Sonia Gandhi’s 15-minute ‘apolitical’ visit


She came. She saw. She left. The Congress may have termed Sonia Gandhi’s visit to Karnataka as apolitical, but the UPA Chairperson’s brief tour had politics written all over it. On the morning of April 28th, Gandhi was expected to arrive in Nagasamudra village in Mulkanmuru taluk of Chitradurga district, approximately 250 kilometres from Bangalore.

Massive security arrangements were put in place. As the Congress supremo enjoys Z+ security, the Special Protection Guards were there ahead to oversee all the arrangements. She was to arrive by chopper with some state Congress leaders.

I reached Chitradurga district the previous day itself. Finding Nagasamudra was a whole different task. One needs to take a deviation at Hiriyur towards Chelekere, go to Hanagal and then head to Nagasamudra. 50 kms more and I would have been in Bellary.

It was on the morning of the 28th that I saw the village. Hundreds of men in khakhi. Barricades. SPG. The village had been transformed into this high security zone. It had also rained the previous day, quite heavily, so many questioned the whole point of this ‘drought visit’.

Arranagements were made at the Nagasamudra lake, over a century old, which had almost dried up, except for the previous night’s downpour. The village is extremely backward. No proper water, electricity or cow sheds. It was a ‘sample village’ chosen by state Congress leaders to show heir chief about the drought condition in Karnataka. A group of farmers, weavers and women were to present a memorandum to Gandhi. The entire village waited with bated breath.

At about 9.30 AM we heard a helicopter hovering in the area. And there it was. The moment we were all waiting for.

About 15 minutes later the Congress leader walked to place near the lake where she would meet the villagers. Dressed in her trademark cotton saree, white with black checks, the first thing that struck me was how fair she is. Later when I told my sister this, she replied, ‘Obviously, she’s a foreigner!’

She rushed down the barricaded area, started shaking hands with the people, spoke to a few of them, accepted their gifts.

It all lasted 15 minutes. And she was gone.

I had spent the last 24 hours planning this trip for my office. The security personnel were arranging the place for the last two days. The villagers were up and about for even longer I guess. All for a blink-and-miss appearance by someone who is said to be heading the country, if not on paper.

What irks me is the point of the visit. Why visit at all if you are going to be doing it in a hurry? Can we expect any major changes in Nagasamudra?

But the bigger question that I feel requires an answer is the amount of money that was spent on visiting this place. Since Gandhi enjoys Z+ security, there’s nothing we can do about the SPG. Then there was the state police on duty.
Who paid for the chopper from Bangalore to Nagasamudra? Some say it is highly unlikely to be government money and that some businessman would have overseen the charges.

Whatever said and done, when there is so much talk about austerity, isn’t this visit taking it a bit too far? What assessment could Gandhi have made in those 15 minutes. More sadly, the people of Nagasamudra would have loved it if you heard them out patiently. Alas, none of that happened. It was a whirlwhind.

It’s therefore more than obvious that this was only poll tactic. I even asked Gandhi whether this was preparation for the elections next year. She was in such a hurry, I’m not sure she even understood my question. She nodded and kept walking.

Neha Afreen Banu – Bruised & battered


I first saw her on April 9th. A beautiful baby. Fair skinned. Healthy looking. Ironic that she had several tubes coming out of her. A machine nearby beeped. The numbers read her heart rate and pulse.

It makes me want to cry.

As I spoke on my phone-in about the death of an almost three-month-old infant, Neha Afreen Banu, I could feel my eyes well up. I was following the baby’s story for three days and the end seemed to have come too soon.

From the very first day, I believed that Baby Afreen just like Falak should not survive. What kind of a life is this where you are pinning on hopes that a three-month-old would survive severe brain damage with tubes inserted into her? You would rather let her go to a better place.

What sort of a world is this where one would even remotely want to hurt a newborn? Afreen’s father reportedly fed her poison-laced biscuits, bit her on her back, and even smothered her with a pillow. It just makes no sense to me. What sort of a man is Umar Farooq for even having the audacity to harm a child? His own child? His own blood and genes? All because he wanted a son? All because of her gender? Didn’t you have to firstly marry a girl to even be able to have that child? And the gender of a child is determined by the chromosome of the male partner. I’m sure all this may mean very little to the man behind all this. The man who killed Afreen.

As I write this, the image of Reshma Banu, Afreen’s mother flashes through my mind. I can’t get the entire ‘hospital experience’ out of my head. The first day I met Reshma, she seemed a little confused. She made conflicting statements. I understand that there was a lot of pressure on her especially under the glare of the media. A 19-year-old (she looks much younger to me) would never have imagined all this trauma.

The next day when I met Reshma, she seemed more composed. Filled with hope. There seemed to be a new strength in her, and a will to fight for her battered baby. I even spoke to Reshma on Wednesday morning. She was calm and spoke clearly. The baby had blood in her stools, she said. I could feel how much she wanted this baby. Especially having had an abortion of her first pregnancy when she was carrying twins.

I had spoken to the doctor a while ago and she had stated that Afreen’s condition hadn’t changed. She had convulsions early that morning.

It was around half past 11 when we feared the worst. A little later I confirmed with the Medical Superintendent of the hospital that Afreen had suffered a cardiac arrest and was no more. Her frail body had given up. She had barely even lived.

I saw Reshma Banu a little later. She was inconsolable. Her hopes shattered. Her only baby dead. All reportedly because her husband wanted a male heir.

As I wrapped up my day and went home, I could only think of the tragedy that had befallen the family. They had gone through so much the past week. Even in their poor financial condition, they were doing everything they could for the little one. As opposed to Farooq’s family who were said to be better off financially, who did not even bother visiting the baby. They are absconding now.

Now that the cameras aren’t there and mics not shoved in their faces, my prayers are with Reshma Banu and her family. No words can console her grief. No hugs can calm her down. After all she has lost her baby.

My only hope now is that the perpetrators are punished severely. And innocent lives like Afreen are allowed to live a life of dignity, or not be brought into this world at all.