FAMILY-OWNED PARTY HAS NO OPTION BUT TO DEFEND FAMILY
If you know why they defiled Parliament this past week, please do tell the nation. The nation wants to know. Otherwise, the widely held impression that the ugly tamasha was all about elevating private interest above national good would persist as valid. Congressmen and women shouted themselves hoarse in defence of the long-discarded royal edict which said “king can do no wrong”. And you thought this was the egalitarian 21st century?
The shouters and disrupters had little option but to compete fiercely against one another in order to show craven loyalty to the Gandhis. Without doubt, Sushmita Dev, the honourable member from Silchar, beat everyone hollow. What a pity they no longer have any use for town-criers, otherwise she would have had an alternative income stream. In fact, Dev, whose father Santosh Mohan Dev, was once a controversial Congress minister, beat by a whisker a fellow member from Assam. Gaurav Gogoi, despite trying desperately, could not beat her in sheer shrillness. He must try harder next week.
But even those who are known normally not to shout can often say things which shout the loudest for attention — and call for strong condemnation. Saugata Roy, a senior Trinamool Congress MP, found it unacceptable that a mere “lower magistrate” could issue summons to top national leaders. Such an astounding statement from someone who boasts of a law degree, and had retired as a professor of physics from a prestigious college, makes you wonder why politics is such a terrible leveler. It erodes the difference between a highly educated person and an illiterate fool. For proof, look no further than the Class of Rahul Gandhi in the 16th Lok Sabha. It is collectively holding the entire Parliament to ransom.
Meanwhile, the war council of Sonia Gandhi that was assembled at 10 Janpath on the night following the court summons to the Gandhis in the National Herald case and deliberated till the wee hours of next morning produced a gem. It pertained to her scripted claim that “I am Indira Gandhi’s daughter-in-law… I am not scared of anyone…” Yes, of course. How true! But the remark, as you shall see shortly, was a clear giveaway. The reference pertained to Mrs Indira Gandhi’s difficulties between 1977-79, when the Janata Party was in power.
Remember, this was the phase in Indira Gandhi’s career when her younger son was in command. He was fully in the driver’s seat, leading the Youth Congress goons to create mayhem inside and outside Parliament, hijack planes, disrupt court proceedings, incite the likes of Bhindranwale to dislodge non-Congress governments and to generally behave in a most destructive manner. Indira Gandhi was obliged to play second fiddle to her wayward son.
And no one knows that better than Sonia Gandhi herself. Isolated in the Gandhi household, with Sanjay occasionally trying to humour her with expensive trinkets received from favour-seekers, she watched the goings-on from a vantage position, though neither she nor her husband was allowed a word edgeways so long as Sanjay, and Maneka, controlled the family firm.
History might be repeating itself, but with a huge twist. Rahul might well be playing Sanjay to Sonia’s Indira. But there is a little problem: conditions of the late 70s and early 80s can no longer be replicated. Times have changed beyond anyone’s recognition. Regional parties have come into their own. BJP has grown manifold in strength. Above all, voters have seen through the Congress game. In 1979-80, there was no alternative to the Janata Parivar, which fought like Kilkenny cats and self-destructed itself, despite having run a good government. More importantly, there was no 24x7 news television then. One other thing. Since she must seek relevance by harking back to her mother-in-law, Indira was Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter, after all. And Sonia… Well, let us leave that for the moment.
A NATIONAL SHAME: IGNORING MINORITY RIGHTS
Apropos of the National Herald affair. Wonder if the case of a real estate firm has some parallels here. Remember how, some years ago, one of the biggest real estate developers had got into trouble when on the eve of its first ever public issue it had tried to bypass the minority shareholders. When the minority shareholders got to know that the management had issued itself preferential shares without bothering to issue them the same, they had approached the market regulator and the courts to assert their rights. They won.
Likewise, there were 1,100-odd shareholders in the Associated Journals Ltd when it was founded in the 1930s. Former Law Minister and senior lawyer Shanti Bhushan’s family, he has claimed, has 300 shares of AJL. His rights cannot be extinguished by the majority shareholders of AJL, by taking the company virtually private. Bhushan Sr has now said that members of his extended family which inherited these shares from his father would assert their rights and challenge the conversion of AJL into a new vehicle fully in the control of the Gandhis.
Besides, it is absurd to argue that the deployment of tax-exempt money to acquire a public limited company with real estate assets over Rs 2,000 crore concerns no one but the Gandhis alone. This argument is of a piece with the earlier piffle about there being zero loss in the 2-G scam. By the way, a New Delhi daily reported last Thursday how a plot of land meant for a hostel for Scheduled Caste students in Mumbai was given to AJL at a throwaway price. A multi-storey commercial building is coming up on the said one-acre plot in the heart of the new commercial district in suburban Mumbai.
The AJL properties in Lucknow and New Delhi are already yielding huge income. And now it turns out another multi-storey building is ready in Panchkula, the up-market township on the outskirts of Chandigarh. The plot was allotted by the Haryana government in 2005. Crores in rental value and hundreds of crores in outright sale of the built-up space can accrue to those controlling the AJL, or its illicit successor entity, Young Indian Limited.
One gets the feeling that the killjoy that Subramanian Swamy is he may have virtually scuppered the real plan of the Gandhis to have a steady source of income from rent and outright sale of real estate standing in the name of the AJL, alias Young India Private Ltd. With National Herald abandoned for good — Rahul is on record having said that it would never be published — the only objective of erecting multi-storey buildings on highly subsidised land allotted to the defunct paper can be to exploit its real estate value. And given the expertise available in-house, it would not have been unreasonable to expect that while Rahul managed the nation, his brother-in-law managed the real estate empire.
CYCLING TO PARLIAMENT
The other day, a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha K.T.S. Tulsi made news for something other than defending the Congress: He cycled a kilometre or so from his home to Parliament. A photograph of a suited-booted Tulsi appeared in a couple of newspapers the next morning. But this seemed to be a one-off photo-op, especially when Tulsi, a senior advocate, had his diesel-guzzler BMW-7 series following him. To tell the truth, the only one who regularly commutes between Parliament and home is the BJP MP from Bikaner, Arjun Ram Meghwal. He regularly cycles to Parliament. In fact, in the MPs’ car park, teeming with Mercs and BMWs, his bicycle with his name plate on the central bar, stands out, making it a rather incongruous sight. The cycle-owner himself cuts an impressive figure with his distinctive Rajasthani pugree and an easy smile and friendly manner.