Political battle between Rajiv and Maneka Gandhi takes an ugly turn

first_imgPolice arresting Ahmed from his Lucknow residence: Over-reactionFor some months now, the fratricidal political battle between Mrs Gandhi’s son and heir Rajiv and her rebel daughter-in-law Maneka has provided titillating fodder for cocktail and drawing-room conversations. So far, however, it has been largely treated as a sporting winner-take-all contest with,Police arresting Ahmed from his Lucknow residence: Over-reactionFor some months now, the fratricidal political battle between Mrs Gandhi’s son and heir Rajiv and her rebel daughter-in-law Maneka has provided titillating fodder for cocktail and drawing-room conversations. So far, however, it has been largely treated as a sporting winner-take-all contest with the eventual prize being the unruly gaggle of former Sanjay Gandhi followers and ruling party dissidents.Last fortnight, however, the battle suddenly took an ugly turn with the arrest of three of Maneka’s lieutenants: Akbar Ahmed, her aggressive commander-in-chief, J.N. Mishra, organising secretary of the Sanjay Vichar Manch and Kalpnath Sonkar, an MP and a top Manch functionary. Ahmed was arrested at 7 a.m. on September 25 from his Lucknow residence. Mishra and Sonkar were arrested in the early hours of the morning, Mishra in Delhi and Sonkar in Basti.The arrests were in connection with the controversial incident at the Gauriganj Dak Bungalow in Sultanpur a week earlier where Tikori Singh, a Manch member, had died of a gunshot wound. Manch officials say that Singh had been injured when a gun went off accidentally and died later in a Lucknow hospital. They also say that Singh had made a declaration before he died to police officials saying that the shooting was an accident and that nobody was responsible.But a week later, cases were registered against the three top Manch officials under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (murder), 380 (theft of a durri and blanket which have been recovered), 120B (criminal conspiracy), and 210 (causing disappearance of evidence or giving false information to screen an offender).advertisementConspiracy: That the arrests were a political decision and an over-reaction to Maneka’s recent successful storming of Rajiv’s electoral citadel, Amethi, was quite probable. For one, it seems improbable that the Manch officials would murder one of their own colleagues, and an important member of the organisation at that Manch officials also buttress their conspiracy theory with the fact that Uttar Pradesh Home Secretary R.C. Takru had rushed to Delhi on September 20, the daj that Mrs Gandhi left for Moscow. Further, Sonkar, the Congress(I) MP, who had defected to the Manch, had earlier been assaulted at New Delhi railway station by Congress(I) supporters shortly after his defection was announced.Maneka meets Muslim women in Amethi and Rajiv addresses the Nagpur rally When Akbar Ahmed was arrested, two companies of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) were posted outside his house while nearly 50 police officers and plainclothes policemen were employed. It is also curious as to why the police waited seven days before framing a charge sheet against the three Manch officials. As Amrendra Trivedi, one of the lawyers defending Ahmed, pointed out: “It is doubtful whether there can be a murder charge as Tikori Singh, in his dying declaration, has already stated that he met with an injury accidentally. There is no prima facie evidence to build a case against Dumpy who is being victimised for political reasons.”Ahemd himself told India Today just prior to his arrest: “It’s a political conspiracy to malign me and the Manch.” He has also lodged an fir in which he has stated that he fears physical and mental torture and even possible liquidation. “I will hold the Government responsible if anything happens to me.” he charged. Whatever the merits of the arrests, it will undoubtedly yield Maneka considerable political mileage and also add credibility to her claims that the ruling party is out to get her. But it remains to be seen how well she capitalises on the lever she has now been handed.The dramatic arrests came as a sequel to the political vaudeville act starring Maneka and Rajiv in which they have not just been crossing swords but directly crossing political paths as well. Rajiv Gandhi’s 14-hour visit to Nagpur on September 15 was followed three days later by his sister-in-law Maneka Gandhi’s exhaustive tour of his parliamentary constituency of Amethi, from where, she declared, she would be contesting the 1985 elections. The two trips, both highly successful in their own way, acquired additional poignancy from the fact that Nagpur was the venue of Maneka’s first successful public meeting in May.Not to be outshone by the Sanjay Gandhi Vichar Manch, the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress(I) Committee organised Rajiv’s Nagpur show with an all-out bravura and fanfare that made it an out of the ordinary event.Arun Nehru, his chief aide and MP from Rae Bareli, was found camping in Nagpur three days before Rajiv’s visit – ostensibly coming to address a study seminar organised by the Youth Congress(I) – to stage-manage the mammoth crowd, the overflowing cavalcade that choked the seven-kilometre route from the airport, and the bunting and banners that submerged the city.advertisementThe idea was clearly to outdo the Maneka precedent (she too had an unexpectedly warm welcome) and Nehru was reported to have warned worried organisers that he would scrap the whole show if Rajiv’s welcoming procession took less than two hours to reach the public meeting from the airport. The bundobust, in fact, was so elaborate that the same Rajiv who, early this year had snapped former Andhra Pradesh chief minister T. Anjiah’s head off for creating such a “tamasha” on his arrival in Hyderabad, seemed to lap up every minute of the Nagpur show.Royal Darshan: Arriving in a special Indian Air Force plane – apparently laid on for Union Deputy Defence Minister K.P. Singh Deo who travelled with him – the MP from Amethi took precedence over the minister in stepping out of it, was surrounded by half-a-dozen Union ministers including Vasant Sathe, Sitaram Kesari, CM. Stephen, N.K.P. Salve, Bhagwat Jha Azad, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ramchandra Rath and at least 20 Maharashtra MLA’s who whizzed down to Nagpur for the royal “darshan”. In fact, the pomp and circumstance of the visit was so great that the actual reason for Rajiv’s presence was almost overlooked. He spent precisely one minute addressing the study seminar that had brought him to the city.Maneka’s storming of her brother-in-law’s territory was, on the other hand, more aggressive and her statements considerably more barbed. For many of the people who trekked to her meetings in the Amethi-Rae Bareli region this was their first glimpse of Maneka. But her mannerisms were far from unfamiliar – they were faithful reproductions of Mrs Gandhi’s style.In the small township of Jais, dressed in a striped lemon sari, she spoke in the local dialect playing on the emotions of the crowd with tested expertise: “After many days I am here again. It’s like being back home, a home that I have missed.” In Amethi, her late husband Sanjay’s constituency, she moved the crowds to emotional frenzy from atop a blue and gold dais by declaring: “Maneka first came to you as a bride to seek your blessings but today I return to you again as a widow to seek your protection and refuge.”Fiery Rhetoric: Like a seasoned politician on the campaign trail she spoke about Sanjay’s desire to give Amethi schools, hospitals, colleges and factories and said scornfully that the only thing “the people of Amethi had got was a helipad” which could not be used or eaten.In an obvious reference to her ouster from 1, Safdarjang Road she said: “It was not the Supreme Court that either convicted or acquitted Mrs Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi, but the court of the people… I have come before the people’s court of Amethi to seek justice.”advertisementFrom this, a full frontal attack on the Congress(I) and the Central Government was but inevitable. At Jais she boldly charged: “The Congress of Gandhi and Nehru has now been turned into a party of goondas and hooligans.” Pulling no punches she went on to say: “Instead of developments and concrete projects the present Government is indulging in hooliganism and corruption unlimited. The young are being ignored, unemployment is on the upswing and rapists rule the streets.” In an echo of Mrs Gandhi stating in Lucknow that she had been lathi-charged during the Janata rule, she said: “Even I and my young son Varun were not spared while coming to Lucknow for the Manch convention. We had stones hurled at us.”But Maneka’s tour of the political heartland of the country had given the Manch the momentum it needed before appearing in its new avatar, that of a political party, in October. In Uttar Pradesh the Manch already has over 1 lakh followers and Maneka’s fiery rhetoric, emotional appeal and well-placed barbs have probably won it many more.All through the two-day tour and 15 roadside meetings she used Sanjay’s name like a talisman saying repeatedly that his dreams had been betrayed by the people at the helm of the country’s affairs. The speeches were peppered with insinuations that the person who had been elected on Sanjay’s name was the one doing the most to wipe his name from the memories of people and history.Common Grounds: In a statement to India Today she said: “We have political alternatives in mind and shall see that Sanjay’s promises are intact.” She also said: “We are not going to enter into any political alliances or have any working adjustments with any of the opposition parties whose leaders have sent several intermediaries to my back door.” One such leader is thought to be Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna, leader of the Democratic Socialist Party and a sworn enemy of the prime minister.Added Ahmed: “As things stand today our emerging power base is Uttar Pradesh where already over a lakh, including many Congress(I) workers have joined our ranks.” Ahmed, who is also making a bid to project himself as a minority leader, declined comment on how much money had been spent by the Manch till now, but said in a startling disclosure: “Our funding sources are the same as the Congress(I).” If that is the case, then the Gandhi vs Gandhi battle should provide a great deal of dramatic entertainment in the days that lie ahead.MANEKA GANDHI: POISON PEN Maneka’s letter: Mysterious reappearanceOn the morning of September 15, the Times of India carried a news item with the heading: “Clarification by Maneka on letter to mother.” The story, which seemed to appear out of sequence, regarded a violent little letter written by Maneka to her mother 11 years ago which began: “Darling Ma, I hope Mina Uncle dies a gory death.I’ve run through all my schemes of kidnapping his children, poisoning his wife’s food etc and now I give up.” Even for its adolescent tone – Maneka was 15 when she wrote it – the letter carries a vicious sting: the “Mina Uncle” under attack is her mother, Amteshwar Anand’s older brother Mohinderpal Singh, now deceased.The next day after the story appeared, Mohinderpal’s widow, Ranjit Kaur, a middle-aged mother of four daughters, reacted in the same paper with surprise at being dragged into the controversy. Still, it was not clear as to how the letter had surfaced in the media and what degree of political motivation was involved.Maneka’s clarification, as it turned out, appeared in the Times of India four days after a photocopy of the letter appeared on the editorial page of the Goenka-owned Marathi daily Loksatta alongwith a lengthy, vituperative article against her. Now, Maneka has her own version as to how it got there: the letter, she says, was handed by her late uncle to her mother-in-law Mrs Gandhi soon after she became engaged to Sanjay.She claims that Mrs Gandhi was in possession of it all along and released it last month, via Ram Nath Goenka, owner of the Indian Express. According to Maneka, Goenka first took it to Dr J.K. Jain, editor of Surya who refused to publish it. Jain categorically denies any such thing. “Goenka never came to me with any such letter,” he says.Maneka’s story goes that after Jain had allegedly refused to publish the letter, Goenka circulated it among editors, and a staff reporter of the Times of India came to her with a photocopy asking for a clarification. No sooner did it appear in a national daily, than her political opponents took it up as an example of her scheming mind.Although no one can deny the violent tone of the epistle, Maneka dismisses it as something, “silly and childish – typical of the exaggerated language teenagers use”. But the letter’s contents have managed to uncap a long-standing and simmering dispute in Maneka’s mother’s family concerning ancestral property that is today tangled in complicated litigation. Apparently there was little love lost between Amteshwar and her brother Mohinderpal over their father’s (Sir Datar Singh) properties, among them a prime 250 acres of agricultural land outside Delhi.After Datar Singh’s death in 1973, Mohinderpal inherited his parents’ share to the chagrin of his sister Amteshwar. Mrs Anand, according to Mohinderpal’s widow, challenged their land holdings in court, imposing cases on him during her period” of political ascendancy when Sanjay was alive. “The mother and daughter (Mrs Anand and Maneka) made life hell for us. They intimidated, harassed and blackmailed my husband till the pressures broke him and he died in April 1981,” says Ranjit Kaur today.Meanwhile, the letter and its mysterious appearance in the media – though uncovering yet another sordid saga of family intrigue and victimisation – does not clarify one thing: whose purpose does it serve and what does it signify? – Sunil SethiRAJIV GANDHI: FIREWORKSBajrang Lal: Pulled upWhen a lire broke out, last fortnight, in a few furniture shops in the heart of New Delhi’s commercial district, the first visitors on the scene were not just the fire brigade and the police. The prime minister’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, got there almost sooner and created a fireworks display of his own. Arriving at the spot within an hour of the break-out with R.K. Dhawan. special assistant to the prime minister, Rajiv severely upbraided police officials, including Police Commissioner Bajrang Lal, for not being there fast enough and not discharging their duty efficiently.The toll of Rajiv’s tantrum was that two officials were suspended: Hari Dev, assistant commissioner of police and Bhoop Singh, a sub-inspector from the police control room received their orders from the prime minister’s secretariat the next day. Apparently Rajiv’s pique rose from the fact that the police commissioner was not at the scene of the fire immediately.Walking up to Lal he is reported to have snapped: “If you came to know about the fire two hours after it began then you ought to be sacked.” Minutes later, spotting Deputy Commissioner R.K. Sharma standing by, Rajiv went up, shook him by the shoulder and asked him to make himself useful.Delhi police officials have greatly resented this high-handed interference by a politician, and find no justification for the way the police commissioner – who holds the rank of a two-star general – was treated in public. Rajiv’s outburst has angered sections of the police force to such a degree that last week, the All-India Non-Gazetted Policemen’s Federation demanded an unqualified apology from him.Said a senior Delhi police officer: “It’s not customary for the police commissioner to be present at every outbreak of fire. As for Rajiv Gandhi’s claim that the police on duty were not controlling the crowds properly, he should have realised that it was he who was drawing the crowds and not the fire. He simply had no business to arrive, start insulting senior officers and throw his weight around.”Rajiv’s outburst in Delhi is. unfortunately. not without precedent. Already, his nice guy image is undergoing a rapid transition as other instances of his brusque behaviour in public are surfacing. Some examples:on October 24 last year, while addressing a public meeting in Patiala, Rajiv snubbed the then Union minister for railways Kedar Pande’s claim that an improvement was evident in the performance of railways;a few months later, on February 2 this year, he pulled up erstwhile Andhra Pradesh chief minister T. Anjiah for putting up a “tamasha” to welcome him at Hyderabad airport;in June, while travelling with Zail Singh, then home minister, to Chandigarh, he got off the plane to find various local ministers rushing up to the aircraft to garland him. Visibly annoyed at the spectacle. Rajiv sought out B.N. Mehra, inspector-general of police and gave him a dressing down for inadequate security arrangements;a month later the former chaiman of the Delhi Development Authority. V.S. Ailawadi, bore the brunt of Rajiv’s temper. In two separate incidents, he was upbraided in front of junior officers.Yet his most serious lapse has been the attack on the Delhi police. Rajiv Gandhi who has so far maintained a discreet public image, and whose greatest asset has been his quiet. amiable manner, is seen to be blotting his copybook. If such performances continue, it may be the first serious slur on his “good guy ” image.- Asoka Rainalast_img

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