By B.G. Verghese
NarendraModi has been breathless profuse in telling the country of the Gujarat Development Model and what it can do for you and me. Now we have the snooping-stalking case that provides a vivid example of the Gujarat Governance Model and what it can do to any or all of us. If the Development Story was portrayed as a block-buster, the snooping-stalking stir is a most eloquent silent movie, with the BJP’s chorus boys and chorus girls giving us a moving running commentary of the right and duty to protect, of piety, and the sins of others.
The interesting thing is that it not only sheds light on the current controversy but on the events of 2002 and subsequent encounter killings and the framing of officials who break ranks. Amit Shah, Modi’s right hand man and star performer in the current drama, out on bail on a criminal complaint, plays the hero’s role. Like Om Puri in the famous film “Aakrosh”, he does not emit a single word or sound, in a stellar, stoic performance of immense fortitude at a time of trial. And Modi, aloof and loftily above the fray, soldiers on regardless to save India – or as much as in his judgement is left to save – leaving it to lesser mortals like Rajnath Singh, ArunJaitley and less BJP spokespersons to deny and yet confirm by heroic contradictions the epic now playing in all theatres.
There are two sides to the 2008 snooping-stalking story. On the one hand, we have a caring chief Minister doing all it takes to protect the daughter of a family friend from some unknown harassment, even danger at the father’s oral request and the alleged consent of the young woman. On the other, we find every rule in the book subverted through unrecorded oral orders to conduct what looks like 24×7 surveillance and invasion of privacy of the lady by an army of policemen, including men drafted from the anti-terrorism force and senior officials, under the direct orders of the MOS Home Department, Amit Shah, who reports to and takes instruction from “Sahib” (Modi), who wants her tracked minute by minute, day and night, at home and outside, in Ahmedabad and Bombay, on the flight, in hotels and restaurants, and through phone-taps. He wants to know who she is with, the men she is meeting, with words like “trap” and “escape” occurring in sundry conversations leaked in a string operation. Some “protection” that!
The other version is that Modi had had an amorous consensual relationship with the young woman, since married, in his rare spare time when not “developing” Gujarat and was now anxious that this not be revealed in any manner. Whether this be true or malicious gossip is a separate matter and has no bearing on the processes by which citizens seek and are offered police protection. Muslims were also “protected” inModi’s Gujarat in 2002 when again there was alarm and uproar on one side and a loud silence and impassioned expressions of not-so-tender concern of a certain kind on the other. A Modi observation broadcast over Doordarshan at that time emphasised that “if raising issues relating to justice or injustice adds fuel to the fire, we will have to observe restraint and observe peace”.
The father of the young woman in the centre of the storm, Mr Soni, has written a letter to the National Commission for Women asking that its proposed inquiry be dropped as neither he nor his daughter wants any further invasion of her privacy and the matter is politically motivated. The NCW is not sure of the authenticity of the letter as it was merely handed to a security guard at the gate and, though signed, carries no phone number or email ID. The NCW has given the father seven days’ time to appear before it as it is satisfied that what was provided was not “security” but amounted to surveillance and an invasion of privacy.
The Congress Party has asked for an inquiry by a Supreme Court judge and the Home Minister has said he is looking into the matter. The BJP is vociferous but very much on the back foot as its stand here contradicts its strident demands for inquiries, dismissals and resignations when arraigning wrongdoings by others regardless of due process.
The side show controversy about whether Modi has erred in referring to the Congress election symbol as a “khoonipanja” (bloodied hand) is as exaggerated as was the BJP reaction some years back to Sonia Gandhi’s reference to Modi as “MautkiSaudagar” (merchant of death). Modi has explained to the Election Commission that he was speaking colloquially. The point is well taken, but “mautkisaudagar” is an equally colloquial expression. Extreme touchiness is unwarranted and understanding is unlikely to improve if we denigrate language and are hare-brained enough to banEnglish as Mulayam Singh has advocated with cheerful irresponsibility.
The controversy over the Bharat Ratna – why Tendulkar and not Dhyan Chand, or Tendulkar before or not also AtalBehari Vajpayee – is unbecoming. Canvassing for Padma awards in the bazar is unseemly and there is little doubt that the whole process of selection has been politicised. Maybe it is time to institute a National Awards Committee with relevant officials and independent outsiders to make the recommendations.
Finally, Gen V.K Singh has apologised to the Court for inadvertently scandalising it for its judgement on his age issue. The Court has graciously accepted his apology. But Singh’s has also replied to the J&K Assembly Speaker on the privilege notice sent to himfor stating that J&K politicians had been regularly paid out of Army funds. His denial here is problematic as those who heard him on TV know that he had made sweeping remarks that he later sought to explain away. His recently published biography, “Courage and Conviction”, shows him to be a good soldier. However, unbridled ambition probably led him to say and do things, starting with what he pleads was an inadvertent entry of his age at the very commencement of his career, which led to his undoing towards the end of an otherwise distinguished innings.