Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The un-caged parrot

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Now that the Lokpal is a reality, and the political class considerably mellowed by the approaching electoral uncertainties, there is a new spring in the steps of the investigative agencies, be it the anti-corruption CBI or the anti-terrorism NIA.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Ganguly saga

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Ashok Ganguly was a spirited judge at the Supreme Court, and, after heading the West Bengal Human Rights Commission post-retirement, he built in no time a formidable reputation as a tenacious watchdog for human rights violation.

But his stature got deep-sixed from the most unexpected quarters, an intern who'd worked for him, when she wrote in her blog that the ex-judge had sexually harassed her nearly a year ago. In the surcharged atmosphere of the Tarun Tejpal affair, the blog worked like a matchstick struck in a tinderbox. The blogpost was mysteriously discovered by Attorney General G. E. Vahanvati who moved the Supreme Court post-haste, and the Chief Justice of India promptly set up a fact-finding committee of three judges. 
It soon became known that the alleged victim had filed an affidavit to the three judges, in addition to giving her video-recorded version of the incident, but its content was kept under wraps. Even Ganguly, who was quizzed, was not given any clue of the content of the affidavit. Nor did the intern come forward to file a formal police complaint, which alone could be the starting point of an investigation. Meanwhile, Indira Jaisingh, Additional Solicitor General, published a newspaper article containing what she claimed to be nuggets of the victim's allegation. Loaded with suggestions that the ex-judge of the Supreme Court had played the old lover boy with a young girl his "grand-daughter's age", at a suite of Le Meridien Hotel in New Delhi on the 2012 Christmas Eve night, the document plunges the knife into Ganguly's reputation as it lists, in bold letters, an array of offensive acts catalogued in the Supreme Court's Vishaka judgment of the 1990's and included in the recent Harassment of Women in Work Place law. Making physical contacts or advances, demanding sexual favours, uttering sexually coloured remarks, indulging in unwelcome physical verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual natures—the intern's allegation supposedly contains the misbehaviours listed in the law down to a T. 
Obviously, politicians became strident in their demand for Ganguly's removal. Leading their pack is West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee, who went to the extent of approaching President Pranab Mukherjee, twice, to use his authority for Ganguly's ouster. The ex-judge has been dogged in his denial of all allegations. But what is at stake is not the criminality of his conduct but his "proved misbehaviour". Under the law governing human rights commissions, its members, including a state chief, can be removed for "proved misbehaviour". Regardless of the incident being before or after the sexual harassment law, the court will consider nothing other than the misbehaviour part of the charge, no doubt in the light of available evidence. The intern's version supposedly mentions the text messages that Ganguly sent her after she'd left the hotel room in humiliation and rage. The SMS's are now "frozen" as evidence. And Vahanvati has again played his role as Ganguly's nemesis, recommending to the President, through the Home Ministry, that he may order the Supreme Court, through a Presidential reference, to set up a committee to investigate the charges. There is no doubt, therefore, that Ganguly cannot escape trial nor can he save either his present job or reputation if the judicial investigation holds him guilty of misbehaviour, not to speak of sexual harassment. 
However, in the interest of fair trial, it is necessary to point at a series of possible conflicts of interest that may have marked Ganguly's all too sudden fall from grace. The first possible conflict of interest is with Vahanvati, who defended the UPA Government in the Supreme Court on the much discussed 2G spectrum case. Ganguly led the bench that overturned the government's plea that it was within its rights to distribute the 2G telecom spectrum on first-come-first-serve basis, almost free of cost. The bench not only passed a series of adverse remarks that still besmirches the integrity of the government—remarks that eventually turned UPA into a symbol of corruption in popular imagination—but turned down, by a single stroke of pen, as many as 122 licences that were issued. It is said that among these disheartened licensees was one of Vahanvati's very special corporate friends. 
It is Ganguly who undeniably set the tone of the Supreme Court during the UPA 2 rule as the judiciary generally accepted the view of the Comptroller and Auditor General that natural resources like wireless frequency or fossil fuel were not to be offered to private parties at the executive's own sweet will but required to be publicly auctioned in a transparent manner. Vahanvati, as the government's top law officer, was no doubt piqued by a hostile judiciary. 
The other, and more serious, conflict could have arisen from the West Bengal CM who ironically had been instrumental in the appointment of Ganguly as the chairman of the state Human Rights Commission. May be she thought that Ganguly would be pliable enough to legitimise, from a high office, most of her authoritarian acts—be it brushing aside an incident of rape as an “opposition conspiracy”, detaining a university teacher for merely forwarding a cartoon of her, arresting a person saying he’s a Maoist while all he did was to ask her uncomfortable questions on a public occasion. Earlier this year, in a gang-rape incident in North 24 Parganas district, in which a group of Mamata’s Trinamool Congress workers were allegedly involved, Ganguly took an extraordinarily tough stand. He summoned the state home secretary; and the CM prevented his obedient secretary to appear before the Human Rights Commission. Interestingly, in September, a month after the fracas over the summons, Ganguly received an abusive letter from a female law clerk in a district court, threatening him that she might sue her for “rape”. All this does in no way suggest that Ganguly is not guilty, or otherwise, of the alleged misdemeanour for which he’s likely to be investigated by a committee of learned judges. It only suggests that there are powerful people who may be overjoyed if Ganguly is removed from his post, for reasons other than their moral concerns.

(The author is National Editor of 
Lokmat group of newspapers 
based in Delhi)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Its Modi-AAP contest now

Kejriwal did in Delhi what Devi Lal in Haryana in 1987 to win votes 

A spectre is haunting India. It is the spectre of AAP. The big and beaten Congress is shivering so much that it is bending backward and careful not to rub the wrong way either AAP or its helmsman Arvind Kejriwal.  Similarly, the BJP has kept its eyes peeled to find a way out of the gridlock created by AAP in Delhi, which threatens to spread across the country. Till just a couple of weeks back, the 2014 contest was limited to Narendra Modi of BJP and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, with a handful of regional bargain-seekers screaming for a “third front”. But the table has turned extra quick, with the fear of the AAP ‘virus’ spreading nationwide. As information trickled out of AAP office that the party may contest over 300 seats in the Lok Sabha polls, rather than brushing is off as the swagger of a newbie, all bets are suddenly off, and big parties are busy barring their doors. After Congress president was slammed by AAP with a hard-hitting letter of conditions for accepting her party’s support to form government in Delhi, which included that VIPs like her must give up their bungalows in the sprawling Lutyens Zone, not a word came from her trolls in response to such ‘impudence’. But the BJP is fully aware of the consequences of AAPrising.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

AAP-ward Mobility

It has a touch of Arab Spring, born through Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement There is hardly anything unexpected in the results of the assembly polls on Sunday, except the performance of the year-old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is both stunning and stalling. It is 'stunning' as very few people believed what pollsters were whispering for some time, that the Arvind Kejriwal-led outfit in Delhi might finish ahead of Congress. However, AAP finished a hair's breadth below BJP, the largest party, 31 and 28, leaving Congress close to the bottom with only eight seats. Kejriwal himself made his debut in electoral politics by trouncing 'Ms Invincible' (Mrs Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister for 15 years) with a dizzy margin of 25,000 plus votes. But AAP's performance was 'stalling' as it decided neither to support nor to be supported by either BJP or Congress. In a House of 70 members.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Let man equal woman

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Last week, I wrote in this column on the larger issues involved in the Tarun Tejpal case, concerning "consensus" for sexual favours obtained by the high and mighty in exchange of professional advantage.