Sacking turned into a spectacle
BY RK MISRA
A storm in a teacup is often stirred by people who sail in paper boats.
Known for his pathological hatred for dissent and brute bulldozing skills finely honed during his over 12 year long tenure as chief minister of Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sacking of Mizoram Governor, Dr. Kamla Beniwal is nothing more than the proverbial storm in the political teacup. Neither constitutionally mandated nor Supreme Court approved-change of governments do not necessarily imply change of Governors-it goes on by precedents. The meaning however lies in the manner, and through it, the message that the sacking seeks to convey.
Beniwal who took over as Governor of Gujarat in 2009 and served till recently when she was transferred to Mizoram was the only hurdle in Modi’s steamrolling ways as he sought to bypass constitutional norms. He had already snuffed out all dissent within the Gujarat BJP, through skilful use of veteran LK Advani, sending old stalwarts packing like former union minister Kashiram Rana, veteran Keshubhai Patel, Late Haren Pandya, Baroda strongman Nalin Bhatt and north Gujarat leader AK Patel. Another Jan Sangh-BJP veteran, Shankersinh Vaghela, hailing from RSS stock had already been deftly forced out in 1996 and straight into the waiting hands of the Congress. Alas, Advani realized it only after he was strung out to dry when he had already been pushed out of the prime ministerial sweepstakes in the run up to the 2014 general elections!
Beniwal’s ouster is political revenge, classic Modi style. And it was done with transparent intent to turn the sacking into a spectacle. With just a few months left for her tenure to end, she was first transferred to Mizoram giving an impression that the prime minister who had been grace personified at the beginning of his tenure wanted the 87 year old lady out of Gujarat and had so moved her to the distant North-East where she could fade away into isolation. The entire process of her transfer and sacking is seen by seasoned observers as a political move designed to set an example for others to take note of.
Frail of frame, feisty Beniwal had stood upto Modi’s belligerence in his fiefdom all along, except that the scales titled heavily in favour of the latter when an overpowering 2014 mandate brought him into the driver’s seat in Delhi.
The official reason cited for the decision to send her packing was that she had misused the Governor’s office during her tenure in Gujarat to make unauthorized air travels to various places including to her home state of Rajasthan at the expense of the state exchequer. Raj Bhavan records were cited to make the point that of the 63 times the state aircraft was used to travel out of Gujarat between 2011 and 2014, 51 trips were to Jaipur from where she hails.
It is interesting to note that during this entire period, it was Modi who was the chief minister of the state and while he had launched a virtual crusade against her, even holding public meetings, he never brought this unauthorized use to public notice. Afterall the ‘misuse’ of the state plane could not have gone unnoticed to a chief minister known to keep sharp tabs on the doings of his own ministers and bureaucrats. Modi reveled in throwing tidbits of their ‘activities’ in official even personal meetings to flaunt his reach and prying ability.
After Sangh seniors like Sunder Singh Bhandari and thereafter quiet Kailashpati Mishra and sedate and sweet talking congressman Nawal Kishore Sharma as Governors in Gujarat, Beniwal proved a different kettle of fish altogether.
Theirs was an uneasy relationship. Modi brooked no intereference. Wherever hindered by rules or laws he sought to use his brute majority in the Gujarat Vidhan Sabha to do what he wanted. And invariably always he ran up against the unsurmountable stonewall that Beniwal proved.
The appointment of the Lokayukta was just one of many examples in numerous bouts of sparring between the two that spilled into overtime, even replays. She, however, invariably got the better of him in most judicial joustings leaving Modi further piqued.
Modi ran the bulk of his over decade long chief ministerial tenure without a Lokayukta, stalling it at every point and turn despite the fact that the appointment body was headed by the Chief Justice of the High Court. When Beniwal finally appointment retired justice R.A. Mehta, the Modi government promptly knocked the doors of the judiciary and kept losing right upto the Supreme Court. Even the appeal before the apex court failed and so did a further attempt. In the meantime, Modi sought to change the entire process of appointment of the Lokayukta and had a Bill passed in the Vidhan Sabha which gave the chief minister primacy of place in the appointment of a person empowered to probe him. The effort floundered at the alter of Beniwal who finally rejected it in 2013. The appointment of vice-chancellors again had the two at loggerheads since the Governor was the Chancellor in the case of most of them. In some of the new educational institutions of excellence that the Modi government created, the Governor’s role was virtually penciled out.
She was also instrumental in registering a corruption case against then fisheries minister Purshottam Solanki. Her sacking is not merely meant to be a signal to recalcitrant, UPA appointee governors to throw-in the towel, but also within his own party and without, including the bureaucracy and even the judiciary (Remember Gopal Subramaniam) to take note and fall in line.
Modi’s politics is one of command, control and total allegiance. And the stage for it is in the process of being set. The hard politics unfolding on the national stage in Delhi remains a frame by frame copy of his politics in Gujarat. There is unmistakable continuity. The velvet gloves are off and the iron fist is showing!.