Home > News > Columnists > T V R Shenoy
Lalu risks isolation
May 18, 2005
I believe my fellow journalists may have missed a trick in the Saptharishi affair. The controversy has, to date anyway, centred around whether the West Bengal cadre IAS officer, until recently director general, Council for the Advancement of People's Action and Rural Technology, was correct in the allegation he made against two election commissioners, namely B B Tandon, now the chief election commissioner, and N Gopalaswami.
Saptharishi claims he heard them making derogatory remarks about Yadavs in general when they came to Bihar during the poll process. Messrs Tandon and Gopalaswami have denied this vehemently. This has all the hallmarks of a point-counterpoint where there is no hard evidence, only a set of allegations.
But there is actual proof of a crime being committed -- and in full public view at that. It happened when Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav read out the text of what was supposed to be Saptharishi's accusatory letter. That was addressed to either his immediate boss, Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, or to Law Minister H R Bhardwaj. Both of them have denied receiving any such document -- which could mean that Saptharishi had second thoughts and never sent any such letter. This begs the question: How did Lalu Prasad Yadav get hold of the letter?
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Intercepting the mail is an offence in every civilised nation. I assume that a confidential document sent by a senior civil servant to a member of the Union council of ministers is protected by even more stringent regulations. Where and when did the railway minister enter the picture? (And when did the motif of L K Advani "influencing" the two election commissioners come in, something that Saptharishi never said?)
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The Government of India has served Saptharishi with a notice accusing him of conduct unbecoming a civil servant. That is a matter to be settled between him, his ministerial bosses, and other tribunals if need be. But what of the railway minister's role? Should that not also be put under the scanner?
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What would have happened had it been the editor of some newspaper, television channel, or web site who decided to give Saptharishi's letter an airing? He or she would then have been asked to explain the circumstances under which an official document found its way into the public domain. That is the law. But can there be one rule for editors and another for the railway minister?
The fact that Lalu Prasad Yadav goofed royally is evident from the behaviour of his colleagues in the United Progressive Alliance and its supporters. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called on everyone to respect constitutional authorities. Law Minister Bhardwaj has raised the possibility of disciplinary action. The Left Front has adroitly steered itself away from the mess.
Even Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, an RJD minister, has made haste to clarify that he was not involved in any way. Lalu Prasad Yadav stands isolated on the issue, and a desperate appeal for Sonia Gandhi's intervention drew no results beyond a deafening silence at 10, Janpath.
The suspicion grows that the railway minister's erratic behaviour is part of a pattern. Two weeks ago, he was levelling charges of criminal behaviour against Narendra Modi. The chief minister of Gujarat, Lalu Prasad Yadav claimed, had conspired to assault him. His colleagues, after an initial outburst of support, quickly sidled away; a report from a forensic laboratory now suggests that the 'attack' was a piece of fiction designed to draw the Congress closer to the RJD boss. Could it be that the confrontation with the Election Commission is another such attempt, albeit one even more bizarre and even less credible?
There is, of course, an element of unintended humour in Lalu Prasad Yadav, the politician identified with forging the 'MY' coalition -- the initials standing for 'Muslim' and 'Yadav' -- trying to accuse others of 'casteism.' But leaving that aside, I put it to you that Lalu Prasad Yadav has committed a crime -- a political crime. He has allowed the BJP to wriggle off the hook.
I think the National Democratic Alliance had worked its way into a corner by its decision to boycott Parliament for the duration of the Budget session. If there was any reason for this, the BJP and its allies have not succeeded in convincing the public. And it was at this point that Lalu Prasad Yadav started reading out from Saptharishi's alleged letter.
The railway minister is far too brazen to apologise publicly for casting mud on the Election Commission. But it might not be a bad idea if he apologised in private to his UPA and Left Front allies for his behaviour. If not, Lalu Prasad Yadav is going to be increasingly isolated.