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New Central information commission defines Hindutva: It's nation first, not religion

Mahurkar at GMC meet
By Rajiv Shah
On November 18 evening, the Gujarat Media Club (GMC) organised a felicitation function for Uday Mahurkar, a long-time journalist with “India Today”, as the new information commissioner of the Central Information Commission, the Right to Information (RTI) watchdog of the Government of India. There were two reasons why I decided avoiding the meed (I conveyed it on WhatsApp that I wouldn’t attending). 
The first was, of course, the pandemic, though GMC claimed it would do everything to ensure that “enough precautions” would be taken. And the second was, I have found myself a misfit in such ceremonies – I get bored, often lost, sit among the back benches, talking around with those sitting next by me. Surely, it was different when I had to attend some of such ceremonial functions in Gandhinagar as part of my duty as the Times of India reporter.
Yet, I decided to watch the function on Facebook live – a link was sent by GMC on WhatsApp. What surprised me was, a maximum nine persons were watching it live, which lasted for more than one hour. The number of “watchers” never crossed two digits, not until it was live! Maybe, many more were “participating” on Zoom (a Chinese app in popular perceptions), whose link was also forwarded by GMC. Facebook live showed many had turned up for the function organised in an elite hall – I couldn’t recognise most, as all of them had put up “precautionary” masks.
Organised jointly by GMC and Lions Club International, my interest was to get some insight into what kind of person Mahurkar – who is considered by most Gujarat journalists as pro-Modi (which Mahurkar does not deny) – would be as Central information commission. Let me first start with what Mahurkar spoke about. One who is credited to have published three books on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he pointed towards how “independent” and “balanced” he has been as a journalist.
Even as giving several instances in order to prove his “independence”, what interested me were two of his observations: First was on Hindutva. He suggested, contrary to what its votaries say, Hindutva is not Hinduism (he said "religion"). Hindutva, he insisted, means “nation first”; speaking in Gujarati, he added, “Religion (dharma) and caste (jati) come next.” The second observation was also interesting: He regretted the “popular perception” among Hindus about Muslims – that they were all bad. “This just not true… There is a need to change this, encourage good Muslims”, he insisted.
Yet another observation by Mahurkar interested me directly: He told Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, who was especially called to felicitate him, that time had come to implement a “promise” made to him as GMC president more than a decade ago, in 2009, by Modi, who was Gujarat chief minister then: Land allocation to GMC in order to build its own premises. “Most states have media clubs on their own land, but not Gujarat. This is negative. I request the chief minister to implement the promise”, he looked at Rupani, his mask hanging below his chin.
The land issue for GMC interested me because, when in Gandhinagar, I was approached by a few GMC office bearers (I don’t remember the year) if I could talk to top bureaucrats if they could expedite the matter. I remember talking, among others, with P Panneervel, then state revenue secretary, about this. The reply that he gave me was astounding: The land shown by Modi for GMC was gochar – meant for cattle grazing – and if he cleared it, that would mean violating a Supreme Court order.
While I conveyed this to the person who had approached me for talking with officials, I was later told (I don’t know how far it is true) that nobody in GMC pursued the land allocation issue with Modi till he remained in Gujarat as chief minister – May 2014. “There should have been something in writing from GMC about this, which wasn’t ever there”, I was told. I was pleasantly surprised that, perhaps for the first time after 2014, someone had raised the issue, albeit by an ex-GMC chief.
Rising to speak at in the end, Rupani – who was full of praise for Mahurkar, especially the latter’s “commitment” as a “nationalist journalist” and, of course, Hindutva – surprisingly refused to utter a single word on allocate land to GMC, let alone make a promise, which his boss Modi had made. I think he wasn’t briefed about this by the coterie around him that the issue might come up. After his short speech, he felicitated Mahurkar, putting a shawl on his shoulder, and sat down.
What also surprised me was, Mahurkar didn’t say what kind of information commissioner would he be, whether he would show the type of “independence” he claims to have shown as a journalist. In fact, he spoke no word on his appointment as information commissioner. Maybe it was deliberate. Maybe he wanted his actions to showcase his “independence”.
Be that as it may, two senior journalists who spoke ahead of Mahurkar, Ajay Umat and Deepal Trivedie, did reveal some of his “positive characteristics”. Umat, introduced as editor a Gujarati daily (I don’t recall if the name of the paper he is editor of was mentioned) said, a major characteristic of Mahurkar has been his ability to keep good rapport, despite his known views, with persons of all hues, from extreme right to extreme left.
As for Trivedie, who was introduced as “editor an English daily” (strangely, the name of the media she currently represents wasn’t mentioned), she was more guarded, known as she is for keeping a distance from the establishment, current or past. Even while praising Mahurkar for guiding him to become a journalist during her initial “learning” years, she “hoped” that as new information commission he would act independently.

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