Sunday, March 8, 2009

From Jail to Freedom Park: Revisiting an excruciating and exhilarating experience in my life

I have been traveling constantly these days. Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh; 15 February), Madanapally (Andhra Pradesh; 27 February) and Bidar (Karnataka; 28 February) were, respectively, the places where I addressed my 31th, 32st and 33rd Vijay Sankalp Rallies. My party asked me to tour the entire country as a part of its mass contact programme, prior to the formal election campaign, and organized my first Vijay Sankalp Rally in Jabalpur in February 2008. These rallies have taken me to practically every part of the country, from Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh to Calicut (Kozhikode) in Kerala, and from Dumka in Jharkhand to Vashim in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra.

In the last week alone, I have traveled to Gandhinagar in Gujarat, which is my own Lok Sabha constituency; to Mumbai, where my party workers donated to me a purse of Rs. 11.11 crore, collected from nearly 50,000 donors, towards the election fund; to Bangalore, where I addressed an anti-terrorism rally of over one lakh students, and to Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh where I participated in a large rally organized by the Scheduled Castes Morcha of the BJP.

Although every event gave me deep satisfaction, there was one that brought alive many precious and deeply cherished memories associated with a defining period not only in my personal life but also in the life of India. It was when I was invited by the Government of Karnataka to inaugurate the Freedom Park in Bangalore on 27th February. This is where Bangalore Central Jail was located until recently; the jail has now been shifted to another place on the outskirts of the city. And this is the prison where I spent almost the entire period of 19 months during the Emergency (from June 1977 to January 1979). Rohtak in Haryana was the other place where I was imprisoned for a few weeks during the Emergency.

With B.S. Yeddyurappa, Chief Minister of Karnataka; Ananth Kumar, MP and BJP

With B.S. Yeddyurappa, Chief Minister of Karnataka; Ananth Kumar, MP and BJP general secretary, and others at the inauguration of the Freedom Park on 28th February, 2009

Lucky and blessed

One must be truly lucky and blessed by the Almighty to be in the same place in two contrasting roles at two different points in one’s life - first as a political prisoner in a jail and then to be called upon to inaugurate the same jail transformed into Freedom Park. It was a moment that touched a chord deep within me. I can’t forget those most excruciating 19 months. Just as I can’t forget the most exhilarating victory of democracy, under the leadership of the venerable Jayaprakash Narayan, that followed the end of the Emergency.

With two former CMs of Karnataka, Ramakrishna Hegde and J.H. Patel, in front

With two former CMs of Karnataka, Ramakrishna Hegde and J.H. Patel, in front

It is here that I, along with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Madhu Dandavate, HD Deve Gowda, J.H. Patel, Ramakrishna Hegde and many others were imprisoned. JP, other stalwarts of the opposition such as Moraraji Desai and Chandra Shekhar, and tens of thousands of intrepid anti-Emergency fighters were lodged in jails across the country. As I have stated in my autobiography My Country My Life, democracy itself was imprisoned by the Congress government headed by Smt. Indira Gandhi, who had declared that “the nation was more important than democracy”. The entire network of mass media, including the all-pervasive All India Radio (AIR), was harnessed with the primary objective of brainwashing people into believing that liberty, civil rights, press freedom and judicial independence were all elitist concepts which had nothing to do with the common man’s welfare and that the nation should show gratitude to the Congress government for the Emergency transformation wrought by it.

An illustration from my autobiography 'My Country My Life'

An illustration from my autobiography 'My Country My Life'

A walk down memory lane

After cutting the ceremonial ribbon to declare the Freedom Park open, my walk in what were previously jail premises turned into a walk down memory lane. I remembered the truly epic legal battles that were fought in defence of the sanctity of the Indian Constitution, which was badly mauled by Indira Gandhi’s government. (The government not only destroyed the basic structure of the Constitution but even postponed the Lok Sabha elections by a year.) Deep gratitude and admiration welled up in my mind for the legal and judicial luminaries - Nani Palkhiwala, Mohammed Currim Chagla, H.R. Khanna, K.S. Hegde, V.R. Krishna Iyer and others - who refused to bend before the arrogant abusers of law. With similar admiration I remembered the courageous journalists - Kuldip Nayar, Nikhil Chakravartty, Raj Thapar, Shankar of Shankar’s Weekly, and Abu Abraham, one of India’s greatest political cartoonists - and also newspaper owners like Ramnath Goenka who made their profession proud by holding aloft the torch of press freedom.

Cover of my book 'A Prisoner's Scrapbook', written from inside the Bangalore

Cover of my book 'A Prisoner's Scrapbook', written from inside the Bangalore Central Jail during the Emergency

I remembered the bravery of countless underground activists of the RSS and the Lok Sangharsh Samiti formed by JP, who produced and circulated anti-Emergency literature clandestinely throughout the country. I remembered the many books I read in the jail’s surprisingly well-stocked library - amongst them William Shirer’s classic The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a definitive and widely acclaimed account of Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler. I had used this book as a reference point for the booklet titled A Tale of Two Emergencies, which I wrote as my own humble contribution to the underground pro-democracy literature. This and four other underground essays in defence of democracy I wrote in Bangalore jail subsequently became part of my book A Prisoner’s Scrapbook, which was published after the Emergency was lifted.

I also remembered some lighter moments of jail life. We were housed in two large-sized rooms facing each other. Shyamnandan Mishra and Dandavate occupied one of the rooms and Atalji and I shared the other. The jail authorities gave us utensils, crockery, foodstuff-cereals and vegetables-in accordance with the specifications laid down in the prison manual. Atalji volunteered to supervise the cooking. You will see that the Lok Sabha Who’s Who lists ‘cooking’ among his hobbies. The food he cooked was simple but wholesome.

What did I miss the most during that long stay in jail? My family. My children, Jayant and Pratibha, were young and the burden of running the family in Delhi, with meager resources, was entirely borne by my wife Kamla.

‘They can steal your freedom, but can’t take away your hope’

I entered the jail on the morning of 26 January 1977. I was released on 18 January 1977. The entry in my diary on that day recorded something which is still etched in my mind. After being informed by the jailer that I was going to be released, when I returned to my room for the last time, “I found a heap of letters lying on my table. They are more than 600, all of them from abroad, sent by members or associates of Amnesty International. Most of them are Christmas or New Year greeting cards, but there is a line or two inscribed on each, which gave strength, confidence and hope to all of us engaged in the struggle. Here is a sample-a Christmas greeting from one Laurie Hendricks from Amsterdam. She wrote:

Freedom and hope don’t go hand in hand.
They can steal your freedom, but can’t take away your hope.

Yes, they stole the freedom of 600 millions, but they just could not destroy their hope!”

The sad saga of the Emergency ended with the thrilling triumph of democracy, when the people effected a neat ballot-box coup. An electoral massacre of the Congress party took place, and a government of the Janata Party, headed by Morarji Desai, was installed in New Delhi. I am proud that I could play a role in this transformation. As Minister of Information & Broadcasting in that government, it was principally my task to dismantle the elaborate and legally sanctified edifice of a shackled press, which was one of the most hated aspects of the Emergency.

Front view of the Freedom Park in Bangalore

Front view of the Freedom Park in Bangalore

I congratulate Karnataka’s Chief Minister Shri B.S. Yeddyurappa and the Bangalore Municipal Corporation for converting the 21-acre Central Jail premises into a memorial honouring the crusaders for Indian independence and the Defenders of Democracy. I would like it to become one of the major tourist attractions of Bangalore, a place of pilgrimage for all lovers of freedom, democracy, independence of the judiciary and the media, and civil liberties. And also a place that serves as a permanent warning to those who might harbour the evil thoughts of bringing India yet again under the jackboots of authoritarian rule.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Women would play a crucial role in the development of Gujarat: Chief Minister

Dedicates Bhadar-linked group water supply scheme for 30 villages

Distributes aids and benefits to women under various welfare and development schemes

Chief Minister Shri Narendrabhai Modi has called upon the Nari-Shakti of Gujarat to play a crucial role in State's development. State Government has undertaken slew of measures to empower the womenfolk. Women are engaged in economic activities. They are also playing an important role in the administrative process. Chief Minister was addressing a women mega convention at Dhoraji today.

Chief Minister distributed aids, benefits, and tools to women beneficiaries under various welfare and development schemes. Shri Narendrabhai Modi dedicated Bhadar-2 linked group water supply scheme. Rs 13 crore water supply project would provide drinking water supply to 30 villages. When water supply gets erratic, womenfolk face the hardships of water scarcity. For long term solutions to water crisis in rural areas, Water committees are formed in thousands of villages. Such committees' functions under women leadership, they look after water distribution and maintenance.

Anganvadies are playing very important role in child development. The Anganwadi workers are given uniforms by State Government. Recently formed Yashoda Gaurav Nidhi ensures dignity and respect to retiring Anganwadi workers. From the corpus, Anganwadi workers would get retirement benefits up to Rs.1.75 lakhs.

Chiranjeevi scheme has saved the lives of poor mothers and children. UNICEF and commonwealth countries are impressed by its success. Now Bal-Sakha scheme takes care of new born babies. The healthcare expenditure of mothers and children up to one year is to be borne by State Government. A people's movement is launched to tackle malnutrition in pregnant mother and children. People are donating Sukhadi.

As a revolving fund for 356 self help women groups, Shri Narendrabhai Modi handed over a cheque of Rs. 17.80 lakhs. He also distributed sewing machines to the beneficiaries, gave way a cheque of Rs.2.33 lakh under Balika Samrudhdhi scheme. He had given away a cheque to the president of water committee as self reliance reward.

Revenue Minister Smt Anandiben Patel said, “Under the leadership of Chief Minister, separate department is formed .With the outlay of Rs.1000 crores, it has operationlised various welfare and development schemes for women. Integrated child development project falls under the purview of Women and Child Welfare department. Training is given to 10000 women for making them self reliant.

Water Resources Minister Shri Nitinbhai Patel said that gone is the era, when water was being supplied to villages by water tankers. The drinking water grid laid across the State provides drinking water to 10346 villages and 112 towns. Out of 18000 villages, 10000 villages would get water of Narmada.

M.P. Shri Haribhai Chaudhari ,MLA Smt Jashumatiben Korat, Former M.P. Shri Bhavanaben Dave, Shri Madhuben Patel, Chairman Social Welfare Board Smt Jayshriben Patel also addressed the convention.

Consultation with experts UPA’s foreign policy an abject failure

Shri L.K. Advani, prime ministerial candidate of the BJP and NDA, today held an interaction at his residence with foreign policy experts on the challenges and opportunities before India in the emerging new international order. The experts’ consensus was that the UPA Government’s foreign policy in the past five years has been an abject failure.
If I were to sum up the opinion expressed by the participants, it would be as follows::
• India’s autonomy in the conduct of foreign policy has been seriously undermined.
• Although India should continue to have close and multi-dimensional friendship with the United States, the UPA Government ignored the fundamental truth that the US foreign policy is guided primarily by its own national interests and that India must do what is in India’s national interest. The abandonment of autonomy was most evident in two issues: handling the menace of Pak-sponsored terrorism and the Indo-US nuclear deal.
• The UPA Government has been derelict in its duty by neglecting India’s vital internal security interests, as is evident in the manner in which it turned a blind eye to illegal immigration from Bangladesh and to the Maoist insurgency in Nepal.
• The UPA Government’s neighbourhood policy has been a disaster. Under its rule, our neighbourhood turned more unfriendly towards India than at any time in the past sixty years, Nepal and Sri Lanka being the most striking examples.
• Under UPA’s rule, India’s relations with a traditional ally like Russia were downgraded, as a result of which they considerably lost their warmth and closeness. Indeed, the quality of India’s relations with all the major allies has suffered due to a lack of focus and commitment.
• The momentum and vigour that the Vajpayee government had introduced in India’s relations with Iran and countries in Central Asia and also in its Look East Policy have disappeared.
• The UPA Government failed to engage countries in Africa and Latin America, thereby impairing the strength of India’s global diplomacy and also the opportunities in economic diplomacy.
• The current crisis in the global economy presents major challenges and opportunities before India. The UPA Government has left India unprepared in this vital area. There is an urgent need for India to engage the international community for restructuring of the global financial institutions for stable, equitable and sustainable growth of the world economy.
Speaking on the occasion, Shri Advani said, “This meeting is a continuation of the series of interactions I have had in recent months with captains of industry and business, kisan leaders, representatives of the security and strategic affairs community, eminent economists and experts in social sector development. Almost all of them had opined that the UPA Government has been a failure in their respective areas. This opinion has been endorsed again by experts in foreign policy.”
Shri Advani added, “In our campaign for the forthcoming parliamentary elections, we will highlight the UPA’s failures, among other things, in foreign policy. At the same time, we will assure the people that, if the NDA gets their mandate, our government will pursue a muscular and farsighted foreign policy aimed at preserving India’s autonomy, securing our national interests in the neighbourhood, and promoting our strategic interests in the emerging new world.”
The BJP was represented at the meeting also by Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad, MP and BJP spokesman; Shri N.N. Jha, India’s former ambassador in Sri Lanka and Shri Vijay Kapoor, former Lt. Governor of Delhi.

Countdown to general election 2009 - south india - a thousand options

South India does not follow any trend. With regional parties at helm, It will be interesting to see possible breakups and marriages. Read detailed analysis.
Andhra Pradesh (42): Andhra politics is in state of constant turmoil. TDP is trying to gain its lost ground. BJP is trying to make inroads by supporting telangana demand. TRS is in disarray. Congress is facing a strong anti-incumbency and opposition in telangana region. Most likely situation is TDP and Congress getting 18 each, TRS and BJP both getting 3-3. Newly formed Chiranjeevi’s party can disturb all equation. We should remember great performance by NTR in his first election. History can repeat itself. If Chiranjeevi get votes then it will be on cost of congress and TDP.
Karnataka (28): Karnataka BJP is looking to make this state a BJP clean sweep, but new developments between JDS and Congress can make road difficult for BJP and can reverse the mandate in this three party state. If situation continue as of now and all three major parties fight election alone, BJP is likely to win 18 seats, Congress grabbing 7 and JDS 3 seats. But nobody can rely on Mr. Devegauda. He can change any stance any time. So let us watch.
Kerala (20): Kerala was a shock to Congress in 2004 election, as they end up getting nothing out of this state. Though BJP is trying hard to win some votes in this southernmost state by relying on RSS, but still it is a two way fight between UPA and Left. This election is most likely to be split between the two. As the time passes, congress is gradually gaining ground. If election happens at scheduled time Congress can secure 8, and left 12 seats.
Tamil Nadu (40): Tamil Nadu is politically most interesting state in south India right now. Congress and BJP can win 1 seat each. If BJP allies with Jayalalita, then they have chance to win 1 more seat. As MDMK gone and now PMK ready to Mr. oldman is in big danger to loosing it to Amma. AIDMK is likely to win 20 seats this time, leaving 18 seats for DMK, MDMK, PMK. These three party are going to lose big time by fighting among each other. DMK could end up with 12 seats, PMK, MDMK 3 seats each. It will be interesting to see, whether any of PMK, MDMK joins ranks with Jayalalita or BJP. BJP and AIDMK will most likely form a pre poll alliance.
This completes our south India analysis and final tally is
Total seats: 130
BJP: 22
This gives NDA total as 42
INC: 34
DMK: 12
This gives UPA total as 46
TDP: 18
TRS: 03
JDS: 03
Left: 12
MDMK: 03
PMK: 03