Meat ban and farmers’ suicides: Devendra Fadnavis responds to Rajdeep Sardesai’s open letter
Last week, Rajdeep Sardesai wrote an open letter to Devendra Fadnavis, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. In his open letter, Sardesai questioned a few things: meat ban, farmers’ suicide and the recent circular on guidelines to be followed by the police while making arrests on sedition charges. Here’s his open letter:
This letter should normally have been a private mail congratulating you on completing one year in office next month. However, recent events in Maharashtra necessitate introspection rather than any celebration, and a need to initiate a vigorous public debate.
The first time I saw you was in 2010 during a television debate on the Adarsh land scam. I was impressed with your debating skills and tough, uncompromising stand on corruption. Which is why when you became chief minister last year, I saw it as a positive sign. In a state whose political class has become identified with venal and unscrupulous politics, you seemed to hold out hope. A 44-year-old chief minister brimming with ideas and energy, your rise suggested a welcome generational change in state politics. Sadly, a year later, the enthusiasm with which one greeted your arrival is now being matched by growing cynicism.
Just take three recent decisions of your government. First, the ill-advised decision to ban meat in Mumbai for four days. Yes, similar attempts to ban the sale of meat during the Jain Paryushan festival have been made in the past by your predecessors but your government tried to widen its ambit to well beyond the Mumbai suburb of Mira-Bhayandar.
After public pressure, you were forced to reduce the ban to just two days but in the process exposed your government to entirely avoidable criticism.
First, a beef ban, now a ban on meat: Why confuse good governance with food governance? Only a small group of Brahmins in Maharashtra are pure vegetarian. As the backlash from your ally the Shiv Sena and the MNS confirmed, the vast majority of Maharashtrians are non-vegetarian. The decision, thus, was doomed from the start, and will only alienate the growing urban middle class that values individual freedoms.
I know you are a swayamsevak, proud of your roots in Nagpur and your family’s long-standing connection with the RSS. But the people of Maharashtra last year did not vote for the imposition of the cultural agenda of the RSS, including any forcible attempt to dictate what can be cooked in the kitchen in the name of Bharatiya sanskriti.
The second decision that has proved worrisome is the manner in which Mumbai’s police commissioner Rakesh Maria was suddenly transferred out less than a month before he was due a promotion. That the transfer was done while Mr Maria was investigating the high-profile Sheena Bora murder case makes it even more suspicious. We can argue whether the police commissioner should be seen to take such personal interest in a murder mystery, but by removing a highly decorated officer without any proper explanation, the wrong message has been sent down the line to the constabulary.
Worse, after the media raised questions, your government has once again backtracked and said that Mr Maria will continue to investigate the case even in his new post as DG, Home Guards. So, first you kick an officer upstairs, put a successor in place (who is undoubtedly a fine officer), and then create a dual reporting structure. The Mumbai Police’s reputation has taken a battering because of the transfer-posting industry created by the previous Congress-NCP governments; now, you have further demoralised them by sending out mixed signals.
The third perplexing decision taken by your government is its recent circular on guidelines to be followed by the police while making arrests on sedition charges. The circular says “words, signs or representations to be treated as seditious if they are against a person who is shown to be a representative of the government”. Does that mean that if I criticise a government minister I will be liable to be charged with sedition? Are we confusing legitimate anti-government criticism with anti-national activity? The irony is that you were amongst those who was most vociferous in attacking the previous Maharashtra government for its misuse of section 66 A of the IT Act, which had led to arrests for posting “offensive” messages on Facebook.
These controversies have shadowed what should really be the single-minded focus of your government at the moment: alleviating agrarian distress in large parts of the state. First, it was Vidarbha; now Marathwada is staring at drought-like conditions. More than 600 farmers have committed suicide since January this year after successive failed crops. Drinking water is scarcely available and the tanker mafias are holding sway. Farmers can’t even sell their ageing cattle because of the ill-conceived beef ban.
Last week, on a television programme on the drought, I had asked actor Nana Patekar to express his feelings. Nana has recently handed out cheques to more than a 100 farm widows, and tearfully said that no one could be but moved by the scale of the tragedy. Sadly, the government machinery hasn’t moved as swiftly as it should have. I know you have proposed large-scale well recharge projects across the drought-prone districts but at the moment much more needs to be done.
In the last decade, Maharashtra has allotted more than Rs 70,000 crore for irrigation schemes yet the fact is that scarcely 0.1% has been added in this period to the total irrigated area. The failure of irrigation projects is a scandal and part of your campaign commitment was to punish the guilty. That hasn’t happened yet.
Like our prime minister, you have been peripatetic in the last year: making several trips across the world. May I urge you to spend the next few months singularly focusing on the needs of farmers of Maharashtra. Don’t worry about the food on my plate or what happens in the Sheena case, the agony of the farmer should give you sleepless nights.
Post-script: While questioning your government for misplaced priorities, may I say that a section of the tabloidish media is equally culpable. A sordid murder story becomes staple for prime time news; the death of a farmer doesn’t even register.
To this, here’s what Devendra Fadnavis replied:
Normally I don’t reply to every open letter by ‘senior’ journalists but this time I thought if I didn’t, the Goebbels law — speak what is untrue several times over and it becomes the truth — may prevail. Your letter is an excellent example of how a section of the media, without having sound knowledge, bashes a government with an agenda.
Let me bring some clarity to the first issue you have raised. My state government did not take the decision to ban meat. Not a single new order went from the government to any local body. The Congress government in 2004 took the decision to close a slaughter-house for two days in Paryushan Parva. It was conveyed to all municipal corporations then. Since then all municipal corporations including Mira-Bhaindar started implementing it. Additionally municipal corporations like Mumbai and Mira-Bhaindar adopted resolutions to ban it for additional days within their own powers, which in the case of Mumbai dates back to 1994. Surprisingly, none of you ever objected to it until we came to power. Obviously you were comfortable with the pseudo-secular image of the previous government, howsoever corrupt and non-performing it was.
It’s quite possible that you know this but it doesn’t suit your agenda.
In the case of Rakesh Maria, you seem to be confused. Your post-script says the Sheena Bora murder case should not have assumed the kind of importance it was accorded by the media. Then why did you choose to write on it, linking it with the transfer of the city police chief? A police chief is not an investigating officer but just a supervisory authority. I would like to tell you that the practice of promoting senior people, a few days in advance, is not new. Such decisions are taken keeping in mind the objective to let the new one who is going to take over understand the prevailing situation. The months of September and October are full of festivals, including the Ganesh Festival, Eid celebrations and Navratri.
If the government thought that instead of changing a police commissioner in the midst of festivities it was better to put a new person in place before the festive season started, what’s so wrong about it? Although I believe that officers have no caste and religion the point could also have been raised as to why Maria was made commissioner of police, Mumbai, sidelining two senior and equally decorated officers like Ahmad Javed, a person from a minority community, and Vijay Kamble, a person from a backward community. However, I would say that the government at that point of time thought that Maria was better suited for the situation.
Your take on sedition can be termed a classic product of a biased mind. I want to ask you whether the state is expected to convey a decision given by the hon’ble high court to the police or not? Again, not a single decision has been taken by our government in this regard. In one of the cases in the high court, an affidavit was filed by the then Congress-led government and the court delivered a detailed judgment interpreting the scope and ambit of the applicability of sedition, and also directed to convey it to the police. The department made a faithful translation of the judgment in Marathi and conveyed it to all the police stations via an office circular. Every single item in the circular is just a translation of the judgment. Mr Sardesai, you may not want to go through such details to understand the issue just because you wish to pursue your leftist agenda vigorously and passionately.
It’s apparent how much pain it causes you to mention a word about the water conservation initiative of our government — the flagship programme of Jalyukta Shivar Yojna — to make Maharashtra drought-free. It is a programme that has become most successful. The generous contributions by people — more than Rs 300 crore — have helped us to execute nearly 100,000 works in 6,000 villages within six months. The results are evident. Despite the scanty rainfall, the villages are boasting distributed water storages and increased water tables. It was lauded as a game changer by the ‘Jalpurush’ of India, Rajendra Singh, at the Stockholm Water Conference. This programme will provide moisture security to the farmers and assure crop sustainability by mitigating the effects of climate change.
It’s really sad to see that people like you get disturbed by an imaginary situation that there won’t be a piece of meat in your platter for two days when my annadata is taking extreme steps because he has no food to eat. That is why the state has decided to implement a food security scheme for six million farmers by giving them wheat at Rs 2 per kg and rice at Rs 3 per kg. The infamous legacy of farmer suicides, which we inherited from 15 years of bad governance, is a challenge that doesn’t let me sleep. But the initiatives started by our government, I’m sure, will deliver results in due course.
Whether there is a ban on meat or not, a common man expects roti or rice in his plate. And I am more concerned about it than anything else. Mr Sardesai, the content of your letter can be part of your profession but the resolve in my reply is my mission and I will accomplish it. My mantra of life is ‘perform or perish’ and time alone would decide my destiny.
Yours sincerely and without malice.
Well written, Mr. Fadnavis. We sincerely hope that this letter would answer to everyone questioning about meat ban among other things.