Sunday, February 12, 2017

The curious case of Meghalaya Governor and 'women': Thy Shall n’t err Your Excellency!

Guest Column

(from Swati Deb)

What comes to the fore due to Shillong Raj Bhawan-vis-a-vis molestation charge is many of the Sanghparivar elements are unable to handle fame, glory and power. With regard J P Rajkhowa, then Arunachal Praesh Governor, the debate was constitutional - mainly about the powers and responsibilities of the gubernatorial post, but with Shanmuganathan episode the issue is around morality. And that's sad!
The Guest Blogger
In 2015 just a few days before his appointment as Governor of Meghalaya, V. Shanmuganathan, then a secretary in BJP parliamentary wing, said softly that he would like to read ‘The Statesman’ and other newspapers from eastern India more seriously as soon he would be traveling to the east. Little did anyone realize that within two years, the press will be up his throat. Shanmuganathan is the second Governor from northeastern region under the Modi government to hit headlines - all for wrong reasons.

In fact, the 67-year-old politician, also a bachelor and a former RSS 'pracharak' joins the illustrious (sic) league of past Governors in northeastern states who had their share of controversy. In the past Romesh Bhandari had made news in Tripura while the likes of Oudh Narayan Shrivastava and M M Thomas had their share of the blame in Manipur and Nagaland respectively. Lok Nath Mishra and his ADC ‘Captain Raina’ also made news in the Raj Bhawan of Kohima in 1992-93.  

Shillong Raj Bhavan
For the Modi government, in 2015-16, the then Arunachal Pradesh Governor J P Rajkhowa, who ultimately was replaced, had hit the headlines when he made way for a BJP-backed dispensation. The move earned the Modi government a strong rebuke. With regard Rajkhowa, the debate was constitutional - mainly about the powers and responsibilities of the gubernatorial post, but with Shanmuganathan episode the issue is more revolving around morality; and that’s pretty embarrassing for Modi, BJP and RSS – as all three from time to time do not mind playing moral police to Indian citizenry.
At one point of time, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had sought to describe the Governor's post as that of a 'Raj Rishi' -- the moral guiding force behind the seat of power in states. That way, Shanmuganathan episode is certainly a strong anti-thesis to what Vajpayee had propounded. This is only to re-establish a fact that moderate Hindutva progressive views of Atal Behari Vajpayee probably do not have enough space in today’s world under the incumbent regime – fondly called NDA-2.

One would not like to make a moral judgement on the former Governor Shanmuganathan, who had to resign rather unceremoniously as the Raj Bhavan staff in Shillong had written to the Prime Minister on the questionable conduct of his.
Among a series of charges against Shanmuganathan, the Raj Bhavan staff complained that: "The Governor's immoral activities in relation to women is well known and can be verified from the Staff of Raj Bhawan....".
Acting quickly and avoiding controversies, the BJP top leadership ordered him to tender his resignation. 

The BJP sources, without doubt, admit the episode has left the party red-faced.
However, slowly a few twists in the tale are also unfolding. Perhaps to the surprise of many, the 'molestation' charge against the Governor had surfaced at a time when the Congress government in the state is on the receiving end of a similar if not worse sex scandal against Meghalaya Home Minister HDR Lyngdoh.

Not quite surprisingly, the Congress party is on denial mood. In Delhi, several Congress leaders say they do not know anything involving their Home Minister. In fact, one leader reportedly told a Shillong-based journalist to send him media clippings on charges against Home Minister Lyngdoh.

In Shillong, Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, who has to face a stiff  electoral battle in early 2018, said there was no question of dropping the Home Minister from the Cabinet. Lyngdoh, for his part, feigned ignorance on what’s happening at the said ‘guest house’ at Rilbong area of Shillong run by his family. BJP spokesperson and in charge Meghalaya Nalin Kohli said the Mukul Sangma-led government should be sacked for shielding the Home Minister in whose guest house the 14-year-old girl was repeatedly raped.

Members of the Thma-U Rangli Juki (TUR) and the Civil Society Women’s Organisation (CSWO) have filed FIR against owner of the guest house and also sought the demand for the resignation of Home Minister HDR Lyngdoh.

But police action on the case has been slow and tardy. Surprisingly, things do not end at these only. There’s another twist in the tale. There’s a typical RSS and Christians confrontation episode now revolving this case too. The allegation that Shanmuganathan molested a woman has angered the Tamil Nadu BJP and RSS leaders but their grievance apparently is not against the former governor. They blame “vested interests” – instead.
In Chennai, the Raj Bhawan-molestation episode has been thus easily linked to anti-Christian stance of RSS and thus against Mr Shanmuganathan himself. The outgoing Governor is also a RSS pracharak.
Thus, they see definitely a “Christian conspiracy to malign” the RSS and the BJP and also a former RSS organizer, who reportedly has been in the forefront of anti conversation activities. A section of BJP and RSS leaders now feel, Shanmuganathan is a victim of Christian conspiracy as Meghalaya also happens to be a Chrsitian-dominant state. But the former Governor has his detractors as well within Sanghparivar in Chennai. Even if, step by step, Shanmuganathan’s political career has not been not a very bright spot to envy, certainly it does have a characteristic of its own. 

Shanmuganathan’s rise in Brahmin-dominant RSS has been quite fast as he belonged to Saiva Pillamar community (a forward community) but not Brahmin. The RSS-BJP leadership has a double edged problem to handle – one legal case against one of their respected members and from a high position as Governor and the other of course in term of real polity.  

A non-Brahmin Tamil, Shanmuganathan has been a cause of discomfort for many in the RSS circle. In the past he had particular differences with a local Brahmin leader L Ganesan and Shanmuganathan’s shift of base to Delhi in 1999 was only to avoid a Brahmin-non Brahmin conflict within Sangh in the Dravidian-ruled state.

In Tamil Nadu, the death of AIADMK supremo J Jayalalitha has created a vacuum and both BJP and RSS feel there can be an opportunity to expand base. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is particularly keen to strengthen BJP-Sangh grip in Tamil Nadu as that would be living testimony as endorsement of his government’s policies. Modi will score a victory within Sangh family as BJP’s last South Indian domination has been in Karnataka and due to corruption charge that saga ended in disaster and the party first split and then in May 2013 elections, BJP was ousted and Congress wrested power. 

The BJP wants to play a Karnataka-game of 2008 and wants to capture Tamil Nadu and thus Shanmugannthan’s episode has thus come at a wrong time.

 In any case, what comes to light of Shillong Raj Bhawan-vis-a-vis molestation charge is many of the Sanghparivar elements are unable to handle fame, glory and power. On this backdrop, the top BJP leadership has only counseled for effective coordination between the party and the Sangh. 

There is a need to come out of a rather abrasive relationship  shared between RSS and the Vajpayee-led government. The convergence is definitely better now. A successful three-day coordination meeting was held between RSS leaders and Union Ministers. 

But more than mere coordination, Prime Minister Narendra Modi must tell RSS leaders that there should be qualitative selection criteria before RSS leaders are deputed to the BJP. Shanmuganathan is not alone. Earlier, in Gujarat, Sanjay Joshi, also a RSS man, had suffered a similar set back when a CD surfaced showing Joshi in poor light.

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