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Posts Tagged ‘Sunderlal Patwa

Septuagenarian Kamal Nath is close to fulfilling his long-cherished ambition of becoming Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. At least so think his fans and supporters of whom there are many – and not only in politics. On the occasion of his son’s marriage in the 1990s, I went to the telegraph office in Bhopal to send a telegram of good wishes. I picked up a phrase from the list of standard greetings phrases (then in vogue) and wrote the address ‘Kamal Nath, Chhindwara’. The clerk read the telegram a few times, looked at me and said hesitantly: ‘Sir, Kamal Nathji ke naam ke aage Shri likh dijiye. Bahut bade Aadmi hain. Paisa utna hi lagega.’ (Sir, you can write Shri before Kamal Nathji’s name. he is a big person. The charge for the telegram will be the same). During the 2008 Assembly elections a British journalist touring Madhya Pradesh to cover the elections for his news agency asked me if Kamal Nath had a chance of becoming the Chief Minister. He remarked that (then Union Commerce Minister) Kamal Nath had made many admirers in Geneva (in the course of his WTO interactions) and they all felt that he deserved to become the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh.

Lok Sabha member from Guna Jyotiraditya Scindia was considered the front-runner in the race for being declared chief ministerial candidate till about a month back when the Congress high command nominated Kamal Nath as the PCC president in place of Arun Yadav towards the end of last month. AICC general secretary and former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh, who had acquired a new aura after  completing (in six months) the 3,300-km Narmada parikrama, was said to have convinced the high command that he would ensure Congress victory in the Assembly elections, due later this year, if Kamal Nath was made the PCC chief. Scindia was simultaneously appointed chairman of the campaign committee. It is not a secret that Digvijaya Singh does not like Jyotiraditya Scindia nor did he like his late father Madhavrao Scindia.

Kamal Nath’s ambition to occupy the Chief Minister’s chair in Madhya Pradesh goes back to 1980 when he had staked his claim along with Arjun Singh and Shivbhan Singh Solanki, a tribal leader from Jhabua. When the views of the party MLAs were ascertained, Solanki was the choice of the highest number of MLAs while Kamal Nath stood third. The AICC observers, deputed to conduct the election of the legislature party leader, contacted Sanjay Gandhi who was ruling the roost at the time. Gandhi’s choice was Arjun Singh. Kamal Nath, a Sanjay buff, then declared that his votes be added to Arjun Singh’s votes which became more than Solanki and Arjun Singh thus became the Chief Minister.

During the decade Digvijaya Singh was the Chief Minister, Kamal Nath told reporters a few times that he would soon replace Digvijaya Singh. The latter always retorted: ‘he is welcome but where are the MLAs with him.’ Once he called me up from Delhi and said that 55 MLAs had pledged their support to him. Asked about the names, at least of a dozen or so, he prevaricated. A week later he, however, got the story published from Delhi in a prominent paper. Every time the Assembly elections are near, he would descend on Bhopal with the hope (without declaring it openly) that he would somehow manage the Chief Minister’s position if the Congress got the majority. This time, though, he must be feeling a lot of confidence with his position as the PCC chief and Digvijaya Singh’s assurance to make him the Chief Minister.

A restless soul

Kamal Nath feels restless when without any position. Having taken the basic training of politics from the late Sanjay Gandhi (in the Youth Congress), he contested his first Lok Sabha election from Chhindwara in 1980 and he has since been keeping his lien on the constituency. He was denied the ticket in 1996 because of the Havana allegations. But he did not leave the Congress as Madhavrao Scindia had done. So he persuaded the party leadership to nominate his wife Alka Nath in his place. She had won with an impressive margin. However, Kamal Nath became restless within a few months and made Alka Nath resign so that he could himself contest. The word spread at the time was that Alka Nath was not feeling comfortable as a Member of Parliament.  The BJP, which had put forward former Chief Minister Sunderlal Patwa against Kamal Nath in the by-election, gave a twist to the Kamal Nath-Alka Nath relationship and also exploited the confiscation of certain objects by the Customs from Kamal Nath’s luggage on his return from abroad. Few could match Sunderlal Patwa in slander mongering; the former BJP Chief Minister had turned it into a fine art.

Then Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, whom Kamal Nath had invited for campaigning for him, unwittingly helped the BJP cause. He was chatting with some journalists in a relaxed mood. Asked what he thought was the solution to the Kashmir problem, he said that he “personally” felt that the only solution to the problem was that India and Pakistan should be allowed to keep parts of Jammu and Kashmir now under their control and the line of control should be declared international border. What more did the BJP want? Kamal Nath lost to Patwa. That was the only time when the constituency went out of the Congress hands. Kamal Nath took his revenge on Patwa a year later, in 1998, winning the seat with over 58 per cent of the polled votes. He has since been representing Chhindwara in Lok Sabha continuously. 

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Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan suffers from chronic verborrhea. He shoots off jumlas with greater rapidity than in even Narendra Modi. If the rape of a child is highlighted in the media, he takes no time in announcing that child rapists will be given death sentence and his government will bring in the next session of the Assembly the bill to amend the relevant section of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). If a rape is highlighted in the media, he promises death sentence for the rapist by amending the law. If a gang-rape is highlighted in the media, he shouts with full force the death sentence for all the rapists by amending the law in the next session of the Assembly. At present the IPC stipulates from seven years’ rigorous imprisonment to life term for rape, depending on the circumstances.

One thing, he has never moved to introduce a bill to amend the IPC. Secondly, his jumlas come out only when the crime is highlighted in the media. Scores of incidents of molestation and rape take place regularly in Madhya Pradesh outside the big cities and away from the media glare but Chouhan was never heard saying that he could not sleep because of that incident or that he will ensure that the rapist will be awarded the death sentence. Madhya Pradesh, incidentally records the highest molestation/rape incidents in the country. The State Assembly was told earlier this year that on an average, 11 women were raped every day and six women were gang-raped every week in the State during 2016, over half of the victims being minor. Between February 2016 and mid-February 2017, as many as 4279 women were raped and 248 were gang-raped in the State. Of the 4279 rape victims, 2260 were minors. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the State had 5076 such cases in 2014 and 4391 cases in 2015.

The short-lived BJP government of Uma Bharti had addressed itself to the problem of humiliation of women in public and moved a bill in the Assembly to provide harsher punishment to the offenders. She, though, could not see it through. Babulal Gaur had replaced her as the chief minister by the time the bill was passed. It became part of the statute book in December 2004.

The bill added Subsection-A to Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code (use of criminal force to outrage the modesty of woman) and provided that the offender ‘shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than one year but which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine.’ The main Section provides for a maximum punishment of up to two years. Besides, the Madhya Pradesh amendment also provides for the same punishment to whoever abets or conspires in the act, which is not there in the main Section.

Difficult to say how the amended Section would have been enforced had Uma Bharti remained at the helm of affairs. Her successors (Babulal Gaur and then Shivraj Singh Chouhan), however, did not show any interest in this. The amended law was consigned to the archives once the gazette notification was made. Today most of those concerned – the politicians, the police officers and, of course, those for whose benefit the Act was amended — are not even aware that such a law exists.

Crime, particularly the crimes against women, has been steadily going up in Madhya Pradesh for quite some time. It was during the BJP government of Sunderlal Patwa that Madhya Pradesh recorded the highest number of heinous crimes including murder, rape and dacoity. The trend continued almost unabated during the ten-year Congress regime of Digvijaya Singh. Bad law and order, with emphasis on crimes against women, formed part of Uma Bharti’s vigorous campaign for the November 2003 Assembly elections, along with what was then described as BSP (bijli, sadak, pani). Being a woman, she had shown particular sensitivity towards the plight of women. Under her leadership, the BJP captured power with an overwhelming majority.

It would be interesting to note that Chouhan, when he replaced Babulal Gaur as Chief Minister in November 2005, believed there was no rule of law in the State. This he put as his top priority. The Governor’s customary address to the Assembly at the beginning of Chouhan’s first budget session had specifically stated: ‘Meri Sarkar ki prathamikata kanoon ka raaj sthapit karana hai’ (the priority of my government is to establish the rule of law). The Governor’s address is always approved by the cabinet. Unfortunately, the law and order in the State has since been steadily deteriorating.

A major reason for this state of affairs is the total personalisation, not politicisation but personalisation, of the police force (once described by Madhya Pradesh High Court judge as ‘criminals in uniform’). Secondly, there are too many IPS officers and an acute shortage of the lower staff who do the field work. To top it all, there is the pathetic insensitivity of the police almost at every level. by the


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