|September 15, 1997|
The first round of the unseemly personality clash between the mayor and the city corporation commissioner ended suddenly last week, with the mayor, Padmavathy Gowda, putting in her papers. But the second round may prove more dramatic, with many Janata Dal (JD) legislators backing Padmavathy, and Chief Minister J.H. Patel appearing to be on Commissioner A. Ravindra's side.
The mayor, who has another three months to go, has been rubbing Ravindra the wrong way ever since he took over in July. The last straw came on August 30 when the corporators decided, without Ravindra's approval, to invite former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda -- the mayor's political guru -- to lay the foundation stone for the yet-to-be-approved podium block of the Sri Krishna Rajendra Market. Then things happened fast. While a miffed Ravindra wrote to the chief secretary the next day, Deve Gowda excused himself by flying off to Delhi. And when Patel asked Padmavathy to cancel the ceremony, she sent in her resignation letter.
Though the commissioner is vested with more powers than the mayor, the JD legislators have put their weight behind Padmavathy. In a memorandum to Patel, they have asked for Ravindra to be replaced by a more pliable ias officer. It remains to be seen whether Patel would take any hasty decision, which might give his current rival Deve Gowda the upper hand.
It was literally a tearful function organised by the state BJP. The 75th birthday of "Bhishma Pitamah" Kushabhau Thakre saw senior leaders Vijaya Raje Scindia, Sunder Lal Patwa and Kailash Joshi choke with emotion while speaking about the person who had built the Jan Sangh and BJP in the state from scratch. But what surprised observers was the announcement that Rs 5 crore would be collected during Thakre's birth anniversary to be utilised for the welfare of the weaker sections. A similar announcement during the Rajmata's 75th birthday four years ago had left workers confused as the amount collected was never gifted to her. It was later revealed that the state units had been told to utilise the amount for the November 1993 assembly elections. Given its dubious reputation as far as fund collection goes, the Madhya Pradesh BJP is keeping its fingers crossed. After all, it was here that the treasurer was never handed over the accounts by the previous incumbent and a subsequent inquiry into fund-raising had yielded unaccounted cash running into several lakhs of rupees.
The Left Front in West Bengal is following the textbook of aggressive politics realising that mere verbal attacks on the BJP -- the party it loves to hate -- simply won't do. A textbook -- "Outline of Political Science" -- prescribed for the intermediate level and authored by West Bengal Higher Education Minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty and a professor, Nirmal Kanti Ghosh -- has the saffron party seething. One of the chapters describes the bjp as a "communal party" and draws dark parallels with Nazi Germany: "Just the way Hitler stoked ultra -nationalism, the bjp is also out to create havoc." State BJP leader Tapan Sikdar is threatening legal action. "We will file for defamation." As the furore over the issue continues, the higher secondary board maintains a defensive posture. "If someone complains, we will re-evaluate the book," says a senior official of the board. But the question remains: how was the book prescribed in the first place?
It's like the pot calling the kettle black. Caught napping by the embarrassing disclosure that he was among the beneficiaries of questionable land allotments at Salt Lake by the Jyoti Basu Government, state Congress chief Somen Mitra shows no signs of remorse. Instead, he has gone and attacked bete noire Mamata Banerjee for allegedly occupying land owned by the Calcutta Port Trust. Mitra's cronies have even demanded a high-level probe against Mamata. What Mitra fails to realise is that even if Mamata was in the wrong, it doesn't absolve him of currying favours with a government which he, on the face of it, opposes tooth and nail. "I have been a legislator for long. If I don't get a plot, who would?" asks an enraged Mitra. Talk of moral bankruptcy.
It may have been Bhajan Lal's idea of living up to his promise of making Panchkula another Paris. But the Punjab and Haryana High Court was clearly not amused with the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA). It had turned a blind eye to the former Haryana chief minister building a palatial house two months ago in the town, violating zoning laws. Last week, the court observed: "The (violations) have been overlooked by the huda as if the building was raised by Aladdin's chirag (magic lamp)."
Bhajan had made news in the early '90s by building a huge house in Hissar. His new venture is no less imposing -- market rate Rs 2 crore and straddling two plots of 1,000 sq yards each. "I'm willing to pay whatever fine is imposed," says Bhajan, arguing that huda had not presented the true picture to the court. Chief Minister Bansi Lal, who has no love lost for Bhajan, has refused to intervene. Instead, he has asked HUDA to look into how the house was allowed to be built this way in the first place.
In Punjab, the image of the police has always been poor. The image was recently reinforced by an incident in which the Bhatinda police forced a mother and son to strip. But this is only one side of the battle-hardened force. At least that's what the law enforcers in the state want to prove. Two weeks ago, the Hoshiarpur police launched "mobile police stations" which, according to district police chief Rohit Chaudhary, "will provide police services to citizens at their doorstep". From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., the five mobile police stations register complaints, besides dealing with passport enquiries, servant verifications and so on.
The scheme appears to be working. In the first fortnight, 104 firs, 925 complaints and 900-odd passport and servant verifications were handled. "It has made a difference," says a lecturer whose passport verification was done in a day. So far so good. But can such a scheme alone do anything for the battered image of the Punjab Police? P.C. Dogra, DG, Punjab Police, is hopeful: "It's a new lesson in public-oriented policing." Maybe.
'Humble farmer' he may be, but H.D. Deve Gowda certainly doesn't wear humility on his sleeve. The man who had tearfully begged V.P. Singh to take over as prime minister last year, refuses to even acknowledge the presence of his erstwhile mentor these days. So, while every senior jd leader called on Singh after his return from London, Deve Gowda was conspicuous by his absence. Deve Gowda apparently is not only miffed with the Congress-uf "conspiracy" to elevate I.K. Gujral, he even suspects that Singh's idea of an umbrella alliance including the Congress, is aimed at scuttling his chances of a comeback. More recently, when he ran into a group of senior leaders, including Singh, who were at former prime minister Chandra Shekhar's residence to condole the death of his wife Dwija Devi, Deve Gowda did a quick namaste to no one in particular and sulked in a corner.
That Arjun Singh remains a favourite among Muslims was evident at a function organised in memory of Urdu poet Firaq Gorakhpuri recently. Though Uttar Pradesh Governor Romesh Bhandari was the chief guest and speakers included composer Naushad and poet-lyricists Majrooh Sultanpuri and Ali Sardar Jaffri, it was Singh who stole the show with his short and simple speech on the poet who had taught him at Allahabad University. There was a tragi-comic aspect to the entire function though. After Bhandari gave away Firaq Samman awards to almost every second person in the auditorium, the organisers promptly gave the governor the same award. The sad bit was that Urdu has taken such a battering in independent India that only Muslims remember Raghupati Sahai Firaq, the last of the Urdu greats, who died 15 years ago.
The recovery of some royal jewels from an antique dealer in Mumbai last week has given a new twist to the ongoing tussle over inheritance between the heirs of the former rulers of Holkar. Even as a team of the Indore police began interrogation of the three men arrested for the theft, one of the claimants to the property, Anil Kak, a former principal of Indore's Daly College, accused Holkar scion and film actor Vijayendra Ghatge of engineeering it. Kak claims that Ghatge colluded with D.M. Kulkarni, a commissioner appointed by the high court to settle the dispute. The police, however, is not buying the story. "This is typical palace intrigue," says Indore police chief D.S. Sengar. It seems that only a CBI inquiry, which the state Government wants, can get to the bottom of the case.
When the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance came to power in 1995, one of its first targets was the politically powerful sugar belt in western Maharashtra. In fact, Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde had then declared that the sugar barons and their cooperatives -- which for long have sent Congressmen to the Assembly and Parliament -- would be exposed soon. However, the declaration has remained just that. Thanks to Manohar "Machiavelli" Joshi who has ensured that the cooperatives portfolio is always with his man. In the last reshuffle, when Suresh Dada Jain, a known Pawar-baiter, was to be given charge of cooperatives, Joshi stepped in just in time. Realising that between them Jain and Munde would tear the Congress-belt apart, Joshi suggested to Bal Thackeray that Jain be put in charge of the jinxed Slum Development Project (SDP), the Sena supremo's pet project. The result: Thackeray was happy, Jain was prevented from growing in stature, the sugar-belt Congressmen were "safe" and last, but not least, as SDP minister Jain would report to Joshi who holds the urban development portfolio. A four-in-one shot even Sharad Pawar would have been proud of.
Mumbai: Dry Ammunition
The beleaguered Congress in Maharashtra has lost yet another weapon in its fight against the Shiv Sena-BJP Government. Last week, the CBI filed the charge-sheet in the sensational Ramesh Kini case, 13 months after the Mumbai resident mysteriously died in a Pune theatre. The charge-sheet did not name Raj Thackeray, youth leader and Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's nephew, who was alleged to have harassed the Kini family to vacate his friend's flat. Sheila, Kini's widow, accused Raj of the murder. Circumstantial evidence pointed to Raj's complicity. And the Congress -- ever willing to pick up an issue -- seized the case and made it into a campaign of sorts against the Thackeray family and the Government. After the Mumbai Police attempted to "cover up" Raj's role, Sheila took the case to the cbi. Now, the CBI too has left out references to the younger Thackeray on the grounds that there is no evidence to prove his involvement. Sheila says the charge-sheet is a letdown. But for Chhagan Bhujbal, Congress leader who made the case his whipping stick against the Sena, the charge-sheet has taken the wind out of his campaign. He will have to find hardcore issues now to shame the Government.