November 20, 2000


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Dilip D'Souza

Patriots at Work

Consider a recent sequence of events. After years of hearings, an acrimonious dispute is decided in the nation's highest court. The judgment allows the "victors" -- and I use those quotes deliberately -- to resume work on a major project the case had interrupted. Naturally, they are elated. Naturally too, the "losers" are greatly dejected. They begin exploring ways to carry on their fight, to turn reluctant public opinion their way.

At this stage, the "victors" begin a concerted, if inept, campaign of abuse directed against the "losers". Gathering at the project site for a celebration of the verdict, they make snide remarks about the "losers" and raise suspicions about their patriotism. Only, this gathering is so uncaringly and incompetently arranged that enraged invitees -- people who are told they will benefit from the project -- actually beat up ministers and overturn their cars.

Then, in a large ad in a major national newspaper, the "victors" announce that the "losers" are passing on secrets of national importance to foreigners; that the "losers" are supported by suspect financial transactions; and that these accusations are "proved" by letters reproduced in the ad. Only, even a perfunctory glance at this "proof" shows how utterly innocuous it is. The only thing it "proves" is the "victors"' lack of ethics, and a bumbling lack at that.

What would you think if you saw all this happening? Here's the thought that came to me: that the "victors" know they may have "won", but they have some noisy skeletons that rattle away in their cupboards nevertheless. So they must strike out with those trusted old weapons -- innuendo, insult, lies -- before the skeletons, whoever they are, come tumbling out.

Which explains the remarks during the fiasco at the Sardar Sarovar dam site on October 31. That was when Gujarat's BJP government "resumed" construction on the dam, following the October 18 Supreme Court decision that allowed it to do so. Home Minister L K Advani, Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, his Narmada Development Minister Jaynarayan Vyas and many others "graced" a huge meeting at the site. Tens of thousands of less exalted Gujaratis also came.

One Karsanbhai Patel set the tone with this observation about a childless Medha Patkar: "She doesn't deserve any respect ... How would Medha know the pangs of delivery?" (Quoted by Sheela Bhatt in her Diary for about the event, Nov 2, 2000). Our country's home minister then took the stage to wonder aloud "whether those opposing [such projects] were doing so ... at the behest of some foreign nations". After all, Advani noted, these were "the same people who had criticised the Pokhran blasts in May 1998". (Quoted by Rathin Das in The Hindustan Times, Nov 1, 2000). What our rathyatra man believes, it seems, is that if you find nukes and dams abhorrent, you must be living "at the behest of some foreign nations".

Crudities and innuendo complete, Advani, Patel and other ministers left the place by helicopter. I don't believe they looked below, where utter chaos was spreading fast. Gujarat's BJP government had used over 3,000 government buses to ferry some 250,000 people from all over the state to -- "towards" is perhaps more accurate -- the dam site. Some had travelled 20 hours. But with monumental traffic problems caused by parked ministerial cars, many thousands were stopped 9km short of the dam. And yet they were probably the lucky ones. For those who reached the site not only had to listen to ministerial blathering, but also had to sit through the day in the sun, with no toilet arrangements, no food and no water.

Rathin Das reports that he found some of these people "using filthy, untranslatable and unprintable language for the BJP and its government". They attacked two ministers and one BJP MP, overturned and set afire three official cars. As a BJP corporator from Ahmedabad told Sheela Bhatt: "We were invited, but we were not respected. ... Forget about facilities like toilets. Even a bottle of water was not available!"

These are the people who so easily make insinuations about foreign funds and hands. People who would build an enormous dam, but think ordinary water for ordinary people on a searing day is an unnecessary idea.

And then there was the ad. Something called the "National Council for Civil Liberties" (V K Saxena, president) of Ahmedabad has its name on it. "True face of Ms Medha Patkar and her NBA", it says across page five of The Indian Express on November 10, and offers two facets of this "true face".

The first: "NBA is passing on confidential documents related to projects of national importance to the [sic] foreign people." Reading those words, you are meant to bristle with righteous rage at the skunks who would hand national secrets to foreigners. The "proof"? An "e-mail message" from "Ms Chitra Rupa Palit of NBA" to two Swiss men, reproduced immediately below. It is hand-written, which means it could not have been e-mail, but let's let that little detail pass. Her name, as written on that very "e-mail message", is "Chittaroopa", not "Chitra Rupa", but let's let that little detail pass as well.

And Ms Palit writes to the Swiss dudes: "I am enclosing the (confidential) Risk analysis document that we have prepared." That is, she is referring to a document the NBA has itself produced. How that qualifies as a national secret, the NCCL does not explain. And why should it explain? It has put the idea of a treasonous NBA in your mind, has it not?

The second: the NBA supports itself "through hawala transactions". Again, note the subtle implication that some foreign hanky-panky is taking place. And what's the "proof" this time? A letter from an organisation in Nashik called "Lok Samiti" to a company, thanking the company for its donation of some thousands of rupees. The implication is that LS is a mere front for the NBA, one of several that allow the NBA to collect funds quietly.

But the third line in the letter mentions the NBA, explicitly saying that the funds are for the NBA. In what sense, then, is the NBA taking these funds on the quiet? Besides, in what sense is this a transaction involving undeclared foreign currency: a "hawala transaction"? Yet why should the NCCL care about answering those questions? It has put the idea of a hawala-tainted, foreign-exchange-grubbing, NBA in your mind, has it not?

Finally, in case you are wondering who paid for this ad, I can put your wondering mind at rest immediately. "Space donated by a Patriot", says a line at the bottom.

To which, I can only say: if patriots must lie and insinuate to win public favour, we have slid a long way indeed from the times of Gandhi and Azad, Nehru and Patel. Who will save us from these patriots of today?


Speaking of BJP ministers from Gujarat ... Some days ago, two BJP ministers reluctantly resigned their posts. One was the Union minister of state for defence production, Harin Pathak; the other was Gujarat's health and civil supplies minister, Ashok Bhatt. Both were charged with the murder of a police constable during the 1985 anti-reservation riots in Ahmedabad.

The BJP staunchly defended the two, but finally saw that they had to go. Nevertheless, Jana Krishnamurthy, the party's vice-president, kept defending them till practically the bitter end. The Indian Express (Sunday, November 12) reports that he said the case was more than 15 years old and the police are known to have filed chargesheets "in the heat of the moment".

Routine stuff so far, if illogical: the kind of arguments politicians trot out all the time.

But Krishnamurthy utterly excelled himself and many others I know with what he said next, as also reported in The Indian Express: 'He had also said it was a "simple case of murder" and did not involve any moral turpitude like in the Bofors or JMM bribery case.'

Now you know it, folks. Murder is not immoral.

Dilip D'Souza

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