The favourite colour of her sari has changed from green to pink, magenta and maroon, but has she really changed her colours? That was the question doing the rounds on Monday as J Jayalalithaa was sworn in the chief minister of Tamil Nadu for the fourth time. This is the third time since 1991 that her party AIADMK has won the elections, but technically she became the chief minister four times, as she had to relinquish the post for a few months between 2001 and 2002 owing to a corruption case.
 A change in Jaya  has different connotations to different people. For her political rivals, it means whether she would be as vindictive as she was during 2001- 2006. For the media, it means whether she would continue to be intolerant to criticism. For the public, it means whether she would be as ostentatious as she was in the 1990s. For the bureaucracy, it means whether she would be as meticulous in administrative matters as she has always been.



Gujarat cop Sanjeev Bhatt’s revelations, contained in his affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, may come as a surprise to many. But for all those who lived in Gujarat during those fateful days and were in the thick of things, the contents only provide substantiation of what they had heard then. A top police officer of the state told me a couple of days after the riots started how director general of poice K Chakravarthy was uncomfortable on being told by Narendra Modi at a meeting to allow Hindus to vent their feelings.Though perturbed, Chakravarthy, a naturally timid person, could not muster the guts to stand up to his boss. So, instead he lamented to top police officers like the person to whom I had spoken. Or at least that is what the officer told me.

images of a Genocide: Muslim burnt

It was also being speculated that not only had “Hindus” been allowed to vent their feelings, they had been given “three days” to do this. Then defence minister George Fernandes who had been sent to Ahmedabad by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee also knew of this “three days” and I personally can vouch for this. With a view to figure out what he was up to, I had called on Fernandes on Saturday, March 2, 2002, in Circuit House in Ahmedabad. Initially, I had some apprehension about how much time the minister would give me because he was on a mission and the riots were on full blast. But I was pleasantly surprised that he had all the time in the world for me. Very soon I could figure out the purpose Fernandes was so keen to engage me in conversation: he wanted to cross-check the facts of the riots that he had heard. It was a long three-hour meeting. At one point the chief secretary, G Subba Rao, and additional chief secretary Ashok Narain, along with a senior army officer, came into the room. They had been confabulating with the minister before I dropped in. Leaving them behind, Fernandes took me to his room. Now the officials wanted to know if they should wait or could leave. The minister asked them to leave and resumed his conversation with me. Fernandes spoke about a whole lot of things, how Ahmedabad had changed, how he had come to the city when there was a massive riot in 1969, how he had walked to the Governor Shriman Narayan’s house from the airport at that time, etc. With the evening advancing and the need for me to go back to the office, I excused myself. Fernandes persisted but I went out. As I climbed down the stairs, the defence minister beckoned me once again from the top of the stairs and said that I should have dinner with him. In the end, I retraced my path. While having an early dinner, Fernandes who was beating around the bush for so long suddenly let it out: “ I have heard that the rioters have been allowed three days time before any action is taken?” I shot back: “ Ya, I have also heard it.” The minister said: “Humm. I see.” We continued on the dinner silently. I must admit that there was no talk about the Modi meet about which Sanjiv Bhatt has now filed an affidavit. But very soon our meeting was broken. Harin Pathak, the minister of state for defence and the BJP MP from Ahmedabad and a hardliner himself, walked into the room with decisive steps and plonked himself on the sofa. In the manner that he walked in it seemed that Pathak was aware that we were having a long meeting and wanted to be privy to the conversation. Immediately after the dinner, I left the place.

A couple of months later, the Outook magazine ran an exclusive report on a serving minister of the Gujarat government having deposed before a citizens’ commission about the Modi meeting on the evening of January 27 where the chief minister had talked about allowing the Hindu reaction. The minister was not named but I instinctively knew that it was Haren Pandya. So I called Pandya and said: “So you tendered evidence before the commission?” Pandya demanded: “How do you know?” I said: “I can make out because you have told me this before. Though I am not sure about others because there is some speculation that it is Suresh Mehta ( another minister). But I am sure your boss Modi can make out too.” The minister said in a dismissive tone: “Who cares about him.” Then I told Pandya: “But your testimony is second hand. Why don’t you get me somebody who attended the meeting and confirm this to me?” Pandya thought for a moment and replied: “Chakravarthi (director general of police ) can.” I told him: “I don’t know him. But since you were close to him and once were his boss as home minister, why don’t you set up a meeting.” Pandya said: “Let me get back to you.” He was back on the line in 10 minutes. “I have spoken with him. Here is his cell number. You have to ask him the questions but he will answer only in yes or no. He is not willing to go any further.” OK, I said and kept down the phone. In the event I did not call up Chakravarthi. The reason: I had written an article for the edit page about the guilty men of Gujarat and had named Chakravarthi and this was going to appear in the paper the next day. I did not think it morally right to get information from a source one day and next day publish an article that would put him on the mat. Moreover, the prospect on a yes or no answer did not appeal to me.

A few months later when I came to know of the names of officers who were present at that fateful meeting, I asked one of them about what had transpired. The officer, Anil Mukim, then private secretary to Modi and now a joint secretary to GOI told me: “Not while I was there.” My specific query was: “Did Modi say that a Hindu reaction be allowed?”. I noted from media reports recently that this is also exactly what Mukim told the SIT on the Gujarat riots. If I recollect correctly Ashok Narayan, the additional chief secretary (home) who had attended the meeting told the Nanavati Commission that there were instructions that the bodies of all those perished in the Godhra train carnage be allowed to be brought to Ahmedabad. This is what Sanjiv Bhatt has also said as part of his affadavit about what had transpired at the meeting.

Incidentally, it seems that on the evening of February 27 there were two meetings that had been convened by Modi. The first one was a law and order meeting with top cops and secretaries, which Sanjiv Bhatt is supposed to have attended. The other was a meeting of ministers. Haren Pandya had told me that at this meeting some of the ministers said that the bodies of those who died in the Godhra carnage be brought to Ahmedabad. Haren said that he resisted because he felt that this could lead to an outpouring of sentiments leading to a serious law and order situation. Pandya said that he was outshouted at the meeting and mentioned a minister (I am withholding the name, but it was not Modi) who said that this is what we want. “Our party strength is in Ahmedabad. We want everything to happen here. It will help our party.”

Haren Pandya was murdered under mysterious circumstances in early 2003, so he cannot come back to life to testify whatever is attributed to him by me. I am acutely aware of this. I am also aware that George Fernandes is suffering from Alzhiemer’s, a disease that robs its patients of all his memories.

The midnight arrest of M Karunanidhi on June 30, 2001 still sends shivers down the spine of DMK leaders. They hope the AIADMK Amma has turned mellower. The 2001 comeback Jaya  was not kind to the media either. Soon after taking over as the chief minister, reporters had a virtual street fight with her police after her cavalcade threatened to run over reporters who tried to block it in front of the secretariat after she refused to accept a memorandum from them.

More than a hundred journalists who protested against this were rounded up and kept for a day in a police station on June 29, 2001. That might have been a strategy, as she might have thought that the famished journalists released that evening would go to bed tired and wake up late the next morning when her police could drag the DMK leaders from their bedrooms. That was not to be. At the first call from Karunanidhi’s residence, the scribes were there, in the wee hours, to witness the police atrocity. Those reporters who refused to be cowed down and continued to write hard-hitting stories against the government’s high-handedness on several fronts were served with legal notices and defamation cases by the dozen. Towards the fag end of that tenure, however, Jaya did mellow down. This phase also saw some welfare measures.

If there is something in Jaya that nobody wants to change, it is her efficiency in dealing with the bureaucracy. When she is the chief minister, civil servants and other officers know they cannot bluff. Jaya does her homework well and expects her officers to do the same. And when it comes to law and order, she is a no-nonsense administrator. During her previous tenures, goons had kept their date with the bullet. Self-proclaimed human rights groups had fumed; many others had sighed.

That active Jaya is what Tamil Nadu, on the cusp of a fast-paced development, needs. It would do well if the chief minister doesn’t allow her cadre’s inherent sycophancy to inflate her megalomania. To start with, she could withdraw the case against Penguin and lift the stay on her new biography authored by Vaasanthi, ‘Jayalalithaa—A Portrait’.

Namaskaram Amma. Nomoshkaar Didi. Congratulations ladies ! Bhalo khobor! You’ve done it and deserve the applause. To borrow Mayawati’s words, the time for ‘dramabaazi’ is over. You have won. The people of your respective states have given the verdict . Jai ho, and all that. Your time begins now. Showing the door to rivals is the easy part. Both of you can confidently take the oath, look and feel smug… and if you so wish, dance in the streets or on the posters of your vanquished opponents. No doubt your myriad followers will join you with abundant joy. Gloat away! But this is about your future agendas – especially those involving your own gender . What specific policies will you be working on that will benefit the women of your state, and maybe even, women across India ? Come on, you two. You can do it! Mamata has spoken eloquently about the appalling conditions faced by rural women in West Bengal. She has said she wants to create infrastructure for underprivileged pregnant women, who are forced to walk up to 15 km to deliver babies. Well, action it, Didi. Get those clinics to happen, taara-taari .
It cannot be a significantly better scenario in Tamil Nadu. We are also aware of the ‘corporate bladder’ syndrome (no loos for working women in urban India ), but for how many more years will our village women have to wait for the protective cover of darkness before they can ‘go’ ? These may look like chhota-mota issues to powerful politicians in search of bigger issues to tom- tom – like attracting instant foreign investment. But please don’t take women’s bladders and wombs for granted ! We need clean facilities. Period . Whether it’s maternity wards in which to deliver babies , or conveniently located latrines that are safe for use, day and night. This is not a tall order, but it is an urgent one. If this initiative can be announced and undertaken on a priority basis by both of you, you will win the whole-hearted support of countless deprived women who have put up with painful urinary tract infections, botched births by the roadside and other related horror stories for decades …no, centuries.
The women of India have waited long enough. Too long. So far, their voices, their expectations , their anxieties were of zero consequence to successive governments. Much was expected from Pratibha Patil as president . Much more was hoped for from Sonia Gandhi. No miracles . No waving of magic wands. Just simple plans and projects that would have made it easier for women to hang in there and be counted. Nothing of any consequence was announced by either one of them unfortunately, and women meekly went back to the starting post to patiently begin their vigil all over again. Perhaps it’s not such a good thing that our women are passive . We let off our netas a bit too easily. We make far too many concessions.
Mamata’s win was largely based on “poribartan’ ’ (change). But there was little mention in her manifesto of gender-specific policies that would be beneficial to women. As the railways minister, her track record was disappointing at a time when women travellers cried out for safety on trains. Mamata’s perceived indifference to the woes of women commuters was seen as being callous and shortsighted.
Ditto for Jayalalithaa, whose past record isn’t exactly impressive with regards to women’s issues. If anything, Amma remained aloof and indifferent when confronted. This time, she didn’t bother wooing women or men, for that matter.
In fact, she didn’t woo anybody! She didn’t have to. Her old foes (the DMK gang led by the old war horse Karunanidhi) obliged Amma by committing hara-kiri while she romped home, without lifting a finger. Our female politicians are street smart and canny. They have been told by their minders that raising women’s issues during elections is not politically wise. It alienates men! And political pundits have consistently insisted it’s men who are the real game changers in any election. The big numbers are driven by men. Why bother courting women? Today, we are crowing about four important women leading four important states of India. Forget, the most important woman in the country (you-know-who ). It’s time to ask a few uncomfortable questions of these chaar deviyaan. Starting with Sheila Dikshit and Mayawati, who have been around long enough to have got things moving. But their mahila gaadisstalled a long time ago and refused to change gear, as these two steamrolled their way past other, more criticalto-survival obstacles, conveniently forgetting all about their less-privileged sisters.
It’s a terrible fact of life, but the bitter truth is that women in politics have not leveraged their position to do anything substantial for other women. Perhaps, those vintage Ekta Kapoor serials had a point –which is why they worked. But even Ekta has moved on and away from those dreary subjects to sexier ones. Why can’t our female politicians do the same? This is their chance to win the loyalty of what is, in reality , their core constituency – women. Woo us with policies that transform lives and you’ll never have to worry about your warm kursi going to someone else. Neglect us now… and watch! Just you watch! We’ll show you! Remember , there is no ‘next time’ in politics. Mind it!

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