This Article is From Dec 28, 2016

Najeeb Jung Operated As An Assassin Of Democracy

It's been a long time since I met Munna Bhai. Still can't get over him sipping water from my glass and strutting around on that giant wooden table like an old nawab and then falling asleep on the table as if he owned the whole room including his master. Munna Bhai is a black cat and Najeeb Jung is the owner of this black cat. Jung himself told me he is called "Munna Bhai". I am still not sure if that is his real name but then I have no reason not to believe him. 

It was my first meeting with him. I don't remember why I had gone there. What I remember is Jung's demeanour and distant dignity with which he received me. Before I could make myself comfortable, he began talking about my recently published book on the 2014 parliamentary elections. He told me he had got a call from his friend in the USA and told him that this book was making waves and he should read it. I was pleasantly surprised. I must confess he immediately established a connection with me.  

I got talking. We talked about his cat and the coffee I was served apart from things political. At times he was patronizing, at other times, combative. There was something in him which attracted me and at the same time warned me that I should be little alert to this man. Something was amiss. Yet when I was leaving his room, he was warm and came to the portico to see me off. 

I was the man who had called him an agent of the Congress during AAP's first stint in its 49-day government. Any way, I was very critical of him and his conduct vis-a-vis our government. This was the time when the AAP government had filed an FIR against Reliance chairman, Mukesh Ambani. The Anti-Corruption Bureau was then reporting to the Delhi government. Along with Mukesh Ambani, two other cabinet ministers were also named in the FIR. Mr Jung was reported to have a long association with the Ambanis. In fact, he had been accused of helping, as a senior IAS officer in the petroleum ministry, in the controversial Mukta Panna case, a consortium led by Reliance which was later investigated by the CBI. It was also speculated that he had to leave his job due to this and was obliged by Reliance with a job in its overseas business operations. But these things did not figure in our later discussions. 

When AAP won a historic mandate with 67 seats, the government at the centre had already changed. Modi had replaced Manmohan Singh. The color of politics had also transformed. I was expecting that Mr Jung would be replaced with some sanghi, but to my surprise, he continued. Now it is reported that he had offered to resign, but was asked by the Prime Minister to continue. Mr Jung's continuance intrigued me. He claimed to be secular, but to my utter bewilderment, he was extremely faithful to Modi and his ideology. 

But as time passed, there were more surprises for me. The suave Jung was more silken than any assassin could be of democracy. I was in Punjab when I heard him say that he is the "Government." "Null and void'' became his favourite words. He found every act of a democratically-elected government to be constitutionally offensive and habitually declared that the government "did not follow the law." He formed a deadly team with Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi. It did not take us long to guess that both were out to please their master living at India's most famous address, 7 Race Course Road. Slowly but surely, a plot was unearthed. The Government in Delhi was the target. A supari was given to first discredit the government and then unseat it. I had never imagined that in India, para-military forces could be brazenly used to capture the building of the Anti-Corruption Bureau. It was a coup whose mastermind was the Prime Minister's Office. 

It did not take me long to figure out that once I had known another man named Romesh Bhandari who was a successful career diplomat. He retired as a Foreign Secretary but was later appointed the Governor of Uttar Pradesh. He went down in India's democratic history as one of the most maligned constitutional functionaries who did not flinch for a second in dismissing the government of Kalyan Singh with a bunch of discredited MLAs. Finally, the Supreme Court had to intervene. I could see lot of Romesh Bhandari in Mr Jung.

He is fiercely committed to protecting and promoting his career. He was appointed by the UPA government. When he was appointed as the vice-chancellor of Jamia Millia, he was supposedly close to 10 Janpath. With the assumption of power by Modi, he realized that his continuance would be impossible if he did not act on his orders. He did not do badly for himself. He was the only UPA-appointed Governor or Lt Governor who survived the change at the centre.

I don't know if he failed his patron, whether he has been removed or he just got tired. For an outlier like me, the intricacies of politics are alien, but what I understand is this: Jung's brand of politics and career promotion is what people abhor. Gandhi and his fellow patriots did not fight to earn independence so that politics in India one day would come to this pass and public service would become a mirage. The damage is done. It will take years to re-establish and rejuvenate institutions. 

But there is hope. Every time politicians think they can take people for granted, they are proven wrong. People are far smarter. Mr Jung, my good wishes will always chase you, but with a humble suggestion that dictators always underestimate the patience and the sixth sense of the common man, so never take them for a ride. It will come back to haunt you. 

(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014.)

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