HAVING SCRUPULOUSLY avoided wading into divisive politics in this column, nonetheless I feel constrained to correct the ‘fake charge’ levied against Prime Minister Narendra Modi of spreading ‘fake news’. It is surprising that among those who rushed headlong to challenge Modi’s claim on his recent visit to Bangladesh that he had participated in a movement to press for its creation were Jairam Ramesh and Shashi Tharoor. Usually well-informed, the two Congress MPs seem to have erred badly this time. They were obviously unaware of the week-long satyagraha that the Jana Sangh, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) previous avatar, had launched in early 1971 to demand official recognition for the yet-to-be-born Bangladesh. I speak with first-hand knowledge. As a cub reporter for the now defunct newspaper, The Motherland, I covered that agitation extensively. It began with a massive rally at the Boat Club—yes, public rallies were still held at that historic site abutting Rajpath—addressed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. For an entire week, the satyagraha was staged daily but in different parts of the capital, with the objective of drawing in more and more people into lending support to what the party called ‘Recognise Bangladesh Satyagraha’.
On the penultimate day, after leading the satyagraha in Chandni Chowk, Vajpayee, along with hundreds of supporters, took the train from the Old Delhi Railway Station to Ferozepur to protest on the India-Pakistan border. But here is the point. On his return from Ferozepur, the week-long satyagraha ended where it had begun, that is, at the Boat Club. After Vajpayee’s clarion call to the assembled mass of people, tens of thousands courted arrest. Busloads of shouting, screaming Jana Sangh cadres demanding that the Indira Gandhi Government recognise what was then East Pakistan as a new and independent nation called Bangladesh were carted away by Delhi Police on hundreds of DTC buses. A large number were made to get off the buses in remote parts of the capital. But along with several leaders, at least 10,000-odd satyagrahis were formally arrested. Given that in all such agitations the Jana Sangh necessarily relied on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—as does BJP now—to supply the manpower, Modi’s assertion that he too had courted arrest for Bangladesh’s creation in 1971 is credible and verifiable. In all likelihood, if someone cared to sift through the old records of the Parliament Street and/or the Tughlaq Road police stations, Modi’s name would figure among the over 10,000 who were formally arrested that day. If Ramesh and Tharoor still want to defend their mocking of Modi’s claim, it is expected they would try and offer credible evidence. Otherwise, they rather than Modi would be guilty of spreading fake news.
POLITICIANS BELIEVE the ‘janata’ has a short memory. That may be why they eat their words as you and I eat our breakfast. Take Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena MP and editor of the party’s mouthpiece, Saamana, who preens himself as the creator of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi. Till the other day, he fiercely defended the Mumbai Police Assistant Sub Inspector Sachin Waze, calling him “a very honest and capable officer.” That was in mid-March. A week later, when Waze found himself in the clutches of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), and several sterling examples of his ‘honesty and capability’ tumbled out, the same Raut claimed he had warned that Waze could create problems for the Maharashtra government. We suppose Waze’s ‘honesty and capability’ have now become problematic for the Uddhav Thackeray government?
OF COURSE, POLITICIANS are not the only ones who swallow their words, believing no one would notice. The best in the media do it too. But in my long career as a hack, the most glaring example concerned a top editor. A mere 17 days before Operation Blue Star was launched to neutralise the armed thugs of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale holed up inside the Golden Temple, he ordained from his perch as the second-most important man in the country not to use force, not to send in the Army under any circumstances to flush out the Khalistanis. No, “it is an option not available to Mrs Gandhi even as an option of last resort.” But a day after the Army actually went in to restore the sanctity of the holiest of the holy gurdwaras, the same oracle lamented angrily, “We are surprised why Mrs Gandhi did not send in the Army earlier. Why she had to wait this long.” A contemporary with a keen eye for such self-serving somersaults reproduced the two edits next day with the caption, ‘Thus spake the Oracle of Bori Bunder.’