"This ideological discrimination...is like sowing the seeds of another Partition."
—Former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, July 6, 2004
Evidently, the UPA government begs to disagree. In what amounts to a rigorous purge, the Congress-led government is closing in on sundry political appointees of the NDA regime, particularly those with RSS backgrounds. The scrutiny is all-encompassing—information, culture, the arts, history, bureaucracy, not a field is spared.
Says Union HRD minister Arjun Singh, who set the ball rolling with dismissals of saffron historians/academics: "There is no question that people with suspect backgrounds (read RSS) will have to go from wherever they can be identified. The political paradigm has to be altered." For all his suave restraint, he also coined perhaps the most expressive phrase for the exercise: detoxification.
The Congress has lapped it up. Says a Sonia Gandhi aide, less cagey about being outspoken: "Yes, the detoxification drive will continue until every RSS appointee is ousted." And with Union home minister Shivraj Patil justifying the sack of governors on the basis of "ideological differences", the stage is set for the great purge.
New ministers have promptly taken the cue. The youth affairs ministry, whose reins had almost entirely passed into RSS hands, is set for a massive 'ethical cleansing'. The ministry has a huge network of 540 yuvak kendras. Most were filled up by then minister Uma Bharati with RSS cadre. Even the office of Nehru Yuvak Kendra D-G, traditionally held by a bureaucrat, was given over to RSS man V. Muralidharan.
There is now a tearing hurry to make amends. Says an unofficial note prepared by the youth ministry: "Senior RSS, BJP functionaries had been appointed chairpersons of state advisory committees. While the district collector was the chairperson of the district-level advisory committee, RSS/BJP functionaries were appointed non-official members, who in turn started the process of saffronisation."
During Uma Bharati's tenure, a national meeting of district governors, divisional directors and other staff was held at Nagpur, where they underwent a course conducted by Madan Dass Devi and the RSS think-tank, the note adds. "Bharati also started a National Reconstruction Corps in 125 districts. This, when a National Service Scheme is already in place," it points out. The new youth affairs minister, Sunil Dutt, is candid: "People will be assessed by performance. But undesirables will be pruned."
One of the first moves by Union rural development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was to sack the entire lot of RSS appointees in NGO-funding agencies like CAPART. One of CAPART's leading lights, Kripa Prasad Singh, was dismissed summarily. Another member, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, found his nameplate removed overnight when he walked in to office one day. The minister told Outlook
: "My priority is to clean up the NGO sector which has gone into the hands of RSS activists."
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi is said to be galled at the inclusion of RSS members as heads of the country's premier Gandhian institutions. Topping this list is BJP MP Mahesh Sharma, chairman of the Khadi Village Industries Commission. Says BJP leader Arun Jaitley: "What is happening now is, Red Guards are being appointed all over the government, since the Congress has no ideology of its own. This is tantamount to destroying the institutions."
The biggest change outside of HRD appears—naturally—to be in the I&B ministry, where the detoxification drive may be the most severe, and tricky. Prasar Bharati members K.S. Sarma, Bhupen Hazarika, Chitra Mudgal, M.V. Kamath stand blacklisted. But an outright sack may prove difficult because Prasar Bharati members have a fixed term and can be only removed after an inquiry conducted by the Supreme Court, on reference by the President. When asked, Union I&B minister Jaipal Reddy told reporters he would have to examine the cases: "I can't have people approaching the courts."
The members themselves appear cool. M.V. Kamath, a confirmed saffronite, says he has no problem working with the new government. "I am perfectly happy." Children's Film Trust chief Raveena Tandon echoed the sentiment, while Bhupen Hazarika said he had offered to quit but had been asked to stay on as he had a fixed tenure. There is also pressure from the Left on Reddy to match the HRD ministry's zeal in getting rid of key officials of his ministry and its various wings.
Sonal Mansingh, who chairs the Sangeet Natak Akademi, could be a casualty when the purge on the cultural scene begins, though the greying eminence of Odissi betrays no such fears. "Where does politics come into art?" That, of course, is her view. For, the UPA government is clearly bent on taking the RSS bull by its horns. And if a few innocents come into the ambit of this 'cleansing', you could call it the pressure of power politics.
Ranjit Bhushan And Rajesh Sinha