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Thursday, 22 December 2022

ऐसी किताब को लिखने के लिये चाहिये हिम्मत !!!

हाल ही में संजय सिंह और राकेश त्रिवेदी की किताब क्रिमिनल्स इन यूनिफार्म पूरी की. अबसे करीब 8-9 महीने पहले इस किताब का मराठी संस्करण मैंने खरीदा था (तब हिंदी संस्करण नहीं आया था) CSMT रेल स्टेशन के स्टाल पर एक आखिरी प्रति बची थी जो मेरे हाथ लगी. किताब पूरी करने में इतना वक्त इस लिए लग गया क्योंकि मैंने इसे टुकड़ों टुकड़ों में पढ़ी. इस दौरान मेरी अपनी किताब पर भी काम चल रहा था और दफ्तर के काम से जुडी भी खूब उठापटक चल रही थी. 

किताब पर बात करने से पहले थोड़ा इनके लेखकों के बारे में बता दूँ. दोनों ही लेखक मेरे अच्छे मित्र हैं और मेरी ही तरह घुमक्कड़ी का शौक रखते हैं. दोनों ही क्राइम बीट में अपने झंडे गाड़ चुके हैं. संजय सिंह. टीवी पत्रकारिता में मुझसे कई साल वरिष्ठ हैं और अपने करियर के शुरुवाती दिनों में काम जिनसे लोगों से सीखा उनमे वे भी हैं. साल 2003 में इन्होने तेलगी घोटाले की उस जायसवाल कमिटी रिपोर्ट का पर्दाफाश किया था जिसके बाद महाराष्ट्र की राजनीति में हड़कंप मच गया और उसके बाद बनी जांच टीम ने कमिशनर से लेकर कांस्टेबल तक को गिरफ्तार किया. इसके बाद उन्हें डराने धमकाने की कोशिश की और परेशान किया गया. पुलिसकर्मियों का वो गैंग संजय सिंह के पीछे पड़ गया जिनका जिक्र शायद उन्होंने नाम बदलकर अपनी इस तथाकथित काल्पनिक किताब में किया है...लेकिन अंग्रेजी की कहावत Taking the bull by its horn को चरितार्थ करते हुए तेलगी घोटाले पर एक बेबाक किताब ही लिख डाली जिस पर अब एक फ़िल्म भी बन रही है. दुसरे लेखक राकेश त्रिवेदी, संजय सिंह से अगली पीढ़ी का क्राइम रिपोर्टर हैं और एक तेज तर्रार पत्रकार है. कुछ वक्त तक वो स्टार न्यूज़ में मेरी टीम का सदस्य था.

वैसे तो कहानी के किरदारों को काल्पनिक बताया गया है लेकिन नाम बदलने के सिवा उनकी असली पहचान उजागर करने में लेखकों ने कोई कसर नहीं छोड़ी है. उद्योगपति के घर के बाहर विस्फोटक लदी कार खड़ी करने की वारदात (जिससे ये किताब प्रेरित लगती है) का कवरेज मैंने और मेरी टीम ने भी किया था. मुंबई का  हर क्राइम रिपोर्टर जानता है कि उस घटना को किसने, कैसे और क्यों अंजाम दिया. सभी को अंदाजा है कि साजिश का सबसे बड़ा खिलाड़ी कौन है जिसने सबका इस्तेमाल कर उन्हें जेल भिजवाया और अब अपने राजनितिक संपर्कों के चलते मौज काट रहा है... लेकिन मुझे उत्सुकता थी कि दोनों हुनरमंद लेखकों ने इस काण्ड को किस अंदाज़ में पेश किया है. 

किताब पढ़ते वक्त एक शब्द बार बार जेहन में आ रहा था, वो शब्द है हिम्मत. जी हाँ. इस जैसी किताब को लिखने की खातिर हिम्मत चाहिए. ऐसी किताब हर कोई नहीं लिख सकता।जिन पुलिस अधिकारिओं से इस किताब के किरदार प्रेरित नज़र आते हैं उनकी छवि बेहद खतरनाक रही है...इतनी ख़तरनाक कि खुद उनके अपने वरिष्ठ और बाक़ी पुलिसकर्मी उनसे घबराते थे.

किताब पहले से आख़िरी पन्ने तक रोचक है और कहीं भी बोरियत भरे अंश नहीं हैं. वेब सीरीज़ की तरह गालियाँ खूब हैं लेकिन कथानक के मुताबिक़ जायज़ नज़र आतीं हैं. जो लोग क्राइम थ्रिलर पढ़ना चाहते हैं या पुलिस महकमे के कामकाज की अंदरूनी तस्वीर देखना चाहते हैं, उन्हें ये किताब ज़रूर पसंद आएगी. 

कहानी का अंत बेहद दिलचस्प है . हालाँकि पूरी कहानी सत्य पर आधारित है लेकिन अंत काल्पनिक है...लेकिन ये ऐसी कल्पना है जो कभी भी सच साबित हो सकती है. 

Wednesday, 26 October 2022

Insomniac Politicians & Mystery of Eknath Shinde’s Sleep




Lord Rama’s younger brother, Laxman, was an insomniac who didn’t sleep for fourteen years while he accompanied Rama and Seeta in the forest. While Laxman’s could be an extreme case of control over one’s sleep, we have a few politicians in our country who barely sleep. PM Modi sleeps just for four hours but there are a few politicians in Maharashtra as well who don’t like to be much in the dreamland. Generally, politicians appear formally before the media to maintain a certain impression, but there are a few occasions where they open up and let the journos glance through their real selves.  

 The festive season of Diwali also brings along a series of invitations for get-togethers and parties from politicians. While such events are purely off-camera and conversations here are deemed to be off-the-record, they help journalists in discovering different aspects of their host’s personality. Last Tuesday, I attended two such events–the lunch at Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis’ home Meghdoot and the dinner at CM Eknath Shinde’s residence, Varsha.

After lunch, Fadnavis sat at a round table occupied by senior journos of the print and electronic media. Amidst cracking jokes and political comments in a lighter vein, some journalists subtly attempted to sniff out some sensational stories by asking tricky questions. But Fadnavis was too smart a politician and avoided speaking anything that could create a stir or appear on TV screens as “Breaking News”. His last Diwali get-together with journalists at Varsha bungalow in 2019 was an explosive one when he said that Uddhav’s claim was false that Amit Shah promised to divide the Chief Minister’s post between the two parties for half of the tenure. That statement led to a series of events which culminated in the breaking of the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance. Now, three years later, Fadnavis once again hosted the journalists, but this time he had learnt his lesson.

Amidst discussions on Parambir Singh, Sachin Waze, BMC elections, cabinet expansion and soon-to-be-started Shirdi-Nagpur Super Highway, somebody asked for his view on Eknath Shinde, his boss in the cabinet.

“When does Shinde Saheb sleeps is a subject of research?” said Fadnavis while praising Shinde’s dedication towards work and his efforts to keep in touch with his workers.

Fadnavis revealed that he too sleeps only for five hours. Because of meetings and other official work, he gets to sleep only by 3 am and gets up at 8 am. Sometimes he gets up at 7 am if he has to catch a flight.

The same evening, I met CM Shinde over dinner. A few of the journalists who were earlier at Fadnavis’ event were also present.

One of them said  - “Fadnavis said that when you sleep is a matter of research. Do you sleep at all? We have seen you often participating in events late at night. Especially, during Ganeshutsav you were visiting pandals till late at night and still next morning you appear to be fresh. What is the secret behind this?”

Shinde smiled and said, “I have gained this habit from Anand Dighe (His Guru in politics). He used to work till late at night and got up early. People queued outside his house and he met them even while brushing his teeth. Before becoming CM, I used to meet people at Thane till late at night. They came from the last local train and left by the first train in the morning after meeting me. I still do that. I don’t want people to believe that I have changed after becoming the CM. People should feel that the CM is somebody from them.”

Shinde believes that remaining awake till late is advantageous.

“In case some medical emergency happens with any of my workers or somebody has been hospitalised because of an accident, I personally reach the hospital to check on the situation. This activates the entire system, and the patient gets the required attention.”

He said that it has now become his habit to sleep late. Even if he wants to sleep early, he can’t. Recollecting the rebellion against Uddhav Thackeray last June, he said, “I didn’t sleep continuously for three days when we went to Surat and then to Guwahati. On the fourth day, I tried to sleep but still I couldn’t. I took a pill, but that too helped little. Phone calls were coming throughout and if I slept, there was a chance that things could go haywire.”

While talking about his sleepless nights, Shinde confirmed his overnight visit to Vadodara for meeting Amit Shah to discuss further strategy.

“When everybody went to sleep, I took a flight to Vadodara from Guwahati and returned before they woke up,” Shinde said with a mischievous smile.

Shinde said that he too sleeps by 3 am and gets up by 8 am.

 

 

  

 

Thursday, 20 October 2022

10 Things I Like and Dislike About Uddhav Thackeray.

As a student of political science and as a journalist, I have been a keen observer of the Shiv Sena for the last three decades and have witnessed the highs and lows of the party. Uddhav Thackeray, the erstwhile CM of Maharashtra and a faction head of the party, is one of those faces around whom state politics revolves. As per the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda, every man and his actions have elements of good and bad in them. Referring to their philosophy, I have a mixed view of Uddhav’s personality.

I like Uddhav’s survival instinct. He took over as the executive president of the Shiv Sena in 2004 and soon had to face a rebellion by stalwarts like Narayan Rane and Raj Thackeray. After the party’s poor performance in the 2009 Vidhan Sabha elections, questions were raised in the political corridors over the survival of the Shiv Sena. Raj Thackeray’s aggressive posture and his initial electoral success made everyone believe the MNS is the new Shiv Sena. However, Uddhav hit back at the doubters by winning the 2012 BMC elections, and later on forming a government with the BJP in 2014. While Uddhav sailed his party out of the storm, MNS reduced to just one seat in the assembly and lost the Nasik Municipal Corporation which it had captured.

I dislike Uddhav’s inaccessibility. One reason why his father Balasaheb Thackeray could form such a powerful organisation was that he was accessible to his common Shiv Sainiks and office bearers of the party across the state. He visited the party head office, Shiv Sena Bhavan, frequently and met party workers at his bungalow also throughout the day. Uddhav lacked such a connect. He made a coterie of few people who influenced his decision and manifested themselves as a wall between him and the party workers. It was because of such advisers that many stalwarts and founding members of the party felt sidelined and quit the party. A few senior party leaders complained it was difficult to get an audience with Uddhav. While leaving the party, they publicly derided Uddhav, but he continued to be nonchalant about such accusations, which proved him costly in 2022. One reason why rebel Eknath Shinde could take many MLAs, MPs, corporators and office bearers with him was Uddhav’s inaccessibility. During his tenure as the CM, his health issues were cited as the reason for his inaccessibility. However, this trait of Uddhav’s personality has been for a long. A few political commentators attribute his inaccessibility to his shy nature as well. However, after the rebellion, Uddhav started meeting his party workers frequently and visits Shiv Sena Bhavan as well.

I like Uddhav Thackeray’s policy of inclusivity. After taking over the party’s mantle, Uddhav rarely spoke hatefully against any community on linguistic, religious or regional grounds. It was in stark contrast with the Shiv Sena’s history, a party which evolved by agitating against non-Marathis and Muslims. Uddhav was hardly seen using expletives against anybody in his speeches. In fact, in 2004, he launched the “Me Mumbaikar” campaign to connect all people with the Shiv Sena living in Mumbai, irrespective of their religion and native place. This campaign was sabotaged by Raj Thackeray, who was in Shiv Sena when his supporters attacked north Indian candidates at the Kalyan railway station to appear for a railway recruitment exam. Uddhav Thackeray played a role in launching the Hindi edition of the party’s mouthpiece Saamana and sending many non-Marathis to Rajyasabha. Consequential to this inclusive attitude, Uddhav found it easy to accept the word “secular” which was mentioned twice in the preamble of Maha Vikas Aghadi.  

I disliked Uddhav’s irrational tenacity for the CM’s post for two and a half years. When the Shiv Sena and BJP allied for the first time in the 1990s, it was agreed that the party with more MLAs would get the CM’s chair. However, in 2019, Uddhav demanded the CM’s chair from the BJP despite winning just half the number of seats that the BJP had won. The BJP won 106 seats and the Shiv Sena got 56 seats. Uddhav claims that Amit Shah had promised him the CM’s chair for half the tenure when he visited Matosri. The question is why such a deal was made inside the four walls of a room and why it was not revealed before the public during the election campaign. The public had voted for the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance and they should have been informed about such a power-sharing agreement if at all there was any such agreement.

I liked Uddhav’s crisis management skills. Barely three months after assuming the post of the CM, Uddhav had to deal with his share of the enormous crisis that the world was facing. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown was the biggest challenge during his tenure. Initially, the situation went out of control, especially in Mumbai, when the daily death toll skyrocketed and the city was being compared to Wuhan, but soon the tide turned. The measures adopted by his government showed results, and Maharashtra fared much better in fighting the pandemic in comparison with other states. During the second phase of the pandemic, the “Mumbai Model” became a subject of study for experts from other states. It was ensured that there would not be any death due to lack of oxygen. There was no rigging of the death toll like few other state governments have allegedly done. Uddhav’s occasional televised speeches were full of hope and empathy. He often switched to Hindi from his Marathi speech to assure the poor north Indian population that they should not worry and the government would take care of them. It was during this period that Uddhav was ranked as one of the best chief ministers in India by media outlets.  

I disliked that Uddhav’s government too misused power like others. His government allowed the arrest of TV journalist Rahul Kulkarni as a vendetta for exposing the story of special treatment to the financial scam accused Wadhwan family members during the pandemic, which is one such example. Kulkarni was accused of rumour-mongering that led to a crowd of thousands of people outside the Bandra station. The BMC run by his party demolished actress Kangana Ranaut’s office in Khar because she made some unpalatable comments against Thackeray. A senior officer from Patna Police was quarantined when he came to Mumbai to investigate Sushant Singh’s suicide. Union minister Narayan Rane and his son Nitesh were arrested on unconvincing grounds. The Rana couple from Amravati was arrested and charged with treason when they announced to recite Hanuman Chalisa outside Uddhav Thackeray’s residence. Such actions were seen as high-handed and made Uddhav a politician no different than others.

Uddhav Thackeray enrolled a tainted cop like Sachin Waze into the Shiv Sena and also gave Vidhan Sabha ticket to his former boss, both of whom are in gaol in the Antillia conspiracy. When Sachin Waze’s role in the conspiracy was exposed on the floor of Vidhan Sabha, Uddhav defended him, saying that “Sachin Waze is not Osama bin Laden.”

I dislike Uddhav’s disconnect with the media. After the rebellion in the Shiv Sena, Uddhav Thackeray and Narendra Modi are not on good terms. However, they share a similar trait. PM Modi is often criticised for not taking press conferences and that was the case with Uddhav Thackeray as well. During his tenure as CM, Uddhav seldom took press conferences or answered questions from the media. However, after losing power, he has made amends for this attitude and now frequently interacts with the media.

I like Uddhav’s photographic skills. Uddhav might not be comfortable with cameramen from the media but he loves the camera. In the late 1980s, when Uddhav had not entered active politics, he went along with his camera to the public meetings of his father, Balasaheb Thackeray. While senior Thackeray got busy charging up Shiv Sainiks with his oratory, Uddhav engrossed himself clicking pictures. Over the years, Uddhav has contributed substantially to wildlife photography and has also produced an album on the historical forts of Maharashtra.    

I dislike Uddhav’s nepotistic approach. Before becoming the CM, Uddhav was editor-in-chief of Saamana newspaper, but when he became the CM, the post was passed on to his wife Rashmi. Rashmi was not having any journalistic experience then and Sanjay Raut, the executive editor, was seen as a deserving candidate for the post. Uddhav kept the editor-in-chief’s post within the Thackeray family.

I like Uddhav’s fighting spirit. Despite losing power, and defection by a large number of party functionaries, MPs and MLAs, Uddhav has managed to give a tough time to his detractors. In a legal battle, he won Shivaji Park to conduct the Shiv Sena’s traditional Dashera rally. Despite doubts over the number of footfalls, the crowd spilled outside the ground. It was no less than the one organised by his rival, Eknath Shinde, at the BKC grounds with all the resources in his hand.

 

Friday, 14 October 2022

Battleground Shivaji Park: Why Two Shiv Sena’s Want To Assert Their Identity Through A Piece of Land.

Shivaji Park, in the heart of Mumbai, is not just a mere public ground. Over the years, this piece of land has become a melting pot of politics, culture, sports and religion. It is the same ground where a young Sachin Tendulkar practised cricket to be nicknamed Master Blaster in later years. The staging of Ramleela attracted a good number of footfalls here every Navratri. It became a crematorium for celebrities when Bal Thackeray and Lata Mangeshkar were cremated here. Over the years, it has witnessed numerous political rallies and many national faces speaking from the dais constructed on the ground. However, for the Shiv Sena, Shivaji Park is particularly significant, and the party calls it Shivteerth, a place of pilgrimage.

Suspense is prevailing in the political corridors of Maharashtra over who will address the crowd at Shivaji Park on 5 October, the day when Hindus celebrate Dashera. Uddhav Thackeray or Eknath Shinde? Both factions of the Shiv Sena have applied for the ground. For both factions, it has become indispensable to get the ground for asserting that they are the “real Shiv Sena.”

Over the decades, on the day of Dashera, one could see two stages erected on the ground. In the evening, at one corner, Adarsh Ramleela Samiti enacted an episode of Ramayana where Rama killed Ravana followed by the burning of a giant effigy of the latter, while, at the centre of the ground, from a huge stage the Shiv Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray addressed the annual gathering of his party workers. Although Thackeray took several rallies across the year in various parts of Maharashtra, the one at Shivaji Park was special. With a ground full of enthusiastic Shiv Sainiks, Thackeray spoke randomly about several state-related and national issues. His words used to be full of aggression, expletives and threats to the party’s opponents, which over time changed from south Indians to Gujaratis and Muslims. Often, many eminent personalities outside the Shiv Sena were also invited on the stage to address. In one such gathering, even Sharad Pawar was invited, who was then with the Congress and known to be a fierce political adversary of Thackeray, although he was Thackeray’s friend on a personal level.

It was on the stage of the Dashera Rally that Bal Thackeray introduced his grandson Aditya to politics in 2010. Presenting him a sword, Thackeray urged the Shiv Sainiks to take care of Aditya. After Bal Thackeray’s demise, the tradition of the Dashera Rally was continued by his third son, Uddhav. Uddhav’s style of oratory greatly differed from his father’s. Although he attempted to present himself as aggressively, his speeches were not as intimidating and bitter as senior Thackeray's. Uddhav mostly spoke against his political rivals but rarely targeted any community on communal or regional grounds.

When Bal Thackeray died in November 2012, he was cremated exactly at the same place in Shivaji Park where the stage for his Dashera Rally used to get erected. Now his memorial occupies a chunk of Shivaji Park on the western side. On the eastern side, a bust of his demised wife Meenatai Thackeray, whom Shiv Sainiks refer to as Ma Saheb, is installed. When Uddhav Thackeray became the chief minister in 2019, he chose Shivaji Park as the venue for swearing-in.

Over the years, many political parties have used the ground for their events. When actor Dev Anand, disillusioned after the failed Janta Party experiment post-emergency, launched his political outfit National Party of India (NPI), chose Shivaji Park for the inaugural rally. The news of the overwhelming response that Anand’s rally got reached Indira Gandhi, and she offered him to join her party. Anand turned down the offer. However, his party failed to sustain itself for a long. In February 1993, Bal Thackeray invited him to launch the Hindi edition of his party’s mouthpiece titled “Dopahar Ka Saamana.”

The immediate surroundings of Shivaji Park also hold politically significant buildings. Shiv Sena Bhavan, the headquarters of the Uddhav Thackeray-led faction, is just a few metres away. Rajgad, the head office of Raj Thackeray’s party MNS, is also close by. Raj Thackeray himself lives in a bungalow overlooking the park on its southern side. Balmohan Vidya Mandir, the school from where some prominent politicians, actors and cricketers of Maharashtra have passed out, is in one of the by-lanes of Shivaji Park. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar was cremated just behind Shivaji Park beside the sea at a place which is now famous as Chaityabhoomi.

Since the tradition of the Dashera rally at Shivaji Park is inherent with the identity of the Shiv Sena, both factions are aggressively vying for it. Now the ball is in the BMC’s court which has to determine who will get the coveted ground.

 

Why Bal Thackeray’s Thapa Quit Matosri And Joined Eknath Shinde?

 Although, politically, it may sound inconsequential, I am shocked to know that Thapa has joined the rebel camp of the Shiv Sena led by CM Eknath Shinde. On Monday evening, he joined the Shinde faction at a public event in Thane. Those who have been observing the Shiv Sena over the decades, Thapa’s exit from Matosri seems unpalatable.

Sampa Singh Thapa was not just the most loyal househelp of late party supremo Bal Thackeray, but was also treated as a family member of the Thackerays. For 27 years, Thapa was with Bal Thackeray in his thick and thin and took care of him in his last days. He worshipped Thackeray like God. People saw him grieving at Thackeray’s funeral at Shivaji Park in November 2012.

Sampa Singh Thapa joined Bal Thackeray in 1985 as his househelp at the age of twenty years. He hails from Chimoli village near the Indo-Nepal border. Because of extreme poverty, Thapa left his home and crossed the border near Gorakhpur in February 1985 to hunt for some job in India. Somebody advised him to reach Mumbai where Nepalis were in much demand for employment in the security industry. A Bengali businessman, Ghosh ran a security agency named Royal Security in Thane. Ghosh recruited him as a guard for his bungalow in Yeor, a mini hill station in Mumbai’s neighbouring city, Thane. Ghosh turned out to be a friend of Bal Thackeray. Once, during his visit to the bungalow, Thackeray was impressed with Thapa’s devotion towards his job. Thackeray told Ghosh that he wished Thapa to employ at his bungalow Matosri. Ghosh obliged and since then Thapa became a shadow of Bal Thackeray. Anybody who visited Matosri couldn’t miss meeting Thapa. He always stood calmly in one corner whenever Thackeray interacted with anybody.

Initially, Thapa worked only at Matosri but when Thackeray’s wife Minatai died in 1995, Thapa used to accompany him in outstation tours as well. Once, while chatting with me in the corridors of Matosri Thapa told me that initially Bal Thackeray was provided with just one police guard, but after General Arun Kumar Vaidya’s assassination in August 1986 by Khalistani militants, his security was beefed up. Ultimately, the government provided Z category security to Thackeray and his bungalow became a fortress.

Thapa never took any long leave till the time Bal Thackeray was alive, as he never wanted to leave Thackeray. Thackeray depended on him for his personal comforts and medication. It takes three to four days for Thapa to reach his distant village in Nepal. The longest leave he took was for seven days at the time of his son’s wedding. He attended the wedding for a few hours and, after completing the rituals, instantly returned to Mumbai. He keeps his family in Chimoli. Thapa’s family members and villagers were proud that he was serving Thackeray. When Thackeray was ailing, Thapa ensured he took his medicines and food on time.

When I last spoke to Thapa (few months after Bal Thackeray’s death), he sounded unhappy with the ongoings in the Shiv Sena.

“Hard workers are hard workers and money earners are money earners,” he quipped.

Although politically Uddhav Thackeray would lose nothing and Eknath Shinde wouldn’t gain anything by getting Thapa on his side, Thapa’s quitting Matosri is another victory for Uddhav’s detractors. Shinde has not only managed to poach MLAs, MPs, corporators and office bearers from Uddhav, but also the staff of Matosri. However, what exactly compelled Thapa to quit Matosri and join hands with Shinde is yet to be convincingly disclosed..