Thursday, March 19, 2009

Turning Gandhigiri into Netagiri

Lucknow, March 19, 2009: Supreme court's decision on his petition must be giving Sanjay Dutt sleepless nights these days. The fate of his dream to switch over to `netagiri' from `gandhigiri' depends on the petition wherein he has requested the court to allow him to contest Lok Sabha elections from Lucknow.

"Dua kijiyega, supreme court ka faisla mere haq mein ho," urged actor Sanjay Dutt, the supposed candidate from Samajwadi Party (SP) for the high-profile Lucknow parliamentary seat. He said this at Lucknow's Aishbagh Eidgah on March 16 during a 45-minute long informal meet with several Sunni clerics.

Accompanied by Rajya Sabha member from SP, Virendra Bhatia, Dutt claimed that there was no official or political agenda of the meeting. However, the actor was at his best in terms of mannerism and language with the obvious aim of winning over Muslims who form 24. % of the electorate in Lucknow.

Sipping a cup of lemon tea at the Aishbagh Eidgah, Dutt spoke of what his parents taught him of religion. "Ma and Papa always said that one should respect all religions. It is for this reason, that I visit all places of worship to seek blessings," said the actor.

He may be a beginner in politics, but Sanjay Dutt seems to be learning his lessons fast. On his fourth trip to Lucknow, a more politically mature Munna Bhai visited the Samajwadi Party's district headquarters in Kaiserbagh to attend a Holi Milan samaroh and interacted with the party workers from the grass-roots level.

What showcased an interesting mix of his maturity as a politician and skills of a good actor, was the manner in which Sanju Baba managed to avoid a controversies by spontaneously improvising on a slip during his address that caused quite a few heads to turn. Speaking on senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Lalji Tandon's remarks that he is an outsider, an emphatic Sanjay Dutt questioned the very basis on which the remark was made.

"Main bahar ka nahin hoon. Hum sab Hindu hain..."(I am not an outsider. We all are Hindus...), said Dutt, sounding like a staunch saffron leader. His statement did create a murmur leaving some of the senior party leaders sharing the dais him visibly uncomfortable. Apparently taking the cue, Dutt hastened to repeat: "...Hum sab Hindustani hain," (We all are Hindustanis) much to the relief of his political mentors around him.

From here on, he spoke like a seasoned neta and when asked to comment on Tandon, who is BJP’s candidate in Lucknow in place of Atal Behari Vajpai, said: "Woh bahut hi varisht neta hain....humare bare hain....hum unka samman karte hain...(He is a very senior politician....he is my elder....I respect him a lot)."

Dutt spent more than a couple of hours interacting with party workers on a one-to-one basis, in between smiling for lensmen and his fans-cum-party workers who sought a chance to stand beside their Bollywood hero for a quick photo session. Addressing the party workers, Sanjay Dutt confidently outlined their role at the grass-root level and went on to declare that a leader owes his existence to party workers.

His speech was greeted with obvious applause when Munna Bhai said that all the party workers were his `Circuits', name of Dutt's famous stooge in the flick Munna Bhai MBBS. "Aap sab humare Circuit hain...agar aap Circuit ki tarah saath denge to hi hum Munna Bhai ban payenge" (All of you are my Circuit. When you all will extend support to me like Circuit then only can I become a Munna Bhai), Sanjay Dutt said.

Though SP has declared Dutt as its candidate from Lucknow, the Bollywood star can contest elections only after he gets the permission from the Supreme Court. He was convicted by the special TADA court in Mumbai for possessing illegal firearms. Dutt has moved the Supreme Court seeking suspension of his sentence in order to allow him contest the polls.

Under the provisions of the People's Representation Act, any individual convicted in a crime that attracts a punishment of three or more years cannot contest any election. Sanjay Dutt stands debarred from contesting polls unless provided relief by the apex court in his case.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

“Jai Ho Ram Kumarji….”

By Dilip Awasthi
Between the proverbial cup and the lip, this story seeks to become the slip for state government’s intention of demolishing another institution of public trust. If it doesn’t, the all-important position of the state Chief Information Commission (CIC) may be served on a platter to one of the most controversial bureaucrats. The retired official’s sole claim to fame is that he is the only IAS officer in UP’s history, whose services were terminated for corruption and possession of assets disproportionate to known sources of income.

Both chief minister Mayawati and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav would share the honours for the contentious appointment. Mayawati has short listed the name of 1976 batch IAS officer Ram Kumar, once her most trusted lieutenant and Mulayam Singh has absented himself from the high-power committee meeting on February 20, which finalized the official’s name for the coveted post. The CIC is the custodian of the Right to Information Act (RTI), which aims to ensure transparency and accountability in working of all public authority including the state government.

According to highly placed sources, Ram Kumar’s name was short-listed from a panel of five including two former bureaucrats and an existing information commissioner. In absence of Mulayam Singh, the committee sent its recommendation to the Governor the same evening. Ram Kumar, who retired last year, was appointment secretary between June and October 1995 during Mayawati’s first term as CM. He became controversial as his own colleagues including some PCS officials leveled charges of corruption against him. Some of them even submitted in writing and alleged that he had accepted grafts for doling out plum postings. The Kalyan Singh government placed him under suspension in June 1998, which continued till December the same year.

A series of inquiries including Vigilance proceedings were initiated against Ram Kumar. In 2000, the state government under BJP’s Ram Prakash Gupta took up a tirade against corrupt public servants and short-listed 277 officials against whom charges had been substantiated. In this list Ram Kumar, then a director with the state planning institute, was the only official against whom the state government sought central government permission for dismissal of services under the Rule 16(3) of All India Administrative Services Rules 1958. Ram Kumar was found involved in 16 cases of corruption by various inquiries.

On July 12, 2000, chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta himself ordereed Ram Kumar’s dismissal. The compliance of the dismissal notice was done the same evening by the additional district magistrate by pasting the notice at his A-5, Dilkusha Colony residence. However the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) reinstated him in 2003. He retired as principal secretary, rural engineering services last year. Says Ram Kumar, “None of the charges could be substantiated against me in the court. I was a victim of political vendetta”.

The decision to appoint him as the state CIC now rests with Governor TV Rajeswar as he is the appointing authority. According to Section 15 (3) of the RTI Act, the recommendation for the appointment has to be made by a three-member committee comprising the CM who is the chairperson of the committee, the leader of opposition in the Legislature Assembly in this case Mulayam Singh Yadav and a cabinet minister to be nominated by the CM in this case Panchayati Raj minister Babu Singh Kushwaha.

The obvious intention of the act is to get the CIC or for that matter any state Information Commissioners appointed on merit and with consensus. Whereas two members of the committee represent the government, one member represents the entire opposition lobby. The Governor now has to take a call on the issue that in the absence of the leader of opposition should the recommendation of the committee hold? The act is silent on this aspect.

The RTI Act has been an eyesore for the state government and its officials, who have been wanting to castrate this institution, which promises at least some justice for the common man. Nonetheless there could be no better salute to UP government’s penchant for backing the wrong horses than Rehman’s Oscar wining ‘’Jai Ho’’ more aptly “Jai Ho Ram Kumarji”….