Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Growing old but not wiser

By Dilip Awasthi

1934, 1936, 1941 and 45 are not the participating models of a vintage car rally. In a world obsessed with youth, these are the entries in the year column of the frontline state BJP leaders.

Like in case of women, never ask the age of a BJP state leader. It will be a waste of time as a truthful answer is unlikely to come. In this age of information, it took a collective effort of three days to figure out the dates of birth of senior BJP state leaders. The reactions in the party office ranged from a confused “but what has happened….?” or a panicky “Is everthing allright?..” to the lame execuse “we don’t maintain such records…”.

At a stage when the Congress is celeberating the rise of 1971 born Rahul Gandhi and even Mulayam Singh Yadav is pinning hopes of his party’s future on his son Akhilesh (1973), who has been made the state party chief , the BJP seems to have run out of young blood in its ranks. Its playing eleven has proved infirm and incapable and the benches in the dugout are empty.

It all starts at the top with 1927 born LK Advani, who certainly would not like tobe referred to as prime minsietr still-in-waiting in 2012. It percolates down to Uttar Pradesh, the state which brought the BJP in political limelight in the late 1990s. The age list of party’s torch-bearers reads Keshari Nath Tripathi (1934), Lalji Tandon (1936), Kalraj Misra (1941), Om Prakash Singh (1945), national president Rajnath Singh and state president Dr Ramapati Ram Tripathi (both 1951) and Vinay Katiyar (both 1959). The list of state-level leaders virtually ends here.

They all are having a slippery relationship with time. Some of them are already puffing and panting. The rest would be knocking 55-60 and will join the superannuated club by 2012 when the state will have Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections together. The party office will be reminiscent of a geriatric ward by then. “An old head doesn’t always mean a wise one”, reflects a BJP well-wisher.

What is sad is that no one in the party seems to admit this. In a stock-talking meeting to analyse the Lok Sabha debacle, the state leaders concluded that the party had increased its voteshare. Just look at the figures to appreciate this audacity. The party could win just 10 seats and polled 17.5%, which is 0.5% more than 2007 Vidhan Sabha elections. They are celebrating this but convieniently choose to forget that the party polled 22.1% in 2004 Lok Sabha elections for a similar number of seats.

The party’s dismal performance is also proved by the fact that only 11 of its candidates finished as runners up and 30 were at number three whereas as many as 32 forfeited their deposit. In 2004 as many as 21 BJP candidates were runners up and 31 finished at number three whereas just 20 lost their security money.

That the party has run out of ideas and young state level leaders is proved by the decisions which it has been taking at crucial junctures. In 1999 when it had to replace towering Kalyan Singh as the chief minister, the best they could manage was 1923 born late Ram Prakash Gupta, who was 76 then. Yet again after the 2007 Vidhan Sabha humiliation when the party wanted to replace Keshari Nath Tripathi (1934) as the state president, the saffron archives could only yield Dr Ramapati Tam Tripathi, a 1951 born homeopathic doctor, who had been an unsung party general secretary for 11 years.

Now again a reshuffle is said to be in offing. In the absence of a second line, how many candles will be on the cake is anyone’s guess.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Turning Gandhigiri into Netagiri

Lucknow, March 19, 2009: Supreme court's decision on his petition must be giving Sanjay Dutt sleepless nights these days. The fate of his dream to switch over to `netagiri' from `gandhigiri' depends on the petition wherein he has requested the court to allow him to contest Lok Sabha elections from Lucknow.

"Dua kijiyega, supreme court ka faisla mere haq mein ho," urged actor Sanjay Dutt, the supposed candidate from Samajwadi Party (SP) for the high-profile Lucknow parliamentary seat. He said this at Lucknow's Aishbagh Eidgah on March 16 during a 45-minute long informal meet with several Sunni clerics.

Accompanied by Rajya Sabha member from SP, Virendra Bhatia, Dutt claimed that there was no official or political agenda of the meeting. However, the actor was at his best in terms of mannerism and language with the obvious aim of winning over Muslims who form 24. % of the electorate in Lucknow.

Sipping a cup of lemon tea at the Aishbagh Eidgah, Dutt spoke of what his parents taught him of religion. "Ma and Papa always said that one should respect all religions. It is for this reason, that I visit all places of worship to seek blessings," said the actor.

He may be a beginner in politics, but Sanjay Dutt seems to be learning his lessons fast. On his fourth trip to Lucknow, a more politically mature Munna Bhai visited the Samajwadi Party's district headquarters in Kaiserbagh to attend a Holi Milan samaroh and interacted with the party workers from the grass-roots level.

What showcased an interesting mix of his maturity as a politician and skills of a good actor, was the manner in which Sanju Baba managed to avoid a controversies by spontaneously improvising on a slip during his address that caused quite a few heads to turn. Speaking on senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Lalji Tandon's remarks that he is an outsider, an emphatic Sanjay Dutt questioned the very basis on which the remark was made.

"Main bahar ka nahin hoon. Hum sab Hindu hain..."(I am not an outsider. We all are Hindus...), said Dutt, sounding like a staunch saffron leader. His statement did create a murmur leaving some of the senior party leaders sharing the dais him visibly uncomfortable. Apparently taking the cue, Dutt hastened to repeat: "...Hum sab Hindustani hain," (We all are Hindustanis) much to the relief of his political mentors around him.

From here on, he spoke like a seasoned neta and when asked to comment on Tandon, who is BJP’s candidate in Lucknow in place of Atal Behari Vajpai, said: "Woh bahut hi varisht neta hain....humare bare hain....hum unka samman karte hain...(He is a very senior politician....he is my elder....I respect him a lot)."

Dutt spent more than a couple of hours interacting with party workers on a one-to-one basis, in between smiling for lensmen and his fans-cum-party workers who sought a chance to stand beside their Bollywood hero for a quick photo session. Addressing the party workers, Sanjay Dutt confidently outlined their role at the grass-root level and went on to declare that a leader owes his existence to party workers.

His speech was greeted with obvious applause when Munna Bhai said that all the party workers were his `Circuits', name of Dutt's famous stooge in the flick Munna Bhai MBBS. "Aap sab humare Circuit hain...agar aap Circuit ki tarah saath denge to hi hum Munna Bhai ban payenge" (All of you are my Circuit. When you all will extend support to me like Circuit then only can I become a Munna Bhai), Sanjay Dutt said.

Though SP has declared Dutt as its candidate from Lucknow, the Bollywood star can contest elections only after he gets the permission from the Supreme Court. He was convicted by the special TADA court in Mumbai for possessing illegal firearms. Dutt has moved the Supreme Court seeking suspension of his sentence in order to allow him contest the polls.

Under the provisions of the People's Representation Act, any individual convicted in a crime that attracts a punishment of three or more years cannot contest any election. Sanjay Dutt stands debarred from contesting polls unless provided relief by the apex court in his case.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

“Jai Ho Ram Kumarji….”

By Dilip Awasthi
Between the proverbial cup and the lip, this story seeks to become the slip for state government’s intention of demolishing another institution of public trust. If it doesn’t, the all-important position of the state Chief Information Commission (CIC) may be served on a platter to one of the most controversial bureaucrats. The retired official’s sole claim to fame is that he is the only IAS officer in UP’s history, whose services were terminated for corruption and possession of assets disproportionate to known sources of income.

Both chief minister Mayawati and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav would share the honours for the contentious appointment. Mayawati has short listed the name of 1976 batch IAS officer Ram Kumar, once her most trusted lieutenant and Mulayam Singh has absented himself from the high-power committee meeting on February 20, which finalized the official’s name for the coveted post. The CIC is the custodian of the Right to Information Act (RTI), which aims to ensure transparency and accountability in working of all public authority including the state government.

According to highly placed sources, Ram Kumar’s name was short-listed from a panel of five including two former bureaucrats and an existing information commissioner. In absence of Mulayam Singh, the committee sent its recommendation to the Governor the same evening. Ram Kumar, who retired last year, was appointment secretary between June and October 1995 during Mayawati’s first term as CM. He became controversial as his own colleagues including some PCS officials leveled charges of corruption against him. Some of them even submitted in writing and alleged that he had accepted grafts for doling out plum postings. The Kalyan Singh government placed him under suspension in June 1998, which continued till December the same year.

A series of inquiries including Vigilance proceedings were initiated against Ram Kumar. In 2000, the state government under BJP’s Ram Prakash Gupta took up a tirade against corrupt public servants and short-listed 277 officials against whom charges had been substantiated. In this list Ram Kumar, then a director with the state planning institute, was the only official against whom the state government sought central government permission for dismissal of services under the Rule 16(3) of All India Administrative Services Rules 1958. Ram Kumar was found involved in 16 cases of corruption by various inquiries.

On July 12, 2000, chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta himself ordereed Ram Kumar’s dismissal. The compliance of the dismissal notice was done the same evening by the additional district magistrate by pasting the notice at his A-5, Dilkusha Colony residence. However the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) reinstated him in 2003. He retired as principal secretary, rural engineering services last year. Says Ram Kumar, “None of the charges could be substantiated against me in the court. I was a victim of political vendetta”.

The decision to appoint him as the state CIC now rests with Governor TV Rajeswar as he is the appointing authority. According to Section 15 (3) of the RTI Act, the recommendation for the appointment has to be made by a three-member committee comprising the CM who is the chairperson of the committee, the leader of opposition in the Legislature Assembly in this case Mulayam Singh Yadav and a cabinet minister to be nominated by the CM in this case Panchayati Raj minister Babu Singh Kushwaha.

The obvious intention of the act is to get the CIC or for that matter any state Information Commissioners appointed on merit and with consensus. Whereas two members of the committee represent the government, one member represents the entire opposition lobby. The Governor now has to take a call on the issue that in the absence of the leader of opposition should the recommendation of the committee hold? The act is silent on this aspect.

The RTI Act has been an eyesore for the state government and its officials, who have been wanting to castrate this institution, which promises at least some justice for the common man. Nonetheless there could be no better salute to UP government’s penchant for backing the wrong horses than Rehman’s Oscar wining ‘’Jai Ho’’ more aptly “Jai Ho Ram Kumarji”….

Sunday, February 8, 2009

All in the name of Lord Rama…

February 8, 2009

By Dilip Awasthi
Ram Bhakt Kalyan is on a special assignment. The Hindutva protagonist of yesterday is busy managing Muslim politics for his rediscovered friend Mulayam Singh Yadav. After issuing a letter to the press in Lucknow on February 4, Kalyan Singh issued another statement the next day in Delhi ``owning up the responsibility of Babri mosque demolition’’ so that Muslims do not fall apart from the Samajwadi Party fold.

How this ``owning up the responsibility’’ will pacify Muslims is a mystery because Kalyan Singh has all through brandished the Ayodhya demolition as a medal of pride. That he was squarely responsible for allowing the pulling down of the mosque is amply proved by the dismissal of his government on December 6, 1992, his trial as the main accused by the Liberhan commission and finally his one-day conviction by the Supreme Court on October 24, 1994.

Some famous Kalyan Singh quotes further underline his staunch stand on the issue. “I will appear in the Supreme Court on 19 January and will say that I was responsible for Ayodhya…”(Press conference December 19, 1992); “Let them try and build a mosque there and we will have a bigger agitation….”(Press conference January 11, 1993): “I am thankful to Bhagwan Ram that he chose me as the medium….”(Public meeting in Shikohabad February 21, 1993); “Demolition was an act of God. I have no regrets, no repentance, no sorrow, and no grief...(Statement before Liberhan commission on December 3, 2004). There are at least a dozen more such revealing quotes from the years gone by.

It always is fruitful to revisit Kalyan Singh’s public statements because he emerges as a perennial jumping jack of UP politics. Historically he seldom means what he says. On November 2, 1991 he made four promises before the National Integration Council (NIC) in Delhi, which included “complete security to disputed structure”. In a press conference on April 22, 1992 he says, “ I am not their (central government’s) `patwari’ (revenue record keeper) that they keep ordering me for documents…my party and I myself are committed to building the new Ram temple….”

On May 13, 1992 Kalyan says referring to NIC team’s Ayodhya visit on April 7, “The report of NIC team about demolishing of temples around the disputed site is baseless, biased and preconceived…” Finally on November 23, 1992, just 12 days before the demolition Kalyan boycotts the NIC meeting in New Delhi. On November 28, 1992, the Supreme Court finds his government’s reassuring affidavit `emphatic’ and decides to allow `symbolic karseva’ on December 6. How well Kalyan Singh kept all his promises needs no elaboration.

In his clarification letter of February 4 last Kalyan Singh states: “ Mulayam Singh and I have become friends. This is no political pact. No conditions are set in friendship and in our friendship there are none…this friendship has four purposes including dispensing social justice to the downtrodden and backwards...” Now consider this oratory in a public meeting in Mughalsarai (Varanasi) on September 20,1996, “ Do you know who was behind Purulia arms droppings? He (Mulayam) is traitor. CBI should inquire into Mulayam Singh’s ISI links…” And what he said in a public meeting in Varanasi in presence of BJP national president Rajnath Singh on December 1, 2005 is also worth a consideration. “If Mulayam Singh incites a communal riot, just give him a fiting reply. Dangaa rokna ho to ek ke badle chaar maro, dangaa ruk jayega…” A national news channel recently replayed video of this particular statement.

Kalyan Singh has not joined Mulayam camp for the first time. The Samajwadi Party had contested 2002 assembly elections in a pact with Kalyan Singh’s Rashtriya Kranti Party (RKP), which was formed after he was ousted from BJP in November 1999. Kalyan Singh’s main strength in the state is said to be the Lodh votes which comprise nearly three percent of the electorate in UP. The 2002 results candidly speak of Kalyan Singh’s net political worth. The RKP contested 335 seats and could win only four seats of which Kalyan Singh won two. The party’s vote share was a paltry 3.39%. Kalyan Singh campaigned against the BJP full throttle and supposedly damaged his erstwhile party’s chances in around 30 seats. That was about all.

But this time on when the BJP, as it is, is quite down and out in UP at least, Kalyan Singh could be cutting both ways for Mulayam Singh Yadav and his party.--------------------------

Friday, February 6, 2009

Muslims and the drag-n-drop game

February 3, 2009
By Dilip Awasthi
The drag and drop technique is surely much more handy in present day politics than in computers. Drag hordes in from the rival camp and drop them high and dry after pocketing their votes. Muslims have faced this more than any voting bloc in the recent times. As the political parties go in the final leg of preparations for the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh, Muslims this time may be probing for more options.

Mulayam Singh’s clarification on Monday on Babri Masjid demolition and Kalyan Singh apart, the Muslim vote bank looks up for the grabs for all and sundry. For the first time since 1992, the Muslim community looks uncertain about its safe haven – the SP. Post Mulayam Singh-Kalyan Singh bear hug, the SP does not seem to be their unquestioned political bastion anymore.

The Muslim vote bloc unflinchingly has stuck to Mulayam Singh and his party ever since 1989 and till 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Despite adverse speculations at the hustings, Muslims have always turned in almost en bloc for the SP on the D-day. Their percentages in favour of bicycle symbol have been as high as 65-70 in 1993 and 1996 assembly elections. However, in 2002 Vidhan Sabha elections, the percentage went down to around 55 as BSP also positioned itself to share the cake. .

What Muslims have meant for the SP is clearly reflected by the statistics. In 2002 elections, of the 118 assembly seats where Muslims form 15% or more electorate, the SP won 28 seats, BSP 16, the BJP as backlash 19 seats and the Congress just six seats. Another important indicator is the Rohilkhand region having 50 seats where Muslims comprise at least 25% electorate in most seats. The SP won 21 seats against 10 of BJP and nine of BSP in 2002, 15 against 21 of BJP and five of BSP in 1996 and 16 against 24 of BJP and none of BSP in 1993. The Congress won three, five and three seats respectively in this region in the three elections. In the 2004 Lok Sabha election, the SP won three of the four seats in this region against BJP’s one seat. The BSP drew a blank but polled 26.98% votes against SP’s 32.15%.

SP’s charisma for Muslims seemed weaning out in 2007 assembly elections as BSP virtually ran a rout. Of the 118 Vidhan Sabha seats with 15% or more Mulsim votes
BSP won 34 seats, followed by SP’s 20, BJP’s 10 and four of Congress. Similarly of the
50 Rohilkhand seat BSP won 25, followed by merely 13 of SP, eight of BJP and one of Congress. Estimates indicate that by winning 206 seats in 2007, the BSP cornered nearly 45% Muslim votes in the state whereas SP could manage just 97 seats and could get support of 31% Muslims.

A fragmented Muslim community still would have enough lure for political parties in the impending Lok Sabha elections. Though its capacity to swing fortunes stands eroded, but in the light of Mulayam-Kalyan bonhomie, the BSP and Congress have every reason to smile in anticipation. The biggest fear, which Muslims would have from Mayawati, is her past record specially of joining hands with the BJP twice for coming to power. This is still a distinct possibility after the 2009 Lok Sabha results as Mayawati has distanced herself from the Congress and the BJP might need her again in case it comes close to forming a government at the centre. Muslims grudge that she had campaigned for Modi in Gujrat in 2002 elections. SP’s Azam Khan on March 31, 2007 also accused her for calling Muslims “traitors” in a rally in Roorkee in September, 1993. The SP also claimed to have video evidence to this effect.

On the other hand the next possible option is a beleaguered Congress, which does not look like winning many Lok Sabha seats. Muslims traditionally prefer backing any secular winning option against the BJP. With the BJP itself being on a weak wicket in U.P., the Muslim vote bank is likely to be in quite a disarray in the coming Lok Sabha election. All the three parties - SP, BSP and Congress may play the ``drag-n-drop’’ game with them this time on.