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Posts Tagged ‘Sunderlal Patwa

The first Naxalite presence in the Bastar region was noticed a quarter century ago. Chhattisgarh had not yet been carved out of Madhya Pradesh and Bastar was not yet divided into several districts. Bastar was the biggest district in the country, bigger than the State of Kerala in area, covered by thick forests and almost exclusively inhabited by tribals.

The BJP government of Sunderlal Patwa instituted a one-man inquiry committee headed by then Bastar Commissioner Sudeep Banerjee to find out the reasons behind illicit felling of trees in the forest lands of Bastar between April 1989 and May 15, 1990 and the emergence of Naxalism. The finding of the committee was that the Naxalism had grown out of the endless exploitation of the tribals by the police and forest department personnel and the tribals in the Bastar district had greater confidence in the Naxalites than in the government officials. The report gave credit to the Naxalites for generating new self-confidence among the tribals of Bastar district.

The Commissioner’s report said that a total of 81,877 trees were illicitly felled in Bastar district in 1989-90 while as many as 15,716 trees were illicitly felled between April 1 and May 15, 1990. The total number of trees illicitly felled during the period of inquiry thus came to 97,593.

‘The tribals have for ages been depending on the forests. The figures show that the forests have continuously been depleting and the laws enacted for management of forests have only been abridging the rights of the tribals over the forests. Though the tribals are the best friends of the forests even today, a feeling has been growing among them that the forest resources are being utilised by the administration or the non-tribals like traders and contractors. The tribals have been seeing the traders, contractors and government officials prosper by the forest resources while their own condition has been deteriorating’, the report pointed out.

The report said that the political parties had always adopted an equivocal attitude to the tribals’ act of ‘encroaching’ upon the forestland. Only the Naxalites had been openly supporting the tribals on this issue. The Commissioner emphasised that it would be wrong to blame the Naxalites for the encroachments on the forestland. The Naxalites had only adopted a “more realistic approach” to the prevailing social and economic situation. The report, of course, mentioned that a feeling had grown among the people because of the support of the Naxalites that the forest officers or the police could do no harm to them.

Around the same time, two female workers belonging to an NGO in Dhar district were declared as Naxalites by the District administration and ordered to leave the district, simply because they had told the villagers, employed in the plantation work, that they were being grossly underpaid by the contractor. Vijay Singh, then Commissioner of Indore, had shown the guts and (ignoring the scowl on Patwa’s face) rescinded the order of externment against the two girls.

Misuse of TADA

A journalist based in Kanker (then part of Bastar but now a separate district) wrote about the reprobate behaviour of the police in the Naxalite areas and the Superintendent of Police of Bastar booked him under TADA for “harbouring and helping” the Naxalites. Many senior journalists who knew the Kanker man closely vouchsafed for his integrity and even Congress leader Motilal Vora (who knew the Kanker journalist intimately) spoke in his favour but Patwa remained adamant. After the dismissal of the Patwa government in December 1992, the Bastar district police chief submitted to the designated court an affidavit saying that he had falsely booked the Kanker journalist to please the Chief Minister. The IPS officer continued to flourish in the Congress regime of Digvijaya Singh and continued to indulge in excesses against the people (so much so that he was indicted by a committee of the State Assembly). If Patwa could make use of him in an attempt to silence his adversaries and critics, why shouldn’t Digvijaya Singh do the same? The officer retired as Additional Director General of Police.

Madhya Pradesh minister of home and jails Babulal Gaur belongs to the rare breed of politicians. He contested his first Assembly election in 1974 as an independent supported by the parties which later formed Janata Party to dislodge Indira Gandhi and the Congress from power at the Centre and in several States. Gaur revealed at a public function a few years ago that he had won that election mainly because of the help from Congress leader Arjun Singh. As a Minister in the BJP government of Sunderlal Patwa in the early 90s, Gaur had displaced thousands of Muslim families from old Bhopal and dumped them at inhospitable terrains near Gandhinagar outside the city. He was in the forefront of the welcoming party when the Kar Sevaks returned from Ayodhya after demolishing Babri Masjid that resulted in communal riots in several part of the country, Bhopal being one of the worst-hit with 192 recorded killings. Still Gaur continues to be more popular among Muslims than any other BJP leader and more popular than most of the State Congress leaders also.

Patwa hated his guts but had to induct him into his cabinet at the insistence of (then BJP president) Lal Krishna Advani. When Uma Bharti was declared BJP’s chief ministerial candidate and had her absolute say in selection of candidates, she had convinced almost the entire party leadership that Gaur would better serve the party in Lok Sabha than in the Assembly. She had even selected Lok Sabha constituency for him – Bhopal. It was Atal Behari Vajpayee at the Central Election Committee who vetoed it down and said that Gaur, being a senior leader, should be allowed to contest for the Assembly if he so desired. Then, Uma Bharti trusted only Gaur to hold the chief minister’s post when she was made to resign in the wake of the non-bailable warrant against her from the Hubli court. Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s manoeuvrings have failed to keep Gaur out of his cabinet.

Gaur is not a stickler to the RSS/BJP code in the matter of his food habits. Still, the hard-core puritan like Kushabhau Thakre had tremendous affection for him. A retired executive of a private sector industrial unit tells me that in the 1980s he was assigned by his boss the task of giving ‘donations’ to important leaders towards their election expenses. When he reached Gaur with Rs 60,000 (earmarked for him), the BJP leader consulted a register where he had apparently noted down the amounts he was hoping to collect from companies and individuals and told the executive that he had counted on Rs 3,000 from his company. He refused to accept more, the retired executive said.

Gaur has had, by and large, a clean public life. The only black spot was the blatant manipulation to which he resorted, with the help of then State Election Commissioner A V Singh, to get his widowed and apolitical daughter-in-law Krishna Gaur elected as Mayor of Bhopal in 2009. A V Singh, who belonged to the IAS, never disturbed his conscience when it came to going against the rules and propriety to keep himself on the right side of the powers that be. Defeated Congress candidate Abha Singh’s supporters had alleged that then PCC president Suresh Pachauri had also betrayed the party.

Gaur occasionally displays a sense of humour which is not common among BJP leaders. One day he invited some journalists for dinner. He called me up to remind me. I said that I had no option but to obey his command because, being the home minister, he would otherwise send a police party to pick me up. Gaur was silent for a few seconds, then said quietly: ‘Yes. You know I am minister of jails also’.


June 2017
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Value of propaganda

Adolf Hitler believed in the use of propaganda as an integral element to seizing and holding on to political power. His maxim was 'the bigger the lie, the more easily it will be believed, provided it is repeated vigorously and often enough'. (Sean Murphy in his book 'Letting the Side Down')

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