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During his first term as Leader of Opposition in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly (2010-2013), Ajay Singh (Rahul Bhaiya) had made a name for himself for his aggressive stance against the wrong-doings of the BJP government of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. But in his second tenure, which began in February this year, not only his performance has been lack-lustre but this month he did something which will haunt his political career for the rest of his life. He collaborated in Chouhan’s clandestine move to get his own man appointed as Lokayukta of the State.

It was kept a closely guarded secret, known only to Chouhan, a few others involved, and Ajay Singh till an official announcement was made late in the night that former MP High Court judge Naresh Kumar Gupta had been appointed as the Lokayukta. Gujarat Governor O P Kohli, who has been holding additional charge of Madhya Pradesh for over a year, was flown in from Gandhinagar next day (October 18). He administered oath of office and secrecy to the new Lokayukta and flew back to Gandhinagar, barely spending a couple of hours in the Madhya Pradesh capital.

The law, rules and procedures were breached in appointment of Justice (Retd) Gupta as the Lokayukta. No panel of names was prepared and no meeting of selectors was held. Chouhan got a single name approved by the High Court Chief Justice and sent an officer to Ajay Singh to get his signature which the 62-year-old Congress leader obliged — all in secrecy. Appointment of Gupta as Lokayukta created another anomaly. Deputy Lokayukta Justice (Retd) U C Maheshwari had been acting as Lokayukta for over a year. Maheshwari was senior to Gupta by six years in the High Court and now Gupta has come to boss over him. A sullen Maheshwari did not attend Gupta’s swearing-in. A day before, he pushed off to Mhow to celebrate Diwali with his family.

Justice (Retd) Gupta was legal advisor to the Chouhan government before he was appointed a High Court judge in 2010. During that period he was said to have helped Chouhan manage some serious scams and had won the trust of Chouhan. According to PCC spokesman K K Mishra, Deputy Lokayukta Maheshwari was probing corruption charges against an influential IAS officer and now the investigation would naturally be taken over by Gupta as Maheshwari’s boss.

Ajay Singh has been receiving a lot of criticism, mainly from his own party men, for his complicity in Chouhan’s nefarious game. Congress Rajya Sabha member and senior lawyer Vivek Tankha wondered how the Chief Justice of the High Court and Leader of Opposition could become party to serious transgression of judicial procedures. Former Speaker of the Madhya Pradesh Assembly Srinivas Tiwari and several other party leaders felt that Ajay Singh had forfeited the right to lead the Congress party in the Assembly. There are reports that a large number of missives have been sent to the party high command in Delhi about the unseemly conduct of Ajay Singh.

In a facile statement, Ajay Singh said that he did not know anything about gradation of High Court judges; the Chief Justice suggested the name, the Chief Minister sent it to him and he signed. How innocent! Even ninnies would not take his defence seriously.

Deputy Leader of Opposition Bala Bachan, who was acting Leader of Opposition before Ajay Singh was nominated to the post, came out with an observation that Chouhan had been trying to get Justice (Retd) Gupta appointed as Lokayukta for nearly a year; he had sent the officers from the CMO with Gupta’s name to Bala Bachan as many as six times and every time Bala Bachan returned them saying that he would not sign for a single name. Bachan had always insisted on a panel of three names to select from, as per the rules. When Bachan asked for the file so that he could note down his objections, the officers refused to give him the file, Bachan added. 

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The BHU is the worst thing that could have happened to Narendra Modi in the three years of his disastrous regime. The students’ agitations elsewhere, like in JNU and Hyderabad, were supressed to a great extent by giving them a partisan colour to create confusion and hammering words and phrases like nationalism, duty to nation, support to disruptive forces, etc. That is not possible with the BHU for the simple reason that the issue involved is such as goes beyond political colours and is directly concerned with the dignity of the woman.

To recapitulate, a girl student of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) was molested by some goons on the campus. When the students went to Vice-Chancellor G C Tripathi to complain and seek action against the culprits, the VC was reported to have asked the victim of molestation to forget the incident and stop stepping out of the hostel after 6 PM because the boys will be boys. Next day the students, mostly girls, held a demonstration demanding action against the offenders and seeking safety for girl students. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi is, was in the city on that day and the students probably thought their grievance, which had failed to move the VC, would be heard at some higher level. The administration, however, responded with brutal and indiscriminate lathi-charge on them hitting some of the girl students even on head.

This led to anger in the student community across the holy city. The administration was able to wriggle out of an unpleasant situation, at least for the time being, by advancing the dussehra vacation by a few days and ordering closure of all educational institutions till October 2. The reprieve is, in all probability, short-lived as the issue involved is volatile — and the problem concerns not only the girls on campus or in one city alone. Already, there are reports that students in other universities are also preparing to join the protest once the educational institutions reopen after October 2.

The matter needs to be handled delicately, which is difficult to expect from an inexperienced gangster-turned Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Once the students’ anger gets out of hand, it will not be possible either for Yogi Adityanath or for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stem the tide, with people’s resentment against the latter’s ill-conceived policies and programmes already accumulating. The one handle left with arrogant rulers in such situations is the use of State force which only leads to aggravation when students are involved. Most of the countries in the world have over the centuries faced the students’ anger and tried in vain to control it with the use of force. Even mighty nations like the USA and France (then ruled by de Gaulle) could not withstand it.

Briefly, in 1967 the students of two universities in Paris started demonstrations against the French government of President Charles de Gaulle against bureaucratic policies on campus. The use of police by the government to disperse the demonstrators turned it into a larger political issue. Students and left-wing activists all over Paris organised protest marches against the government. More high-handed response by the government sparked violent clashes. All over the country, large numbers of workers and citizens started agitations in solidarity with the students, and called a general strike against the government. Eventually, 22 per cent of France’s population was on the streets, bringing the French economy to a near-halt, forcing President de Gaulle to flee to Germany.

In the US in May 1964, some 1000 students marched through Times Square in New York to the United Nations to protest against the US involvement in the Vietnam War. More than 700 students and young people marched through San Francisco. In Boston, Madison, Wisconsin, Seattle, there were simultaneous smaller demonstrations. This was a small beginning which grew so enormous that the US ultimately had to pull out of the Vietnam War.

Nearer home, the students’ agitation brought down Chimanbhai Patel’s government in Gujarat in 1973. It started somewhat innocuously as students of LD College of Engineering in Ahmedabad went on strike against a 20 per cent hike in mess charges. A fortnight later, students of Gujarat University went on strike, which led to clashes between the police and the students. The news of use of police force against students who were fighting against corruption and price rise spread to other towns and cities. The Chimanbhai Patel government in Gujarat found itself in a corner after police records showed that 95 students were killed and more than 900 injured in police firing. Patel had to quit.

Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath today find themselves in a far worse situation as the issue raised by the BHU students is much more sensitive than a hike in mess charges or the war in another country.

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“Behind every great fortune there is a crime”, originally attributed to 19th-century French writer Honoré de Balzac.

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