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Bharat Gandhi: Victim of fierce, competitive Naga politics or insurgent extortion?

By Sandeep Pandey*
Bharat Gandhi alias Vishwatma is author of number of books including 'Rediscovering Democracy.' His booklet 'Bring Votership, Remove Poverty' has been published seven times. He is the leader of Voters Party International (VPI) and originally belongs to Janupur, Uttar Pradesh.
He is known for advocating a monthly votership or pension of around Rs 6,000 per month (according to 2016 rates) for every voter for his/her role in running the democratic system just like any other person in legislature, executive or judiciary is compensated for their role. 
He articulates that voter is the foundation on which pillars of democracy stand. Votership amount may be thought of as universal basic income which is being advocated by some economists and political parties like the Congress as well even though for poorest 20% of population.
Bharat Gandhi's idea of votership which may appear simplistic or infeasible on the face of it was actually endorsed by 137 members for debate in the Parliament in 2008 under rule 193 but for some strange reason it was never taken up for discussion. Then it was sent for examination of its feasibility to an 11 member committee headed by Deepak Goyal. 
In 2011 this committee saw merit in the idea and approved it as a solution to a number of problems faced by the country. The committee had consulted Constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap and famous economist and former Indian Institute of Management, Bengaluru Professor Bharat Jhunjhunwala. 
Bharat Gandhi has also floated a concept of Refundable Donation Receipt where every donation made by a citizen to the political party is proposed to be refunded with interest after getting a finance bill approved by the Parliament.
He has been advocating establishment of a world government too and has proposed a Global Alliance on Participation and Peace because he thinks problems like poverty, unemployment, corruption, inequity, illiteracy, environmental degradation, cultural degeneration, terrorism, malnourishment afflict every country. If a country claims to be solving any of the abovementioned problems it is probably just transferring this problem to some other country or countries. Hence he believes in global solution to these problems and that explains the name of his party.
VPI is a genuine political party which has contested elections in the past and got 50,355 votes in 7 constituencies of Assam, 44,245 votes in 7 contituencies of Bihar, 7,285 votes in 5 constituencies of Uttar Pradesh, 5,099 votes in one constituency of Jharkhand and 314 votes in one constituency of Delhi during the respective last assembly elections in these states. Over the past one year they have also started working in Nagaland. 
Bharat Gandhi's idea of votership  may appear simplistic but was endorsed by 137 members for debate in Parliament in 2008
Bharat Gandhi was arrested on March 13, 2020 from a cadre meeting in Dimapur of VPI along with Chukie Haralu, party's Nagaland coordinator, Prajit Basumatary, security chief of the party and three other security volunteers on charges of misleading people by accepting a donation of Rs 300 and offering a promise of Rs 6,000 per month to people.
The Refundable Donation Receipt resembles a promissory note which got him into trouble in Dimapur even though its design has been shared with Election Commission of India and Reserve Bank of India earlier. 
While others were released after some interrogation and making them sign on a piece of paper by police from Dimapur East police station, Bharat Gandhi was illegally held for 10 days by police before being sent to judicial custody after registering a case under sections 419, 420, 468, 471 and 34 of IPC against him.
Bharat Gandhi got bail on May 11, 2020 from High Court bench in Kohima as the police was not able to file a chargesheet which shows they have not been able to prove that VPI or Bharat Gandhi are cheating people or are commiting any kind of fraud. By putting him in jail Nagaland government has violated his Constitutional and democratic rights.
His party colleagues, Shivakant Gorakhpuri and Naveen Kumar, who went to secure his release were kidnapped from a Dimapur hotel on 19 May and taken to a camp of an insurgent group where a demand to pay Rs. 1 crore was made to them. When they expressed their inability to pay they were finally released on 27 May but on the condition that they will pay Rs. 32.5 lakh within a week.
It is unclear whether Bharat Gandhi has become a victim of fiercely competitive politics of Nagaland where local forces do not want an outsider to build some support for himself or he is merely a target for extortion by one of the insurgent groups. 
Northeast is known for the existence of a number of insurgent or extremist groups who have digressed from their political objectives and are now engaged in extortion for their survival. In some of the states every government employee has to make regular payments, often to more than one groups.
This may also be viewed as protection money, especially for business interests. The insurgent group which is targetting VPI was probably misled about its resources. VPI is not in a position to pay any kind of ranson as it is a party not financed by some capitalists but runs on donations from ordinary people.
The only way Bharat Gandhi can remain secure now is if his safe passage to Delhi or Lucknow is ensured under the security of some Central Security Forces, otherwise there are good chances that he may be kidnapped for ransom just like his colleagues.
---
*Magsaysay award winning social activist, vice-president of Socialist Party (India)

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