Sunday, November 21, 2010

His Voice's Master

Byline by M J Akbar: His Voice's Master

Thought for the week: if accent-fraud were a criminal offence, how many serving members of the ruling establishment would be guilty? To speak English well in a country which has inherited it as a service-language is commendable. To speak it badly is perfectly understandable, since it is a foreign tongue. But to speak it in a pseudo-imitation of a style that even an abashed BBC has quietly abandoned is unforgiveable. You could not have got solicitor-general Gopal Subramaniam's haw-haw syllables from central casting, but that may be only a minor sin in his latest curriculum vitae.

Perhaps a pseudo-argument comes more easily to those who acquire a pseudo-accent; it is possible that he believes that unctuous loyalty to his client - in this case Prime Minister Manmohan Singh - combined with sonorous homage to the goddess of truth, are sufficient substitutes for fact. He chose to tell the Supreme Court, and then the people of India through television, that he had gone through every relevant file and could say with authority that the Prime Minister had replied to every query by the persistent Dr Subramaniam Swamy on the 2G spectrum scam. Before the end of the day the Prime Minster had accepted that the second highest lawyer in government had lied to the Court and the people, and changed his lawyer to the highest in the land, Goolam Vahanvati. The response of lawyers, including political ones, employed on behalf of the Prime Minister shifted to evasion.

Whenever crisis induces a government knee to jerk, the first tendency is to jab in the direction of media. The messenger is so often the first victim. And so an upwardly mobile minister like Kapil Sibal advises media not to "pillory" the Prime Minister. But the Prime Minister is not under strain because of television or newspapers. His credentials are in doubt because of the remarkable diligence displayed by integrity-activists like Prashant Bhushan and judges of the Supreme Court who felt compelled to ask him why he had not bothered to respond adequately to a scam spreading in public view. This was not a sudden, one-off, grab-and-run operation. It was a carefully and intelligently laid out scheme by the DMK, which insisted on the telecom portfolio because it knew the rewards that lay in the allotment of licenses. The Prime Minister is in trouble because the DMK took care to keep him informed through letter about how precisely it was going to subvert systems and determine pricing without consultation or due process, and received his acquiescence through acknowledgement of its letters. The crucial letter was sent not by A. Raja but by Dayanidhi Maran, in February 2006. Maran could not have been more explicit: he wanted pricing, the key that opened the treasure house, out of government purview. This was the price of power, and Dr Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi paid it.

If you want to understand the political twist in this tale, look for the answer to only one question: who leaked the Maran letter to a television channel? Maran himself could not have done so, since he is not suicidal. Equally, those on the PM's side can be ruled out, for the same reason. The BJP or other Opposition parties did not have a copy, and if they had one, they would have held a press conference, not handed it over to just one trusted correspondent. The leak came from someone in government who wanted to weaken Dr Singh. Why? Obviously because he believes that a weakened Prime Minister has become vulnerable, there might be a vacancy at the top soon, Rahul Gandhi is not ready to take the job, and therefore he could become the next PM.

Prime Ministers and their press advisors should actually stop worrying about journalists and start worrying about that anonymous tribe which turns out jokey sms-es. The PM may have maintained his studied silence but the mobile companies who had benefited from DMK largesse did not. The joke about the 2G spectrum that turned viral was marvellous: 'PM breaks his silence. The only 2G I know is SoniaG and RahulG.' Ridicule is far more devastating than criticism.

As it so happens, SoniaG and RahulG did, in different ways, offer their support to Dr Singh. Mrs Sonia Gandhi chose to deliver a small sermon with no names mentioned, as if the crime had been committed by the US Congress rather than the Indian National Congress. But the great damage was done not by what the Opposition said, but by what the PM did not say: his silence. The law acknowledges that silence is the best defence when words might become self-incrimination. But the law of public life is not equally generous to silence.

What is the tensile strength of silence? Lawyers can afford to manipulate their narrative as easily as they stretch their accent. Dr Singh used to have an authentic voice, which is why Indians trusted him. He lost that voice during the worst crisis of his long life.


Anonymous said...

Could it be that SoniaG's "sacrifice" in declining the PM's post was not after all so much a sacrifice but a strategy?Rule without accountability? Or rather use MMS to do her bidding? So that he and not she could take the heat for her scheme of things?
Why should RahulG be the PM if MMS does her and Rahulg"s bidding anyway?
The Congress puts out pseudo accented spokespersons who are always willing to cover the truth to protect its leader?
We Indians generally are a gullible lot. Maybe the time is approaching when most will be able to see through the charades and make politicians more accountable.
Ashok Kapur

Anoop Verma said...

When people of Indian origin take up senior jobs in government or in industry, they should learn to speak English in desi-accent. I am sick and tired of seeing these angrez Indians lecturing everyone with their haw-haw syllables.

A senior government official trying to emulate the Oxford accent only ends up looking farcical, fake and out of touch with the reality.

Amazing analysis of this high-profile 2G drama. Mr. Akbar might be right – new evidence of the shady backroom deals involving award of 2G spectrum are being leaked to the media on a daily basis by someone who is deeply interested in influencing the course of an inner power struggle.

These are difficult times for everyone, now we have transcripts of tapes, which show the involvement of some very senior journalists from a particular news channel and particular newspaper. So where does the buck stop! This is completely shocking.

Only a few men of integrity are left in this country.

JPK said...

Some great satire going on on Twitter.

balayogi said...

Truth about 2G-The entire spectrum of activity known to and allowed to be performed by the entire bunch of congress men in both the houses revolves around only 2G SoniaJI and RahulJI.That holds good for the top officials too.Why not seek punishment for Gopal through public interest litigation for lying to the highest court of the land on such a sensitive issue.