Nov 28, 2008

Bhopal Elections 2008 - The Mood Changer

Exactly nine hours after terror struck the business capital of India, urban voters of Madhya Pradesh, which went to polls on Thursday,reacted angrily.
B L Gahlot, a voter in Govindpura constituency in Bhopal, told TOI, "We need a government that is serious about tackling terror with an iron-hand.''
Polling which started on a dull note picked up as people came out in large numbers after watching TV footage of terror attacks in Mumbai. By 3 pm, there were long queues before all urban polling booths.
At polling booths in Arera Colony in Bhopal Central constituency, educated urban voters were discussing AICC general gecretary Rahul Gandhi's speech during his election campaign. Rahul had attacked BJP on lack of development claiming: "BJP does not construct roads, build schools, produce electricity. Ask them why they did nothing and BJP's only excuse is terrorism.''
"Rahul Gandhi's statement is the proof of how Congress is not serious about fighting terror,'' said Sarla Mathur, retired principal of a senior higher secondary school in Bhopal
In the commercial city of Indore which has been recently labeled "a terror hub'', people said they had made up their minds about terrorism as an election issue much before Wednesday's attack. "Will anyone reason as to how terrorists armed with AK-47s are crossing borders, now the Arabian Sea and coming into a city like Mumbai and creating chaos?'' asked S K Verma, a businessman. "This is not the first terror attack. An incident occurs every month whether in Mumbai or Bangalore, Jaipur, Ahmedabad or New Delhi. What do our elected governments do?

Times Of India

Nov 25, 2008

Bhopal Elections 2008 - As simple as that

To grasp the obstacles the ruling Congress party faces in retaining power in India next year, look no further than M.M. Khan.
A Muslim from a slum in Madhya Pradesh state, he should be a stalwart of the left-of-centre and secular-slanting government as it battles the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in state polls this month and a general election next year.
But Khan is unsure that was meant to be.
"The BJP's done a great job here," Khan said, referring to the BJP Madhya Pradesh government. "When Congress was here they did nothing. Now we see improvements in electricity, more wells."
The central state of Madhya Pradesh goes to polls on Thursday in one of six state elections testing the political waters for Congress and the BJP.
The battle in one of India's poorest states is a microcosm for many national issues, from party tactics to the growth of caste-based parties upsetting the traditional balance of power.
Stakes are high. For the BJP, Madhya Pradesh accounts for nearly a fifth of their total parliamentary seats. For Congress, it is a chance to reverse a string of state election defeats as inflation and perceived weak leadership alienated voters.
"Now it's time for Congress. Five years for BJP, now five years for Congress," said Ansar Khan, who works for a car rental company in the state capital Bhopal.
Khan's view reflects an anti-incumbent trend in India, and Congress has high hopes of regaining Madhya Pradesh, which had been in the party's hands for decades before a 2003 BJP victory.
The vote is hard to predict. Polls are unreliable and a myriad of castes add to the complexity. But observers say a host of problems have made a Congress victory more difficult.
Congress should have an edge. Five years of BJP rule may have seen some progress, like with roads, but needs remain high in one of India's poorest states.
A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute placed Madhya Pradesh as India's worst state in terms of hunger and malnutrition, ranked globally between Chad and Ethiopia.
Water in Bhopal is available only every two days. Electricity is intermittent. The state has seen three BJP chief ministers in five years amid party infighting.
But observers say Congress rallies have often seen sparse support. As usual, the party has not named a chief ministerial candidate, meaning there is no political figurehead.
To add to its problems, the Bahujan Samaj Party, a party based on Dalits led by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati, has drawn large crowds and may also rob votes from Congress.
Congress's message has been dispersed, often focussing on corruption allegations against BJP, an issue observers say does not resonate with all voters.

In contrast, the BJP has one clear slogan, "development."
It is a similar "can do" formula - highlighting road building, for example -- that helped it win Gujarat state this year despite being the incumbent state government.
At a meeting in Vidisha town, two hours drive from Bhopal, BJP national leader L.K Advani helicoptered in to address several thousand followers, one of four rallies that day.
His thundering speech made him appear less than his 82 years.
"Congress does not have any achievements," he told followers packed in the town centre. "They cannot control prices and they cannot solve many of the common man's problems."
But Advani's confidence may hide BJP's own problems in the state, which bode ill for next year's general election.
Former chief minister Uma Bharti, a crowd puller who runs a breakaway Hindu party, could eat into BJP votes. She has drawn voters unhappy with BJP's moves to play down its Hindu nationalist card in favour of economic development slogans.
"It's very difficult to predict, but most likely it will be a hung parliament. Both the BJP and Congress are struggling," said N.D. Sharma, a political columnist in Madhya Pradesh. He predicts Mayawati or Bharti could win more seats than anyone expects.
That may mean Mayawati or Bharti could hold the balance of power. It is the kind of third force that some see emerging in the 2009 election, further weakening national parties.
In the smoke and mirrors of election campaigns, neither the BJP nor Congress can rest easy. At the slum in Bhopal, Khan may have praised the BJP but his vote still looks likely to slip the other way.
"My community votes for Congress, so I'll follow them."

In India, old voting habits may die hard.

-By Alistair Scrutton

Nov 19, 2008

Affidavit Of Sadhwi Pragyan Chandrapal Singh Thakur

C.R. NO. I – 130/08
(RE-NUMBERED AS C.R. No. 1 – 18/08 at ATS)

State of Maharashtra: Complainant

Thru’ ATS

Sadhwi Pragyan Singh Thakur & Ors: Accused


I, Sadhwi Pragyan Chandrapal Singh Thakur, Age 38 years, Occupation — Nil, residing at 7, Ganga Sagar Apartment, Katodara Road, Surat, Gujarat State do hereby state on solemn affirmation as under:

1. I say that I am a resident of Madhya Pradesh. My parents live in Surat, Gujarat where they shifted residence a couple of years ago. I say that for some years now, I found myself becoming increasingly detached from the material world and correspondingly found tremendous comfort and solace in Spiritualism. Accordingly I decided to renounce the material world and become a Sanyasin. On 30.1.2007, after performing the appropriate Hindu Religious rites and prayers I became a Sadhwi. I say that ever since then, I have been residing in a ashram at Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. My life at the Ashram almost exclusively consisted of prayers, meditation, yoga and the reading of spiritual texts. At the ashram I did not watch TV channels and had practically no access to newspapers.

2. I say that apart from my activities at the ashram, I travelled chiefly around North India for the purpose of religious discourses and sermons. In connection with these latter activities, between 23.9.2008 and 4.10.2008, I was in Indore where I stayed at the residence of one Annaji who is my disciple. In the evening of 4th October, 2008, I returned to my ashram in Jabalpur.

3. I say that on 7.10.2008, when I was at Jabalpur Ashram, I received a call from a police officer from the ATS, Maharashtra, called Mr Sawant, who wanted to know about my LML Freedom vehicle. However, I told him I had sold it long back and not concerned with it. However, he insisted me to come down to Surat as he wanted to question me at length about it. I was reluctant to go to Surat by leaving the Ashram and insisted for him to come down to Jabalpur, but he refused and told me to come down to Surat as early as possible.

4. I further say that accordingly I travelled to Surat by train via Ujjain and arrived at Surat on 10.10.2008 early in the morning and my disciple Shri Bhimbhai Pasricha had to receive me at Railway Station and I went to his place at Atop Nagar.

5. I say that here at about 10 AM, I met officer Mr Sawant who had apparently travelled to Surat to trace the ownership of a LML Freedom two wheeler and I questioned him as to what had happened to my vehicle and why you are asking about it. I say that I it was at this point time, Mr Sawant told me that my vehicle had been allegedly planted with the explosives and subsequently detonated in Malegaon in the last week of September. I also say that it was here for the first time, I came to know that my old vehicle had been allegedly used in Malegaon blast, which was completely shocking to me. I confirmed to Mr Sawant that the LML Freedom 2 wheeler of the colour and number, he mentioned had once belonged to me.

6. I say that in Surat during the course of my interrogation with Mr Sawant, I mentioned to him that the LML Freedom two wheeler once owned by me was subsequently sold to one Sunil Joshi of Madhya Pradesh way back in October, 2004 and that Mr Joshi had paid me Rs 24,000/- for the same. I had also signed the necessary TT Form for RTO transfer in October, 2004 itself. I categorically asserted to Mr Sawant that since October, 2004 I had no control over the vehicle or its movements and usage.

7. I further say that in spite of my answers, Mr. Sawant repeatedly asked me how the vehicle reached Malegaon and how it came to be involved in the bomb blast on 29.9.2008. I repeatedly replied that I could not answer his questions as I had no control of the vehicle since October, 2004.

8. I also say that Mr Sawant however informed me that he did not believe me and that I would have to accompany him and his ATS team to Mumbai for further interrogation and he assured me that after such interrogation I would be free to go back to my ashram.

9. It is significant to mention that I was not formally arrested on 10.10.2008. Even though no formal summons to attend as a Witness was served upon me to make my self available for interrogation in Mumbai, and even though I was within my rights to insist that I be interrogated at the place where I reside ie Jabalpur, trusting Mr Sawant and having nothing to hide, I agreed to accompany the ATS team to Mumbai. I say Mr Sawant told me take my father along with me. However, due to his old age, I told him it was not proper take down him to Mumbai and suggested that my disciple, one Mr Bhimbhai Pasricha, in whose very residence my questioning was being done by the ATS. I further say that at 5.15 PM myself, Mr Pasricha and the ATS officer left Surat and reached Bombay on the very night of 10.10.2008. In Bombay I was taken straight away to the ATS office at Kalachowkie.

10. Thereafter for two days I was detained and interrogated by the ATS team in Mumbai. The questions were repetitive and directed at somehow involving me in the bomb blast in Malegaon on 29.9.2008. My answers remained constant throughout.

11. I further say that on 12.10.2008 the ATS changed the mode of interrogation and became extremely aggressive with me. At first they asked my said disciple Mr Bhimbhai Pasricha to beat me with sticks, belts etc, on my palms, forehands, soles, etc. When Mr Pasricha refused to do so, he was severely beaten by the ATS. Ultimately with the greatest reluctance, he complied with the ATS orders but obviously being my disciple, he exerted the very minimum of force on me. He was then pushed aside by a member of the ATS squad knows as Khanwilkar, who then himself commenced beating me severely with a belt on my hands, forearms, palms, feet, soles, causing me bruises, swelling and contusions in these areas.

12. I say that from the 13th onwards, I say that I was beaten during the day, night and midnight. On two occasions I was even woken up in the early hours of the morning at 4 am and questioned about my knowledge of the blasts. On these occasions, I was beaten by a senior officer having a moustache, whom I can identify. In addition I was subject to vulgar abuse and obscene language by members of the ATS team interrogating me. My Guru was abused and my chastity was questioned. I was physically and verbally traumatised to the extent that I wanted to commit suicide.

13. I further say that on 14th taken out for the examination at a far away place from ATS and was brought back in the afternoon and that I day I had no meeting or even knowledge about Mr Pasricha.

14. I say that on 15th October, after noon, both myself and Mr Pasricha were taken by ATS vehicles to Hotel Rajdoot in Nagpada locality of Mumbai and were kept in Room Nos. 315 and 314 respectively and we were made to sign the Hotel Entry register, however, we did not pay or deposit any money with the hotel manager, which was done by the ATS.

15. I say that after putting into this hotel I was asked to make phone calls from mobile No. 94066 00004 and from one more mobile instrument not belonging to me to speak couple of persons including one of my female disciple and I was asked to say that I was in a hotel in Mumbai and hale & hearty and was doing fine. I say that at that time, I did not know why I was made to say so. I would reveal the name of my female disciple at an appropriate time.

16. I say that as a result of the custodial violence/torture, mental stress, anxiety that were developed in the process, I was subjected to, I developed acute abdominal and kidney pains. I lost my appetite, became nauseous and giddy and prone to having bouts of unconsciousness. In view of this, within few hours after putting in Rajdoot Hospital, I was removed from the ATS office and was taken a hospital which learnt it to be Shusrusha Hospital wherein I was kept in ICU. I say that within half an hour Mr Bhimbhai Pasricha came down to Shushrusha Hospital with some ATS men and my Hospital admission forms, and other medical examination forms, etc were signed by him. I say that Mr Khanwilkar deposited money to the hospital management for me, which I learnt from Mr Bhimbhai. I say that after some time Mr Pasricha left the Hospital along with the ATS men and thereafter I have no contact with of any nature.

17. I say that I underwent a treatment over here for 3 to 4 days. I say that as my condition did not improve, I was taken to another hospital whose name I cannot recall. This hospital consisted of a high rise building where I was treated for 2 to 3 days. I say that no female police constable was by my side either in Hotel Rajdoot or in either of the two hospitals.

18. I say that both at the hotel and the hospitals, I was carried on a stretcher and my face was always covered with a black hood to avoid my face from being seen. From the second hospital, I was brought back to the ATS office at Kalachowkie.

19. I say that I was finally arrested on 23.10.2008 and produced before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Nasik on 24.1.2008. I was remanded to police custody on that date till 3.11.2008. Up to the 24.10.2008 and even sometime thereafter, I was denied access to a Lawyer or any member of my family. A polygraph test was conducted on me while I was in illegal detention prior to 23.10.2008. Thereafter a second polygraph test was conducted on 01.11.2008. On 04.11.2008, after I was remanded to Judicial custody on being presented before Nasik court on 03.11.2008, I also say that a Narco analysis test was also conducted on me.

20. I say that both the lie detector test as well as the Narco analysis test were conducted with out my consent. Never the less all these investigative tests have only established my innocence in the Malegaon bomb blast that took place on 29.9.2008. I finally was allowed to meet my sister Mrs Parthibha Bhagwan Jha on the evening of 02.11.2008, who had brought vakalatnamas of Advocate Ganesh Sovani who was engaged by my sister and her husband Mr Bhagwan Jha and had met him couple times in that week. This meeting was not conducted in private since members of the ATS stood within hearing distance of my sister and myself. I met my Advocate Ganesh Sovani for the first time in the court room of this Hon’ble Court very briefly for 4 to 5 minutes prior to the arguments commencing on my remand application on 03.11.2008.

21. I say that this period of 4 to 5 minutes was too short for me to give complete instructions as to what had transpired from 10th October onwards, about my vehicle, my stay at Kalachowkie, my illegal detention, the ill-treatment mitigated to me by ATS men, the beating job that was forced on my disciple to beat me, but which he carried out reluctantly, without any force, etc. I say that for this reasons, all the details had not reflected in the hand written application that was placed on record by my advocate Mr Sovani, for paucity of time to give all these instructions.

22. I say that on the evening of Wednesday 12.11.2008, I was allowed to meet my Advocate Ganesh Sovani for about 5-6 minutes again in the presence of female staff of Byculla jail. I say that again on 13.11.2008 I was allowed to talk to my said lawyer for 8-10 minutes to give him some more details. Thereafter, on Friday 14.11.2008 evening at about 04.30 PM, I was given nearly 20 minutes to talk to my said lawyer at length, and it was during this period I could narrate my entire ordeal with the ATS which is reproduced hereinabove.

23. I unambiguously state that I am totally innocent of any offence whatsoever. In particular I have no connection with the Malegaon bomb blast of 29.9.2008. While my former ownership of LML Freedom 2 wheeler, which was allegedly used in the Malegaon bomb blast entitled the ATS to interrogate me, that agency was not entitled to subject me to the treatment mentioned hereinabove. Their conduct discloses a blatant violation of statutory provisions of law, custodial abuse and violence, mental and physical torture and prolonged illegal detention. The ATS are fully aware that I am innocent. It appears however that they have a mandate from their political superiors to necessarily implicate me with Malegaon blasts with a view to suggest that Hindu Religious extremists were resorting to terrorism. The prolonged illegal detention, custodial abuse and physical torture were designed to compel me to confess to crimes I had not committed. This attempt of false implication persisted for the entire period between 10.10.2008 and 02.11.2008 . During this entire period I was deliberately isolated from my family and denied access to Lawyers. I say that no arrest panchanama was done after my arrest on 23.10.2008 and I was never asked about the names, addresses and telephone / mobile Nos. details to whom I would like to convey my arrest. I say that attention from my illegal detention was sought to be diverted by the ATS by daily leaking information regarding my involvement which was manifestly false and only indicated the malafide nature of the investigation..

24. I say that While I was thus painted as a sinister mastermind of the Malegaon blasts, a role which has now been subtly reassigned by the ATS to Lt Col Purohit — crippled and vulnerable as I was by the detention, abuse and torture, I could not protest my innocence. Nor was I allowed access to family, friends and Lawyers who could have done so.

25. I say that it is necessary that a detailed enquiry of my illegal detention, custodial torture, etc needs to be done and for which I am ready and willing to get subjected to any such medical test or tests and I also want the ATS officers, who interrogated me, tortured me, etc should also be put to the same tests.

26. I say that the ATS has caused blatant violations of my human rights and I should get a justice and they need to be adequately dealt with as per the provisions of law.

27. In the circumstances I now pray for the following relief:

a) that the ATS be directed to submit an explanation for my detention without authority of law between 10.10.2008 and 23.10.2008;

b). that enquiry/investigation be conducted into my accusation made hereinabove on oath, regarding custodial torture/violence and mental and psychological abuse;

c). that such investigation as referred to in (b) above, include a polygraph test, as well as Narco analysis on me to determine the veracity of my accusations;

d). that such investigation to include a polygraph test and narco analysis on officers of the ATS named by me, and also of those officers whose names, I do not know, but I can identify, for they subjecting me to mental and physical abuse during custody as well as others to be identified by me;

e) that a report be called for from the ATS for the reasons of my admission in two hospitals ( Shusrusha an another) and the medical treatment undergone by me at the said two hospitals;

f) The ATS be directed to disclose the reasons for my stay at Hotel Rajdoot at Mumbai.;

g) For such further and other reliefs as may be fit and proper in the facts and circumstances of the case.

Filed in court on 17.11.2008
Contents Explained to the
Deponent in Hindi &
Confirmed with Deponent.

Identified by me:


Nov 5, 2008

Bhopal Elections 2008 - Thoughts 1

So, it is election time again.
The holiday for most, which comes usually after a gap of four years. If you are fortunate, it comes sooner once in a while, if the government falls premturely. It is a holiday indeed, because most of us do not bother to get into the muck.
What is the point we say, when you have so few options?
It will be either the rogues of this party, or the gundas of the other party.
Following is a synopsis of the candidates that were made available to us to be elected for the year 2004:
Candidates’ Name
Criminal Antecedence
1 Ganesh Satna (8) BJP Public servant disobeying, Public servant framing an incorrect record, Cheating, Forgery of a valuable security, Fraudulently destroying a will.
2 Rajendra Kumar Singh Satna (8) Congress Criminal conspiracy to commit offence punishable with death.
3 Chandramani Rewa (9) BJP Obscene songs, Voluntarily causing hurt, Assault of criminal forces and Voluntarily causing hurt to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty, Rioting armed with deadly weapon, Criminal intimidation.
4 Prahlad Singh Patel Chhindwara (16) BJP Obscene songs, Voluntarily causing hurt, Wrongfully restraining, Mischief and thereby causing damage to the amount of 50 rupees or upwards.
5 Chandrabhan Singh Damoh (7) BJP Dishonestly receiving stolen property, knowing it was obtained by dacoity.

Ashok Vir Vikram Singh Khajuraho (6) SP Rioting armed with deadly weapon, Obscene song, Voluntarily causing hurt, Theft, Criminal trespass, Cheating, Section 39/39A of electricity act.
Indrabhan Yadav Rewa (9) SP Murder

Vijaybahadur Singh Bundela Damoh (7) SP Rioting armed with deadly weapon, Obscene song, Assult or use criminal forces and voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from discharg of his duty, Causing grievous hurt by an act which endangers human life, Wrongfully restraining any person, Criminal intimidation.
9 Naresh Kumar Sagar (5) BSP Rioting armed with deadly weapon, Obscene songs, Attempt to murder, Cheating, Voluntarily causing hurt, Assault or use of criminal forces to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty, Criminal intimidation.
10 Narendra Singh Satna (8) BSP Obscene songs, Voluntarily causing hurt, Rioting.
11 Kankar Munjare Balaghat (12) Janta Party Rioting armed with deadly weapon, Disobedience to an order lawfully promulgated by a public servant, Obscene songs, Voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty, Assault or use of criminal force to public servant from discharge of his duty, Mischief,Ciminal intimidation, Destroying of public property.
12 Vimla Sondhia Rewa (9) Lok Jan Sakti Party Rioting armed with deadly weapon, Obscene songs, Attempt to murder, Voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty, Mischief and thereby causing damage to the amount of 50 rupees or upwards, Criminal trespass, Mischief by fire or explosive substance, Criminal intimidation.
13 Rajeshwari Seoni (15) Godwana Gantantra Party Obscene songs, Rioting, Voluntarily causing hurt Criminal intimidation
14 Dinesh Sahu Chhindwara (16) Independent Obscene songs, Voluntarily causing hurt.
15 Gurubachan Singh Bedi Jabalpur (14) Independent Attempt to murder.
16 Chandrabhan Patel Damoh (7) Independent Assault or use of criminal forces to a women with intent to outrage her modesty, Lurking house-tresspass.
Sadly, this is an accepted fact of the largest democracy of th world. Inspite of the large strides that has been made by India, the fact remains that most of us have retired to a mind set that "to survive in politics, this is what is required". Check out Damoh (7) candidates in the list above for example. The matching of muscle power is almost shamefuly equal. Politics is the ultimate frontier which can be reformed only by infusion of educated persons. As the rot is very deep set, that does not appear to be happening very soon. 
Till that happen, does it have to be a holiday? What is the point in casting/wasting a vote on one of the criminals? Well there is a way available to register your protest against the existing system. As per Mr S. V. Raju, President, Indian Liberal Group (ILG):
Among the reasons for poor voter turnout in the cities, particularly of the middle and upper classes, is the complaint that they have no real choice considering the poor quality of candidates and the poor public image of the parties these candidates represent. Secondly, many citizens believe that their votes are not really going to make a difference.
Since in the ensuing elections there is no provision for indicating rejection of candidates on the ballot, except by invalidating the vote by ambiguous voting – that is, putting the stamp on the line separating one candidate’s name from another -- the Indian Liberal Group recommends a solution that already exists in the Conduct of Election Rules 1961. This not only gives reluctant voters a reasonable choice, but also ensures that their vote does make a difference.
Rule No. 49(O) in the Conduct of Election Rules 1961 says:
“Elector deciding not to vote. - If an elector, after his electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters in Form 17 A and has put his signature or thumb impression thereon as required under sub-rule (1) of rule 49L, decided not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in Form 17A by the presiding officer, and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark. “

In other words, a voter can go to the polling station and tell the presiding officer that s/he does not wish to cast her/his vote. The presiding officer will make a remark that the voter does not wish to vote and take the voter’s signature against his/her name in the register of voters (Form 17A). At the end of the day, the presiding officer will, in totalling the number of votes cast, also include the number of electors who refused to cast their vote. By doing so, voters make it clear to all political parties that they are not satisfied with the kind of candidates put up by them. Though they have done their duty as citizens by going to the polling station, they have not found anyone on the ballot paper who deserves their vote. This is the Protest Vote.
If large numbers of citizens exercise their franchise in this manner, political parties will be forced to be far more careful in ensuring they do not nominate crooks and criminals or incompetents as their candidates next time round. This in turn will see the emergence of honest and committed candidates getting into Parliament and state legislatures in the long run, thus leading the way to good governance.
After the present elections have concluded, the Indian Liberal Group will press for the Protest Vote facility on electronic voting machines the next time round, so that voters have the option to say “None of the Above” after scrutinizing the candidates on the ballot.
(For further information email: Mr S. V. Raju)
The Indian Liberal Group (ILG) is an organisation founded in 1964, by the late Minoo Masani, author and parliamentarian, to promote the Liberal point of view on issues of the day. The ILG aims not only to present the Liberal point of view, but to educate the public about the concept of Liberalism so that it is understood and accepted not merely as a method of economic engineering, but also as a philosophy of governance that promotes a civil society. The ILG seeks to emphasise the fact that a market economy by itself does not ensure an open society; that a free economy and a free society are two sides of the same coin; and that, a free, liberal and democratic society alone will ensure a satisfying standard of life for the people.
Bhopale-SANSAD1 Another Organisation working on the same lines is Association Of Democratic Reforms (ADR), a non-political, non-partisan & non-governmental organisation, they use sunlight to disinfect Indian electoral politics. They compile information about the candidates’ financial and criminal records and share it with the electorate. (The list of candidates given above is from their web site). After filing many Public Interest Litigations, thay have been able to make the Spreme Court Of India declare the following Rights for voters:
  • Every voter/citizen now has a right to know about the criminal, financial, and educational background of the candidates contesting elections to Parliament and the State Assemblies.
  • This background is contained in the affidavit which has to be filed by every candidate along with the nomination form.
  • Every voter/citizen has the right to obtain a copy of the affidavit filed by the candidate.
  • Copies of affidavits can be obtained from the (a) Returning Officer of each constituency, or (b) District Election Officers which usually are the Collectors of each district.
  • Copies of the affidavits filed by the candidates will be supplied to anyone and everyone without discrimination.
Ahead of upcoming state assembly elections in six states, including Delhi, Rajasthan & Chattisgarh, ADR is looking for (paid) volunteers to:
    • Assemble information on contesting candidates (criminal records, assets/liabilities, educational qualifications),
    • Monitor election expenses incurred by electoral candidates and political parties,
    • Disseminate all this information to the public to help them make an informed choice, using a variety of channels such as media, SMS campaigns, e-mailers, etc
Volunteers are expected to put in 8 to 10 hours a day over a two-week period. ADR will pay a small honorarium to cover travel and other expenses.
If you believe you can play a small role in safeguarding India’s democracy, contact Anil Bairwal (email or telephone +91 11 6590 1524).
Cartoon courtesy : Neeraj Gupta

Nov 2, 2008

On The Sadhvi Trail

pragya1Bhind: MADHYA PRADESH
Political education

It is as if in the 15 years since Pragya Singh left Bhind after becoming an ABVP fulltimer, for Ujjain, Indore, Bhopal and Surat, this musty town has not moved at all. The road is still a lurching dirt track with holes. Buildings seem frozen in time, either half-constructed or half-decayed. There is still no industry here. Many Government officials and teachers in Bhind’s colleges reside in Gwalior—as a result, college hours in Bhind’s leading MGS college, where Pragya sat for her MA examinations as one of the college’s unrecorded “private” students, are still said to be determined by the arrival and departure of the local trains running to and from Gwalior.
Dacoits do not come in from the surrounding wilds anymore. The administration claims success in dealing with the menace that long afflicted and long defined Madhya Pradesh’s Chambal belt, particularly the Bhind-Morena region, and even locals concede that the large gangs are gone. But the gun culture remains bluntly in-your-face.
As Bhind begins its preparations for the assembly polls, Pragya Singh—an accused in the Malegaon attack—has come back to haunt the town to which she came to do her post graduation, while working with the ABVP. But Bhind’s politicians are still unsure of how to play the issue of the sadhvi’s arrest early this month on charges of terrorism.
The local BJP oscillates between denial and defiance: “She wasn’t a member of the BJP. The ABVP is a separate organisation. In any case, she severed her connection with this town long ago, and was working in Gujarat when she was arrested by the Maharashtra police,” says Narendra Singh Kushwah, sitting BJP MLA from Bhind. “Of course, if it does become an issue” he says, “it will only benefit the BJP. After all, she is a local girl, and a sadhvi. And then, the charges against Pragya are yet to be proved.”
Congress’s Satyadev Katare, MLA from Ater constituency in Bhind district, says, “If the party takes up the issue at the national level, the BJP will be exposed.” At the same time, he admits, “It is still something new, something that hasn’t happened before.”
The fact is that both the Congress and the BJP in Bhind are waiting to take their cue from Delhi. “The national leadership is still deliberating on the issue,” says Kushwah. Katare is more forthcoming: “The central leadership will decide how to handle this. Then they will tell us,” he says.
The fact also is that both Congress and BJP are aware of their own limits vis-a-vis political mobilisation in Bhind. Here, they say elections are rarely fought on issues or even between the two parties in the fray. This area is long used to its politics being arranged primarily along the Thakur versus Brahmin faultline. “No one works as a party here,” admits Katare. “My own partymen worked against my candidature and for the BJP candidate in the last Lok Sabha election, on caste grounds.”
One thing seems certain: If the Terror charge against Sadhvi Pragya Singh becomes an issue in the elections, it will not be because Bhind took the initiative.
What is also clear is that for now, Bhind is warily tightlipped about the local girl who left to become a sadhvi and now stands accused of being a terrorist. Some of those who worked with her in the ABVP offer a cursory glimpse of a short-haired girl who was “bold” and “fearless”, who dressed in kurta-pyjama “like a man”, rode a motorcycle, and never shrank from a fight.
Mahesh Singh Chauhan, ABVP vibhag pramukh when she was active in the organisation in Bhind, says, “She wouldn’t hesitate to give it back to any boy who misbehaved with any girl.” D.P. Gupta, zilla sanghchalak of the RSS from 1979, remembers her as “daring and dashing, with the ability to rally others behind her”. “She was the only girl from Bhind district to become a fulltimer in the ABVP,” recalls Satyendra Bhadoria, also with her in the ABVP, who went on to later become president of the BJP’s Yuva Morcha.
Bhadoria identifies Pragya from a photograph a friend fishes out from an old album. In the photograph, taken at an ABVP programme in Dhar, Pragya is surrounded by fellow ABVP workers. All of them, Bhadoria points out, went on to assume organisational posts in the state BJP.
She studied in a boys’ school

In Lahar village, about 60 km from Bhind, sandwiched between brightly painted houses on both sides of a narrow lane, is the house where Pragya Singh lived from the time she came to Lahar with her family as a child from Sitapur in neighbouring Datiya district, till she left both Lahar and Bhind as a young woman. The house has been let out on rent ever since the rest of her family shifted to Surat about eight years ago.
Her father, Chandrapal Singh Thakur is well known in the village as an RSS worker—he was tehsil and then zilla pracharak. He ran an ayurveda shop and was president of the village’s poets’ group ‘Paharua’. Two of Pragya’s three sisters ran a beauty parlour inside the house. One of the sisters also taught at the Saraswati Shishu Mandir in the village.
Lahar is about 100 km away from development in every direction—from Gwalior, Jhansi or Etawah in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. It is known, if at all, for the Rawatpura mandir nearby, frequently patronised by Bhopal’s high and mighty, chief ministers and ministers, who come to pay homage to the resident ‘baba’, also known as “Rawatpura sarkar”.
The villagers are visibly prickly, and suspicious of the media. A small crowd gathers outside her house. “Pappi”, as Pragya was known in her neighbourhood, was just an “ordinary” girl, they say. She was “sincere”, and “always regular”, says her school teacher, Hari Shankar Hinnariya, who taught her in Lahar’s Girls Higher Secondary School.
“She wasn’t scared or shy to settle scores there and then”. They talk of how drunks and goondas were afraid to venture into “Didi’s” neighbourhood.
In his small baithak, advocate Asharam Sharma, senior in the RSS to Pragya’s father, says, “Lahar is only paying for its past infamy. It has been looked at with suspicion for being located in the Chambal region.” The case against Pragya Singh is a “conspiracy”. “There is no ‘Hindu terror,’” says the RSS veteran, “If there was Hindu terror, there would have been no Islamic Terror in the first place.”
Devendra Tripathi, advocate and president of the block Congress committee in Lahar, has prepared a one-page note on Pragya Singh for his seniors in the Congress in Delhi. In sentences that run into each other without full stops, it blandly lists information about the family that migrated to Madhya Pradesh many decades ago from UP. Tripathi remembers Pragya as “different… the only girl in Lahar to give speeches from the village’s Lohia chauraha”.
Abhilak Singh, who runs a photo studio in the village market, became her “rakhi-brother” after she joined his class in the boys’ school because the girls’ school didn’t go beyond class 10. He, too, remembers Pragya as “bold”. She participated in the local agitation for a degree college in the village in 1990, he recalls, and went to Ayodhya with a batch of kar sevaks in 1992. A state-level kabaddi player, she also did a physical training diploma from Bilaspur—something she made use of later in Ujjain where she taught in a school as a PT teacher.

Moving out from Bhind, Pragya spent some time in Indore, Dewas, Jabalpur and Bhopal, before shifting to Surat where her family lives. In Indore, she was one of the prominent religious figures at a massive Koti Chand Yagna organised by former MP education minister Laxman Singh Gaud, a couple of months before he died in a road accident. She was spotted in a photograph among senior BJP leaders, including party president Rajnath Singh and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
After his death in February, she spent considerable time at one of his homes—she also stayed with a couple of his relatives. Gaud’s wife Malini admits Pragya lived in one of their homes in Indore. “She is a nice girl. I don’t think she can do anything like this.”
The most vocal support for her has come from Kailash Vijayvargiya, the PWD minister who is also the official spokesman of the state BJP government. “The prime minister said he could not sleep when Dr Hanif was arrested in Australia. Why is he not saying anything even when there is no evidence against the Sadhvi,” he asks. The minister claimed he had first met the sadhvi at an event, to which she was invited by HRD minister Arjun Singh’s son Ajay. The Congress leader is a follower of the Sadhvi’s Guru, Swami Avdheshanandji.

Pragya stayed for five months last year in a rented bungalow in Surat’s Ganga Sagar Society, where she gave religious speeches and held satsangs.
Before she moved out of Surat, she took bungalow No. 19 on rent for her parents. It was from here that Pragya was arrested and it’s here that Pragya’s younger sister Pratibha and her husband Bhagwan Jha live. Pratibha runs a beauty parlour in the Model township area of Godadara, Surat.
Bungalow No. 25, where Pragya lived a year ago, is owned by a textile businessman, Ghanshyambhai. “I had taken a deposit of Rs 10,000 from Pragya and had fixed a monthly rent of Rs 2,500. She stayed at my flat from December 2006 to April 2007.”
According to Chandrapal Singh Thakur, the sadhvi’s father, his daughter is a motorcycle enthusiast. “After buying a new motorcycle in Surat, she took it everywhere she went. She kept a motorcycle at Bhind where she had close contacts with the RSS leaders. She always tells us she will fight injustice and will die fighting injustice.”
Pragya, the third of Chandrapal’s five children, is venerated and has her photograph sharing space with those of the Gods in the family puja room.
(Vandita Mishra, With MILIND GHATWAI and KAMAL SAIYED)

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