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V K Saxena's Road To Delhi LG via Gujarat

By Aditi Phadnis
June 03, 2022 09:32 IST
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Vinai Kumar Saxena's current job as lieutenant governor of an Opposition-ruled state will raise the bar -- not just for him, but also for the Aam Aadmi Party government, which never says no to a fight with the representative of the central government in India's capital.

IMAGE: Vinai Kumar Saxena, left, greets Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal after taking oath as the 22nd lieutenant governor of Delhi, at Raj Niwas, New Delhi, May 26, 2022. Photograph: Rahul Singh/ANI Photo

The greatest quality of Delhi's new Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena is that he is indefatigable.

Once he takes up a cause, he just doesn't let go, regardless of liberal outrage and stinging Supreme Court directives (many of his cases have been thrown out in court and a Delhi court fined him for not appearing in defamation suits filed by those against whom he filed cases).

What's more, he doesn't believe in hiding his light under a bushel. His CV as chairman of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission on the KVIC Web site described him as having a 'suave and refined persona' and being a 'multifaceted personality'.

It went on to say that he is a 'jet-setting corporate leader, a vociferous social crusader, an ardent environmentalist, a committed water-conservationist, an articulate votary for integrated development, and a pilot licensee.'

This is possibly for the first time that the KVIC, a venerable institution that once mandated that its chairmen needed to have taken a vow to wear khadi all their lives, was headed by a person from a corporate background. Saxena was appointed KVIC chairman in 2015.

Originally from Kanpur, he began his career as an assistant officer in a private company in Rajasthan, before shifting to Gujarat in 1995 as general manager of the Dholera Port project being developed by Adani Ports Ltd and J K White Cement. He was not only made CEO, but was elevated as director of the project.

From 2000 till today, Saxena has had a bugbear: Medha Patkar.

In the 1990s, when the Narmada Bachao Andolan against raising the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam, led by activists Baba Amte and Patkar, was at its peak, Saxena formed an NGO, the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL).

He began by publishing articles and issuing paid advertisements against Patkar's activities in which he alleged she was anti-national and was receiving funding from dubious foreign sources.

Patkar's demands were simple: Raising the height of the dam would undoubtedly provide water to many thirsty Gujarat and Rajasthan regions, but it would also inundate the land of hundreds and thousands of families in Madhya Pradesh, which needed to be rehabilitated before the height of the dam was raised and the catchment area expanded.

Whatever the merits of the arguments, the Narmada Bachao Andolan became, for a time, a bad word in Gujarat as then chief minister Narendra Modi went from pillar to post seeking support for his stance.

Saxena picked up the gauntlet on the state government’s behalf and fought cases against Patkar. She in turn filed defamation cases that are still going on. Earlier this year, Saxena was not present for the hearings and was fined by the court twice.

Saxena's support for causes close to the Gujarat government did not stop there. He also got his NGO impleaded in the matter when then Gujarat governor Kamla Beniwal, appointed by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, prevented the Gujarat government from appointing its choice as Lokayukta.

His NGO was the one that filed a police complaint against public intellectual Ashis Nandy alleging that an article written by Nandy after the 2007 assembly elections had projected the state in 'a bad light' and 'promoted communal disharmony between Hindus and Muslims'.

Nandy contended that the FIR was registered out of mala fide intention and was aimed at penalising him for expressing his bona fide views. It was the Supreme Court that finally gave Nandy relief in 2011 after the Gujarat police filed FIRs for his arrest.

For a man who gave so much support and assistance to the state of Gujarat, the rewards flowed in. Not only did he get the KVIC job, but was also made a member of important government committees, including one that takes decisions on Padma awards and reports to the ministry of home affairs.

During his tenure as chairman, KVIC signed agreements with major textile brands such as Raymond and Arvind Mills to market khadi.

For the first time, in 2017, companies such as Fabindia and Web sites Amazon and Flipkart were slapped with legal notices for trademark violation because KVIC argued that the fabric they were selling as khadi was not khadi at all and 'had no label or tag issued by KVIC'.

KVIC also reported a massive increase in its turnover and profits, though from a low base, on the back of technological innovations in khadi, the expansion of activities of the KVIC in areas such as bamboo and beekeeping, and other village industry endeavours. Earlier lasts month, the prime minister publicly praised the work of KVIC.

Saxena's current job as lieutenant governor of an Opposition-ruled state will raise the bar -- not just for him, but also for the ruling Aam Aadmi Party government, which never says no to a fight with the representative of the central government in India's capital.

The new LG enjoys unparalleled support and access to the powers that be in the central government.

The capital is in for interesting times.

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Aditi Phadnis in New Delhi
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