or power. For most of them, such an exercise is weird and anti-secular if not anti-national. They think it is beneath them to indulge in it. Hindu society has paid, and continues to pay, a heavy price for this failure of its intelligentsia.
In the post-independence period, Hindus have never asserted primacy of their civilisational identity at the political level. They have never claimed to be the essential national society, the fulcrum of the polity around which every institution and organization must arrange itself. In contrast, Muslims realize the centrality of power in relations with non-Muslims. They can and do use their votes as an effective political weapon. I do not criticize Muslims for doing so, just as I do not applaud Hindus for neglecting power equations in post-independence India.
Hence it is that Hindus have become political orphans in the only country they can call their own. Hence it is they are still maligned for Gujarat riots ten years after the event, while the original provocation (burning alive of 59 Hindus by a Muslim mob without any provocation) is all but forgotten. Hence it is that heartrending tales of Kashmiri pundits, who have suffered far greater atrocities for much longer, hardly ever evokes any sympathy at all from any political party – not even the BJP. Hence it is that Hindus can speak as Dalits, Adivasis, Jats, Yadavs, Kurmis, Lingayats, Reddys, Vanniars and Nairs, but not as Hindus. Hence it is that 12 per cent Muslims, without uttering a word, can frighten mighty Hindu politicians into rejecting anyone with Hindu credentials…
In the pre-independence period, a con game was played in the name of nationalism. Only that party, that leader was national (and could speak for the whole country) which was not opposed by the Muslim League. In this reckoning, the Congress was an organization of Hindu banias, but the Communist Party of India was a national organization. After independence, the same game is played in the name of secularism. Only that party, that leader, that programme or proposal is secular which is not opposed by Muslims. The name has changed, participants have changed, but the game remains unchanged. And so does its objective: to keep the Hindus on the defensive.
How history repeats itself! Congress is now saying about BJP whatever Jinnah used to say about Congress in 1940s: that it is a party of Hindu banias, that Muslims can never expect justice from it, that if it ever came to power then Muslims will have to fear for their lives and so on. Again the object is the same: to use Muslims as political pawns to delegitimize and checkmate nationalist sentiments.
Narendra Modi has the power to break this game. Without a single Muslim vote, without making any special or specific gesture to Muslims, he has swept assembly elections, not once, but twice, in Gujarat. He has demonstrated that if Hindus stand solidly behind any leader, he does not have to flatter Muslims. This is why he is regarded as a mortal enemy by most Muslims, all brokers of Muslim votes, and all parties hankering after the Muslim votebank.
If Modi can replicate at the national level what he has done in Gujarat, it will decisively break the stranglehold of Muslim votebanks on Indian politics, breathe a new self-confidence in Hindu society and force a rethink among Hindu politicians in non-BJP parties. Muslims will become just one of the many groups in Indian politics and thus join the national mainstream.
Whether Modi is interested in attempting this feat, whether BJP will give him an opportunity to make such an attempt is, of course, another matter. His sadbhavna yatras have aroused speculation that he, too, may be craving acceptability among circles that want BJP to shed every trace of Hinduness. As to BJP, it does not deserve a single Hindu vote as of now as a party of Hindu nationalism. But that does not affect the position outlined in the earlier passages.
If the BJP really regards itself as a party of Indian nationalism, it should distance itself from those hankering after the 12 per cent votebank and announce Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for 2014 Lok Sabha election.
The author is Executive Editor, Corporate India, and lives in Mumbai
June 29, 2012
Defining ‘Secular’: The war rages on
It was Nitish Kumar who lit the fuse on the amorphous word this time. He did that last week by warning that his party, the Janata Dal (United) would accept only a ‘secular’ prime minister. His target was clearly Narendra Modi, said to be the likely choice of the BJP for that post. Why the Bihar CM’s bouncer to his ally BJP should have been bowled at the time it was is a separate subject for debate.
The issue is that Kumar was wrong in not realising that:
Even after 10 years of investigations, Narendra Modi is still innocent of the charge of being personally responsible for the post Godhra riots of 2002. Even Supreme Court judge Ajit Pasayat, (now retired), who orally alluded to ‘Nero fiddling while Rome burnt’ during a hearing on Godhra did not have evidence to put down that remark in his written judgment.
Amidst the decade-old demonisation of Modi unleashing a ‘Genocide’ against Muslims, nobody has explained why, of the total 1044 killed in those riots, 254 were Hindus.
Modi fielded 247 Muslim candidates on the BJP card in Gujarat’s civic elections of October 2010, and, more unbelievably, 118 of them were victorious. Would a ‘communal’ chief minister do that ‘secular’ act?
Even after Indira Gandhi got the word ‘Secular’ into the Preamble of the Constitution of India with the 42nd Constitution Amendment Act, 1976, our nation is not secular. Take a look below
‘Dr Ambedkar made it clear in Parliament that he did not believe our Constitution was secular because it allowed different treatment to various communities and the legislatures could frame separate laws for different communities.’ (‘Reforming The Constitution’ UBS Publishers Distributors Ltd, 1992, edited by Subhash C Kashyap, an eminent Constitutional authority.)
In the above book, Kashyap writes, ‘Where there is discrimination between man and man on the grounds of religions… where the administration of places of worship can be entrusted to Government Officers… where even fundamental rights are demanded and conceded on grounds of communities, it is a cruel joke to talk of secularism.’
The Indian nation as a whole is itself not ‘secular.’ Unknown to almost our entire political class, the Preamble of the separate Jammu and Kashmir State Constitution, November 1956, does not proclaim J&K State as a ‘Secular’ State, courtesy Article 370.
Come now to Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief who was provoked by Kumar’s remark to talk of dharmanirpeksh. He too was wrong in not realising that the word dharmanirpeksh does not denote the adjective ‘secular.’ The exact Hindi word for ‘secular’ is panthnirpeksha, coined, at the behest of Indira Gandhi, by Lakshmi Mall Singhvi, (1931-2007), a literary figure and an altogether very versatile personality who was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1998… He said the word ‘secular’ should more appropriately be translated as panthnirpeksh. He argued that dharma, the fundamental duty, is the foundation ethic of the Indian nation and of every walk of life, and the very foundation for the section called Fundamental Duties of Citizens being part of Mrs Gandhi’s Constitutional amendment. Panth, on the other hand, meant religion. That is how the word panthnirpeksh to denote ‘secular’ got into the Hindi version of the Preamble of our Constitution. It is, therefore, a shame that dharm continues to appear in Articles 15, 16 and 25 of our Constitution’s Hindi version with regard to ‘Prohibition of discrimination…,’ ‘Equality of opportunity…’ and ‘Right to freedom of Religion’ respectively in the English version.
Below is another true story.
In 1977, the Janata Party government introduced a Constitution Amendment Bill wherein one clause sought to define the word ‘Secular’ as ‘equal respect for all religions.’ The proposal was passed in the Lok Sabha where the newly elected Janata Party was dominant, but was rejected by the Congress majority in the Rajya Sabha.
The Congress should no longer object to that definition suggested 34 years ago. Why? Because in a lecture delivered on June 9, 2007, at the Nexus Institute, The Hague, Sonia Gandhi herself proclaimed that ‘India is a secular country. The term secularism means equal respect for all religions.’
Let me end with a poser. A political party represented in our Parliament from 1952 till now says in its website that among its aims is ‘To secure and protect the rights and interests of the Muslims and other minorities in the state.’ Which is that party? And can it be labelled as ‘secular?’
Published Date: Jun 29, 2012
Divya Pal, TNN | Oct 17, 2011, 06.00PM IST
Irked with the question – Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad is the students’ wing of which political party? – asked by Big B on KBCrecently, ABVP’s general secretary Umesh Dutt has demanded a public apology from the show’s producers.
ABVP strongly objected to this and wants the show to apologise for spreading wrong information about students’ organisation of India. Sunil Bansal, All India Co-organising Secretary, ABVP, told DT, “We have sent a letter to KBC team requesting them to rectify the mistake they made by asking a wrong question on their show. Unhone aise sawaal se logon ko galatmessage diya hai.
This error only questions the credibility of the game show. Not only have the showmakers asked the wrong question, they have also made the contestant win Rs 3, 20,000 by considering the reply correct. And what’s funny is that the contestant got the answer when she used her lifeline – phone a friend. Since Amitabh Bachchan is active on Twitter, people have tweeting their reactions to ensure immediate action is taken to set it right. Since the mistake happened on national TV, it would be best to rectify it on TV. We did get a call from KBC team on Wednesday and they have admitted their mistake. But what they will do is still not clear. They have asked for some time. If we don’t get a positive response from them within 7 days, then we will have to send them a legal notice demanding public apology.”
While the channel hasn’t commented on the issue, Vani Tripathi from Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha said the masses too believe this wring information to be correct. “ABVP is not the student wing of BJP. Just because many activists in BJP like Nitin Gatkari, Jaitley have been a part of ABVP during their college days, people think the organization is a part of the political party. In fact, BJP has only one youth wing Bhartiya Janta Yuva Morcha. ABVP has ideological coherence with RSS but in no way is the organization linked to any political party.””
Vikas Dahiya, who has been the national executive member of ABVP, said, “ABVP was formed in 1949. ABVP’s registration No. S-385/1949-50 People should be told about this. How can we let them accept wrong information about ABVP?””
It was not long ago that P.Chidambaram appealed to the Sikh community to put the massacre of the Sikhs at rest and to move forward. This when 100 times more persons of the minority community were massacred-brutalized, raped and killed. Time to move on was his appeal. But when it comes to the Gujarat riots it has to be fixed at that riot incident-Time and again it has been used against Modi. Come elections the NGOs canvass with the CDs of the riots-the wailing and the weeping of the victims and their relatives must be kept ever fresh. Why this double standard? Did the Congress leaders not lead the massacre brigade and supervise the killings of the Sikhs? Did not the Delhi government abet it by silently watching the burning and the killings? Did not Rajiv Gandhi justify this? So what moral right has the Congress to fault Modi and his government? It must be also noted that this is not the first time Gujarat witnessed riots-not only Gujarat but all over India there have been any number of riots. No one person has been maligned as Modi has been.
Vote bank politics has marred every single perception and action of the UPA government. There have been 7 attacks since 2010 after P. Chidambaram became the Home Minister. The Sept 7th bomb blast at gate 5 of the Delhi High court is the 8th attack. This left 13 dead and 88 injured. PC has suddenly become color blind. He who was so obsessed with ‘saffron’ terror suddenly finds just these as terror attacks and is quick also in his briefing to Parliament to caution the country of Naxal terror. No lessons learned. The issue before him is Islamic terror and he is afraid even to term it so. It becomes just terror. And our PM joins in the chorus to mouth hollow words that the perpetrators would be punished. In which terror attack has the perpetrators been punished may we know? So why mouth such promises?
Rahul Gandhi goes to visit the victims of the Sept High court bomb blast at the RML hospital. He has forgotten to think because he had earlier stated after his famous draft reading in Parliament that he took so long to react to the LokPal bill because he had to think. Well one does not know if to read a draft one has to put on the thinking cap and take such a long period of thinking. When he visited the hospital he did not utter a single word. Either he forgot to put his thinking cap on or there were no draft writers by his side. Can this crown prince not spontaneously offer a few words of comfort and listen to the anguish of the grieving victims. And we are promised that this youth icon will bring in much desired change.
This brings up corruption. The Congress advises the rest not to politicize corruption. The same song it sings for every issue ‘Don’t politicize terror attacks’-‘don’t politicize corruption is the litany the Congress leaders chorus. But there is politics in corruption. It is the vested interest of the politicians that gave birth to corruption. It is the greed for power that makes the politicians abet corruption and it is the attraction to status and power that makes the politicians to sell his/her conscience and become corrupt. In the process they corrupt others too. And as long as the Congress is the mother head of corruption one cannot expect the Congress to fight corruption. It is now blatantly stated in the emails which are circulated that “Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the most powerful woman is the most corrupt”. It is not just only one person nay the family too. No wonder it is also said that it took 100 years for Tata to become a billionaire, it took 50 years for Ambani to become a billionaire but it has taken only ten years for Robert Vadra to become a billionaire. From where does this money for chartered planes-treatment in the USA-special facility apartment there et al and lavish spending come from? So it is understandable when one is so filthy rich that Mrs Priyanka Vadra can toss her head and order her two storied house in Himachal Pradesh to be razed to the ground. A new site to be bought and new house to be built. A house in which crores and crores would have been spent is just to be demolished because it did not suit the environment and her fancy. All this after she had been supervising and instructing while the construction was on. Did she not know what materials were used for it? This I narrate only as an example of the arrogance of money power. No second thoughts .We see children by the seaside kick the sand castles and built new ones according to their whims. The same kind of attitude and mindset was displayed by Mrs Vadra which is a dangerous streak and exhibits a disdain for loss of money and labor. The mention of this is also meant to prove that Rahul Gandhi’s multi prong strategy to fight corruption is a farce and mere rhetoric. He has to clean up his own household first.
We had Chidambaram the other day stating that communalizing violence is dangerous. We are no fools and we know what made PC make such a statement. This government will not fight terrorism because it will not embarrass the Muslims. This is clear in it bringing up the Communal violence bill which just will not fight communalism but abets communalism. First the National Advisory Council had no business to draft such a bill. The NAC which is an unconstitutional body acts as a super cabinet and a mini Parliament. This was meant to give a cabinet ranking to Mrs. Sonia and legitimize her face in all the GOI advertisements. Second it has also all Modi bashers and baiters as members. It has a hidden agenda and is biased. Hence the communal violence bill is pro minority and anti majority. How can it fight communalism when the very premise of it abets communalism?
Dr Mrs Hilda Raja,
I think Govindacharya has been out in sun too long. Wonder what weed he has been smoking lately? We knew he was a gadfly but did not realize that he was a screwball too.
Gaurang G. Vaishnav
AHMEDABAD: Former BJP idealogue and founder of the Rashtriya Swabhiman Andolan (RSA) Govindacharya led a scathing attack on the issue of governance in Gujarat.
At a workshop organised by the Mahagujarat Janata Party (MJP) at Preksha Vishwabharti near Koba circle, he said, “Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi functions like a dictator. The people of Gujarat will not tolerate this dictatorial style of functioning for long. In Gujarat, the extreme centralization of the decision making process has already hit the confidence level of the state machinery. Government officers are low on morale and are averse to taking initiatives because they fear reprimand. These tiers also lack opportunities to exercise their power of quick decision making. You cannot function like this for long.”
“The impression I get of the Gujarat government is that it only favours the rich and the industries, and ignores the poor farmers and people from small towns. On the appointment of justice R A Mehta as Gujarat’s Lokayukta, Govindacharya said, “By appointing an alternative, M B Shah commission, to probe major corruption charges against the state government, Modi has only lost his credibility before his own people. One should ask the chief minister’s office why the state dilly dallied on the appointment of Lokayukta for eight years,” he said.
Acharya further added, “The state government has not yet clarified or made public the points of reference and the scope of the M B Shah commission. Merely forming a commission does not give this government a clean chit. Let these cases be referred to the newly appointed Lokayukta.”
Venky Vembu Aug 16, 2011
By a curious alignment of planets, Anna Hazare has captured the imagination of an India that is crying out for fundamental change. Gurinder Osan/AP
The events of recent weeks, culminating in Anna Hazare’s detention this morning, mark in many ways a defining moment in India’s evolution as a democracy. The upsurge of popular sentiment in cities across India this morning in solidarity with Team Anna’s detention is stunning. And the readiness with which people who normally go to elaborate lengths to avoid engagement with “dirty” politics are now courting arrest or are otherwise organising public protests – or even just quietly observing a day’s fast at home — to give expression to their sense of disgust with the UPA government’s handling of the Lokpal Bill exercise is quite unprecedented in independent India.
I know of professionals who have taken leave from their investment banking jobs abroad, where they earn six-figure dollar salaries and bonuses, just to be in India today to be part of this movement. One of them has even prepared his young wife for the inevitability of his arrest – which in his family would normally be considered a shame and a scandal – and has been organising protests in Mumbai for the past few days.
At NRI gatherings of Indians Against Corruption, the energy of young Indians sharing ideas to make India corruption-free has been palpable. The extent to which they are ready to step outside of their 9-to-5 grind and donate time and money for the biggest public cause that confronts India is a surprise – even to them. They say they used to think of themselves as apathetic to politics. But now, they’ve found a cause they believe in.
Watch images from the protests
This is the second time in the past few months that Anna Hazare has convincingly demonstrated the popular, mass-based nature of the support that his campaign enjoys, across class, caste and religious distinctions that normally divide us. We first saw it in April, when he launched his fast at Jantar Mantar, and electrified India. Since that time, he and his team have had the entire political establishment — and, to be honest, a cross-section of media commentators – clueless about how a man with little or no financial resources can command so large a following with only rustic simplicity and the power of a message that has great resonance with millions of people.
So, the fact that Anna Hazare and his team enjoys enormous goodwill with a large-enough constituency of people who are sick of corruption and jaded with politics as usual and who have completely lost faith in the political establishment in its entirety is blindingly obvious.
The question then arises: how can Team Anna now leverage this goodwill? Should it continue to remain the “outsider” calling the political establishment to account? What are the odds that it can succeed? How can it channel the deep-seated distrust of the political establishment and bring about demonstrable change.
To address that, it helps to assess the extent of “success” that Team Anna’s campaign has had. It’s beyond dispute that Team Anna’s one major success has been in giving voice to and amplifying the popular disgust with the top-down, 360-degree corruption that pervades our public life — and in showing up starkly that for all the power games that go on with the various political parties, they are pretty much united in their opposition to a strong Lokpal institution.
Yet, while Team Anna gets full marks for elevating the issue of corruption to the top of the agenda and for creating mass awareness, its attempts beyond that have only met with limited success. For instance, the Lokpal Bill that’s now before Parliament is a mere shadow of the strong anti-corruption agency it envisaged. And even those who are willing to stand up and be counted along with Anna aren’t fully convinced that Team Anna’s Jan Lokpal is the answer to corruption. If you can’t convince even those who support you, what chances do you stand against those who oppose you?
It is in that context that Team Anna needs to formulate a forward-looking political strategy.
Since it’s the current UPA government that is now doing its damnedest to water down the Lokpal Bill, it’s fair to say that it will pay a big political price when general elections are due next in 2014. By default, an alternative political formation could then come to power. But even in the event of, say, a BJP-led grouping coming to power, there’s nothing to suggest that it will work to change the system because it’s now too entrenched in the wily ways of electoral game-playing (as was demonstrated most strikingly in its handling of affairs in Karnataka). The BJP has thus far adopted only a wishy-washy stand on the Lokpal Bill, which validates the suspicion that it doesn’t want to alter the rules of the political game too drastically.
Enter the political arena
In any case, why should Team Anna do all the grunge work only to see another status quo-ist party ride on its back and come to power? Why not bite the bullet and enter the “dirty” political fray yourself?
It’s true that Anna Hazare has a disdain for electoral politics as it is practised now, where – in his words – people sell their vote for a bottle of liquor. He also considers himself “unelectable”, given the reality of the political arena. Yet, the biggest criticism that cripples the movement today is that since it is not elected – “or electable” – it has no right to influence the discourse on the Lokpal Bill, now that it is before Parliament.
It’s not just Congress lackeys who make that criticism. Even non-Congress politicians andinsightful commentators make that point.
On that count, Team Anna’s best days as an agent of change from the “outside” may be already over. From here on, it only risks elevating its politics of confrontation, which could erode the political goodwill it now enjoys. It’s perhaps time for Team Anna to enter the political arena and work for change from within.
Even if it does that, it doesn’t have to become just another political party. With the goodwill that it now enjoys and the energy it has infused in its supporters, it can change the way politics is played in India. What it lacks in money power, it can make up for with a bottom-up movement that, as has been already demonstrated, enjoys great resonance. In any case, as we saw with the routing of the DMK in Tamil Nadu, money power stands no chance when a people are set on throwing out a corrupt regime.
The challenges to becoming a mainstream political party are formidable, particularly when you’re (for now) only a one-issue party. But that issue – corruption — is one that is right at the top of people’s consciousness. And as the only political force that today enjoys a nationwide profile, is untainted by corruption, has a vision for changing the system – and a volunteer force that can more than compensate for the money power of its opponents with boots-on-the-ground campaign, Team Anna has enormous strengths in this battle.
Moments such as this come only once in a generation. By a curious alignment of planets, Anna Hazare has captured the imagination of an India that is crying out for fundamental change. It is time for it to seize the moment, stop being an outsider that has exhausted its influence as a change agent, enter electoral politics, and recreate an India in its own image.
|16 Aug 2011|
If a single event encapsulates the corruption, sleaze and political callousness that bedevils the common man today, it is the Commonwealth Games of 2010, whose reverberations are still roiling the polity and the ruling Congress party. Even as unending price rise drives the middle class and poor to despair, and the Finance Ministry and Reserve Bank insist no relief is likely, a brazen Delhi Government threatens citizens with a staggering 60% hike in power tariffs, after having scandalously intervened last year to inhibit a price cut that was originally envisaged by the relevant authority.
That is the true measure of the rot wrought by chief minister Sheila Dikshit. A necessary corrective would be to return this essential service to the public sector, while ensuring zero protection to power theft that makes the utility unviable. In fact, the profit allowed to the private companies would have ensured the necessary modernization of equipment, on which they anyway dragged their feet.
Ms Dikshit, meanwhile, despite blistering indictments by the Prime Minister-appointed V.K. Shunglu Committee and the Comptroller & Auditor General’s report on the Commonwealth Games, got powerful protection from the chief control of the Congress party and the fraying UPA coalition. She refused to resign, forcing the Congress to make a dramatic volte face, from bragging about how it secured the resignations of Shashi Tharoor, Suresh Kalmadi, Andimuthu Raja and others caught in one or other controversy, to rallying around the impugned chief minister. Ironically, the BJP had forced Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyyurappa to resign only so it could confront her.
Both Shunglu Committee and CAG Report brought the spotlight of corruption on Sheila Dikshit who was in-charge of the major expenditure, totalling Rs 16,560 crore on just eight city projects (including the sub-standard Barapullah flyover). Both found that the Delhi government overspent and wasted money by manufacturing an artificial crisis of deadlines by delaying the start of CWG-related projects till literally the last three years of a seven-year timeframe. This led to ‘emergency’ decisions, compromising cost and quality.
Though a full year has not passed since the Games were held, a drive through Games-related areas shows pot-holed roads, bumpy flyovers, crumbling pavements and chipped tiles, dead or dying plants on road dividers and the peculiar green net and stakes installed to hold the plants spilling out on the roads, creating a traffic hazard. They should be removed without further ado, before they cause accidents like the utterly ill-conceived and murderous BRT corridors. The BRT corridors – another money-making consultant-driven scheme – need to be ripped up, not extended. Even if workable in theory, the Metro makes them redundant.
In this writer’s mind, the most evocative image of the Commonwealth Games concerns the collapse of the new foot over-bridge near Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, just 12 days before the inauguration ceremony, critically injuring several workers. PWD minister Raj Kumar Chauhan (recently indicted by Delhi Lokayukta but protected by his boss), glibly asserted that the structure collapsed because the pins were not secured properly. Then Urban Development minister Jaipal Reddy said, “This is a minor incident. The Commonwealth Games will not be judged by this.”
But Ms Dikshit took the cake. Stupefied citizens saw her on television, brushing aside the media with Antoinette-like memorable words: “The over-bridge was for spectators, not for the games officials or the athletes…” Did she mean she could bump off spectators, ordinary citizens like us? She got away with it because the Prime Minister appealed to let the Games happen for the sake of the nation, and old fashioned nationalism carried the day. But in those heady months of untrammelled power, Dikshit merrily spurned the Commonwealth Games Federation’s screams over the state of the Games Village, even as the filth of the residential towers became an international scandal.
Actually, the Commonwealth Games was from inception a non-government entity. Bizarre as it sounds, it was the brainchild, not of the then ruling party, but of the then Leader of the Opposition! This explains much of the confusion in execution, and the ability of the London-based Federation to covertly foist Mr. Suresh Kalmadi as chairman of the Organising Committee, keeping governmental supervision at bay (to its own regret).
The Delhi government’s functioning was opaque; selection of consultants arbitrary; standards and specifications amenable to instant modifications, and budgets eminently stretchable. The CAG found overspending of over Rs. 100 crore on streetscaping and beautification alone, with average cost for projects pegged at Rs. 4.8 cr/km. By contrast, a four-lane national highway costs Rs 9.5 crore/km; railway tracks come at Rs 4.1 crore/km!
Money was made on street lights (forget the contract to a disqualified firm). Violating norms, tenders were restricted to manufacturers of luminaries of international repute and higher financial eligibility, keeping competition restricted. MCD allowed deviance from design specifications in lighting standards, leading to larger number of poles and luminaries on certain roads and avoidable expenditure. Bids were altered in Phase I and II of tendering, again escalating costs.
The CAG found that the chief minister ordered imported lighting equipments in Type A and Type B roads, and indigenous lights for Type C roads. Besides creating a caste hierarchy of city roads, she permitted a huge cost differential which benefitted two private firms. One firm imported luminaries from a Gulf country at the rate of Rs 5,440/unit while charging Rs 25,704/unit. Worse, the chief minister imperiously ordered ripping out all tiles installed in Connaught Place as she did not like the colour!
If Dr Manmohan Singh wishes to restore public confidence in his government, he must give the CBI a free hand to investigate the chief minister, her erring colleagues and protégés, and bring them to book. We must know if we are a free country or a banana republic.
The author is Editor, www.vijayvaani.com
Last Updated : 11 Aug 2011 08:17:26 AM IST
The facts unfolded here reveal a conspiracy – a hostile political strategy to communalise, thus weaponise, an illegal encounter killing to demonise a selected State; to oust its leader, outside ballot process. That State is the least sinner in fake encounters, just one in a hundred. Yet, its leader is vilified as ‘Maut Ka Saudagar’ [merchant of death]. So, the selected State’s leader is the target, not fake encounters as evil.
The State selected? Needs no guess. It is Gujarat, certified as the best governed, most prosperous.
The leader targeted? Needs no mention. Narendra Modi, known as the cleanest, also the ablest.
The National Human Rights Commission’s list of 440 fake encounters from 2002 to 2007 under inquest shows the share of Gujarat as just 5, almost the lowest. Uttar Pradesh tops the list with 231, followed by Rajasthan 33, Maharashtra 31, Delhi 26, Andhra Pradesh 22, Uttaranchal 19, Assam 12, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka 10 each, Tamil Nadu 9, West Bengal 8, Bihar and Haryana 6 each. More. At 7.25 am, on 8.8.2011, the NewX channel reported a further 120 fake encounter deaths in UP after 2007!
Yet, from 2006, the ‘secular’ media has been obsessed with, not the most guilty in encounter sins, but the least — Gujarat; and with only one of the 440 encounters — of Syed Sohrabuddin in Gujarat, none from the rest. Baying for Modi’s scalp, the media relentlessly pursued Sohrabuddin’s case, charged Gujarat with killing him [and his wife, Kausar Bi] only because of his religion. It made Sohrabuddin the poster boy of secularism, insisted on CBI probe to cover Amit Shah, Gujarat Home Minister then, and Modi himself. The judiciary too chose for CBI probe only Sohrabuddin’s case out of the 440 encounters. Later when CBI misused the court mandate, resorted to patent illegalities to fix Shah and target Gujarat and Modi, the media even seemed relieved.
Interrogatories to ‘secular’ media on its role in the Sohrabuddin case are overdue. Here are some.
- Did the media even hint that, like Sohrabuddin’s in Gujarat, there were 435 other encounters outside, being inquired into by NHRC? No.
- And did it ever ask for CBI probe into them? No.
- Did it ever tell the true facts about Sohrabuddin, other than about his religion, like that he was a dreaded criminal, a crony of Sharif Khan, Dawood Ibrahim’s Gujarat head; or that he was arms carrier for ISI; or that a huge cache of 24 AK-47s, 22 grenades, 5250 rounds of AK-47 ammunition, and 81 magazines, adequate for a 1993 Mumbai blast were recovered from his farm house; or that he served a 5-year jail term under terror law? Never.
- Did it ever say that he had 21 big crime cases against him – two, under anti-terror law and nine, under Arms and Explosives law – in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan? No
- Did it even remotely hint that he had had connections with LTTE’s drug peddlers or that he contract-murdered in broad day light in Chennai an advocate who had tipped off the Narcotic Control Bureau about LTTE or that he killed a gangster, Karim Lala, in Udaipur in December 2004 and took over his extortion business in Rajasthan – for which Rajasthan was after him? Never, ever. In contrast, one magazine even profiled him as a ‘Muslim businessman’!
- The media hid Sohrabuddin’s criminality and sanitised him as Modi’s victim. The Congress party improved it. It made him the main issue in the 2007 Gujarat Assembly elections, thus adding communal poison to an illegal killing to make it deadly. Sonia Gandhi, adopting Sohrabuddin as the party’s poster boy, charged Narendra Modi as “Maut Ka Saudagar”. The media even saw the use of Sohrabuddin – an extortionist, arms-carrier, a murderer and the point man of Dawood – in the elections as strategic.
Now begins the sickening story of how the CBI subverted the Sohrabuddin probe to suit Congress party’s politics.
Not just BJP governments in Gujarat and Rajasthan, the Congress government in AP, headed by Sonia Gandhi’s pet YS Rajasekara Reddy then, too was deeply involved in the killing. Did the media ever highlight this fact? No.
If it had, the encounter would lose its all-BJP – read ‘communal’ – character; with the Congress-mix, the killing would become secular! The Gujarat police probe in the Sohrabuddin case led by Geeta Johri, an honest police officer, showed that seven AP police officials, including two drivers, were involved in the offence; that one Kalmuddin, had invited the Sohrabuddin couple to Hyderabad; that after their stay Sohrabuddin couple boarded a bus to Sangli; that the AP and Gujarat police officials, acting in concert, intercepted the bus, disembarked the couple, took them in their vehicles; the caravan which included two Tata Sumo vehicles used by AP police reached Ahmedabad where the couple were killed. The Gujarat CID probe on the encounter in Hyderabad was moving right, but slowly, when the CBI took over the case in January 2010. The CBI charge sheet of 23 July 2010 itself admits that AP police were party to the offence. But where did the Gujarat CID probe hit the roadblock in Hyderabad?
Geeta Johri, who uncovered the fake encounter, arrested her own colleagues, had sought the co-operation of Balwinder Singh, the Commissioner of Police at Hyderabad then, for three purposes: one, to question the AP police officials who had assisted the Gujarat police; two, to trace the missing Vehicle Entry Register of the AP IPS Officers Mess for the period August 2005 to May 2006 that would identify the two Tata Sumo vehicles, their drivers and also AP officials who went in them all the way to Ahmedabad; three, to track down Kalimuddin, who hosted Sohrabuddin at Hyderabad. But Balwinder Singh would not co-operate.
QED: the Congress was determined not to expose its role in the sin. See what it did instead. Who did it choose to head the CBI probe? Balwinder Singh! The very officer who shielded the AP police officials now heads the CBI to probe the role of the very AP – Congress? – Police! Shocked? It is just the beginning, with more shocks to come.