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A voice from the wilderness

Facts, proposals and some hardline stands. This book should be the BJP’s future manifesto, writes Vir Sanghvi.

india Updated: Aug 27, 2008 17:55 IST
Vir Sanghvi

Jagmohan (he does not use his surname — Malhotra — to be free of caste and community links) has never been the favourite of the liberal establishment. He first came to prominence during the Emergency when, as head of the Delhi Development Authority, he demolished the slums near Turkman Gate. After the Emergency, Jagmohan was painted as a Sanjay Gandhi-stooge fulfilling a communal agenda. Bizarrely, the sinister Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid was treated as the hero in that battle. <b1>

Jagmohan argued that he was innocent of all charges of communalism, wrote a book defending himself and took legal action against the papers that had attacked him. When he won his libel case, this made him even more unpopular with liberals. How dare somebody sue the liberal media?

Then, there was the first of two spells as Governor of Kashmir. When he sacked Farooq Abdullah, he was seen as an Indira Gandhi stooge acting against democratic principles. A second stint, after the troubles began, saw him fight with George Fernandes and ended in more controversy. Liberals held him responsible for communalising the situation and some claimed that he had asked the Kashmiri Pandits to leave the Valley.

Once again, Jagmohan wrote a book to tell his side of the story. But it was treated by liberals with disdain and contempt. “My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir should be the title of the autobiography of a stud bull,” sneered Mani Shankar Aiyar in Sunday. By the time I first met Jagmohan, I had formed a fairly negative opinion of him. He had been attached to two of my least favourite people — Sanjay Gandhi and V.P. Singh who sent him to Kashmir the second time — had joined the BJP (not my favourite party at the time), and came with the baggage of the past.

Against the odds, however, I found myself warming to him. We probably disagreed on most political issues. But contrary to the caricature liberals had painted of him, he was not an unthinking, Muslim-hating hatchet man. Rather, I found him to be thoughtful, astonishingly well-read (he spent all day in the library at Delhi’s India International Centre) and possessed of an integrity that is rarely found in Indian politics. More unusual was his readiness to respect views that were entirely different from his (as mine often were and are) and to discuss issues at the level of ideas, without rancour or needless politicisation.

By the time he became a minister in the Vajpayee government, I was something of a fan. The portfolios he was given had little to do with Hindutva, Kashmir or the many things we disagreed on. Rather, they were broadly technocratic and Jagmohan has always been an accomplished technocrat. <b2>

But what the BJP had not reckoned with was Jagmohan’s integrity and his innate sense of fair play. He fell out with his party’s leadership during his time at the Communications Ministry over a plan to shift mobile operators to a revenue-sharing model. As I understood it, Jagmohan’s position was not that a revenue-sharing model did not make sense. His argument was that mobile licences had been auctioned. People who had made reasonable bids had lost out to these who had promised absurd sums. Now, the winners of the auctions were pleading inability to pay and asking to be excused. Surely, it was unfair to those who had made reasonable bids to allow the irresponsible winners to get away without ever paying the vast sums they had promised?

I agreed with Jagmohan. But his government did not. He was moved to another ministry and all the policies he had opposed were implemented.

It didn’t really matter to Jagmohan. He went to Urban Development where he pursued the task of saving our cities, cracking down ruthlessly on unauthorised and illegal constructions and voter-rich illegitimate slums. His Cabinet colleagues were appalled: his policies were costing them votes. Once again, I was on his side. It’s great to find a politician (especially one who has to get elected to the Lok Sabha from an urban constituency) who dares to do the things that need to be done even if he realises that the price he will have to pay is electoral defeat. But Jagmohan never faltered — not till he was moved yet again to another ministry.

Tourism and Culture should have been a dumping ground. But Jagmohan brought his formidable PWD skills to bear on his ministry. He cleared up Ajanta and Ellora (as Governor of Kashmir, he had beautified Vaishnodevi) and set about restoring our neglected monuments to their rightful glory.

Since his defeat at the last election (partly because of a pro-Congress wave in Delhi and partly because of his own policies), he has returned to the library at the India International Centre, devoting his time not to the petty politicking and gossip that are the pastimes of most of his colleagues, but to intellectual activity.

This book is his manifesto for the future. As you would expect from Jagmohan, it is not filled with airy-fairy generalisations, but with facts, figures and concrete proposals. Many of them will be politically unpopular — “In the acquisition of land, no ideology is involved, it is a practical necessity” etc. — and his approach is always hardline. For instance, he says about the Naxalite threat: “Rebellions do not fade away; they have to be put down.”

While I don’t agree with many of his recommendations, I cannot fault his logic, his facts or his undeniable scholarship. The book contains what should become the BJP’s manifesto. Certainly it makes more sense than much of the nonsense the party’s leaders spout these days.

Sadly, that won’t happen. Jagmohan is too solid, too uncompromising and too incorruptible to rise to the top of any political party. Which is a shame. Because if the BJP announced that Jagmohan was its candidate for Chief Minister of Delhi, I would not think twice about voting for the BJP at the next assembly election.