|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Sunday, November 7, 1999
in their antipathy to Thackeray
because of the partys cause
MAHARASHTRAS new Chief Minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, belongs to a new generation of the leadership and so in his Deputy Chief Minister, Chhagan Bhujbal. The age difference between them is barely two years; Deshmukh is 54 while Bhujbal is 52. Both had to struggle for years to make their way in the rough and tumble of politics. Both are staunch opponents of the Shiv Sena supremo, Bal Thackeray. They come from the same stock the Congress Party. Bhujbal was an assertive leader of the Congress Party in Maharashtra till recently but decided to throw his lot with Sharad Pawar; Deshmukh remained with the parent organisation.
In spite of so many common traits, both Deshmukh and Bhujbal come from different social backgrounds, Deshmukh belongs to the feudal order which is equivalent to the ruler of a pargana or a taluka while Bhujbal is an OBC, a Mali (gardener). He had to overcome resistance from Marathas to get elected as leader of the NCP Legislature Party and subsequently became Deputy Chief Minister.
While Deshmukh is a product of the Congress a protege of former Home Minister S.B. Chavan, Bhujbal began his political career in the Shivsena under the patronage of Bal Thackeray and became an activist. The Sena supremo had immense liking for the young and fiery leader. In a telephonic interview with this correspondent from Bombay, Bhujbal claimed that he took Shiv Sena to the rural areas. I am a much older Sainik than Manohar Joshi (former Chief Minister and now Union Minister) and many others but my growing popularity was not liked by Balasaheb. I was gradually marginalised and Manohar Joshi propped up.
The parting of ways came in 1991 when Bhujbal turned a bitter critic of the Shiv Sena chief, attacking him ferociously in public. He then joined the Congress. He says; Bala Sahibs dictatorial behaviour and his bias towards upper castes completely disenchanted me with the Senas ideology. In fact, the upper caste cult was started in the organisation by Thackeray. An OBC and a staunch Mandalite, Bhujbal found it impossible to coexist with Thackerays whims and fancies.
All the aggressiveness of Bhujbal turned towards the Sena dictator. He started lampooning the Sena chief in public meetings calling him names. A powerful orator in Marathi, Bhujbal called his erstwhile mentor T. Balu. T stood for Thackeray and Balu in Marathi means domestic servant. The audience would roar in amusement and demand more and more of such satirising. Balasaheb did not take kindly to such public ridicule by his former chela. Bhujbals house in Bombay was attacked last year allegedly by sainiks and an attempt was made to assault him. A case is still pending in court.
Bhujbal will never agree if the NCP tries to form a government with the BJP-Shiv Sena combine. In a telephonic conversation with me, he emphatically stated if the Congress-NCP coalition functions effectively and the coalescing partners behave, we can wipe out Shiv Sena from the map of Maharashtra. Had the Congress not split in the state, he says, we would have been in a much stronger position. Even now, if the combined votes polled by the Congress and the NCP are counted, the BJP-Shiv Sena vote percentage has fallen sharply.
Compared to Bhujbal, Deshmukh is more sophisticated, suave and experienced. Both are powerful orators but Deshmukhs eloquence has a literary touch. He has, in fact, patronised many literary institutions and associated with literary figures. The Marathi press portrays him as a film hero. Deshmukh has been a minister in practically every Congress governments since 1982 while Bhujbal has had two ministerial stints. His second term was in Sharad Pawars cabinet from 1993 to 1995.
A science graduate with a law degree from Pune, Deshmukh began his career as panchayat chief in Latur district, which was part of erstwhile Nizams princely state and acquired long experience in public life. He was long considered Chief Ministerial stuff and, feeling threatened at one time, Maratha strongman Pawar sidelined him. The relations between the two were estranged since then and also because he was a loyalist of S.B. Chavan, Pawars arch rival. What goes to the credit of Deshmukh is that even though he served in several ministries, he was never tainted by any corruption scandal.
Deshmukh could not have
become Chief Minister of the most affluent state at a
more difficult time. He says: God has a plan for my
life and thats all I need to know. This
dictum tells the story of his life rise from
sarpanch to the Chief Ministers post. He has not
only to manage the delicate balance in his coalition
government but grapple with gigantic problems on the
administrative front. The states finances have
reached the level of bankruptcy. The business class is,
however, most happy that the Deshmukh government has
survived the first crisis and settled in office. They
have been freed from Sena extortion!
A distinguished son of Punjab, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, has joined the select band of Communists like E.M.S. Namboodiripad of Kerala and P. Sundarayya, M. Basavapunnaiah and C. Rajeshwara Rao of Andhra Pradesh by donating his share in his family property amounting to a tidy Rs 20 lakh to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) of which he is the General Secretary. Mr Surjeet has also donated his pension as a Rajya Sabha member to the party fund the State Bank of Indias Parliament House branch has been advised to transfer this sum regularly into the CPM account.
Of the Rs 20 lakh he inherited from his ancestral property in Punjab, he has given half the amount to the Sohan Singh Bakhna Trust and the other half to the Central Committee of the CPM. Mr Surjeet has chosen the 50th anniversary of the Chinese Revolution as the year of giving up his wealth as the example set by the Chinese Communist leaders had been a great source of inspiration. Mr Surjeet will now live out of the wages offered to him by his party as a wholetime worker.
Party wholetimer is a concept unique to the Communist movement Vladimir Illych Lenin, the Leader of the Russian Revolution, had said in his writings that a wholetimer must be looked after by the party in the same way as a human being looks after the pupil of his eye. Though as a CPM leader, Mr Surjeet has been advocating since 1964 a line which Lenin had dubbed as Left-wing Communism an infantile disorder, in the twilight years of his life, he has done something which merits him the best compliment reserved by Lenin for a Communist Party member.
Journey into history
By appointing veteran editor, Mr H.K. Dua, as his Information Adviser, the Prime Minister sought to give a clear message in his present tenure, it wont be business as usual, but business with more seriousness. Mr Ashok Tandon, who donned the mantle in the last regime, but was designated as Officer on Special Duty (OSD), enjoyed a fair rapport with the correspondents in the media. Mr Tandon will continue in the PMO. Mr Tandon apparently will handle the run of the mill journalists while Mr Dua will bridge the gap with editors at home and abroad.
Mr Duas deep understanding of government policy and the process which goes into making them will stand him at an advantage. While over the past decade and a half Mr Dua has been known as a serious editorial commentator, old-timers recall the young H.K. Dua who used to undertake reporting assignments for the news agency, UNI.
Once, while young Dua was riding on his Lambretta scooter along the Ferozeshah Road, trying to be in time for a press briefing by young Jana Sangh parliamentarian, Atal Behari Vajpayee, at the Constitution Club, he found Mr Vajpayee waiting for a public vehicle on the road. Mr Vajpayee signalled Mr Dua and the duo arrived at the venue with the MP riding on the pillion. Before anyone could react, Mr Vajpayee commented with his usual reparte you may all report today H.K. Dua has taken me for a ride. In his present assignment Mr Dua will have to ensure that no one affords the luxury of taking the Prime Minister for a ride. In any case, if Mr Vajpayee felt comfortable riding along with him on a two-wheeler, the stability of the governments juggernaut will lend a new dimension to the relationship.
With much fanfare, the Congress admitted into its ranks during the Lok Sabha elections former Rajya Sabha MP and Vishwanath Pratap Singh associate, Mr Wasim Ahmad. Despite Bofors chargesheet being in the court and him being a member of the party whose deceased leader is supposed to be principal accused in the scam raised by V.P. Singh, Wasim Ahmad still seems to be doing for the Raja of Manda what he did very well in the past maintaining liaison with the Press. A letter signed by artist Aparna Cour and sent to the media last week read: Mr Wasim Ahmad spoke to you about Mr V.P. Singhs press conference (for his first show in India of paintings on November 5 at 4 pm). I hope someone will come to cover it. Should we brush aside the coincidence? Or is there more to be read?
Warning from the roots
Mrs Sonia Gandhi created more than a flutter last Wednesday by agreeing with a party veteran in Uttar Pradesh that there were chinks in the Congress organisation. This is not good news for UPCC chief, Salman Khursheed. The provocation came from a comment made by Chaudhary Azhar Hussain, a senior leader from Inhauna (a small town in Rae Bareli district which is part of the Amethi constituency), who said in a party meeting at Mohanlalganj the way the party is being run is unfortunate.
Azhar Hussain is the man who first took Sanjay Gandhi to Amethi. The Youth Congress under Ambika Sonis presidentship organised a camp at Inhauna which was the beginning of Sanjay Gandhis and his partys involvement with Amethi. Thus the warning has come from the roots. It remains to be seen how far Mrs Sonia Gandhi is prepared to go after her Mohanlalganj comment.
Satish-faction threatens action
Rajiv Gandhis buddy, Captain Satish Sharma, has announced from his constituency, Rae Bareli, that if the name of the martyred leader was not dropped from the Bofors chargesheet by November 19 (Indira Gandhis birth anniversary) then the party will launch a countrywide agitation. I am making this statement with Soniajis permission, he said while the Congress president shared the dais with him.
Soon after this statement, the media covering the visit got yet another bit of hot copy that Priyanka Vadra may soon join active politics. Priyanka will soon come to you, Mrs Sonia Gandhi said and added that Satish Sharma might also be given a responsible post. The supporters of Capt Sharma are known as the Satish-faction, this announcement certainly was to their satisfaction.
IT ding dong
The Vajpayee Governments decision to create a new Information Technology Ministry brought cheer to the IT industry at the first instant, but on second thoughts industry experts feel it is not a really good idea. The reason: A new ministry means more of Government interference and bureaucratic hurdles. IT has taken off in a big way in the country and a hurdle at this juncture is the last thing we want, a senior executive of a top IT firm said. Reports that the Prime Minister was considering appointing a politician to head the Ministry was also resented by the industry.
Fortunately for them, the IT Ministry has yet to start functioning as inter-departmental squabbling has hit its take-off. The Communications Ministry headed by Mr Ram Vilas Paswan is keen on retaining the Internet with his department and at his very first press conference talked about setting up Internet dhabas in the country. His colleague in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Mr Murasoli Maran, wants to retain E-Commerce with his department.
Realising the various pulls and pressures, it appears the Prime Minister has decided to retain IT with himself. The industry has heaved a sigh of relief at this development as it feels that the PMO would be able to make other departments fall in line and push through a slew of measures to revolutionise the sector.
Bofors and corruption?
At a time when the Indian courts are busy trying the Swedish gun manufacturer, Bofors, on a bribery case, it is ironical that an international index on corruption has rated Sweden as the most honest nation.
According to a report from Berlin, a recently released Bribery Payers Perceptions Index has rated Sweden first among 19 leading exporting countries in terms of the degree to which their corporations are perceived to be paying bribes abroad. Of the 99 countries listed in the index, India comes a poor 72nd.
AS we have said, India is more or less unconcerned as to who may be her next Secretary of State. It seems to us, however, to be extremely improbable that the claims of Sir George Lloyd, which have been put forward in some quarters, in this connection will be seriously considered.
No Provincial Governor has ever become Secretary of State, and it is almost inconceivable that such a transformation can take place within less than two years of his return from India.
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