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No beating about the bush.
How the powerful threaten our basic freedom
It is the Polyester Prince story all over again. In the 1990s, Reliance Industries used the courts to bully a meek publisher and stopped the India release of a book that dissected Dhirubhai Ambani’s path to fabulous riches. In the days before social media or online book distribution options, the stay by a lower court was enough to stop it from getting into shop shelves. Nearly 15 years later, Indian industrialists, especially those in politics or with great political clout, are using the same bullying tactics.
In January, Praful Patel, the powerful minister from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) pressured Bloomsbury India to withdraw The Descent of Air India—a tell-all book that exposed how India’s national airline was systematically looted and pushed into the red. Naturally, Mr Patel’s stellar role, as aviation minister, in giving a huge push to the airline’s collapse through venal senior management and reckless purchase of aircrafts is described in detail. When Mr Patel filed a case with the metropolitan magistrate in Mumbai, the author Jitendra Bhargava (for decades, the public face of Air India) decided to fight back, while the publisher, Bloomsbury, chose to issue a public apology and destroy the remaining stock of the book. Mr Bhargava says on his facebook page that this was a unilateral decision without any discussion with him; he has also told the judge that he can substantiate everything he has said in the book. Mr Bhargava will soon self-publish it as an e-book.
In the very same week, the Sahara parivar decided to take the Ambani route. It filed a Rs200-crore defamation suit against journalist Tamal Bandopadhyay for a book that has not even been published and managed to obtain an interim stay against its publication from a Kolkata court. While Sahara claims that the book is defamatory, it has been the subject of innumerable adverse news reports ever since August 2012 when a landmark judgement of the Supreme Court (SC) ordered it to refund a whopping Rs24,000 crore raised through two group companies. In the subsequent months, the group patriarch, Subrata Roy, has been restrained by the SC from going abroad. The group has been rebuked by the apex court for trying to ‘fool’ it and has a contempt petition filed against it by SEBI for calling the market regulator a ‘sarkari gunda’. It will be interesting to see whether Jaico, the publisher of Sahara: The Untold Story also caves in or fights back.
Meanwhile, both Bloomsbury and Jaico would do well to look at what happened with The Polyester Prince. While the publisher chickened out of a fight, photocopies of the book were in great demand and author, Hamish MacDonald, grew in stature. A decade latter, when Anil and Mukesh went to war over the division of the family business, the dirty reputation that they washed in public began to make the revelations in Mr MacDonald’s book seem mild by comparison. More interestingly, Dhirubhai Ambani’s story, warts and all, became a popular Bollywood movie with the blessings of his son. Hopefully, the judiciary will take this into account while deciding on how much credence they should give to the claims of controversial corporates and politicians who want to use their financial muscle to gag whistleblowers and publishers.
Huge crowd had gathered to pay last respects to Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, the spiritual leader of Dawoodi Bohra community
At least 18 persons were killed in a stampede at Malabar Hill area in South Mumbai during the wee hours on Saturday. The incident occurred after 1am in the Malabar Hill area, where an overwhelming crowd had gathered to pay their last respect to the departed spiritual leader of Dawoodi Bohra community, Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin.
His followers had started thronging his residence at the Hill after they came to know about his death.
According to sources, over 40 people were injured in the stampede. The injured have been admitted to the Saifee Hospital.
Dr Syedna was to celebrate his 103rd birthday in a few weeks, a spokesperson of the Bohra community said.
The 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq of the worldwide Dawoodi Bohra community, Dr Syedna expired at his Mumbai residence at Saifee Mahal.
Born in Surat, the leader was the eldest son of Syedna Taher Saifuddin. He succeeded his father upon his death in 1965. He was credited with transforming Dawoodi Bohras into a vibrant community.
Bohras thronged to the Syednas sermons. Dawoodi Bohra is a sect of Shia Muslims spread all over the world. One of the key principles of the sect is 'patriotism as part of the faith’.
He was honoured with highest civilian titles like the Star of Jordan and Order of the Nile by the respective governments of Jordan and Egypt.
Syedna was conferred Honourary Doctorates for his efforts in social and educational development by renowned institutes like Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Aligarh Muslim University and University of Karachi.
Pune’s traditional katta culture, wherein like-minded people gather informally to chat in public places, has now, RTI, as the new topic of discussion
Although Maharashtra is one of the states with a large number of users of Right to Information (RTI) Act, knowledge and information about the Act, is still found wanting. This is amply reflected during my RTI workshops or public lectures on this topic.
In an innovative and fun-loving approach, leading RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, who is the founder president of Surajya Sangharsha Samiti, launched the `RTI Katta’ last fortnight at Pune’s premier public garden, Chittaranjan Vatika, in the upper crust Model Colony neighbourhood. More than 50 Puneites attended the meeting, out of which several of them came from across the city. Within a week, the ‘RTI Katta’ fervor has spread to five more public gardens, with the respective local residents taking initiative to host them.
The objective of the `RTI Katta’ is not to preach about the RTI Act, says Kumbhar, “but to empower oneself through discussions amongst each other. It is an umbrella where the attendees get an insight into various issues that crop during the informal chat. A person’s query or problem is answered by several people which results in a healthy and relevant solution than one RTI expert providing the answer. Moreover, it strengthens the belief in RTI movement which is time and again scuttled by the government through various circulars and amendments.”
Kumbhar has laid down some rules for forming an RTI Katta, one of which will soon be launched in Ahmednagar: RTI Katta should be formed in such a public place where no official permission is required, a public garden is the best bet; the name of any individual or organisation should not be added wherever the RTI Katta is being formed; the meeting should be purely a discussion forum and there should be no one-sided speech; any attendee is welcome to seek advice on his RTI applications; any attendee is welcome to give his opinion, however he or she should ensure that he is not misguiding the person; no one should object or scorn if an attendee, new to the RTI Act asks an irrelevant question – he/she should be enlightened through this forum; there should be no exchange of money for either asking a query or answering it; since this forum is all about individual empowerment, no person should try to solve the problem of the other but encourage the individual to fight his/her own RTI battle.
Shamala Desai, a noted social activist who had attended the maiden `RTI Katta’ stated, “there was tremendous curiosity and eagerness to be a part of the RTI movement. It also showed that many people put a RTI application but do not know how to follow up if they do not get a reply. Several youngsters too who attended it were keen to make this citizen-friendly law, stronger, by its constant use.”
Pune is the pioneer of the RTI Library, which was named after stalwart journalist-activist Prakash Kardaley and inaugurated by Arvind Kejriwal in 2008. Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) is also the first city to introduce the 3pm to 5pm walk-in for citizens, every Monday, in all its departments. Pune was the first city wherein Inspection of files under Section 4 of the RTI Act was conducted, the RTI activist being Vijay Kumbhar. With Pune having so many firsts to its credit in the RTI movement, its latest addition–RTI Katta–is sure to bring more people close to RTI.
Here’s wishing that many more cities, towns and villages start `RTI Kattas’ which is a real cool way of gaining knowledge about RTI and using it to good effect. For more details on how to start a RTI Katta get in touch with Vijay Kumbhar at [email protected] or call him on 09923299199
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)