The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- A sanyasin on the loose

I cannot say I know many BJP leaders. But Uma Bharti and I once exchanged glances. It was in Hyderabad. I had gone to see Chandrababu Naidu. In the evening, I guess the cook in the government guesthouse did not feel like cooking for me. So I was taken to another guesthouse where I was told dinner would be served. When I arrived there, I was pointed towards the garden. I looked down the steps to find about a hundred people sitting around. There was no sign of food; so in hope I sat down amongst them. The person next to me turned out to be a local college teacher. Somehow, as soon as I introduced myself, he clammed up.

Then, half an hour later, Uma Bharti arrived. She went around meeting everyone. They were being introduced as bigwigs of the state's Dalit community. When she got to me, I had no credentials to flaunt. So I told her that like her, I had come from Delhi. She scowled at me with deep suspicion, and turned away. There followed a durbar in which various Dalits made sundry complaints to her; she sat there like a sphinx. Finally food was served and, having satisfied my hunger, I got away.

I thought, how different from Sushma Swaraj. I have met her about as often as Uma, but every time she smiled and said Hallo, generally in English. She would make a joke or two; even when she had to be partisan she would try not to be off-putting. Whereas Uma would never doff her trademark scowl; and she would always be biting someone's head off in her hoarse voice.

I thought she would have a chance to show her constructive side when she became the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh last December. As soon as she arrived, her government banned the slaughter of all bovine animals, and resolved to strengthen 'gaushalas for the proper keeping of unproductive and incapacitated cattle of the bovine family' ' in other words, old people's homes for cows, bullocks and buffalos. It abolished the district governments set up in 1999 by Digvijay Singh. They would be replaced by village secretariats; every month, government servants would visit villages and hold hearings. But village councils were apparently spared, for in June the government entrusted them with a tax on farmers to create local grain banks, and in August it made extensive changes in their structure.

On January 7, it decided to make sure farmers and students got enough electricity. I have heard of governments being solicitous of farmers, but hers is the only one I know who thought of midnight electricity for students. Students of Madhya Pradesh! Did you know this'

On January 28, the MP government declared Maheshwar and Amarkantak ' and later, Omkareshwar ' holy cities. Sale of eggs, meat and fish would be banned. Cruelty to animals and bird would be punished. Sale of liquor would be prohibited. Dogs of Maheshwar! Did you know this' On February 4, it fixed the quota for sons of the soil in professional examinations at 80 per cent, and reduced pass marks to 20 per cent for reserved seats and 30 per cent for unreserved ones. Lucky are the students born in Madhya Pradesh ' they do not have to study.

Every government servant in MP had a hereditary right to pass on a government job to his heirs: when he died, one member of his family would be made assistant grade three, contract teacher, ward boy or peon. The problem was, though, that many departments ' for instance, police, jails and commercial taxes ' did not need any of these. Not to worry; from February 4, the heirs would be appointed constables in such uncooperative departments. The government also doubled nongazetted police officers' monthly food allowance from Rs 100 to Rs 200.

The maximum age at which young people could be taken into the MP government used to be 30 years; it increased the age in July to 35 years. Scheduled caste and tribe youths could join till 40, and women till 45. Thus a woman could join the government after fulfilling her family duties and becoming a grandmother, and retire with a full pension after 13 years. Such was Uma's bounty!

Village councils in MP were supposed to have eight committees; in July, the government reduced their number to two ' a development committee to look after public works, and another committee to look after all else, I suppose.

They would share a common secretary; members of the other committee could also be members of the development committee. Just why the government thought two committees were necessary instead of one is beyond me.

That is how Sushri Uma Bharti's reign ended. In August she resigned and left for Hubli. Her luck seemed to have turned. No longer the long, tedious cabinet meetings; she could now relax in a government guesthouse designated as a jail for her. But the Karnataka government played a trick on her.

Having snatched her out of the chief minister's bungalow in Bhopal, it brought her to Hubli and then let her loose. Meanwhile, the bungalow in Bhopal was already occupied by Madan Lal Gaur, who was in no mood to give it back to her. Obviously a conspiracy between Gaur and Dharam Singh.

Rendered homeless and powerless, she set off for the neighbouring Maharashtra which was due for elections, and looked for meetings to address. Tricolour pilgrimage she called it, like Advani's famous riotous peregrinations. BJP leaders were all running around Maharashtra addressing meetings. Maybe there were too many meetings; maybe Maharashtrians had other things to attend to. But few turned up at her meetings. Worse, even BJP leaders avoided her meetings. And when she got to Delhi, she found that no one had heard about her pilgrimage; the newspapers were all full of Sushma Swaraj's trip to Port Blair, where she had only fish to address. It could only be a conspiracy of that wily charmer, Pramod Mahajan. Or that astute schemer, Venkaiah Naidu. So she told him on the phone; and so ungenerous of him, he got offended.

No wonder, therefore, that when Advani accused her of indiscipline, she answered back: why do you not pull up the people who have been talking to the press against me' For which she was thrown out. But looking around that meeting, I wondered: who is leader material here' All these colourless men, or this flamboyant woman in red (it was certainly not saffron, and it was not a sari; I guess it was some kind of a designer dress)' She may not have manners, she may not know the art of making friends; but if people can be influenced by public speeches, then she is the one to do it. She is not a great administrator; but BJP needs votes, and if I were inclined towards it, I would rather vote for her than for Advani.

I think the RSS should arrange a split: one wing of the party should go with Uma, and the other with the rest. They can always come together at election time ' together with Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other strayed members of the Hindu joint family. In the meanwhile, let each sell her own brand of poison.

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