Wednesday, September 23, 2015


My Reply to Maharashtra CM

By Rajdeep Sardesai on Wed, 23/09/2015 - 09:17

Dear Devendraji,

Firstly, I wish to thank you for replying to my open letter and
creating space for a public debate. This is a sign of a truly healthy
democracy and is rare for a politician in this day and age. I truly
appreciate  that a big politician chooses to reply to a humble
columnist: doesn't happen too often in an age where the media is a
soft target. However, while I do not wish this to become a tu to main
main, I must reserve the right to reply.

Sir, there are four basic issues that I raised in my original letter
to which you have responded. Firstly, the meat and beef ban in
Maharashtra. On the beef ban, the fact is that your government has
imposed a statewide ban in a unilateral manner with no attempt to
engage with the stakeholders. The results are there for all to see.
Thousands of people associated with the cattle trade have overnight
been rendered unemployed. They are all citizens of this country, many
of whom voted for you in the last election. I haven't heard a word of
empathy for their plight ( a number of them belong to the minority
community but let's not go down there for now). Should I not ask as a
journalist what useful public purpose has been served by this ban? Or
does asking questions make me agenda driven?

The issue of a meat ban has a more chequered past. Yes, previous
governments of the Congress-NCP, be it at the state or municipal
level, have sought to impose bans on meat sale during the Jain
festival. Under pressure from the Jain community, attempts have been
made by your predecessors (and I mention this in my article without
citing the dates) in 1994, 2003-04 and 2014 through government
resolutions, but these were never widely enforced (the 94 order, for
example, was never carried out), were often driven by a spirit of
voluntarism (an ‘’appeal” was made to close meat shops) and nor did
they initially last beyond two days (although the August 2014
Government resolution did seek to extend it to four days). It is only
this year that the BJP dominated Mira-Bhayandar municipal corporation
imposed an unprecedented eight day ban on meat sale and strictly
enforced it. Taking a cue, a group of BJP MLAs,   councillors and Jain
community persons met the municipal commissioner and sought to extend
this to Mumbai city and have a similar eight day ban on meat sale
across the city. It is only when the Shiv Sena and MNS opposed this,
that your local leaders were forced to back off because they couldn't
muster a majority.

The message is clear and this was the point I was making: the state
BJP wanted to impose, indeed was pushing to impose,  a ban much wider
in scope and ambit than in the past And if I ask questions in this
regard, am I agenda-driven or pseudo-secular or simply reflecting the
concerns of a large section of the population who do not appreciate
the ban culture, be it by a BJP government or a Congress government?

Lets turn to Rakesh Maria and the musical chairs played with the
police commissioner's office. You claim that his sudden transfer was
necessitated by the rush of festivals: a new man was needed to oversee
the festival arrangements. Truth is, almost no senior police officer I
have spoken to is willing to buy this theory. Those who have retired
have openly scoffed at this explanation, those in service are
naturally hesitant to speak out. The conjecture is that Mr Maria's
transfer has something to do with the ongoing Sheena Bora
investigation or a personal animus. You seem to suggest that his role
as commissioner in a murder case was purely supervisory. Maybe it was,
or should be. But the fact is, your government after transferring him
to DG Home Guards in the morning, the very same evening claims that he
will continue to oversee the Bora investigation. This, even as a new
police commissioner and another  fine officer Ahmed Javed takes
charge. Can there be anything more confusing? Then, to compound the
confusion, your government now decides to suddenly hand over the Bora
case to the CBI. The Mumbai police claimed in court that it had
clinching evidence while seeking remand against the accused; then why
is the case being transferred out? Is the Mumbai police incompetent,
is there a cover-up, or is the case throwing up new dimensions which
perhaps might need fresh investigation? Is a journalist not to ask
such questions without his motives being questioned?

Let's turn to the issue of sedition and a government circular. You
claim that the circular is a routine translation from Marathi of an
order passed by the previous state government. Your reply seems to
suggest that the role of  the present government is little more than
clerical that requires no application of mind to a serious issue.
Well, all I can say is that on Tuesday, the Mumbai high court gave a
very different spin to this issue: on a petition by cartoonist Aseem
Trivedi, they have asked your government not to implement the circular
for now and asked you to reply by the 20th of October. Since the
matter is now before the esteemed court, maybe we should wait to see
how they interpret the government circular: clearly, this round has
been won by those who are worried that the circular can be misused by
the police. Also, if you are not in agreement with the sedition
circular why did your government not withdraw it? `Sedition’ is hardly
a weapon to be used in the armoury of a democratic government which
should welcome debate and disagreement. Why did your government
re-issue this circular? And if I point to this potential for misuse,
am I being agenda driven or simply doing my duty as a journalist?

The fourth issue is one which is dear to your and my heart: the plight
of the farmers, especially in Marathwada at the moment. As a
politician from Vidarbha, I know you empathise with farmers issues; I
am aware that you took a lead role in exposing the irrigation scam
when in opposition. And I am also aware of your efforts through the
Jal Yukta Shivir Yojana to try and improve the situation on the
ground. The facts though are that 729 farmers have committed suicide
since January in Marathwada alone, more than any other part of  the
country, and tanker mafias and usurious money-lenders continue to
rule. Yes, this is an inherited legacy (and I refer to the irrigation
failures and comments made by previous ministers in my original
letter), but on the ground there is hardly any evidence of the
situation showing any marked improvement. Maybe, if your
micro-irrigation schemes do work, then in the long run, there will be
change. But for now, there is a deepening crisis. Should I not be
asking you, therefore, to prioritise farm relief above all else? And
should I not also ask what happened to the election promise of
ensuring that those involved in the irrigation scam are punished? Or
is asking hard questions in this age of cheerleaders and unbridled
Bhakti, no longer acceptable?

My final point sir: in your response, at various points you call me a
'leftist', `pseudo secular’, and ‘biased’. You also rather derisively
placed the word senior, as in senior journalist, in inverted commas.
Personal attacks are now par for the course;  27 years of journalism
have helped me acquire the skin of a rhinoceros. Over the years, I
have been attacked by one and all: in 1992-93, Sharad Pawar, also a
former Maharashtra CM, threw me out of a press conference because of
the questions I asked on the Mumbai riots. Ten years later, my
coverage of the 2002 riots led to my being attacked again. I have
stood up against all forms of extremism, Hindu and Muslim, and am
suspicious of  all  dogmas, be it of left or right. I have exposed
Congress corruption (as editor of a news channel, I supervised the
path-breaking investigative story on the Quattorochi accounts being
defrozen), and sangh parivar hate politics, Mulayam’s goondaism (for
which I was summoned to the UP state assembly) and Mayawati’s
disproportionate assets (for which our OB van was burnt). Please do go
through my columns over the last two decades, especially on
Maharashtra politics, a state whose social and political decline I
have observed with dismay.

I am happy to introspect, be corrected, but dislike being pigeonholed
in any manner, except to say that I do believe in the spirit of a
liberal, plural India that strives to provide equal opportunities to
all its citizens. Does that make me a “Leftist?” as you appear to
caricature all dissenters or questioners?  If I question any form of
bigotry, does that make me pseudo-secular? In my view, it makes me a
proud, humane Indian.

Post-script: I must also thank all your followers who ensured I
trended all through Tuesday on twitter. Their constant abuse gives me
strength. Look forward to meeting soon! Jai Maharashtra, jai Hind!

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