My reply to Maharashtra CM

By Rajdeep Sardesai
23 September 2015 13:08 IST

Dear Devendraji,

Firstly, I wish to thank you for replying to my open letter and creating space for a public debate. This is a sign of a truly healthy democracy and is rare for a politician in this day and age. I truly appreciate  that a big politician chooses to reply to a humble columnist: doesn't happen too often in an age where the media is a soft target. However, while I do not wish this to become a tu to main main, I must reserve the right to reply.

Sir, there are four basic issues that I raised in my original letter to which you have responded. Firstly, the meat and beef ban in Maharashtra. On the beef ban, the fact is that your government has imposed a statewide ban in a unilateral manner with no attempt to engage with the stakeholders. The results are there for all to see. Thousands of people associated with the cattle trade have overnight been rendered unemployed. They are all citizens of this country, many of whom voted for you in the last election. I haven't heard a word of empathy for their plight ( a number of them belong to the minority community but let's not go down there for now). Should I not ask as a journalist what useful public purpose has been served by this ban? Or does asking questions make me agenda driven?

The issue of a meat ban has a more chequered past. Yes, previous governments of the Congress-NCP, be it at the state or municipal level, have sought to impose bans on meat sale during the Jain festival. Under pressure from the Jain community, attempts have been made by your predecessors (and I mention this in my article without citing the dates) in 1994, 2003-04 and 2014 through government resolutions, but these were never widely enforced (the 94 order, for example, was never carried out), were often driven by a spirit of voluntarism (an ‘’appeal” was made to close meat shops) and nor did they initially last beyond two days (although the August 2014 Government resolution did seek to extend it to four days). It is only this year that the BJP dominated Mira-Bhayandar municipal corporation imposed an unprecedented eight day ban on meat sale and strictly enforced it. Taking a cue, a group of BJP MLAs,   councillors and Jain community persons met the municipal commissioner and sought to extend this to Mumbai city and have a similar eight day ban on meat sale across the city. It is only when the Shiv Sena and MNS opposed this, that your local leaders were forced to back off because they couldn't muster a majority.


The message is clear and this was the point I was making: the state BJP wanted to impose, indeed was pushing to impose,  a ban much wider in scope and ambit than in the past And if I ask questions in this regard, am I agenda-driven or pseudo-secular or simply reflecting the concerns of a large section of the population who do not appreciate the ban culture, be it by a BJP government or a Congress government? 

Lets turn to Rakesh Maria and the musical chairs played with the police commissioner's office. You claim that his sudden transfer was necessitated by the rush of festivals: a new man was needed to oversee the festival arrangements. Truth is, almost no senior police officer I have spoken to is willing to buy this theory. Those who have retired have openly scoffed at this explanation, those in service are naturally hesitant to speak out. The conjecture is that Mr Maria's transfer has something to do with the ongoing Sheena Bora investigation or a personal animus. You seem to suggest that his role as commissioner in a murder case was purely supervisory. Maybe it was, or should be. But the fact is, your government after transferring him to DG Home Guards in the morning, the very same evening claims that he will continue to oversee the Bora investigation. This, even as a new police commissioner and another  fine officer Ahmed Javed takes charge. Can there be anything more confusing? Then, to compound the confusion, your government now decides to suddenly hand over the Bora case to the CBI. The Mumbai police claimed in court that it had clinching evidence while seeking remand against the accused; then why is the case being transferred out? Is the Mumbai police incompetent, is there a cover-up, or is the case throwing up new dimensions which perhaps might need fresh investigation? Is a journalist not to ask such questions without his motives being questioned?

Let's turn to the issue of sedition and a government circular. You claim that the circular is a routine translation from Marathi of an order passed by the previous state government. Your reply seems to suggest that the role of  the present government is little more than clerical that requires no application of mind to a serious issue. Well, all I can say is that on Tuesday, the Mumbai high court gave a very different spin to this issue: on a petition by cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, they have asked your government not to implement the circular for now and asked you to reply by the20th of October. Since the matter is now before the esteemed court, maybe we should wait to see how they interpret the government circular: clearly, this round has been won by those who are worried that the circular can be misused by the police. Also, if you are not in agreement with the sedition circular why did your government not withdraw it? `Sedition’ is hardly a weapon to be used in the armoury of a democratic government which should welcome debate and disagreement. Why did your government re-issue this circular? And if I point to this potential for misuse, am I being agenda driven or simply doing my duty as a journalist?

The fourth issue is one which is dear to your and my heart: the plight of the farmers, especially in Marathwada at the moment. As a politician from Vidarbha, I know you empathise with farmers issues; I am aware that you took a lead role in exposing the irrigation scam when in opposition. And I am also aware of your efforts through the Jal Yukta Shivir Yojana to try and improve the situation on the ground. The facts though are that 729 farmers have committed suicide since January in Marathwada alone, more than any other part of  the country, and tanker mafias and usurious money-lenders continue to rule. Yes, this is an inherited legacy (and I refer to the irrigation failures and comments made by previous ministers in my original letter), but on the ground there is hardly any evidence of the situation showing any marked improvement. Maybe, if your micro-irrigation schemes do work, then in the long run, there will be change. But for now, there is a deepening crisis. Should I not be asking you, therefore, to prioritise farm relief above all else? And should I not also ask what happened to the election promise of ensuring that those involved in the irrigation scam are punished? Or is asking hard questions in this age of cheerleaders and unbridled Bhakti, no longer acceptable?

My final point sir: in your response, at various points you call me a 'leftist', `pseudo secular’, and ‘biased’. You also rather derisively placed the word senior, as in senior journalist, in inverted commas. Personal attacks are now par for the course;  27 years of journalism have helped me acquire the skin of a rhinoceros. Over the years, I have been attacked by one and all: in 1992-93, Sharad Pawar, also a former Maharashtra CM, threw me out of a press conference because of the questions I asked on the Mumbai riots. Ten years later, my coverage of the 2002 riots led to my being attacked again. I have stood up against all forms of extremism, Hindu and Muslim, and am suspicious of  all  dogmas, be it of left or right. I have exposed Congress corruption (as editor of a news channel, I supervised the path-breaking investigative story on the Quattorochi accounts being defrozen), and sangh parivar hate politics, Mulayam’s goondaism (for which I was summoned to the UP state assembly) and Mayawati’s disproportionate assets (for which our OB van was burnt). Please do go through my columns over the last two decades, especially on Maharashtra politics, a state whose social and political decline I have observed with dismay.

I am happy to introspect, be corrected, but dislike being pigeonholed in any manner, except to say that I do believe in the spirit of a liberal, plural India that strives to provide equal opportunities to all its citizens. Does that make me a “Leftist?” as you appear to caricature all dissenters or questioners?  If I question any form of bigotry, does that make me pseudo-secular? In my view, it makes me a proud, humane Indian.

Post-script: I must also thank all your followers who ensured I trended all through Tuesday on twitter. Their constant abuse gives me strength. Look forward to meeting soon! Jai Maharashtra, jai Hind!


Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Rajdeep Sardesai

One of India’s most respected journalists, Rajdeep Sardesai, has nearly three decades of journalistic experience in print and tv. He has been the founder- editor of chief of IBN 18 network, which included CNN IBN. Prior to setting up the IBN network, he was the managing editor of NDTV 24 x 7 and NDTV India. Rajdeep has won more than 100 national and international awards for journalism, including the Padma Shri in 2008. He is currently consulting editor at the India Today group.

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Previous Comments

Hello Rajdeep,

First of all congratulations to you for being a "true" journalist by highlighting the issues that you have done in the initial article. Hats off to you, and especially to have a CM of a state- that too such as Maharashtra- replying to your letter makes it all the more prestigious and highlights your status. Credit should also be given to Mr. Fadnavis to have the courage and humility to reply to your letter, and being crystal clear with his view- which you have to admit a very rare (or is it a first?) reaction from a politician at that level. After putting you on the "harbarachya zhaddavar", i would take the liberty of saying that you went a bit too far by replying in your defense. Granted your reply is true and answers and clarifies your stand, however, a journalist of your calibre should have refrained from doing so, in the form of a written reply in the print/electronic media. Was it a matter of satisfying your ego? Well after all these years of being at this level of journalism, you could and should have done better, since you do not have to prove your credentials to any one in this country. A plain reply in which you could thank the CM and invite him to debate- which of course is your prowess- would have been the apt response,

Post script: This is no way diminishes your credentials, and you still stand high in the realms of Indian journalism- except for the times you yell too much in the microphone. Waiting to read more interesting stories and real journalism from a fellow Goan.

- Jaret de Silva, Goa | 26 th September 2015 01:27


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