Varun Gandi: as much sinned against as sinning

By B. Raman

(March 24, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) As I read the late night communication of the Election Commission to Varun Gandhi, son of Sanjay and Maneka Gandhi and grandson of Indira Gandhi, and his reply to the Election Commission, I was reminded of the exchange of midnight missives between his illustrious grandmother and the so-called Syndicate in the Congress before the Presidential elections in the late 1960s in which V.V.Giri, supported by her, was elected and Sanjiva Reddy, supported by the Syndicate, was defeated.

Indira Gandhi rightly viewed the machinations of the Syndicate as an attempt to marginalise her in the Congress Party and put a stop to her political aspirations. She fought back ferociously and ultimately prevailed. The Syndicate did not forgive her for this. When the Congress lost the elections after the lifting of the Emergency in 1977, the Syndicate had its moments of revenge. It got Sanjiva Reddy elected as the President and sought to humiliate her in every way possible. She ferociously fought back again and returned to power in 1980. Nobody remembers the Syndicate. Its members have been consigned to the dustbin of history. Everybody remembers Indira Gandhi.

A grand-son of Indira Gandhi is now fighting ferociously against what he apparently sees as an attempt by a syndicate of so-called secularists to discredit him and crush his political aspirations even before he could take his first firm steps in politics. He has every right to fight. His grand-mother must be watching from heaven her grand-son fighting as ferociously as she did against what he perceives to be the denial of the right of natural justice to him.

The extremely objectionable remarks alleged to have been made by Varun Gandhi during two pre-election meetings in the Philbit constituency should be strongly condemned by all right-thinking persons as distasteful, irresponsible and unworthy of a political leader if it is established that he did make those remarks.

If he had not contested those remarks and, on the contrary, if he had tried to justify them, there would have been no need for a further enquiry before condemning him. But he has contested the remarks which he is supposed to have made and he has not justified them. He has challenged the genuineness of the tapes and alleged that the tapes have been doctored.

In TV interviews, he has given a number of arguments as to why he contended that the tapes had been doctored. Many of his arguments could be dismissed as after-thoughts but not one, namely, his contention that in a tape he is shown as referring to a sister of his whereas he had no sister. If what he says about the contents of the tapes is correct, there is a serious mistake of fact in the remarks which he is shown as making. Where there is such a serious mistake of fact, there is a presumption of innocence in favour of the accused. He has not been given the benefit of this presumption.

There are certain procedural infirmities in the way the Election Commission has passed its order of March 22,2009, against Varun. The first infirmity arises from the fact that the Commission has passed an ex-parte order without giving Varun an opportunity to appear before the Commission and explain his conduct. An ex-parte order is permissible if a person against whom an enquiry is being made was given an opportunity to appear before the enquiry body and explain his conduct, but he did not do so. When a person fails to respond to a summons to appear before an enquiry body and explain his conduct, he is presumed to be avoiding the due process of the rules or the law. There is an automatic presumption of guilt against him.

All of us, including the distinguished members of the Election Commission, had served as bureaucrats. We had all done our training before we started our career.
We had all attended courses in how to hold an enquiry and about the importance of being fair in an enquiry. There are detailed departmental orders in the Govt. of India and the States as to how to hold a fair enquiry. All these orders lay down that every person against whom an enquiry is held has a right for a personal hearing before the enquiry officer twice----- before the enquiry starts and again before an adverse ruling is pronounced by the enquiry officer. If Varun Gandhi is to be believed, these dos and don'ts of a fair enquiry were not followed in his case.
The second infirmity arises with regard to Varun's contention that the tapes seem to have been doctored. The Election Commission has held that it was for him to prove this. How could he have explained to the Commission as to why he thought that the tapes might have been doctored if he was not given an opportunity for a personal hearing. There are two ways of proving that a tape must have been doctored---- forensically or by pointing out serious mistakes of fact in the contents of the tape, which are glaring and could not have been made by him. It would have been but fair that he was given an opportunity to appear before the Commission and explain why he contended that the tapes must have been doctored.

Priyanka Gandhi, another grand-child of Indira Gandhi, has reportedly advised Varun to read and understand the Gita better. She should too. In fact, all of us, who consider ourselves proud Hindus, should. In the Gita, Lord Krishna advises and convinces Arjun as to why one should sometimes fight even against one's kith and kin if there were strong moral grounds for doing so.

That is why Indira Gandhi fought ferociously against the Syndicate of the Congress.
If Varun thinks that he should emulate his illustrious grand-mother and fight ferociously against what he sees as the unfair attitude of the syndicate of so-called secularists against him, he has every right to do so.

Incidentally, if Varun is guilty of inciting hatred against the members of another community--- a charge that he denies strongly--- Lord Krishna was guilty of inciting hatred among members of the same family.

(The writer is former Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi )
-Sri Lanka Guardian