Masters Of The Status Quo

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Inexperienced New CM Ashok Chavan is being seen as someone not in full charge of his team, Photo: Trilochan S Kalra

HAVING COME under intense public censure for insufficient security provisions in light of the 26/11 terror attack, the Maharashtra Government seems to be faring no better under the change of guard that was brought in to salvage the situation. The new faces, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal and Home Minister Jayant Patil, have already been written off as misfits for their posts. Also found wanting is the Chavan-led 66-member committee set up to assess the state’s security situation and make recommendations on enhancing security measures. Filled not only with defence officials and journalists but, incongruously, CEOs of private companies, film directors and writers such as Javed Akhtar and Piyush Pandey, the council was envisioned as functioning through sub-committees formed according to the members’ respective areas of specialisation. Senior police and administrative officials, serving and former, are not impressed and have been openly wondering what exactly the luxury hoteliers, filmmakers and lyricists on the council are to contribute. “The committee has been formed because of the Bombay High Court’s directive to appoint a new body in addition to the State Security Commission,” says former Director General of Police Julio Ribeiro. “So, basically, this is just an attempt to tell the people that we are doing what we have been told to.”

Keeping in mind criticism over the failure to implement police reform and the glaring ill-preparedness of an underequipped force in tackling terror attacks, Chavan has made several promises over the weeks since 26/11. In a committee of the Group of Ministers (GOM) overseen by Bhujbal, Rs 90 crore was allotted for the modernisation of the police force, including an outlay for such rudimentary purchases as speedboats, GPS systems, lifejackets and ring guards. Ribeiro doubts, though, that the funds will go very far toward their intended destination. “The last time funds were allotted to the state, most of them went into buying cars which were used by policemen and their families. You can’t get away by just allotting funds. It has to be checked to see whether they are being used for the right purpose; someone has to take accountability for them.” Bhujbal’s response, however, was, “We give the funds and we believe that the police will do its job.”

POLITICAL ANALYSTS also fault the new Cabinet on a lack of expertise. Maharashtra Times Editor Bharat Kumar Raut says, “The committees are nothing but an eyewash. Ashok Chavan is a virtual non-entity who was extremely inefficient during his stint as industries minister, a period when not a single industry came to the state, including the NANO plant.” Opposition parties in the state are looking to the forthcoming elections to cash in on the poor public perception of the CM. Speaking to TEHELKA, BJP General Secretary Gopinath Munde said, “They are forming police committees and Intelligence Bureau (IB) committees with new people and plan to train them. Training freshers will take two to three years, before which their tenure will come to an end. After such a terrible performance in the state, no one will vote them back in. So the entire plan will then go for a big toss.”

The Opposition is not alone in its criticism of the IB committee, formed to identify lapses made by law and order agencies and to ensure the right flow of information. Intelligence unit officials, however, have told TEHELKA that it has not made much of a difference and that they do not, in fact, understand the need for it. An IB officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “There used to be meetings earlier as well in which the passage of information used to happen. No meeting has specifically happened after the committee was formed to tackle the situation.” When asked about the induction of new talent for an intelligence team, he said, “There are enough people in the police force who are efficient enough and know the city and its criminal underbelly. What would people who don’t know the operations of the underworld do in swanky offices?”

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THE PROBLEM

Chief Minister Chavan, Deputy Chief Minister Bhujbal and Home Minister Patil are seen as unfit for office

The Chief Minister set up a 66-member security committee under pressure from the Bombay High Court

The Security Committee has been severly criticised for having filmmakers, lyricists, and hoteliers among its members

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The Home Minister and the CM have also been accused of not being able to feel the pulse of the people. As Raut puts it, “A Home Minister needs to be in tune with the police force and the various security agencies, and have a thorough understanding of how they work. At a time when the city has just faced its worst-ever attack, you have a Home Minister who is completely at odds with the situation.” Echoes a senior police official who spoke to TEHELKA on condition of anony – mity, “What do you say about a person who can’t differentiate between a Deputy Superintendent and an ACP?”

Moneyman Chhagan Bhujbal has given Rs 90 crore for security needs
Photo: Deepak Salvi

The minister, who has severe challenges lying ahead of him, has been seen making things worse for himself by his inability to avoid a tendency to footin- mouth syndrome, most recently displayed in his terming the recent attacks on Pakistani artistes in Mumbai an expression of public sentiment. A state Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader tried to laugh it off, saying, “What do we do? I guess all our members need first to be taught about public speaking.” But on a more serious note, he then said his party had no option. “Tell me if there was anyone else in the NCP who could be made a Home Minister? Who do we have? Everyone now says that RR Patil was a better person, but at that point of time [post-26/11], we had to remove him.”

Meanwhile, Maharashtra’s ruling coalition seems to be running two parallel governments. Both the NCP and the Congress have left no stone unturned in pointing fingers at each other, even in public. The choice of Chavan as CM has displeased many Congress leaders in the state, but they have had to bow to the consensus demand. With elections due in Maharashtra in a few months, politicians have been busy attending party meets and rallies across the region, giving them little time to concentrate on the committees they set their approval to such a short while ago. Bhujbal, who was almost edged out of the party after he figured in the Telgi controversy, has seen an opportunity for a new lease of political life and wishes to make the best use of the position to strengthen his base. So, where does this leave Maharashtra and its supposed challenges? It seems for now that the state will have to make do with the committees and wait for the day a foolproof plan to protect all citizens and avert another attack and, possibly, another set of ministers.

WRITER’S EMAIL
rana@tehelka.com

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