Two renegades returned to the Congress in Madhya Pradesh within a span of two months. Both are likely to affect the prospects of the Congress in the Assembly elections, due in November, but in their own ways. Digvijaya Singh’s younger brother, Laxman Singh, formally re-joined the Congress in mid-January at the AICC headquarters in Delhi and later visited the PCC office in Bhopal where he was received by the top leadership of the party. Arjun Singh’s daughter, Veena Singh, drove to the party office in Bhopal in the first week of March to report to some low rung staffers that she is back in the Congress. Almost all the party leaders (including her brother Ajay Singh who is the Leader of Opposition) had made it a point to keep away from the party office at the time of her arrival.
Mercurial Laxman Singh quit the Congress after Digvijaya Singh lost power in 2003. He joined the BJP in 2004 to contest, and win, the Lok Sabha election from his traditional constituency of Rajgarh. The reason for his leaving the Congress, he had told this reporter, was that he had felt uneasy the day Sonia Gandhi came to the Central Hall of Parliament (he was first elected to Lok Sabha in a by-election in 1994) and Arjun Singh or someone said that she was now the president of the Congress. A handful of persons had decided to make her the party president without even consulting others. Laxman said he had told his brother (Digvijaya) that this was not the way to elect the party president. “I’ll try to bring him (Digvijaya Singh) also on to the right track”, he had added.
His victory as the BJP candidate was attributed by Digvijaya Singh’s detractors to his machinations. The PCC had recommended the name of Devendra Singh Raghuvanshi who had been elected to the State Assembly twice from Chachaura constituency, which formed part of the Rajgarh Lok Sabha constituency. Digvijaya Singh, however, persuaded the Congress high command to get his nominee, Shambhu Singh, fielded from Rajgarh and had promised to the party leadership that he would work hard to ensure the defeat of his brother. A former High Court judge, Shambhu Singh was the Chairman of the Industrial Tribunal at Indore and a novice in politics. He was prevailed upon by Digvijaya Singh to resign and contest against his brother. Shambhu Singh suffered an abominable defeat and had blamed Digvijaya Singh for taking him in. In 2009, however, Digvijaya Singh must have worked to ensure Laxman Singh’s defeat because his integrity was being openly questioned at that time – and not only for “engineering” Laxman Singh’s victory in 2004.
Defeated in 2009, Laxman Singh soon fell out with BJP president Nitin Gadkari over some remark of the latter. Now he started feeling suffocation in the BJP and yearned for some fresh air in Sonia Gandhi’s party. Digvijaya Singh, with his proximity to Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, did the spade work for his return to the Congress. He is definitely likely to contest for the Lok Sabha but from where he or his elder brother have not yet revealed. His old constituency of Rajgarh had elected in 2009 a long-time Congressman and loyalist of the Digvijaya Singh family and dislodging him for a turncoat may not go well with the electorate.
With Veena Singh it’s a different case. She did not leave the Congress but was expelled for contesting as an independent against the official Congress candidate from Sidhi Lok Sabha constituency in 2009. She was, in fact, the victim of Arjun Singh’s political miscalculation. She had not been really that active politically. Arjun Singh, however, wanted to see her in Lok Sabha in his last days. His request for the ticket to Veena was turned downed by the Congress. He encouraged her to file as an independent which she did on the last day of filing the nominations. Arjun Singh still hoped that he would be able to manage the things for her. He shed copious tears in front of the television cameras virtually pleading to Sonia Gandhi to instruct Congress candidate Indrajeet Kumar Patel to step down in favour of Veena Singh. Patel was also like a household member for Arjun Singh but he had had “enough” already — MLA for seven times and minister in the Digvijaya Singh government, besides many other important positions during the Arjun Singh, Motilal Vora and Digvijaya Singh regimes.
Arjun Singh’s desperation
Arjun Singh had virtually made it “either you support Veena Singh or you are enemy” in Sidhi where he had reigned as the tallest leader for decades. The list of the “enemies” included once his favourite son, Ajay Singh. As Minister of Human Resource Development, Arjun Singh had appointed Mahendra Singh Chauhan as chairman of the Bhopal-based Technical Teachers’ Training Institute (TTTI). A life-long loyalist of the Arjun Singh family, Chauhan could not reconcile himself to campaigning against the Congress, particularly when Ajay Singh was working for the Congress. The first decision Arjun Singh took after the election results were announced (and Veena had lost) was to remove Chauhan from the post of the chairman. No one expected Veena Singh to win but she had garnered, mainly through Arjun Singh’s efforts, enough votes to ensure the defeat of the Congress candidate who was, otherwise, well placed. Veena was expelled from the Congress.
Both Veena Singh and Laxman Singh are autocratic in one way or the other with the difference that Veena has never been known to take up cudgels for a public cause. Laxman Singh, for instance, would lose his temper (which he frequently does) when he saw a doctor in a hospital not attending to the patients and would even slap the doctor. His strong feelings and his hyper-activism have made him a dearly loved or acutely hated person in the area. Veena Singh is known, on the other hand, as only Arjun Singh’s daughter.
While Laxman Singh is expected to help Congress prospects, provided Congress is able to stop its incessant infighting, in the Rajgarh-Guna area, the same cannot be said of Veena Singh unless and until she reconciles with her younger brother Ajay Singh and the Congress workers who had been at the receiving end as long as her father was alive. That, though, does not seem to be in Veena Singh’s nature.
The Madhya Pradesh government has once again increased by one year the tenure of the Kochar Commission inquiring into various aspects of the Bhopal gas leak disaster of 1984. The Commission was constituted in August 2010. Its working in the last two years suggests only one thing: chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan wanted to oblige S L Kochar by providing him a sinecure for some favour done by him either as lawyer or a member of the judiciary.
The farcical June 7, 2010 judgement of the Bhopal Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) handed down to the disaster accused by treating them like VVIPs in the court and bailing them out in the same breath in which the two-year prison term was announced gave the wily Chauhan the idea of setting up the Commission for Kochar who was not even retired by then. The Commission started functioning nearly a year after the chief minister’s announcement to constitute it.
The terms of reference announced by the government were laudable enough: the commission was asked to inquire if the rules and regulations were complied with while setting up the Union Carbide plant, if adequate measures were taken by Union Carbide to prevent mishaps, and if adequate safety measures were installed by Union Carbide for the disposal of the hazardous waste after the 1984 disaster. More importantly, the Commission would inquire into the role of the State government (then headed by Arjun Singh) and others in the arrest, release and in providing safe passage to Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson, and any other matter arising out of or incidental to these issues.
Had Kochar been honest about his assignment, he would have first tried to procure the documents collected by the first judicial commission which then chief minister Arjun Singh had constituted to assuage the worldwide outrage over the disaster. Once the public anger had subsided, the judicial commission was wound up. But in the eight or nine months that the commission was functional, it was said to have collected documents running into thousands of pages from various parties involved, including the statement of the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), the subsidiary of the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), which was directly responsible for operating the pesticide plant in Bhopal.
Kochar did not even show the honesty to take up, at least so far, the first part of the terms of reference, that is, if the rules and regulations were complied with while setting up the Union Carbide plant and if adequate measures were taken by Union Carbide to prevent mishaps and also for the disposal of the hazardous waste. While the US courts have dealt at length with how the Union Carbide Corporation had chosen to opt for substandard safety measure for its Bhopal plant in contrast with the first class technology used at its Virginia plant, not much has been revealed about the compliance of rules and regulations in setting up the Bhopal plant. Kochar, it seems, was wary of antagonising some powerful politicians and bureaucrats who had gone out of their way to help the Union Carbide executives.
A senior bureaucrat (now retired) had, for instance, ordered removal of all factories and commercial activities including such as vehicle repair workshop, saw machines, and dairies from the Chhola area of Bhopal as it was strictly a residential area. The same bureaucrat in his dual capacity as the Director of Town and Country Planning and the Administrator of Bhopal Municipal Corporation had granted special permission, in July 1973, to Union Carbide to set up in the same area the pesticide plant which was the source of the havoc in 1984. The bureaucrat, once virtually the hatchet man of Arjun Singh, is now considered close to the BJP and RSS leaders.
The Commission has only been wasting its time in the Warren Anderson saga about which hardly any new fact is likely to emerge as too much has already come out in newspapers, in courts and otherwise. Some of the key factors involved, like Rajiv Gandhi and Arjun Singh, are no more. Others, like then Bhopal Collector Moti Singh and Police Superintendent Swaraj Puri, have either deposed before courts or given out their versions in various interviews. Moti Singh has even written a book detailing his role in the so-called arrest and release of Anderson. Kochar is biding his time by listening to the depositions of Swaraj Puri, Moti Singh and smaller fries who were on duty at the time. He even went to the absurdity of issuing a notice to Warren Anderson asking him to travel from his quiescence in the US to Bhopal to depose before the Kochar Commission working from a small house in a little known locality. At one stage, Kochar even bullied the Bhopal CJM to get unauthorisedly the original file of the proceedings in an on-going Warren Anderson-related case.
One does not expect that the Kochar Commission will be able to unravel any new facts about the arrival, arrest, release and ceremonial departure of Warren Anderson. All it can do is to give a new lease of life to the controversy later this year when the Assembly elections are due and Shivraj Singh Chauhan will be seeking the third term in office.
Madhya Pradesh governor Ram Naresh Yadav, who has kept State Congress leaders in perpetual despondency by his bonhomie with chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, has sprung a surprise by directing him to keep a check on the anarchic Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists. They are indulging in unlawful activities and polluting the academic atmosphere in the State, the Governor’s stern letter to the CM says.
The immediate provocation for the Governor’s ire was the recent incidents of rowdyism by the ABVP activists on the Bhoj University campus. The Governor has created a real problem for Chauhan who is terribly afraid of the ABVP activists.
Chauhan had virtually lost his sleep when six hard-core ABVP activists were arrested for the murder of Ujjain Professor H S Sabharwal. The chief minister had a 20-minute one-to-one talk with Vimal Tomar, one of the six accused then in police custody. Chauhan had then allowed the police and forensic investigations subverted to ensure acquittal of the ABVP leaders.
As the witnesses (even the policemen who were eye-witnesses) started turning hostile, the murdered Professor’s son Himanshu knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court. A division bench comprising Arijit Payasat and D K Jain stayed the proceedings in the Ujjain court and asked the BJP government of the State, through its counsel: “What action have you taken against those police officers who resiled from their earlier statements? Would not the trial be a mockery if your police officers turned hostile? Our anxiety is that every police officer will be given a clean chit. We have seen what has happened in the Best Bakery case.”
If Chauhan did not care for the Supreme Court, will he care for the Governor’s direction, one wonders.