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.

What happened at the Bangalore civil court

They say it’s a black Friday. Lawyers went on rampage at the city civil court in Bangalore. Media was attacked. Public property vandalised. It was a day of good and bad. Here’s what really happened.

It all started at around 10.30 AM. Former Karnataka minister Janardhan Reddy was moments away from being brought for his case at the special CBI court. A majority of us were standing at the Canteen entrance of the court, while several other media persons were at the main entrance. A group of about 30 lawyers walked up to us and told us to leave, hurling abuses all along. It was all because of the negative publicity they received back in January when the lawyers had protested on another incident. They were here today to seek their revenge.

These lawyers were clearly agitated. They wanted us out of there. We slowly walked out, not wanting to create any trouble. They continued screaming. Hurling abuses all along. Pushing some of the cameramen. We were helpless even as the police watched on doing nothing.

Just then Janardhan Reddy had arrived. At the main entrance. We rushed to that entrance and the lawyers blocked all the media persons there as well. Pushing and throwing anything and everything they could hold on to. We were forced out of the city civil court, even as Reddy was taken inside the court.

We were all disgusted at the cops who did absolutely nothing. NOTHING. I knew that the cops could also do nothing since it is an open secret that they are obviously scared of the lawyers. We tried getting in touch with top police officials. No one responded. The media felt utterly helpless.

The lawyers continued their tirade. Pelted stones. One stone hit a cameraman of a local news channel. He was injured on his head. We shot visuals of all this, at the same time battling for our own safety. It was a confusing situation because no one really knew what to do.

Some of the local media channels decided to sit on a flash dharna, blocking traffic. This despite understanding the inconvenience it caused to the general public. Traffic was blocked for a long time. The mediapersons finally relented and went back to the court entrance. They tried preventing lawyers from entering the court premises. It was tit for tat. There was a lot of chaos till Janardhan Reddy was again being taken out of the court. The court granted his custody to CBI till March 12. The media ran to get visuals of his van leaving the court.

This was when we thought the situation was okay, and under control and that we could leave. But another altercation broke out between the lawyers and few of the media persons. The lawyers again started pushing and hurling abuses.

They started throwing anything they could find. A helmet came flying barely 2 feet from where I was standing. Next came a huge stone. Another helmet. A water bottle. And the police were requesting us to only leave. Stones were being pelted at the closest Outdoor Broadcast Van. The police used their lathis to shoo us from the scene, hoping that that would help. We were still confused about whether we should leave or not, whether we should shoot the goings on or not. That’s when more and more stones came our way. The lawyers, who till now, were hurling the stones from inside the court, slowly started moving towards us on the road.

We knew we were in trouble. That’s when we ran, literally. We fled the place. I jumped into my OB van with another reporter. Several OB vans belonging to local channels were damaged. We went up to KR circle and waited there. Most of us were feeling quite foolish, our egos hurt, that we had to run from those lawyers.

Channels had already begun broadcast of this news. It was national.

We then received information that several media persons were roughed up by the lawyers, several injured. At about 12.30 PM, when a Deputy Commissioner of Police arrived on the spot, he was hit on the head with a stone. That was probably when the police finally realised that they could no longer remain mute spectators. They finally resorted to lathi charge and fired four rounds of tear gas shells in the air. The Police Commissioner visited the spot briefly but left the scene before speaking to the media.

We were all shocked at the passive way in which the entire situation was handled. Why was no one supporting the media?

We went back to the spot to find that the situation continued to be tense. The lawyers were provoked just by our presence. Many media persons vandalised cars which belonged to lawyers, venting out their anger. One lawyer (unsure if he was part of the unruly gang) was severely kicked and thrashed by the media. And we were repeatedly being told not to film any of this. It was the most unfortunate part of the day. The media was doing exactly what we preach to others. Was violence the answer to violence? It was sheer mob mentality, rage and seething anger. All of it manifested in just the wrong way.

There was a protest at KR circle. Another lawyer was roughed up by media persons. It was ugly. A local channel reporter even prevented me from doing my recording saying nothing that the media is indulging in should be caught on camera. Not realising that some policeman on duty could very easily have captured this on one of their handy cams for evidence.

We finally went to the Vidhana Soudha, met the Home Minister. Met the CM at his residence.Most who spoke to the CM were those who were not even present at the spot when hell broke loose. There were many speakers. The CM seemed to be in his own world. By the end of the day, he ordered a judicial probe. No arrests were made still. Despite reels of footage showing the lawyers in action.

The judges who seem to have nothing to say about the lawyers who started it all, I have only one thing to say, Shame On You. You have no right to sit and deliver verdicts if you can’t control your men and stand up to the injustice. Would you watch on if you were being pelted with stones?

Black Friday

Today was a bad day for the media. Even as we were attacked and assaulted by lawyers, we had absolutely no right to stoop down to their level. Some said that that was the best way to teach them a lesson. How would it help to take these lawyers to court? These were lawyers who knew their job well. But the media, which is carrying out blackouts, and protests, should have also had some control.

The biggest faulter in all this, however, is the police. It took them close to two hours to take action. For two hours the police were motioning to us to leave the court, hoping to ensure peace. But they did nothing to control those shameless lawyers. After their DCP was hit, it seemed to have hit them as well.

None of the top police officials even responded to our calls. Most refused to come on the spot. Why were these men in uniform so hesitant to protect us? After all isn’t it their job?

Of what use is a police force, if they have to stand and watch people being abused? If they are scared of lawyers, why don’t they admit it? Why not have the armed forces man court complexes instead of the police?

The Home Minister may be in the man in charge, but he doesn’t seem man enough to take control. The city top cop should have at least stayed at the spot. After all, he isn’t a politician but a bureaucrat. While we could expect inactive behaviour from the Home Minister, why didn’t an IPS officer live up the fact that he is meant to do his job.

That said, my heart goes out to those policemen who were injured. I hear that one constable was hit by a wooden bench that was dropped from one of the top floors of the court complex.

The CM may say that every profession has both good and bad people. He needs to wake up to his senses, realise the situation, and stop making empty promises.

The media cannot be attacked and must not attack back either. The primetime debates are there for that.

As for the good that happened. It was all for Janardhan Reddy. The only one smiling.