We saved in­dia fRom LaLu, and modi tRied to stop 2002 Ri­ots: Jaya JaitLy

In the fol­low­ing ex­tracts from her just re­leased mem­oirs, the for­mer pres­i­dent of the Sa­mata Party writes about Lalu Ya­dav, Ni­tish Ku­mar, and Naren­dra Modi, who was then Chief Min­is­ter of Gu­jarat.

The Sunday Guardian - - Covert -

In mid-1994, Ni­tish Ku­mar ap­proached Ge­orge Fer­nan­des at a trade union con­fer­ence in Dhan­bad ask­ing him to take steps to break away from Lalu’s grip and the Janata Dal. His Kurmi caste was be­ing marginal­ized. Doc­u­ments had sur­faced prov­ing cor­rup­tion in the pur­chase and sale of fod­der by Lalu Prasad’s Bi­har gov­ern­ment. Ge­orge Fer­nan­des went to V.P. Singh ask­ing how we could fight the Bo­fors cor­rup­tion if our own house was tainted. V.P. Singh re­fused to listen. Four­teen mem­bers of the Janata Dal headed by Ge­orge Fer­nan­des, in­clud­ing Rabi Ray, Ni­tish Ku­mar, Harik­ishore Singh and oth­ers, cov­er­ing four states, as re­quired to be de­clared a na­tional party, broke away and formed the Janata Dal (G) and be­gan a process that ended into the for­ma­tion of the Sa­mata Party in late 1994. Many of us sec­ond-rung Party ac­tivists were part of it. We filled the Talkatora Stadium at its for­ma­tion con­fer­ence. I was nom­i­nated gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Party on the sug­ges­tion of Harik­ishore Singh, a se­nior so­cial­ist Par­lia­men­tar­ian from Bi­har.

The Sa­mata Party went into the 1995 As­sem­bly elec­tions in Bi­har fight­ing all the seats on its own. While Ni­tish Ku­mar trav­elled in he­li­copters, Ge­orge Fer­nan­des, as pres­i­dent of the newly formed Party, trav­elled in an old Am­bas­sador car on Bi­har’s leg­endary roads which Lalu had promised to make as smooth as film ac­tor Hema Malini’s cheeks, but for­got to do so. Mean­while, a case was filed in the Supreme Court with clinch­ing ev­i­dence of the fod­der scam. I or­ga­nized demon­stra­tions every­where in­clud­ing at Jan­tar Man­tar in Delhi, dress­ing up twowheeler scoot­ers as cows. We were called ‘a small but feisty party’ by the me­dia as these demon­stra­tions al­ways had some­thing eye-catch­ing about them.

The 1995 As­sem­bly elec­tion in Bi­har against Lalu Ya­dav was a com­plete washout since the op­po­si­tion was not united. It was hell for me han­dling the or­ga­ni­za­tional end with the usual booth cap­tur­ing, non-de­ploy­ment of cen­tral forces and those pre-stamped bal­lot pa­pers. When we asked the Left par­ties to be­come our ally in the fight against Lalu Ya­dav, their cyn­i­cal re­ply was, ‘Win the elec­tions, and then we will join you’.

The Sa­mata Party got an ig­no­min­ious seven seats out of the 300 plus that it fought for. Ni­tish Ku­mar wanted to re­sign his MLA seat and keep his Par­lia­men­tary one de­spite strong ad­vice and pleas from all of us im­me­di­ately af­ter. We sat in the fad­ing evening light at 3, Kr­ishna Menon Marg, dis­cussing this and many other im­por­tant is­sues for the fu­ture of the Party. Ge­orge Sahib pleaded most strongly, re­fus­ing to per­mit Ni­tish Ku­mar to re­sign, say­ing he needed to be sta­tioned in Bi­har to fight and build the Party on the ground as its true leader and that be­ing in Par­lia­ment was not good enough to cap­ture the hearts of the peo­ple of Bi­har. In the mid­dle of the dis­cus­sion, Nit- Jaya Jaitly Pub­lished by Rupa Pub­li­ca­tions Price: Rs 595 Pages: 308 ish Ku­mar sud­denly got up and went in­side the house. We thought he had gone to the wash­room. When he came back he said he had tele­phoned the press and an­nounced he had re­signed his Bi­har As­sem­bly seat. He pre­sented our shocked group with a fait ac­com­pli. That was prob­a­bly the first sign of his self-serv­ing ways. I an­grily asked how he could defy au­thor­ity and well-meant ad­vice in this un­der­hand man­ner. He re­mained silent, smil­ing slightly, but he may not have ever for­given me. Af­ter all, I guess, how could a woman speak to him like that? Ge­orge Sahib was shocked and up­set, and re­lapsed into an an­gry si­lence.

In my of­fice drawer, I still keep a wad of pre-stamped bal­lot pa­pers from Bi­har (see photo sec­tion). They had been ob­tained by one of our Party work­ers and reached me soon enough. They were stamped se­ri­ally in exactly the same place, po­si­tioned just left of the wheel sym­bol of the Janata Dal (then headed by Lalu Ya­dav, the chief min­is­ter of Bi­har). Sec­tion 144 was in place on Par­lia­ment Street near the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of In­dia. We could not go in a pro­ces­sion to protest and bring this to the no­tice of the pub­lic. It was too im­por­tant to keep to a closed door meet­ing. I made poster­sized cloth ban­ners in protest against the Bi­har gov­ern­ment and dis­trib­uted them to our Sa­mata Party ac­tivists who kept them folded in their pock­ets. We walked in twos and threes till we reached the gates of the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion where we whipped out the ban­ners and raised slo­gans. The me­dia loved it. We dis­cussed the is­sue at length with the grave Elec­tion Com­mis­sion­ers and pre­sented our ev­i­dence. They promised to en­quire. The very next day news came that the print­ing press which had brought out these bal­lot pa­pers had burned down in a mys­te­ri­ous fire which was ig­nored by the state fire depart­ment till a nearby army es­tab­lish­ment saw it and raised an alarm. The ev­i­dence was thus de­stroyed and District Mag­is­trate Raj Bala Varma, who was said to be a favourite of the chief min­is­ter, was not only pro­moted but was of­ten seen in close at­ten­dance to Rabri Devi when she be­came the chief min­is­ter dur­ing the time her hus­band Lalu Ya­dav was con­victed of cor­rup­tion.

All these in­ci­dents sank af­ter mi­nor short- term storms. ‘So­cial Jus­tice’ and ‘Sec­u­lar­ism’ were jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for such atroc­i­ties to be con­doned by the elite me­dia and their aligned par­ties. These ac­tiv­i­ties kept us busy and in the pub­lic eye in the cap­i­tal of In­dia but made no dif­fer­ence in Bi­har which was in the grip of state and caste fac­tors. Since I led all such ag­i­ta­tions it did not make me pop­u­lar among the ‘lib­eral’ brigade of the Left and Congress. It didn’t bother me in the least.

In the gen­eral elec­tions of 1996, the Sa­mata Party formed an al­liance with the BJP. Ge­orge Fer­nan­des ar­gued that the Sa­mata Party needed to do so for its very sur­vival. Se­condly, post the Babri Masjid de­mo­li­tion*, Ge­orge Fer­nan­des did not be­lieve in making the Party un­touch­able, even as we would fight ex­treme com­mu­nal ac­tiv­i­ties. He said join­ing hands would mod­er­ate any ex­trem­ist think­ing, Hindu or any other, since ‘Mandir’ as re­li­gious con­sol­i­da­tion was merely a counter to ‘Man­dal’ which was seen as caste di­vid­ing Hindu so­ci­ety. Also, had we not re­mained a strong sep­a­rate en­tity, it was pos­si­ble that votes from the Kurmi and other back­ward castes would shift to the BJP, dec­i­mat­ing us in the process. There was also a ru­mour that Ni­tish Ku­mar was con­sid­er­ing join­ing the BJP. Ge­orge Fer­nan­des was ly­ing in Jaslok Hos­pi­tal in Bom­bay; he had to be op­er­ated for the sec­ond time fol­low­ing a head in­jury he re­ceived from faint­ing in the bath while wash­ing clothes, weak­ened as he was from a bout of vi­ral fever. It was dur­ing this time that an in­vi­ta­tion came for him to at­tend a ma­jor adi­ve­shan (con­fer­ence) the BJP was hold­ing in Bom­bay; L. K. Ad­vani, its top­most leader, was ad­dress­ing it. Ge­orge Fer­nan­des asked Ni­tish Ku­mar to go in his place. I sug­gested ac­com­pa­ny­ing him to dis­pel me­dia spec­u­la­tion that Ni­tish Ku­mar was one step away from join­ing the BJP. Ge­orge Fer­nan­des too felt this was a good idea. Ad­vani was very ef­fec­tive in dis­pelling no­tions that the BJP was a Hindu-only party. He told the huge crowd that ev­ery­one was free to fol­low any re­li­gion or God they wished as long as they ac­cepted they were In­dian cit­i­zens from a com­mon an­cient civ­i­liza­tion. We saw no prob­lem with that.

The al­liance in the en­su­ing elec­tion saw no cam­paign­ing on the Ram Mandir, Ar­ti­cle 370 or any other con­tentious is­sue. There were no slo­gans of Jai Sri Ram that had filled the air a few years ear­lier. It was purely about the con­di­tion of Bi­har. As usual, I was ac­tive be­hind the scenes. The re­sult of the Bi­har al­liance was that we suc­ceeded in en­sur­ing that Lalu Ya­dav had fewer seats than H.D. Deve Gowda in the Janata Dal com­bine en­abling Gowda to be the prime min­is­ter. When he later stepped down in favour of I.K. Gu­jral, the lat­ter tele­phoned me to seek Ge­orge Fer­nan­des’s and my sup­port to be the prime min­is­ter. He had a good re­la­tion­ship with us, hav­ing at­tended our then-seen-as-mav­er­ick in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences of Ti­bet and Burma when many oth­ers had stayed away.

We were happy that our elec­tion strat­egy had saved the Party (we had six mem­bers in Par­lia­ment in­clud­ing Ni­tish Ku­mar) and saved the coun­try from hav­ing Lalu Ya­dav as prime min­is­ter... Around ten days af­ter com­ing to power in 1998, the NDA gov­ern­ment con­ducted the Pokhran nu­clear tests. Pak­istan, too, demon­strated its nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties to the world soon af­ter. It was widely be­lieved they had China’s sup­port in the process...

By 2003, China was keen to in­vite Prime Min­is­ter Va­j­payee to visit. They be­lieved they needed to over­come Ge­orge Fer­nan­des’s years of hos­til­ity and reser­va­tions first. The Chi­nese Am­bas­sador made a few cour­tesy calls at his Rak­sha Bhavan of­fice, where a ta­pes­try re­mind­ing the world of the hor­rors of Hiroshima hung on the wall above the vis­i­tor’s sofa area. These cul­mi­nated in an in­vi­ta­tion for Ge­orge Fer­nan­des to visit China to pave the way for Va­j­payee’s visit. Their in­vi­ta­tion was very warm and gen­er­ous. They of­fered him an air­craft to visit any part of China the De­fence Min­is­ter wished. Per­haps this meant a visit to Ti­bet too. He was ter­ri­bly ex­cited about the visit. It was not sur­pris­ing, de­spite his stand to­wards them vis-avis In­dia’s strate­gic in­ter­ests and his sup­port for Ti­bet. It was a ma­jor his­toric mo­ment for him in his po­lit­i­cal jour­ney. He saw this as an im­mense op­por­tu­nity for him to per­son­ally pave the way for cor­dial re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries. I knew he was even­tu­ally a highly prac­ti­cal and prag­matic politi­cian. Ad­di­tion­ally, he was highly diplo­matic and a thor­ough gentle­man in his deal­ings with other coun­tries.

China was in the throes of the se­vere acute res­pi­ra­tory syn­drome (SARS) epi­demic. Ev­ery­one was shown wear­ing masks. Ge­orge Fer­nan­des car­ried loads of anti-SARS vac­cines among other gifts but chose not to wear a mask. This im­pressed the peo­ple of China. His visit was an eye-opener. He re­turned to share with us his per­cep­tion that the two coun­tries shared two goals: over­com­ing ru­ral poverty and bring­ing about eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. He had dis­cussed other com- mon­al­i­ties with the Chi­nese Pres­i­dent and the Prime Min­is­ter: of cor­rup­tion, and the im­mense poverty both still had. While on his visit, he was shown a Bud­dhist monastery in Bei­jing where the Prime Min­is­ter’s wife wor­shipped reg­u­larly; they were telling him they were not godless. He was highly im­pressed by their ef­fi­ciency. Also, Ge­orge Fer­nan­des did not use their air­craft to go any­where...

Mean­while, only a cou­ple of us in the Party know about an ex­tremely tense episode that t ook place while Ge­orge Fer­nan­des vis­ited China.

It is hard to tell the time dif­fer­ence be­tween New Delhi and Bei­jing at this point of time but the Fer­nan­des en­tourage had just about ar­rived in China when at mid­night, I was wo­ken from my sleep in Delhi by Ni­tish Ku­mar ask­ing for Ge­orge Sahib’s contact num­ber there. I asked what had hap­pened. He said it was an ur­gent Party mat­ter. I gave him his per­sonal as­sis­tant Ashok Subra­ma­niam’s mo­bile num­ber. At 6 am, Party Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Shambhu Sha­ran Sri­vas­tava rang me to say Ni­tish Ku­mar was des­per­ate to speak to Sahib. He was at war with Raghu­nath Jha and some se­nior Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans from Bi­har for chal­leng­ing him on some ir­rel­e­vant mat­ter and wanted Ge­orge Fer­nan­des to im­me­di­ately dis­miss them from the Party. I was as­tounded. If he man­aged to make this hap­pen, the con­se­quences were hard to imag­ine. Shambhu fully agreed with me. I called Ashok in Bei­jing right away and told him what was hap­pen­ing. He said Ni­tish had spo­ken to him at 2.30 am but Sahib had been sleep­ing and so nothing had been con­veyed as yet. By then, Ge­orge Fer­nan­des had wo­ken up. I told him an ugly in­ter­nal tus­sle was go­ing on here which would break the Party. More im­por­tantly, it would be a huge em­bar­rass­ment for the coun­try if the De­fence Min­is­ter was seen giv­ing pri­or­ity and at­ten­tion to petty squab­bles back home. I strongly ad­vised against it. Ge­orge Fer­nan­des didn’t in­dulge in any fur­ther dis­cus­sion. He agreed and sug­gested I draft a note. He said I should con­vey it to Ashok. His mind was fo­cussed on China. I hastily scrib­bled a few words on a sheet of pa­per by my bed­side, called Ashok again, and dic­tated it to him. I still have that sheet and can quote ver­ba­tim:

I earnestly re­quest my col­leagues in the party to re­frain from mu­tual re­crim­i­na­tions and or­gan­i­sa­tional com­plaints at a time when I am pre­oc­cu­pied with a pres­ti­gious and his­toric visit to China….

Ashok did the need­ful and the visit went on with­out any fur­ther hitch. Ni­tish Ku­mar may or may not know about my role in this... One im­por­tant event and its end­less ram­i­fi­ca­tions on our polity needs record­ing as ex­pe­ri­enced by me per­son­ally. I have done this be­fore, else­where, but it is too im­por­tant to leave out of my life’s en­gage­ment in pub­lic ac­tiv­i­ties. A little déjà vu of­fer­ing on my part should not be faulted since the Gu­jarat 2002 riot in­ci­dents and ac­cu­sa­tions have been re­peated ad nau­seam any­way.

It was my dear friend, col­league and Sa­mata Party MP Dr Betty D’Souza who came rush­ing to my of­fice space at 3, Kr­ishna Menon Marg, when Par­lia­ment stalled im­me­di­ately upon hear­ing of the burn­ing of kar se­vaks* in a train in Godhra, Gu­jarat. She said that a furore was cre­ated by the mem­bers of the NDA while the Op­po­si­tion re­fused to be part of a unan­i­mous res­o­lu­tion to con­demn the grue­some in­ci­dent. Some mut­tered that the kar se­vaks de­served it. Oth­ers said the rul­ing mem­bers were making enough noise on their own, and thus doubted the need for the Op­po­si­tion to add their voice to it. It was cal­lous and short sighted, as it may have led to a calmer re­ac­tion to the events in Gu­jarat if na­tional voices had con­demned it. This was the tone adopted by most edi­to­ri­als in the na­tional pa­pers as well, apart from Vir Sanghvi’s ed­i­to­rial which said nothing could jus­tify such bar­bar­ity. This re­sulted in a bandh the next day called by the Ba­jrang Dal in Gu­jarat. Late that af­ter­noon, vi­o­lence en­sued.

I remember clearly that Ge­orge Fer­nan­des rushed in as the evening light was fad­ing. He had been at the prime min­is­ter’s res­i­dence when they had re­ceived a fax from Naren­dra Modi, chief min­is­ter of Gu­jarat, ask­ing for the army to be sent ur­gently to Ahmedabad to quell the vi­o­lence.

Ge­orge Fer­nan­des came away to his res­i­den­tial of­fice, shared this news with me and his per­sonal staff. He or­dered for his se­nior of­fi­cers to reach Rak­sha Bhavan im­me­di­ately. The troops were at that time de­ployed on a spe­cial ex­er­cise called Op­er­a­tion Parakram on the Ra­jasthan bor­der. They were called back hastily and re­de­ployed so that they could reach Gu­jarat in the early hours of the morn­ing.

This is what I wrote in an ar­ti­cle ti­tled ‘Ge­orge Fer­nan­des and Gu­jarat ri­ots’ on the­news­minute.com web­site, on 1 Jan­uary 2007:

Ge­orge Fer­nan­des stayed at Rak­sha Bhavan for most of the night and him­self left for Ahmedabad on the early morn­ing flight. He was soon on the streets of Ahmedabad stand­ing in a truck among the troops. The army helped fam­i­lies es­cape vi­o­lent crowds, of which pho­to­graphs ap­peared in The Eco­nomic Times and oth­ers. Harsh Sethi, a well-known Left in­tel­lec­tual wrote in a cen­tre piece in The Hindu sometime later that the army com­ing out un­der Ge­orge Fer­nan­des saved thou­sands of lives. I know for a fact that Naren­dra Modi was in con­stant touch with the De­fence Min­is­ter and even sup­ported and co-op­er­ated when he later or­gan­ised a cit­i­zen’s peace march of 7000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing Mus­lims, through the city. I too was present. Modi ad­dressed the marchers at the end of its jour­ney, thank­ing ev­ery­one for work­ing to­wards peace. In­ter­est­ingly, some news­pa­pers re­ported this to­tally peace­ful and un­event­ful march the next day with the head­line ‘Fer­nan­des’[s] peace march walks over dead bod­ies’.There was not a mo­ment’s ten­sion or frus­tra­tion in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Modi and Fer­nan­des, whether be­fore or af­ter, and this is a fact even if this has an­noyed many Modi­haters and some of Fer­nan­des’[s] so­cial­ist com­pa­tri­ots...

The late Pramod Ma­ha­jan also no­ticed my ar­ti­cle and put my name as one of those on the del­e­ga­tion to visit Gu­jarat. I found my­self on the flight with var­i­ous MPs in­clud­ing So­nia Gandhi and S.S. Ah­luwalia. We vis­ited Godhra and spoke with the very ar­tic­u­late woman district mag­is­trate, saw the burnt bo­gies, and heard how the per­pe­tra­tors were the remnants of the gangs be­long­ing to a fa­mous Mum­bai don.

From Godhra we came to Ahmedabad where Ashok Bhatt, the state health min­is­ter and an old so­cial­ist, took us to meet the vic­tims. The Godhra burn vic­tims were un­rec­og­niz­able, burned black to such an ex­tent you could only see their white eye­balls and the pink of the in­sides of their mouths. In the other wards, were the vic­tims of gun­shot wounds, knife at­tacks, bro­ken bones and other in­juries. They all said it was ter­ri­ble for the first few days but they were be­ing looked af­ter now. So­nia Gandhi did not say a word.

We then went to the lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal hos­pi­tal which was un­der a Congress mu­nic­i­pal ad­min­is­tra­tion. Here, in­con­gru­ously, two rows of white cap- and kurta-clad youth hailed So­nia Gandhi. She cheered up and spoke to many of the pa­tients. We had meet­ings with the po­lice chief and other se­nior of­fi­cials of the ad­min­is­tra­tion. I was a little dis­ap­pointed at the slightly lax body lan­guage of the po­lice of­fi­cers. It seemed as if they were out of shape and had not been alert enough to pre­vent a lot of the in­ci­dents. Many of­fi­cials were trans­ferred af­ter that.

At the house of Pravinsinh Jadeja, Sa­mata Party pres­i­dent in Gu­jarat, I met all our Party work­ers from dif­fer­ent lo­cal­i­ties. Many of them were Mus­lims. They all said things had been pretty bad but the min­is­ters and ad­min­is­tra­tion had re­sponded to ev­ery call for help made by them. We also vis­ited some makeshift camps for the vic­tims which were nowhere near as teem­ing or or­ga­nized as ours were in 1984. In later tours to vil­lages where my craftsper­sons and Party work­ers resided, many old hands among the Mus­lim com­mu­nity came with their Hindu neigh­bours and pleaded, ‘Please, Jaya-ben, ask these NGOs and oth­ers to stay away from Gu­jarat. We are at peace with each other and do not eat our meals un­less we are sit­ting to­gether. Some rad­i­cal mul­lahs are be­ing sent to spread trou­ble. We have bun­dled some into our cars and sent them away.’ I re­peated these words at a Tele­graph news­pa­per de­bate on sec­u­lar­ism in Ben­gal a cou­ple of years later, when these at­tacks on Naren­dra Modi would not die down. In­ter­est­ingly, the whole au­di­ence ap­plauded.

I have been un­wel­come among many of the in­tel­lec­tual and po­lit­i­cal elite for de­fend­ing Naren­dra Modi, the chief min­is­ter of Gu­jarat, on many oc­ca­sions post the 2002 ri­ots. But it was sim­ply be­cause I saw the truth as it was and not as peo­ple wished it to be...

When Ni­tish came back he said he had tele­phoned the press and an­nounced he had re­signed his Bi­har As­sem­bly seat. He pre­sented our shocked group with a fait ac­com­pli. That was prob­a­bly the fiRST SIGN OF HIS SELF-SERV­ING WAYS. I HAVE BEEN UN­WEL­COME AMONG MANY OF THE in­tel­lec­tual and po­lit­i­cal elite for de­fend­ing Naren­dra Modi, the chief min­is­ter of Gu­jarat, on many oc­ca­sions post the 2002 ri­ots. But it was sim­ply be­cause I saw the truth as it was and not as peo­ple wished it to be...

Jaya Jaitly with Ge­orge Fer­nan­des for a con­fer­ence on Ti­bet, and meet­ings with Ja­panese so­cial­ists and univer­sity stu­dents, in Ky­oto, Ja­pan, in the mid-1990s.

Life Among the Scor­pi­ons: Mem­oirs of a Woman in In­dian Pol­i­tics

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.