Where is Karnataka’s Lokayukta?

The state government in Karnataka seems to have forgotten about a post that holds quite high esteem in the state. That of the ombudsman. Or the Lokayukta. After Justice Santosh Hegde retired last year, Justice Shivraj Patil took over. He resigned soon after allegations were levelled against him in a housing society case.

Here is a video of the time Justice Patil was sworn in as Lokayukta. Alas, one wonders when we will see the next such ceremony.

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.

Lawyers versus media

The friction between lawyers and media persons does not seem to be dying down. A day after that awful attack took place, the Karnataka Bar Council and Advocates Association have taken a decision to boycott court proceedings on Monday. Further, they will not argue any cases for media houses and withdraw from existing ones. They will also file defamation cases against those media houses that referred to lawyers and advocates as ‘goondas’. The Bangalore Police meanwhile have arrested four lawyers in connection with Friday’s attack.

One television journalist asked the most appropriate and significant question there is to ask, now. ‘What is happening?’ Well, nobody seems to know exactly. But the problem that spiralled out of control on March 2nd has definitely sparked off something.

Lawyers said that the media coverage has been one-sided, that the atrocities carried out on the lawyers was conveniently left out or mentioned only in passing. Well, true. But if the lawyers are going to go about town pointing fingers at the media, they also need to be willing to acknowledge the fact that ‘they’ in fact ‘started’ it in the first place. Many say that it was the media that provoked the lawyers at the city civil court. I was right there. And the chaos unfolded right before my eyes. It was a group of close to 30 lawyers who started it.

Now some city lawyers and the Advocates Association say that those lawyers were in fact not lawyers at all and that they bought black coats in bulk from a nearby store. Fine, let us take what they say, at face value. So if these lawyers were ‘fake’, why didn’t a single ‘real’ lawyer come to our rescue that day? Why did they just stand and watch? Easy question. No simple answer I’m sure.

That said, I would also like to acknowledge that a section of the media did express their anger in a completely unacceptable manner. But no advocate seems to be acknowledging their mistake as well. If 10 scribes damaged vehicles belonging to lawyers, are you going to call the media, in general, unethical? If so, that should apply to you as well. 30 lawyers may have started the mayhem, so we will also call lawyers in general to be violent. But I wouldn’t.

It is sad that the media and lawyers have brought it down to a game of ‘tu tu main main’. Lawyers have now started citing the Indian Constitution and other rules to prove that media persons cannot be allowed on court premises without prior permission. That’s complete bull. For the past many months, media persons have religiously tracked and covered high profile court cases, many of which have been filed by lawyers themselves. The lawyers have come to us and given sound bytes. After all this, they now decide to point out laws.

The issue is very simple. Friday’s attack was unwarranted. Those who attacked or assaulted must be identified and punished. Then, there should be a proper solution to whether the media should be allowed near the courts. If you don’t want us there, then fine, say so clearly. If the police can’t give us protection, then say that as well. If the state government can’t make up their mind, then be clear about that too.

At the end of the day, we have no interest in indulging in any sort of duel. We want to do our job and go back. CBI inquiry, judicial probe, committee report, are all for the sake of records. When you are on ground, none of it is going to matter. It’s going to come down to how the lawyers and media really want to be on the field.

Mahatma Gandhi preached non-violence. Ironically, he was a qualified lawyer and a practicing journalist.