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July 26, 2000
It ain't over yet
Ooooh baby... oooh baby... harder... harder... faster... faster... ooh... yes... ooh... yes..... Hunh?
That, basically, illustrates the end of Maharashtra's 10-day battle between the "secularists" and the "fundamentalist forces" over Bal Thackeray's "promoting enmity" during the 1992-93 communal riots in Bombay. No need to recap any of it since, thanks to a specifically zealous Press, there's no Indian alive who's unaware of even a single facet of the case. Strangely, nobody is indifferent about it either -- each and every person, depending on his sense of justice, desperately wants Balasaheb to be either in or out of jail. I'm just wondering, where are our great and good NGOs...? How come we've been spared their world-according-to-Stalin diatribes? Something's fishy... I expect heavy battle array within the next fortnight: The war ain't over yet.
But for the moment, Balasaheb has come out smelling of roses. Not even Jyoti Basu can find a hole in:
As luck would have it, I was fast asleep when the curtain came down on this act of the drama. Later, Ponytail updated me: "You'd have missed the climax if you'd gone to fetch a glass of water -- took all of five minutes." And Prem chuckled, "Thackeray should be named successor to Vishwanathan Anand -- brilliant chess play. The man has the government running around in circles." That's not true, I think. See, on July 21, the sacked Union law minister, Ram Jethmalani, was in Bombay tendering advice to Balasaheb. The next day, while in Pune, Mr Jethmalani was asked to resign. On the 23rd, the President accepted his resignation, and Mr Jethmalani told ToI, 'I had a long meeting with him [Thackeray] yesterday. I was asked to soften him up... Didn't you see the statement which he issued thereafter? He said he would submit to the process of the court and he asked his followers not to create any disturbance or chaos.' Good advice -- and well taken. It was only in the last four days that we saw Balasaheb go into I-believe-in-the-rule-of-law mode.
This has me wondering about the intentions of Mahatma Vajpayee. For Mr Jethmalani also said, 'In this specific matter, the prime minister asked me to save Mr Thackeray from arrest. And it is to carry out his wishes that I gave out a particular opinion which is right... I went and saw him at the behest of the prime minister and while I was trying to sort out things for the prime minister, he [the PM] was plotting to remove me.' On the 19th, Mr Jethmalani -- just after a meeting with the PM -- had told reporters that there was no case against Balasaheb since 'The case is time-barred. The law says you cannot file a prosecution after three years from the date of commission of offence.' Which statement is supposed to have sent everyone into a tizzy...
Chief Justice A S Anand was presiding over a PIL seeking implementation of the Srikrishna Commission report when he condemned the comments made by a Cabinet minister. Three Union ministers -- Ram Jethmalani, Petroleum Minister Ram Naik and I&B Minister Arun Jaitley -- had said there was no case for the prosecution of Thackeray. It's also true that a commission is merely a fact-finding body and its report is not binding on the government or any court, nor can anyone be prosecuted on the basis of its recommendations: For instance, the Justice Madon Commission, which inquired into the 1970 riots in Bhiwandi, Jalgaon and Mahad, had submitted a far more detailed report than the Srikrishna Commission; but the then Congress government didn't take action. Mr Jethmalani clarified he hadn't commented either on the Srikrishna report or on the pending proceedings in the Supreme Court: He referred only to the move to arrest Balasaheb 'for a specific offence under a specific section of the IPC... To the best of my knowledge this does not form part of proceedings before the Supreme Court.'
Then, why did the Mahatma, one, ask Mr Jethmalani to resign; two, ask only him to resign; three, wait till the 22nd to dismiss him? ToI wrote, 'But more than that what did Mr Jethmalani in was his active intervention in the Maharashtra imbroglio and stout defence of Mr Thackeray... Mr Jethmalani's open contention that the Centre could, if it chose, intervene in the Maharashtra situation and avert the arrest... It is learnt that Mr Jethmalani's working at cross-purposes with the central leadership which was keen not to get sucked deep into the Thackeray controversy despite the Shiv Sena's pressure, was what eventually made the prime minister see red.' Wheels within wheels...? What's going on here?!
But let me lighten the mood: the evening news capsules on, both, Star and Zee, were a laugh riot. Whether Pawar-man Rajdeep Sardesai or the aggressive-towards-all anchors of Zee, the honourable ministers of the Maharashtra government were the butt of everyone's ridicule. Add to that the presence of Rajya Sabha MP and Dopahar Saamna editor Sanjay Nirupam directing the fusillade: When Maharashtra minister of state for home Kripa Shankar Singh spouted the usual murdered-minorities drivel, Sanjay -- in untainted Hindi! -- says, 'Did your home ministry do its homework? Did you consult your lawyers about the merits of the case? You have wasted 1.5 crores daily, for ten days, just on the upkeep of the paramilitary forces you brought into Mumbai. And all because of some ego problem Chhagan Bhujbal has. Who is going to dole out the 15 crores now?' So Singh mumbled something about pursuing the matter to the Supreme Court. To which, Sanjay's response is, 'Aap ke sarkaar ke gaal par court ne aisa jum ke tamaacha maara hai, aur aapko doosre tamaache ka intezaar hai!' I swear, even the anchors couldn't help but snicker.
To make up for the indiscretion, one newscaster asked Sanjay, 'If Balasaheb intended going to the court from the beginning, why did he prolong the drama for 10 day?' Pointing towards Singh: 'Did you ask the government why it did not consult its legal department about the validity of the case and spare Mumbai the cost and the tension? Why don't you teach the Congress and NCP?! Why do you preach only to the Shiv Sena?' So then came, 'It seems like the whole drama was planned from the beginning.' Sanjay: 'We didn't want all this tension. We told the government, arre bhai, aisa mat keejiye. But they wouldn't listen. We have full faith in the courts, and you can see the result.'
On Star, the fight was just as one-sided -- between the bitterest enemies in India, Chhagan Bhujbal and Manohar Joshi. To tell you the truth, just from their demeanours you knew the whole story: Joshi had an evil grin painted on his face from start to finish, and Chhagan didn't stop scowling for even a second. Again, an anchor grilled a DF minister for proceeding without a case; again, a DF minister didn't have an answer. The Sena's comment: 'Truth always prevails; it prevailed in court today.' When Joshi said the case was time-barred, Chhagan said it wasn't time-barred -- all except Chhagan in splits. And then Joshi let out a nugget: 'I have seen the documents. Their legal department had noted down that the Limitations Act should be considered before any action. But their home minister overruled that advice.' Which had Chhagan reading the opinion of their senior counsel (the judgement was 'perverse,' etc) and everyone fell asleep during the legalese.
When Rajdeep asked why the government had waited to arrest Balasaheb for so long, and Chhagan indicated a dearth of policing forces, Joshi said, 'Does Mumbai not have enough police to arrest ONE individual?! They don't have the guts to arrest Balasaheb.' So Chhagan said it wasn't a technical arrest and police had given the ultimatum -- all laughing... Then Rajdeep went for the missing file -- where was it? Joshi: 'It was never put before us because the police thought the case was time-barred. Some files were withdrawn only after the high court had given a judgment on them. Had I been given the file, I could have commented on it.' Another case closed... And so it went, with everybody snickering at Chhagan, till Rajdeep finally said to Joshi, 'You've been laughing and grinning all along.' And I close with Joshi's reply: 'We are victorious -- that makes me smile.'
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