Capital Grapevine
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Capital Grapevine

Virendra Kapoor

Sonia Gandhi’s self-goal by demanding ban on ads to fight coronavirus

There is this Irish saying, `you can take a man out of the bog but you cannot take the bog out of man.’ In other words, whatever the circumstances some people never shed their bad ways.

As part of his outreach to the opposition in order to build a wider consensus on the war against the coronavirus pandemic, the Prime Minister asked leaders of various parties for suggestions.

And what do you think Sonia Gandhi, the acting president of the Congress Party, did? Her very first suggestion was to call for a “ complete ban on media advertising by the government and various public undertakings for the next two years.” In order to dress it up as an austerity measure, she helpfully added that only ads meant to issue health advisories could be issued in the two-year period.

Predictably, the media as a whole, including newspapers highly critical of the Modi Government, reacted angrily, seeing in her suggestion the old, ingrained anti-press attitude of the Congress Party. It has a long history of clamping down on a free press, quite aside from the complete censorship during the 19-month Emergency of Indira Gandhi.

While almost all sections of the media hauled Sonia Gandhi over the coals for recommending a ban on government ads, which in these days of straitened economic times virtually serve as a lifeline to the media, none mentioned the real reason why she risked the collective wrath of the media.

The reason had nothing to do with saving a relatively miniscule amount as compared to the total public expenditure. No. It actually reflected her and her children’s deep-seated hostility against Modi. She may have dressed up the unusual suggestion as an austerity measure, but in fact it was meant to ensure that the prime minister did not add further luster to his public image through government advertising. She was worried about Modi emerging even stronger building his image through a well-funded public advertising campaign.

None in the AICC has now cared to defend her suggestion to stop ads. Nor is anyone willing to take credit for having actually written the letter for her to the PM. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if any of the Congress governments in the States issue the obligatory full-page ads on the death and birth anniversaries of members of the Nehru-Gandhi parivar.

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Why PM-Cares Fund and now PM Fund

The prime minister constituted a special fund for fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Called the PM Cares Fund, Modi’s critics immediately accused him of exploiting the pandemic for building a personality cult. A well-known public intellectual whose uncritical admiration for Nehru undermines his claim to be apolitical went on television to ask rhetorically, `does it mean that no one else cares?’

Little does he and other critics know the real reason why a separate fund had to be formed while an old one constituted by Nehru way back in 1948 was already operative. Called the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, it was mandated in a government order constituting the fund that it was to be managed by a committee which would also include the President of the Indian National Congress. In other words, Sonia Gandhi as the acting president of the Congress would still have a say in how the money collected under the PM’s Relief Fund would be allocated. Maybe that also explains why the Congress Party reacted angrily against the start of a separate fund by the Prime Minister.

That alone might have been the sole reason a new PM Cares Fund had to be constituted. But then, visceral Modi-haters can be expected to be blind to reason. As for the above critic, I wonder what he would say to the detention of thousands of people of Chinese origin in the wake of the 1962 war. A recent book by someone who was detained there for five years has revived the memory of the draconian deed by the Nehru Government. For five years thousands were detained in camps with terrible conditions with poor food, healthcare and other essential amenities. No charges were ever filed against them. And no compensation and apology offered. Yet, they cannot stop singing paeans in praise of Nehru’s regard for liberal values!

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Minister’s goonda raj in Maharashtra

And you thought only the Shiv Sena resorted to naked goondagiri. Last week, the way a senior NCP Minister in the Uddhav Thackeray government had his goons thrash with sticks and whips a civil engineer shows how the wild-West syndrome of violence and retaliation has fast spread in Maharashtra's political class.

A senior police officer thinks nothing of claiming to be friends with known financial racketeers who are wanted by the various investigating agencies and issues them multiple passes to enjoy a picnic amidst the country-wide lockdown. And you have a senior minister who justifies beating up citizens for daring to question him on social media.

Jitendra Awhad felt so enraged by a social media post by the said civil engineer that on Sunday night he sent his goons accompanied by the local police to have him carted to his house. There he was beaten black and blue in the presence of the minister. The cause of the minister’s ire was a social media post which questioned Ahwad’s decision not to light candles at the PM’s call to show solidarity with the healthcare workers fighting the coronavirus.

Though the victim has lodged a complaint with the police, nothing will come out of it because Maharashtra ministers believe themselves to be above the law. Awhad has in fact justified the beating of the civil engineer, saying his social media post had mocked him. As for the senior police officer who gave the passes to the scamsters, he has been sent on leave but it is unimaginable that he issued those passes without the clearance of a senior minister in the Sena-NCP-Congress Government.

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Tablighis, a law unto themselves

After having caused a veritable havoc by most flagrantly defying social distancing norms, the Tablighi Jamaat’s head, Maulana Saad Khandalvi, continues to elude the police. He is said to be underground in self-isolation, refusing to come forward for medication and to respond to multiple questions about the illegal assembly of the Jamaat as also the funding of his organization.

However, the Nizamuddin Basti building from where the maulana had conducted his affairs has now been sealed. The authorities are questioning the source of his funding, particularly given his lavish life-style with multiple houses, luxury cars, swimming pool, etc. It now turns out that his own neighbours in the Nizamuddin Basti had complained several times against him illegally erecting a multistory building without any concerns for structural safety, but the authorities failed to take any action. He thumbed his nose at the authorities and added two more floors on the shaky structure in full view of the police and civic authorities.

When asked about the illegal building, the police and the municipal authorities plead helplessness, privately admitting that entering the Basti was always hazardous, entailing the risk of a violent response from the residents. Hence the broad daylight lawlessness.

And now everyone is paying the price for that meek surrender to lawlessness, isn’t it?

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Facts and views expressed in the article are that of the author

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