Friday, 6 May 2016

Bushfire in Modiland


The transfer of yet another Gujarat officer to New Delhi should hardly have been news. After all, many key pos¬itions in the national capital have been held by Gujarat-cadre officers since Narendra Modi became prime minister. But when the transfer is from state DGP to DG (Fire Services, Civil Def¬ence and Home Guards) and decided on without consulting the officer, and if the new DGP is an accused in cases of extra-judicial encounter out on bail, eyebrows are bound to be raised.

It was a holiday in Lutyens’ Delhi—Ramnavami—on April 15, a relaxed Friday for the central bureaucracy, when the orders came from the MHA for the immediate transfer of P.C. Thakur. Such alacrity is normally reserved for ‘top priority’ movement ordered at a very high level.
Gandhingar too was also at ease after the Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations the day before. The chief secretary was at home, unaware of the development until his att¬ention was drawn to order no. 6/6/2016-EO(SM-1) of the secretariat of the appointments committee of the Union cabinet, issued earlier in the day.

Nikhil Bhatt, Gujarat joint secretary (home), was out of town and had to rush back to Gandhinagar and issue the notification (DPT¬/102016/GOI-74/B) right away, transferring Thakur to New Delhi and relieving him of his Gujarat charge with effect from the ‘forenoon’ of Saturday, April 16. Such was the hurry that the first notification had erroneously mentioned June 16 as the date for P.P. Pandey to take over as DGP, and so another had to be iss¬ued two hours later.

Why the hurry? Therein lies a tale of the ongoing churn in the police, administration and politics in Gujarat. Chief minister Anandiben Patel may have insisted on moving out Thakur but the choice of successor was apparently dictated by Delhi. A visibly unhappy Thakur went on sick leave and ruled out moving to Delhi immediately, apparently stating on record that his wife was “critically ill” and “no husband can leave his wife in such a condition, not even to appease some individuals.”
New Delhi, which ordered him out of Gujarat, is far from amused. “He could have joined and then taken leave,” says a top official, hinting at possible punitive action. Rumour has it that the prime minister, BJP nat¬ional president Amit Shah and Anandiben have all been unhappy with Thakur for some time. The 1979-batch IPS officer seems to have disappointed another big gun—National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval—with his handling of the Patidar agitation.

One spin-off of the agitation was the counter-stir launched by the Other Backward Castes. Alpesh Thakore, who heads the Thakore Sena and the OBC-SC and ST Ekta Manch, gave a call for a statewide ‘Vyasanmukti’ campaign and started raiding illicit liquor dens in the countryside, particularly in the constituencies of various ministers. To pre-empt it, the government wanted a statewide campaign against liquor in the prohibition state. But the effort was hamstrung as the system that would implement it has big stakes in liquor—a gargantuan source of slush funds that oil the police-political machine. And there is the fear that with the Patels moving away from the BJP, a dent in the OBC vote bank would spell doom for the party at the assembly polls next year.

No wonder nothing moved despite the CM’s clear instructions. IGP Hasmukh Patel was given charge but kept short-staffed. And just before he went on leave, Thakur, curiously, disbanded the DGP’s vigilance cell that oversaw the exercise.

Thakur had many run-INS with additional chief secretary (home) P.K. Taneja, who had complained against him. He was not on good terms with the top brass of the police either. He had been rebuffed by some of the police commissioners when he asked for the logbooks to check on their movements at the peak of the Patidar stir.

And then he fell foul of Doval when it was rev¬ealed in the media that the NSA’s Pakistani counterpart was the source of intelligence inputs on 10 alleged terrorists entering India, leading to diplomatic emb¬arrassment. Thakur had mentioned this bit of diplomatically sensitive information in his written instructions to the districts and Doval was mightily upset at the faux pas. And he was infuriated when Thakur said in Gandhinagar that no encounter had taken place in Gujarat after New Delhi ann¬ounced that three of the “terrorists” were killed in a “western India state”.

Pandey, the officiating DGP who took over from Thakur and is a year junior to him in the IPS, has been charge-sheeted in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case of 2004. At the time of the alleged crime, he was the additional commissioner in-charge of the Ahmedabad crime branch and DIG D.G. Vanzara was his deputy. Soon after Pandey was bailed out, he was re-instated and later elevated as DGP heading the Anti-Corruption Bureau.

There have been officiating DGPs before Pandey too. In fact, in December 2013, Thakur had taken charge from an officiating DGP, Pramod Kumar, who held the post for over five months. Interestingly, key police postings are handled by K.K. Kailasnathan, a confidante of the PM who was earlier in charge of the Gujarat CMO during Modi’s chief minister years. He continued in his CMO after retiring from the IAS and even after Modi left for Delhi. For all practical purposes, he remains the PM’s eyes and ears in the Gujarat administration. No prizes for guessing where the orders come from, Pandey’s included.

If Anandiben had her way, going by the grapevine, she would have opted for Geetha Johri. In fact, she was keen to appoint her as the first woman DGP of the state, but that was not to be because Shah favours Pandey. Now Johri will have to wait until Pandey retires in February 2017. Shah was not very happy with Johri, who had conducted the inquiry into the Tulsi Prajapati fake encounter case. It is learnt, though, that he relented enough to allow her to become the Rajkot police commissioner after she acquiesced on one major name. Shah was then the minister of state for home and quit only after his name figured in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case.

Come 2017 and the stakes for the BJP and the PM in poll-bound Gujarat would be quite high. The polls will follow those in Uttar Pradesh, a key state that goes to the polls in the first quarter of next year.
Meanwhile, the slackening of the fear factor in Gujarat since Modi’s move to Delhi has allowed both corruption and dissidence to rear their head within the BJP. Modi used to be both the party and the government in Gujarat. Now the state party is headed by Vijay Rupani, a camp follower of Amit Shah.

The Patidar agitation has got important party leaders worried about electoral losses, the evidence being their letter to Anandiben asking her to resolve the longstanding issue. On her part, the CM has made it known that she does not intend to contest next year. There is already consternation over whether she should then be leading the party into the 2017 polls. This is the issue that vexes both Delhi and Gandhinagar at the moment and the sudden order for Thakur’s transfer could well be linked to it.

(This report was carried by the Outlook magazine May 2,2016)

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The Caged Quota Crusader


On the lines of writer George R R Martin’s famous quote “Oft-times a very small man can cast a very large shadow…”a hitherto unknown  22 year old son of a farmer sprang from nowhere to take reins of the leadership of  a pro-quota movement for a dominant community in Gujarat.

Hardik Patel, a commerce graduate from an Ahmedabad college is just an average youth with no intellectual pretensions .Fond of cricket ,he like most of his ilk ,was happy in his small town pursuits when the frustrations of the jobless young and the plummeting economics of their agrarian elders infected him. As their numbers swelled ,the restlessness of the young welded with the plight of the old who had paid through their nose for the education of their wards only to find them idling away their time aimlessly or struggle in ill paid jobs .For well over a decade the then  Narendra Modi government in Gujarat had reeled out huge figures of employment through year round extravaganzas with exotic names that unfolded a vision of brocaded development and plentiful employment.

The 2011 Gujarat Global Investor summit saw Rs 21 lakh crore worth of MOUs signed but a Gujarat government study itself showed only 1%  actualization years later .Such grandstanding may have got Modi the country’s leadership but it has fueled frustration and turmoil in Gujarat .No sooner did Modi  move on to greener  pastures that the glitter of the ‘Gujarat model’ began to wear off ,the restlessness rose  in equal proportion until it exploded into a rising crescendo of protests in the middle of 2015.

It is often said that those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable .It is common knowledge in Gujarat that it was the internal politics of the BJP that led to the Patels stir for reservation in education  and jobs at par with the Other Backward Class(OBC).

Equally well known is the rivalry between two of Modi’s closest aides ,BJP president Amit Shah and Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel. Sources close to Anandiben do not hesitate to point in his direction for the dirt being hurled at her.The fact that Anandiben  was forced to say that she would not be a chief ministerial aspirant in future is being  attributed to  a part of this tirade .Shah knows  that he is the fall guy if things go badly for the BJP in the UP  polls next year .Do not be surprised if he lands up in Gujarat subject to such showings.

Even the choice of the new DGP ,P.P.Pandey in Gujarat is attributed to Delhi and rightly so. Chief Minister Anandiben would have wanted Geetha Johri but could not have her way.The directions flowed from Delhi to K.Kailashnathan who was additional chief secretary under the Modi regime and was re-employed after his retirement. He continued in the post even after Anandiben Patel took over and is seen as Modi’s man in Gujarat.

As today in the Centre, so then in Gujarat, Modi was the party and the government .After he left Anandiben took over. Impatient leaders within sought to destabilize her but knew unless there was a strong enough issue this would not be easy .The stir came in handy but those who wanted a controlled ‘explosion’ were soon thrown off  as the stir  caught the imagination of the youth and the community and propelled  by police excesses developed a momentum of its own.

Hardik Patel, it’s leader this week completed 200 days in jail under charges of sedition .The crowning irony is that the might of an administration headed by a Patel with a party headed by a Patel till recently, with seven of the 24 ministers and 42 of the total 182 legislators from the community, was so fearful of the power of a 22 year old novice that he had to be kept  behind bars by hook or by crook .

The result is that Hardik like JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar -for altogether different reasons- is an emerging leader in Gujarat who is now a household name in the country. But then Hardik is not the only one subjected to such ignominy .Chief minister Narendra Modi’s government had in October 2008 booked Ahmedabad Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Ashwin  Patel on charges of sedition for allegedly sending ‘defamatory’ text messages against the chief minister. He was denied bail and kept in jail for an extended period of time before the Sangh Parivar top brass intervened for his release!

Obsessed with breaking down the Patel stir ,the ruling BJP has  only two options  ,the carrot and the stick and is employing both .A crackdown on the youth with sedition  and an assortment of criminal charges applied on a whole lot of them constitutes one end of the spectrum with their religious ,cultural and philanthropic institution leaders being both cajoled and coerced to intervene .At the other end is the move to make available 10 per cent reservation in the Economically Backward Class(EBC) category

.An ordinance has been promulgated that  would most effectively sow confusion in the ranks of the beneficiary and throw the ball in judicial terrain thus earning  the ruling party a respite .Whatever may be the fate of the stir but the use of sedition to subdue the less than dozen Patel youth has turned them into a symbol of  protest .

(This report was carried in the Spotlight section of the Deccan Herald newspaper of Bangaluru,edition dated May1,2016)(