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.

A new low in wayward politics

It has been a hard week for Karnataka politics. A shocker really as it has never happened in the history of the world. We could still be shocked after scandals like Silvio Berlusconi, Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Three politicians from Karnataka hit international headlines when they were caught allegedly viewing an adult video on a mobile phone when the Assembly session was underway. The incident was unbelievable to start off with but the act was caught on camera by several television crews. It was indeed true.

The three ministers stepped down from their cabinet posts and are now in line to respond to a show-cause notice. Will they be asked to give up their membership of the state Assembly? Highly unlikely as the Opposition has a really weak case especially when they have N D Tiwari and Mahipal Maderna to deal with.

While several questions have been raised about the double standards of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) even as they preach about tradition and culture, it has also literally brought the cat out of the bag. These sorts of ‘experiences’ aren’t very new to politics and politicians. And this is something that the politicians themselves admit.

A senior BJP leader who also happens to be a seasoned lawyer narrated to me, how in the eighties, during a trip to Belgrade in Serbia, several MLAs from Karnataka insisted on making a trip to a nearby city (I have been unable to verify this independently or even locate the name of this city) where the people are said to be completely naked (that’s how they live). Anyone who visits is also expected to be not wearing any clothes. Despite this particular member’s protests, the other politicians are said to have made the trip to that city (don’t know if they had to abide by the ‘no clothes’ clause!).

During another trip to Bangkok, a senior politician wanted to ‘experience’ the ‘real’ Bangkok. Assuming that his wife who was accompanying him would object, he requested another lady politician to ‘convince’ her. Such was the state! And desperation!

This BJP source also tells me that back in 1996 when the Miss World pageant was scheduled to take place in Bangalore, there was a quiet uncertainty that right-wing groups such as the party itself would object since their parties always object to women being looked at as commodities. But in this case, several members of the party made appeals to their colleagues not to protest against holding of the pageant in Bangalore, as it would give them an opportunity ‘to see beautiful women’.

While none of the above has been independently verified, it has come straight from the mouth of a BJP leader. This leader also felt that the entire ‘porngate’ episode was being exaggerated and blown out of proportion. An argument being made is that watching pornography is not an offence under the Information Technology Act, but broadcasting it is and therefore the media can be punished for televising these clips as sharing or passing on a porn clip is an offence (Some media channels did not blur the video, while others did).

The argument of course is weak. The BJP is in no position to explain itself well and has therefore been coming up with some ridiculous excuses.

Some say the three ministers have paid their price. Others ask if we have the moral right to judge them on the basis of that behavior. Will their watching an adult video impact their performance as ministers? Yet others feel that all this will be forgotten when the elections take place next year.

But whatever happened in the past, the matter boils down to what happened now. These three ministers had no right to do what they were doing. For every day they attend Assembly, they receive ‘sitting fees’. We pay them to do their job. And their job is not to entertain themselves during work. Even if they were watching a video of Katrina Kaif gyrating to the tune of Sheila ki Jawaani, I still believe they would be doing wrong. So it’s not just about having watched an adult video during a session. They could have very conveniently done so in the lounge outside the Assembly hall or in the confines of their homes. Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that this matter will be looked at from the point of responsibility (and morality).

It may be a practice long seen in politics but it’s a new low nevertheless.

In the thick of corruption

Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa seems to be the man of the moment. His tenure as the mukhya mantri has been filled with lots of not-so-good experiences. And on Monday, November 15th 2010, Yeddyurappa, in a sense, dug his own grave.

Yes, corruption is not so new to the country. It’s in our face all the time. But then again, it’s not very often that a top politician admits brazenly to it. Well, Yeddyurappa did.

The senior BJP man addressed a press conference, explaining his stand to the media after a local daily exposed a supposed land scam involving Yeddyurappa and his family. As it always happens, Yeddurappa had a string of documents with him, explaining land allotments made by previous chief ministers for their kin. (Very smart indeed. Surprising how such documents suddenly surface when fingers are pointed at you).

He continued to justify to the press persons that he had made no mistake in allotting land to his son (who is an MP) and to a company where his sons are directors. When asked why his MP-son was allotted land despite already owning land in the city (a Bangalore Development Authority rule for G-category which states sites can only be allotted to persons who do not already own land), the chief minister went on the defensive and ended up saying that he is only doing what previous chief ministers have done and that if what he had done was wrong, he would have to take back land allotted to a number of people. A valid question, indeed. Clever, Mr Yeddyurappa. He really hit the nail on the head.

Yes, a number of people in the state who have been allotted sites under the special G-category have not undersigned the fact that they already own sites, media persons included. This has been happening for years, and like Yeddyurappa said, he is only carrying the tradition and helping his own family in the process.

Unfortunately it is all going wrong for him. Even as Devegowda, H D Kumaraswamy, S M Krishna, Dharam Singh, the late J H Patel and many others have been named as people for who land has been denotified and allotted by the Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board, Yeddyurappa is not helping by making these revelations, when he is himself in the wrong. What’s more, at the press conference, a stack of documents were handed out to the media. It names the various politicians who have previously received such land, detailed documents and so on. But the Chief Minister seems to have gotten carried away in the midst of it all, as he did not provide any information whatsoever about the allotments made for his sons and their company. The documents highlight names of R V Deshpande’s son, Devegowda’s relatives, Karnataka Olympic Association’s President K Govindaraj and so on. B Y Raghavendra and Vijendra’s name are not to be seen anywhere.

Is Yeddyurappa trying to play smart? Won’t Siddaramaiah or Kumaraswamy now dig out documents of the BJP and do a similar show? One really wonders what the chief minister is thinking at this point. If he so believes that he has done no wrong, why not come clean?

When Yeddyurappa said he is ready to constitute a committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, please note that he only meant that he was “ready to”. Intent. He didn’t see he is ‘going to’. It’s a big difference. He said he is ready to even hold discussions on this with Opposition on this entire matter.

And it isn’t like the Congress or JD(S) are any better. The Congress has outrightly refused an enquiry, saying they have done no wrong and that their papers are all clean. Again, a clever man Yeddyurappa. He knows that the entire band of netas are knee-deep in corruption. So if he wants to invite the Opposition for a discussion or setup an enquiry, of course they are not going to like the idea too much.

At this stage it is also meaningless to just demand Yeddyurappa’s resignation. Yes, as much as I would love to see a change in government itself, I think the state first needs to sort out its problems at the political level. When it’s clear that there are whole lot of illegal activities going on, that should really be the focus. But that will never end up being the focus, because our elected representatives are constantly waiting to pull the other down, in this case, asking Yeddyurappa to resign. A Raja resigned, Shashi Tharoor resigned, Ashok Chavan resigned, Vilasrao Deshmukh resigned, so you also resign. Their political motives are crystal clear.

It is unfortunate that the BJP has completely misused their first ever opportunity to govern a state in south India. It was a golden opportunity. But the cabinet only seems to be filled with tainted ministers, each with a land scam of their own. Yeddyurappa, instead of taking a chance at good governance, has chosen to only reap benefits for his party. As much as one feels bad for the people of the state, the real losers at the end of the day are these politicians. Like Ratan Tata asked, how do they sleep at night?