As the monsoon session of the Maharashtra assembly gets underway from Monday, and the combined opposition gheraoes the government over corruption in the state cabinet, I am reminded more and more of Animal Farm – nothing ever changes, only the characters do.
When the BJP first ascended to power in Maharashtra 18 months ago, they came with a promise of fresh hope and clean governance. Less than two years later, the party and the government lie battered with allegations of administrative improprieties and corruption – and not just against the ministers who were sworn into government in October 2014. At least four of the nine new ministers inducted into the state cabinet last week have criminal cases filed against them, at least one was arrested by the police and released on bail just days before he was picked as a minister by Uddhav Thackeray, president of the Shiv Sena which is an ally of the BJP in government.
Right from Day One, Fadnavis, with a personally clean image, has had a troubled existence in government. A greenhorn, who had never had the experience of governance unlike many ministers in his cabinet, he was resented by these veterans in the BJP for being in the right place at the right time. That gives me a sense of déjà vu. Prithviraj Chavan, his predecessor, had a clean image too. He was in the right place at the right time as well – in the good books of his party president Sonia Gandhi and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as was Fadnavis vis-à-vis Amit Shah and Narendra Modi. And he was resented by all veterans in the Congress and NCP for becoming chief minister, as was Fadnavis by seniors in the BJP. When Fadnavis became the state BJP president, it was a job none of these veterans in the BJP, now opposing him, wanted because at the time it did not look like the BJP would get even close to seizing power from the deeply entrenched Congress-NCP alliance in the state. Fadnavis, however, took the thankless job and took on the two ruling parties in right earnest, pointing out their various transgressions and constantly demanding the resignations and arrests of the corrupt in the government, including former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar.
But as senior journalist Sukrut Khandekar says, it took a decade or more for cases of corruption against the Congress and the NCP to come to the fore. The BJP has got caught in scam after scam in less than a year of its existence in government. Starting with Women and Child Welfare minister Pankaja Munde who was accused of violating all government norms in clearing tenders worth more than Rs 200 crore in just a day for the supply of chikkis to children in anganwadis for their mid-day meal — the chikkis turned out to be substandard and were supplied by the very same contractors who had been indicted during the previous regime for a similar transgression – to accusations against minister for education Vinod Tawde, who had not just lied on affidavit about his educational qualifications but actually involved in similarly tendering wrongly (for fire hydrants) and even a conflict of interest case wherein he was on the board of the company (Tarun Bharat) whose director he appointed to a government committee. The list has been long. “If you look closely at least ten ministers before the expansion had scam allegations against them,” Nawab Malik, the chief spokesperson of the NCP told me. “Now there are four more.”
Fadnavis who was earlier always on the ball, demanding the resignations of everybody in the government with allegations of scams emerging against them is now on the back foot, having no choice but to defend every minister in his cabinet, including Eknath Khadse who had to eventually resign when it became impossible to defend the conflict of interest that had emerged in a case of land grab against him when he was revenue minister. But as Khandekar points out, “Khadse till now does not have a police case registered against him. The new ministers do.”
Adds Malik, “During our regime, Fadnavis was in the forefront of demanding amendments to the Lokayukta act to arm that authority with powers equal to the police to arrest the corrupt. So why has he not brought in that amendment despite 18 months as head of the government? He knows the moment he does that half his cabinet would be behind bars. He cannot afford to acknowledge the corruption in his government.”
Among the new ministers inducted by Fadnavis, Ravindra Chavan had referred to Dalits as ‘pigs’ and has had several women’s groups register cases against him for the same. Sambhaji Patil Nilangekar, the estranged grandson of former chief minister Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar (who was with the Congress but his family defected to the BJP a few years ago) is considered close to Fadnavis and has been inducted into the cabinet as a Maratha who would ward off the challenge to Fadnavis from the current state BJP president Raosaheb Danve. Sambhaji, however, has cases registered against him for duping three banks of Rs 40 crore. Then, again, the grandson of former co-operative doyen Dadasaheb Rawal, Jaykumar Rawal, according to Malik, has cases filed against him for misappropriation and grabbing of government land. Gulabrao Patil, who is from the Shiv Sena, was also arrested days before his induction into the cabinet in a land grab case. Of the ministers inducted in 2014, Chandrashekhar Bawkule has a case of irregularities in the purchase of solar pumps, Girish Bapat has allegations of irregularities in the purchase of pulses (daal) for which he has been questioned by the Lokayukta, Ravindra Waikar is accused of indulging in irregularities in slum rehabilitation, Vishnu Savra is accused of irregularities in purchases of material supplies to Adivasi students, Girish Mahajan is accused in another land scam, Babanrao Lonikar is accused of filing a bogus election affidavit, Ranjit Patil is accused, again, of land grab.
Adding to the government’s woes the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court has just ruled against the award of tenders worth more than 6000 crore rupees for the provision of take home rations for children and lactating mothers awarded by Pankaja Munde’s child and women welfare department to dubious contractors.
Munde was also involved in a public spat with the chief minister when he took away the water resources department from her and allocated it to another minister Ram Shinde who has, equally publicly, refused to take charge until Pankaja willingly hands it over to him on her return from Singapore (she has returned now and Shinde has taken charge).
All this raises the question – is the BJP as clean as it projects itself and does Fadnavis really have the authority to command the respect of his cabinet? That was a question we were constantly asking of Prithviraj Chavan too.
Whenever former Prime Minister VP Singh used to visit Bombay – and he was in the city almost every other week during his life time – it was my job to keep track of his activities and follow him around at the newspaper I was working for around the time. Every alternate day of his Bombay visit used to find him at the Bombay Hospital. I used to hang outside his private room at the hospital and after he became familiar and friends with me, he invited me in to his hospital room where he was always sitting up, reading a book or listening to music, with tubes running through his arm and a machine whirring beside his bed. I chatted with him for hours as he underwent dialysis and it is from him that I earnt that no patient of dialysis survived in India for more than two years – not because there were not enough good nephrologists in India but because there were not enough donors for all. The remaining who had to undergo dialysis all died in a short while, again not for lack of technology but for the water used in the dialysis machines.
“I have had all bottled waters available in India tested for germs. I was horrified to discover that except for one (Bisleri) every other bottled water has human faeces in them.’’
But that was nearly a quarter of a century ago. Now there are several premier bottled water brands and patients don’t need to die within two years because they cannot have the hospital set up water filters for themselves that use only Bisleri water for the dialysis process as Singh had demanded at both the Bombay Hospital and Apollo Hospital in New Delhi that helped him survive for long after the two years given to dialysis patients at the time. Kidney patients in Bombay have been on dialysis for years now without any discomfort or complications (indeed many prefer dialysis to transplant because they can lead a ner normal life with dialysis these days) – the reverse osmosis plants take care of impurities in water supplied by the municipal corporation and infection is rare. But I discover that while dialysis technology is safe and comfortable even today it is only Bombay, New Delhi and a handful of large cities that can offer dialysis with guarantees. But now there is an effort from Bombay to improve the chances of kidney patients for as Dr Shrirang Bichu (voluntary disclosure – Dr Bichu saved my life last year when I was admitted to hospital with many complications), a leading nephrologist of Bombay tells me, every year India adds two lakh kidney ailments patients to its health system. Nearly 90 percent of them die within the year because there are not enough dialysis centres and indeed very few dialysis technologists to man the machines and the patients.
Keeping this in mind now a consortium of leading nephrologists in Mumbai along with Rotary International and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences have come together to set up for the very first time in India a school of dialysis technology which will educate and train young professionals in dialysis technology over one to three years offering diplomas and a degree in dialysis technology. So far dialysis technologists have not had specific training in the processes and have been mostly self taught and trained on the job. Rotary Metropolitan Club of Mumbai is funding the training for 50 students in the first batch which begins in July at the Tata Institute of Social sciences which for the first time is introducing the B. Voc (Bachelor of Vocation) degree under the Skilling India programme of the union government. The course has been designed by the Apex School of Dialysis Technology, an offshoot of Apex Kidney Care which has been running both paid and charitable dialysis for patients at its numerous dialysis centres across Mumbai and Westerns Maharashtra but now plans to go national. According to Dr Shrirang Bichu who is one of the doctors in the consortium it took them two and a half years to design the course which offers students an exit option every year. The students have been handpicked from poor and deprived families and the three year degree course costing Rs 80,000 every year is free for these students. The tabs will be picked up by Rotary Metropolitan of Mumbai and the Rotary Club of New Jersey which have together already created a corpus of 45,000 US dollars for the first year. Students who exit in the first year will be offered a diploma. They will get an advanced diploma after the second year. Completion of three years will secure them a degree. “Thus every year they are offered the opportunity to enhance their job possibilities,’’ says Neela Dabir, the administrator of the course at TISS. “Usually if you quit after first year of graduate college, that education has no value. We are now making sure that if they are not able to sustain their education (though students will be offered stipends apart from free education), they can quit without losing a year and take up the degree whenever they are better placed.’’ The course will be only 12 hours per week of theoretical classes. The rest of the time the students will be mentored at dialysis centres cross Mumbai by senior technologists who have so far been self-taught and self-trained. “We hope in time we will have enough technologists who can spread across India into even the small tons and villages where there is a severe dearth of dialysis facilities where they can save many lives by use of their special skills. The nephrologists who are part of the consortium that runs Apex Kidney Care also have support from the Harrd Medical School in the US and the Universitt of Sydney in Australia.
There is hope that the programme will have a twofold benefit – help kidney patients survive in large numbers, of course and bring many rural children into the health system as trained dialysis technologists. This year the students have been picked from maharshtra. All three promoters of the programme hope word of their effort will spread and more students from the parts of the country will take advantage of the course and bring the benefit to other parts of the country as well.
As Maharashtra , as we know it today, completes 66 years of its existence, we must wonder whether it will eventually break up into as many parts as made it whole in 1960.
There are those demanding statehood for Vidarbha who have always observed May 1 – which is both Maharashtra and Gujarat day because the two states were bifurcated from Bombay province on this day – as a `Black day’. But for a major part no one has noticed or bothered about these demonstrations because the people of all regions of Maharashtra are by and large happy with the integration of their regions into the larger state.
Maharashtra was formed out of three parts – Bombay state (which included Western Maharashtra), Marathwada which was part of the Nizam’s Hyderabad stam Provinces and Berar. At the time of their integration into Maharashtra, the eight districts (now 11) of Vidarbha were by and large upset at the scant attention being paid to them by the rulers of the Mahakaushal region who allocated funds mostly for the development of the Hindi speaking regions of CP&Berar. That was the identical complaint of leaders of Western Maharashtra from the Bombay state who felt most funds from their state were going towards Kutch and Saurashtra and that native Maharashtrians could never get justice under a mixed state. Marathwada was less troubled by such favouritism for the Nizam was universally unjust to all the regions under his rule, including his native Telangana, but wanted their fortunes to be determined by Maharashtra and not the Nizam.
After they came together as a whole, there have always been complaints that politicians of Western Maharashtra have been unjust to both Vidarbha and Marathwada by ensuring development in their region and ignoring the other parts of the state. There is some truth to that allegation but the fact remains that the longest serving chief minister of Maharashtra – Vasantrao Naik – hailed from Vidarbha and yet did not do much for his region. Marathwada had several chief ministers ruling from Mantralaya and yet continues to remain backward. Hence it is the laid back attitudes of leaders from these regions that are responsible for their backwardness, so would it be completely fair to hold just politicians from Western Maharashtra fully responsible for this travesty?
Now, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is in a bit of a bind over a separate Vidarbha. Generally, it is only those politicians who have been sidelined by their parties who are seen in the forefront of an agitation for statehood and over the past years these included many in the BJP. Now, however, both the party and the region have it as never before. Vidarbha elected the maximum number of BJP candidates to the assembly which helped the party to install a chief minister in Bombay. The region thus has a chief minister along with a high performing minister in Nitin Gadkari and the people believe they need no more than these two to see them through the backlog in development projects and catch up with the rest of the state.
The BJP, then, cannot work towards a separate Vidarbha for losing its grip over Maharashtra – in any case Bombay, as the commercial capital of India, is more important to any political party than Nagpur or Aurangabad. Now the Shiv Sena which, along with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, is the only party in Maharashtra with no divided views over unified Maharashtra, has put the BJP on the mat with a resolution moved in the state legislature seeking its commitment to an undivided state. The BJP is thus damned if it does and damned if it does not for it has the issue of statehood written into its manifesto. This is the advantage that the separatists are taking advantage of now and threatening to burn copies of the manifesto on May 1 to focus attention on the party’s alleged duplicity.
Knowing the Shiv Sena, I can say they will once again flood the streets with blood and gore at the slightest breath of their ally attempting to bifurcate the state again. This issue, of integrti0n of all Marathi speaking areas into one unit was, after all, what defined them in 1969 when they first turned violent – that time the fight was to annex Belgaum and Karwar with Maharashtra. This time it will be to keep Nagpur from seceding.
It will not be easy for the BJP to enforce the separation while it might be a lesser evil to allow those demanding statehood to burn as many copies of their manifesto as they wish and then allow the agitation to die down as it always has from year to year. People from the rest of Maharashtra are beginning to ask if the BJP even has the right to celebrate Maharashtra Day with its flip-flops over breaking up the state. Buthe demand for a separate Vidarbha has always left a majority of the people of even Vidarbha cold.
Why then unnecessarily should they wake up the sleeping tiger?
During my travels all across Gujarat, there would always be a “store room” lurking behind the main dining room at the hotels I stayed at. I found that a very odd place to lodge a storeroom and wondered why so many men – sometimes foreigners – were spending so long in those storerooms. It was much later that I discovered these `store rooms’ were a euphemism for `bars’ – behind stacks of goods that made the godown look like a genuine store room, away from direct view there were set some tables and chairs and the drinkers were served in non-transparent coffee (or rather beer) mugs to escape notice in case of a sudden raid,
But those raids rarely ever happened because not only were the authorities kept rolling in bribes, many times cops were the basic source to secure liquor from. Prohibition is a bit of a joke in Gujarat as it was in Maharashtra for a brief while when it was in force during the Emergency era – even government clubs had their bars flowing though I do recall all the officers had to apply for licences before asking for a drink. That rule is even now in force in Maharashtra but no one enforces it – neither the liquor stores, nor the pubs and bars. But pubs do keep hundreds of licences handy – you can buy one for five rupees if you wish or not, for that is a stand by in case of raids. Names will be quickly entered and the permits (indeed many bars are known as `permit rooms’) handed out to drinkers at the bar. But, again, as in Gujarat, such raids hardly ever happen unless the establishment is running some other notorious activity like dancing girls or acting as a cover for criminals and their nefarious activities.
I notice Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s dilemma in banning alcohol throughout Bihar as part of his poll promise to women and the warnings that such prohibition will only end up enriching the law enforcers without necessarily stopping the men from drinking. But if Kumar wants to succeed and gain the confidence of the women at the same time, he has to look no further than Maharashtra and Sharad Pawar for a unique alcohol policy that will not only shut the liquor shops but also make the women feel – rather than just patronised by a chief minister attempting to make life easy for them.
The Maharashtra government is the only government anywhere in the world that has such a unique liquor policy and it is one of Sharad Pawar’s landmark achievements. In 1995, Pawar thought to attract the vote of women by giving them the power to shut down liquor stores and drinking joints in their villages. By this law, if more than fifty per cent of the women in any village are troubled by drunkard husbands and wish to get them off alcohol, they have the power to petition the Collector of the district to hold a referendum in that village. If more than fifty per cent of the women turn up to vote and the vote goes for the shutting of the bars and stores, the shutters are forcibly downed within 24 hours and stay down forever. There is no room for appeal.
The policy was slow to take off – women did not notice it in 1995 and Sharad Pawar’s government was voted out of power receiving a major drubbing at the assembly elections that year. But, by and by, women realised that they did not need an Anna Hazare to tie drunkards to a tree and beat them up until the transgressors fell in line. In the two decades since that policy became law village after village went in for a referendum and banned alcohol. There are whole talukas now which are alcohol free though this status has not come without inherent struggles. Women sarpanches, who have taken the lead in banning alcohol in these villages, have been under threat by the liquor mafia, the process does not come without the inherent bribery and corruption – attempts are made to influence officials to rig the results, women are threatened on voting day, sometimes tied to furniture in their own homes by their husbands, many of them go into hiding before surfacing minutes before voting commences, even Collectors are sometimes threatened from declaring the results. But the policy is succeeding on a grand scale — to such an extent that men from the villages have to travel to nearby towns to find their supply of alcohol. As a result, the Maharashtra government was in the process of considering extending the policy to areas governed by municipal councils to make it immensely difficult for the men to find liquor in a hurry.
All this is happening despite the fact that for the past 15 years during the Congress-NCP regime, largely run by sugar barons, many ministers were seeking ways and means to maximise not just revenues but even personal gains. Shutting down liquor stores meant huge losses in excise duties but the sugar barons also needed to find an end use for the molasses generated in their factories and they tried many a trick to overturn the policy but to no avail.
Sharad Pawar might be remembered for many things not too savoury or sweet but the rural women of Maharashtra largely associate him now with making their lives less miserable than before the liquor policy was introduced. It has given them a sense of empowerment – not just the Sarpanches or panchayat samiti members but even the ordinary housewife in the village feels she has a right to govern her own life and that she can make it happen.
Nitish Kumar should try this route to banning alcohol in Bihar. As such women voted for him in large numbers. He will never lose their vote again if he empowers them thus rather than just imposing a decision from above in a manner that is guaranteed to fail. Sharad Pawar is just a phone call away.
Over the years, the Maharashtra Bhushan award has been given by the state government to a galaxy of writers, poets, journalists, even singers, among them Lata Mangeshkar. Just about anybody who has done Maharashtra proud, in fact.
This year it was awarded to Babasaheb Purandare and his nomination has once again upset the political equations in the state. There were bitter objections to his name by everybody to the left of the government – even the Nationalist Congress Party which is professing support to the BJP-led government in the state. In fact, the NCP was more bitterly opposed than even the Congress but there was a common thread to the objections that was not immediately apparent. A lot of young journalists called to ask me if the award was meant only for historians – that is the only feasible reason they saw for the objections.
But neither is the award meant only for historians, nor is Purandare strictly a historian, he is simply a balladeer who in the past decades has popularised the legend of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj through his poems and plays. But it is therein that lies the conflict. Purandare is not only accused of characterising Shivaji as anti-Muslim, focussing on just four incidents in the latter’s reign, among them his escape from Aurangzeb’s Agra jail and his killing of Afzal Khan which make him seem like an anti-Muslim king — which he was not.
Had he been anti-Muslim, former Maharashtra chief minister A R Antulay would never have ordered the writing of a 12 volume history of Shivaji in the 1980s which was, sadly, abandoned by a succession of Maratha chief ministers, among them Shivaji’s descendants, through the 1980s and 1990s and even this century. Nor would Antulay have attempted to bring back Shivaji’s legendary sword of Bhavani – he never went to wr without it — from Buckingham palace where it still sits proudly in the Queen’s collection. When I quizzed Antulay about his love for Shivaji, he had told me Shivaji was against the Moghuls and their subedars. That is not the same thing as being anti-Muslim, he said.
“In fact, more than a third of his army and half his most trusted generals were Muslim and he had also adopted the Moghul court dress as his own. He was against their expansionism, not against their religion.”
So was the opposition of the NCP and to some extent of the Congress to Purandare’s award on account of his portrayal of Shivaji as anti-Muslim? I do not think so. I think it was a caste battle at its ugliest – a fight for the OBC vote that has shifted towards the BJP after one of their own, Narendra Modi came to power at the Centre.
Only Sharad Pawar’s convoluted thinking in formulating an opposition to a Brahminical order (the RSS) through targeting a balladeer and playwright, albeit one who wrote on a popular historical figure and one who is, conveniently, a member of the RSS, which could bring such ferocity to the campaign.
But why it has also ben convenient to raise the rhetoric on Purandare is because his ballads make out Shahaji to be an absentee father and hint at an unusual friendship between his mother Jijabai and Dada Kondadeo, Shivaji’s tutor, who had a lasting influence on the Maratha warrior king. Purandare not only projects Shivaji as a protector of the Brahminical order (which may not be true, considering the Peshwas refused to recognise him and boycotted his coronation – he had to bring in priests from Benaras to do the honours). But, as emerges from American professor James Laine’s book, which has heavily relied upon Purandare’s interpretations of Shivaji’s life and times, Shahaji might not have been Shivaji’s biological father. For that one line, Laine’s book has been banned in India and, moreover, the Sambhaji Brigade (Sambhaji was Shivaji’s son) which ta draws its sustenance from the NCP, had ransacked the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute for its help to James Laine in the writing of the book – that controversy and the successful campaign against Laine propelled both the Congress and the NCP, in alliance with each other, to power and kept them in government for 15 years.
Lately both the Congress and the NCP have been losing their OBC base, including the support of Marathas to the Shiv Sena and the BJP and this was too opportune an occasion to let go of – I am sure Pawar knew he would accomplish nothing by opposing the award to Purandare – the government was not likely to cow down. But that was not the intention which was more to once again drive a wedge between Brahmins and others. And the fact that Purandare is a member of the RSS while the state’s chief minister belongs to its political wing and is a Brahmin besides were convenient tools in this game of consolidating the anti-Brahmin votes in the state.
The government, of course, determinedly went ahead and awarded the honour to the 93 year old balladeer and the ceremony itself went off rather well despite all the noise preceding it. It is worth reminding readers that, while in power, the NCP organs had raised objections to a state government sports award – the equivalent of the Arjuna awards – named after Kondadeo. The award had been given out annually for three decades through several term of Pawar as chief minister with no one bothered about it. It is only when the NCP began to feel the ground slipping from under its feet that the Sambhaji Brigade came forward with similar noises and ultimatum. The Congress gave in. But neither that nor a 11th hour reservation for Marathas and Muslims ahead of the assembly elections in Maharashtra in October 2014 did much to salvage the parties’ electoral prospects. But now obviously the NCP realises that it cannot afford to be in the saffron space for too long and must consolidate its vote bank before it is too late. The award to Purandare was just tailor made for the purpose and it is not surprising that the agitation ceased abruptly after the awards ceremony.
In Maharashtra, I have noticed, there is almost a controversy a day with regard to Shivaji, even over matters as innocuous as the date of his birth. The government believes he was born in the month of Phalgun and so declare s a holiday in February-March, the Shiv Sena believes he was born in the month of Chaitra (two separate sets of historians have established both facts) and there are major celebrations around April-May as well. The next controversy is likely to be over the building of the 300 feet high statue of Shivaji in the Arabian Sea –a project started by the Congress but now being continued by the BJP and the Shiv Sena who are currently in power. They have appointed Purandare as consultant and there are already noises that his appointment will distort Shivaji’s image. How? I fail to understand. In writing his ballads he may have interpreted Shivaji’s life differently but how does a Brahminical mindset distort a physical image of Shivaji?
Only the NCP which claims a long line of his descendants have the answers.
I am getting rather tired of venting steam against trolls but I have to do this again – not for myself but for friends and fellow female journalists who think alike. There are many journalists who quickly switched sides once Narendra Modi came to power but I am glad to note that there are an equal number of people who did not. And I do not see why any of us should be apologetic about not believing in Modi or believing in the philosophy of the Congress party and by extension in Rahul Gandhi, its vice president.
It stands to reason that the BJP which was earlier making fun of Rahul for not taking off successfully, is today stung by some of his actions – most notably the `suit boot ki Sarkar’ comment which derailed Modi’s land bill and lately by his attack on the government for shielding corrupt ministers. And whether one agrees or disagrees with his views, it has to have hurt the BJP for Arun Jaitley to say something like ‘the more he ages, the more he immatures’.
As quips go, that’s a pretty remarkable one-liner and even if Rahul may have come off the worse against Sushma Swaraj in the debate on her alleged `humanitarian’ help to a fugitive from the law (Lalit Modi), there are enough of us who think she really had no answers to the questions asked by Rahul Gandhi and so was raking up the past instead of speaking in the present.
Many of us who dislike Modi do not necessarily adore Rahul Gandhi but there might be some who do. Fellow journalist Neeta Kolhatkar is one of them – but even if she does think well of Rahul, she has enough neutrality to write a tongue-in-cheek piece on the Congress vice president, advising him what he must and must not do to revive the Congress party.
Now what has upset me and other women journalists is that that piece brought forth a rather pre-pubescent kind of commentary from a blogger who calls himself `Chaiwala’ and who accuses Neeta of ‘orgasming for real’ over Rahul Gandhi.
It once again reminded me of how senior journalist Swati Chaturvedi was targeted for her charitable comments about Rahul Gandhi in virtually the same terms. Chaturvedi filed an FIR, Kolhatkar has complained to the Mumbai police’s cyber cell to locate this blogger who has been harassing female journalists in particular and to block the website and IP address he is using to post his blogs.
I do hope the Mumbai police will take some action against such anonymous trolls who have got away for far too long with attempting to cow down particularly female political commentators who refuse to go gaga over Narendra Modi. I must say even if many of us are non-believers in the supreme leader none of us resort to abuse, obscenities or unmentionable words to describe Modi or his supporters– not even when it comes to allegations of his affections for a certain woman when he was chief minister of Gujarat. And I may point out that while his own BJP party men make snide remarks and smirk about his affections for Smriti Irani, it was Rana Ayub, a fellow female journalist, bitterly opposed to the BJP and Modi, who took up the cudgels on her behalf and in a scathing attack on these BJP men said she would not tolerate any nonsense from them about Smriti unless it related to her work as HRD minister.
For all they call us `sickular’ and paid journalists, it is a fact that it is the BJP which pays an army of trolls to target those opposed to Modi and his policies and when General V K Singh called Arnab Goswami a `presstitute’ he did not even bother to look up the dictionary meaning of the term. In fact, it is the pro-Modi supporters who might be legitimately called that because a presstitute is someone who swallows the government, well, hook, line and sinker and does not even bother to investigate the facts. If those supporting Rahul Gandhi are not buying Modi’s rhetoric, then they are the exact opposite of presstitutes, even if they be on the Congress payrolls – which I doubt greatly. Because as was seen from the fiasco in parliament, the Congress had no intelligence and to manage its case and absolutely no ideas on how to manage the media – if they had they would have done better with their government for ten years and not lost the plot and the battle of perception to Modi so miserably.
But sometimes I believe these trolls are actually the Congress’s best friends – because the more they attack those not with them, they drive the dissenters closer to Modi’s rival.
I, too, began with a lot of scepticism about Rahul Gandhi’s ability to take the reins in his hands firmly. I did not ridicule him the way the trolls did but I wished he could do better than just that interview with Arnab Goswami. But now that he has begun talking and formulating his own witticisms, the trolls don’t seem to like it one bit and such is their lack of understanding that they are not even able to differentiate genuine admiration from tongue in cheek comments.
But I have learnt a thing or two from Neeta Kolhatkar – she told me she did not want to accord these trolls with more publicity by lodging criminal complaints against them. She has learnt to laugh off their comments – and, in fact, she knows she is doing something right when they go so wrong. On second thoughts, I suppose this is the best way to deal with trolls like Chaiwala. But I wonder, in the privacy of their homes, alone with their own thoughts do these trolls realise the kind of despicable human beings they might be? I seriously doubt they do.
Every time I come across some devastatingly bad human nature, I am surprised by the generosity of the people who have been wronged by that. It happens in the real world all the time but now more and more often the digital world is prone to such incidents.
Some months ago I read the story of a Jewish American journalist who had been receiving many anti-Semitic threats on his Twitter account and the stalker seemed to have many details of his private life. His wife’s Twitter handle had a nom de plume and she was spared of those abuses until she identified herself as the long suffering wife of this journalist. Soon they began to receive packages at their doorstep that had not too savoury contents and their stalker seemed to know every last emotion that went into their reaction.
That is when they called in the authorities and eventually were horrified to discover the identity of their tormentor – the 17 year old son of their good neighbour and friends with whom they dined at least twice a week, went on picnics and shopping together and were considered the best of friends by the entire community,
They informed the shocked parents and took the boy out to dinner. They began to speak of their harassmeant and all the while the boy acted sympathetic and played the innocent. They gave him ample opportunity to own up to his crime but when he didn’t they let him know they had his measure. Then the boy broke down as his furious father permitted his friends to take any action against their son as they wished – he could have got thirty years in prison for racism and anti-Semitism at the least. But they let him off with a stern warning even as he burst in tears – he was a bright student and his entire life and career could have been ruined had they brought a case against him.
I was reminded of the story when this week former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan faced a similar situation – though not one of cyber threat but one of impersonation. A young college boy from Shirur in the interiors of Maharashtra with professors for parents had started a faux Facebook page in his name and had been happily chatting away with all Chavan’s friends and supporters for months. Chavan had been flummoxed when those chats were mentioned to him but thought it was a case of mistaken identity. However, when he and former MLA Krishna Hegde were travelling together to New Delhi this week, Hegde mentioned to him a chat they had had just the previous day. Chavan denied all knowledge of it and when Hegde logged on and started the chat again both were horrified to discover the impersonator merrily pretending to be Ashok Chavan even as Chavan was sitting with dropping jaws beside Hegde looking into his phone and supposed statements he was making.
Chavan soon lodged a police complaint and the boy was picked up from his home and brought to Bombay along with his father. I was amazed that Chavan, like the American journalist, should have let this boy go too – with a stern warning that he would never do it again, even as the boy’s father was in tears in both shame and embarrassment and relief that his son would not have to go to jail. Chavan’s reasoning was the same – the case would unnecessarily ruin the boy’s career and future prospects.
I guess both Chavan and the American journalist are better human beings than I could ever be for I would have found it difficult to forgive anyone, young or old, under the circumstances.
I find many of my colleagues equally generous, if not forgiving, when they are abused by trolls and sometimes genuine handles on Twitter. I generally block them and move on but lately I am getting less tolerant of such transgressions and am seriously considering taking leaf out of senior journalist Swati Chaturvedi’s book – I have promised troublesome trolls that one word of abuse against my parents, my family, my friends or even my colleagues and I shall go to the police.
Generosity is good in its own place but we need sterner action against people who think they have the right to threaten, abusea or impersonate (except when they identify themselves as parody accounts) with impunity just because the anonymity of the net gives them good cover.
The government could find the resources to block more than 800 porn sites of which some were just ribald humour sites. While child porn is definitely to be acted against, I wonder if the government has in itself to stop the abuse against people who disagree with them because much of the abuse in is in the name of Narendra Modi who even seems to think nothing of felicitating these abusive trolls.
Generosity does not always come out of weakness, one needs to be a nobler spirited individual to act like Chavan and the Jewish American journalist did. It is sad that not many recognise that generosity for what it is and seem to mistake it as a license for more abuse and impersonation.
I wonder if the American boy actually had a change of heart about Jews with that forgiveness and if our own lad from Shirur will truly desist. Perhaps not.
But I salute both Chavan and the Amercan journalist and hope I can be as forgiving.
There was a time in the last decade of the 1990s when Bal Thackeray was ranting and screaming blue murder at the Atal Behari Vajpayee government at the Centre. Vajpayee had taken a bus to Lahore (and broght back some goats on it), had invited Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf to Agra, had attempted to build bridges to the minority Muslim community and, at one time, even donned a typical green turban.
Chhagan Bhujbal, the rather pugnacious leader of the Nationalist Congress Party, first hit the limelight in 1985 when he attempted to stop Rajiv Gandhi from entering the city of his birth.
Bhujbal was then the Mayor of Bombay and belonged to the Shiv Sena. Rajiv had just been elected Prime Minister. The Congress was heading for its centenary in December that year and which better place to hold the celebrations in than the city of both his (Rajiv’s) and the Congress’s birth?
But Bhujbal was not having any of that. “What has the Prime Minister or his party done for the city?” Bhujbal queried. “Why should we allow the invasion of lakhs of Congress workers into the city only for them to leave behind a lot of dirt and mess?”
It seemed touch and go for a while and, in a way, that brought about the first major Central grant for infrastructure in the city – Rs 100 crore announced by Rajiv ahead of the centenary celebrations. That pacified the Shiv Sena and the Congress celebrations went ahead on schedule.
The next time Bhujbal made the headlines was a few months later during his continuing stint as Mayor when he “purified” the martyrs memorial at Flora Fountain (Hutatma Chowk) after Dalit groups had allegedly soiled it with their presence during a huge rally in support of the Maharashtra government’s publication of `Riddles of Hinduism’ from the collected works of Dr B R Ambedkar during the latter’s birth centenary. Bhujbal belongs to the Other Backward Classes and it came as a surprise to many that he should have used gallons of `holy water’ to purify the monument. But as he later told me, “I took the water from the Pyrkes restaurant (now defunct) nearby to clean up the mess. Now Pyrkes is an Irani restaurant, so if I was seeking to purify the memorial why should I be asking them for water? I would have brought it from Banaras. It was just a statement for public hygiene.”
Over the years he kept making the headlines — like being the first saffron leader, even ahead of any from the BJP, to publicly praise Nathuram Godse and call into question Mahatma Gandhi. But when I questioned him again he shrugged it off saying it was not his conviction. But that Shiv Sena leaders had to say such things that went against their grain to satisfy their supreme leader (Bal Thackeray).
Thackeray, at the time, was a formidable politician and ran terror through the masses of his supporters for even daring to defy him on any count. So Bhujbal was indeed brave to exit the Shiv Sena with a big bang in 1991. He had justification – the Sena was largely a party limited to Bombay and Bhujbal claimed that its leaders did not even know the roads leading out of the metropolis to other parts of Maharashtra until he built up the party to the grassroots in other cities. Even the Sena’s saffron standard was designed by him. “They did not even know how to cut the flag, they destroyed yards of saffron silk by just cutting triangles. I taught them the reverse cut that made the standard the Shiv Sena’s own.”
Moreover, the Shiv Sena was never able to win more than one seat in the Maharashtra assembly at a time upto the 1990s. Even while he was Mayor, Bhujbal was the lone member of the Shiv Sena in the assembly between 1985 and 1990. He again made the headlines when during an expose of then chief minister Sharad Pawar’s alleged involvement in a land dereservation scandal, he brought a banner into the House with a black band on his arm and tape across his mouth. The banner read simply,“Bhookhandache Shrikhand’’. Bhookhand, meaning plots of land. And by shrikhand he meant Pawar had swallowed up all those plots. He was thrown out of the House for that day.
So it was but natural that when the Shiv Sena, in alliance with the BJP, got 85 seats in 1990, Bhujbal should expect to be rewarded for keeping the Sena standard flying through those lonesome years and be named leader of the opposition. But, then, his arch rival Manohar Joshi, who had until then failed to win even a single grassroots election and been only a nominated member of the legislative council, arm twisted Thackeray into giving him that job. Bhujbal was pacified by Thackeray with the promise that the post of leader of the opposition would be rotated among many notables for five years – just as Thackeray had rotated the mayor’s office among various of his close supporters.
When Thackeray reneged on his promise, Bhujbal decided enough was enough and called it quits. But the Shiv Sena was a much feared wild animal in those days and Bhujbal’s decision was made at great risk to his life. He went underground and nothing Thackeray did – including post lookouts at all airports, railway stations and bus stops in Maharashtra – could smoke him out. Sharad Pawar offered him complete protection and days after Bhujbal defected to the Congress with his supporters during the winter session of the assembly in Nagpur, Bhujbal was sworn in as minister and safely ensconced behind a security wall.
Trouble came calling at his door a few years later when he lost the assembly election from his traditional Mazgaon constituency to the Shiv Sena in 1995 and was reduced to mere leader of the opposition in the legislative council, with a Sena government in Mantralaya. Thackeray decided to exact his revenge and sent his goons to allegedly kill Bhujbal. When the killers arrived, Bhujbal darted into a dark corner of his house and stood against the wall, trembling until the attackers left after breaking all the furniture and glass on failing to find him.
‘’Every morning that I leave home, I tell my wife be prepared for a strange knock on the door — I might return in a janaza (hearse) that evening. Today could be my last sunrise or sunset,’’ he said after the attack. “But now that I have survived, I know what I must do with my second birth.’’
And that was to demystify Bal Thackeray and expose him for the coward that he really was. Bhujbal revealed many inside stories to the public which showed Thackeray up to be essentially a bully with no courage to follow up on his diktats that could cause risk to his life or liberty. ‘’If I do not expose him, there will soon be temples to Bal Thackeray and it will be very difficult to combat the goondaism of the Shiv Sena,’’ he said. Today, the beginning of the downfall of the Shiv Sena can be traced to Bhujbal’s personalized campaign against Bal Thackeray.
Bhujbal’s entire political career, however, has been about hopeless options –: he always found himself between a rock and a very hard place. When Pawar split the Congress in 1999, he went into hiding for a few days to think out his options. He had been making an emotional pitch for Sonia Gandhi, painting her as a grieving widow raising her ‘kachcha bachchas’ (little kids) under trying circumstances and now Pawar wanted to split the Congress on the basis of her foreign origins. He thought it would ve immoral to attack Sonia Gandhi on these grounds and under her extreme circumstances.But he knew the local Congress leaders hated him for ursurping their positions of authority (like leader of the opposition and housing minister in the Pawar cabinet). He would once again be at risk from attacks by the Shiv Sena and may not get the protection that Pawar offered him. So he reluctantly sided with Pawar and even became the president of the Maharashtra unit of the NCP.
When the Congress and the NCP came together to form a government later that year, he ended up as deputy chief minister and home minister – the pinnacle of his success to date. At the time it suited Pawar to bestow such high office on Bhujbsl. He was OBC and not expected to get above his station in life. Moreover, Pawar feared other leaders in his own party, most of who were Maratha and could have used this dual authority to grow their own roots and entrench themselves in positions of power as Marathas have always been the ruling class of Maharashtra — most chief ministers have been from this community.
But Bhujbal became a very strong home minister nonetheless, so Pawar cut him down to size by taking away the home department from him the next time though reinstating him as deputy chief minister. Bhujbal now held the public works department – and he continued to hold it through his stints in government which , seemingly, has now got him into trouble.
Despite not belonging to the ruling class, Bhujbal began to appear larger than life and in subsequent years Pawar was left with no option but to put him down again and again in order to protect the turf for his own nephew Ajit Pawar. Although, in the meantime, Bhujbal made up with Thackeray, politics in Maharashra had changed beyond
recognition by then and he could not have rejoined the Shiv Sena or any other political party, including the Congress. With the NCP his only option, he swallowed his pride and accepted all his `demotions’ without protest. When in 2014 Pawar, facing a dearth of suitable candidates, decreed that all his ministers must contest the Lok Sabha polls, most Marathas defied Pawar and laughed in his face. Bhujbal was the only minister, apart from one other person, who meekly accepted . Of course, he lost the Lok Sabha seat from Nasik previously held by his nephew Sameer Bhujbal. The highlight of his campaign then was a ridicule of Narendra Modi’s exaggerated claims – imitating Modi’s nasal twang Bhujbal invoked the by now famous `mitron’ and informed them that in Gujarat you could even extract milk from not just the `bhains’ but also the bhainsa (male buffaloe), among other things. That video went viral during the polls and is not something Modi is likely to forget in a hurry.
Bhujbal did win back his own assembly seat in October that year but the writing was on the wall in capital letters, clear to him when the NCP announced that it would be supporting the BJP in Maharashtra. Modi had declared the NCP to be the “Naturally Corrupt Party’’ of India and the BJP cannot be seen as cohorting with corrupt politicians. The new Maharashtra government has already announced a series of investigations against ministers in the previous government and among them is Pawar’s nephew. It would be disastrous to the Pawar dynasty should that investigation go forward and Ajit be indicted. But the BJP will not be satisfied with no action at all on this front.
This is where Bhujbal now has to offer himself up once again as the sacrificial goat – he is enough of a big fish to satisfy both Modi and the BJP and make it look determined to root out corruption. Then he did make fun of Modi recently and of Pawar years ago and both do not forgive slights easily. If Ajit pawar’s case is lost amid the duly diverted attention, the BJP gets to keep its image intact and at the same time balance the Shiv Sena off against the NCP, given that Uddhav Thackeray too is proving to be a troublesome ally.
Now under investigation not just for his role in the scam relating to the new Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi but also various land deals over the years, Bhujbal, a vegetable vendor who rose to great heights and a multi million rupee fortune, may have nowhere to run. “Where will I go at this age and point in my career?’’ he had said when asked if he woud be rejoining the Shiv Sena. But he may have to tell his wife again to expect another strange knock at the door — this time from sleuths of the Anti Corruption Bureau, come to arrest him and throw him into the slammer.
It could be sometime before he could see a sunrise or a sunset again.
I may be wrong but I have a fair idea of who has been trolling journalists not supportive of Narendra Modi – a fellow journalist and a female one at that, masked behind an anonymous handle. By and large it is paid trolls of saffron parties who operate behind anonymous identities, liberals, generally, have the courage to not hide their identities. Read more