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84-year-old Kamla springs a surprise, even within own party

84-year-old Kamla springs a surprise, even within own party

Author: D K Singh
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: September 1, 2011
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/84yearold-kamla-springs-a-surprise-even-within-own-party/839845/0

In a strange coincidence, barely seven weeks before she kicked up a political storm with appointment of a Lokayukta in Gujarat, "bypassing" the state government, Governor Kamla Beniwal's name figured in a Supreme Court ruling in reference to strictures against her by the same institution about two decades back.

Delivering a judgement on July 12, 2011, a Bench of Justices G S Singhvi and Ashok Ganguly cited a report by the Rajasthan Lokayukta in 1992 regarding a matter of illegal allotment of plots in the Lal Kothi Scheme in Jaipur.

The Lokayukta report, as cited in the apex court judgment, had stated: "It is prima facie established that Smt Kamala, the then Hon'ble Minister, Urban Development and Housing Department, Government of Rajasthan-cum-Chairman, JDA Jaipur... misused their official position to favour a few influential and highly placed individuals and have also thereby caused wrongful gain to them and loss to the Jaipur Development Authority and the public at large. But Smt Kamala... is not now a public servant as defined in Section 2(1) of the Rajasthan Lokayukta and Up-Lokayukta Act, 1973, because she has ceased to be a Minister. So investigation is not being commenced against her...."

About two decades hence, Beniwal is at the centrestage of a controversy with the BJP demanding her recall for appointing a Lokayukta without consulting Chief Minister Narendra Modi. While a gleeful Congress has come out in her defence justifying her decision as the BJP regime in the state had failed to appoint a Lokayukta for over seven years, the 84-year-old governor's "sense of timing" has come as a surprise to many Congressmen, albeit a present one.

Congress leaders at the Centre believe that they have now got an opportunity to turn the table on the BJP, which was gleefully watching the ruling dispensation being cornered by Anna Hazare and his team over the Lokpal Bill.

Though not many people knew her outside Rajasthan when she was appointed Governor of Gujarat in November 2009, Beniwal is no political novice. Having quit her job as Principal of Maharani School to be elected to the Rajasthan Assembly in 1954 and appointed a Deputy Minister the same year, she figured in the Council of Ministers in every Congress government in Rajasthan, except when she lost elections: she was deputy minister (1954-57, 1962-67), state minister (1972-77), Cabinet minister (1980-90), and deputy chief minister (2003).

The daughter of a freedom fighter, Beniwal is said to have led an agitation against the Jagirdari system in Jhunjhunu and Sikar in Rajasthan. Prominent Jat leader the late Kumbharam Arya was said to have guided her in her initial political life. The fact that she was one of only two women legislators in the first Rajasthan Assembly and that she was an educated leader from the Jat community are believed to have helped Beniwal figure in every Congress ministry.

However, her administrative acumen was nothing to write home about. While she rose to become the deputy chief minister in the Ashok Gehlot Cabinet, she lost the Assembly election in 2003. In the next election in 2008, she managed to get party ticket for her son, but he also lost.

Given his uneasy equations with the Jats, who thought they had lost out on chief ministership on his account, Gehlot continued to support Beniwal and it was due to his support that she landed in the Gujarat Raj Bhavan in 2009.

"The only secret of her success one can see is that she is a woman and belongs to the Jat community," said a senior Congress leader from Rajasthan.

It is because of this perceived lack of any outstanding attributes as a politician and administrator that has led to the surprise over the sudden assertion of authority by Beniwal in appointment of the Lokayukta. With her history of doing the bidding of senior leaders behind her, many wonder whether Beniwal acted of own accord this time.

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