Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lord of the Wring


Lord of the Wring


The English writer G.K.Chesterton famously dismissed journalism as saying

‘Lord Jones is dead’ to those who had no idea that Lord Jones was alive.

But journalists do become a trifle more useful when they find out what

precisely Lord Jones has been up to, particularly if Lady Jones has been

caught with her hand in the charity cash box.

Lord Salman Khurshid, doubly ennobled by an old stint at Oxford, dislikes

bad news as much as any mere mortal; but he truly hates the messenger.

Threats are the default position of those who have forgotten the difference

between authority and authoritarianism. When the dust of bluster at his

press conference on 14 October had settled down, Lord Salman had a simple

message for Aajtak, the news channel which broke the story that made him

front page news: ‘Off with your head!’ But pesky reporters know how to

keep their heads, even when all around them others are losing their cool.

Such Lords like to believe that nasty journalists are impelled by malice.

The primary motivation is rather less dramatic, if more dangerous:

curiosity. Curiosity is a basic and rewarding human virtue, the inspiration

for both the introvert in the laboratory as well as the extrovert searching

through the topography of an arctic pole. It is entirely appropriate that

Nasa named its Mars robot Curiosity. It is also the primary reason why

citizens read newspapers and watch television. Yes, curiosity does

occasionally kill the cat, and there are occasions when a journalist

working the ledge leans too far, loses his balance and lands in a mess. But

for every fatal mistake there are 99 success stories. The expose of Salman

Khurshid was an excellent example of journalists doing their job,

untroubled by fear of revenge.

Perhaps Salman Khurshid should be more worried by his real friends in

politics rather than imagined foes in journalism. His senior Cabinet

colleague and partner on the UP election campaign, Beni Prasad Verma, a man

who has clearly seen money arrive and depart, raised a piquant question:

why would someone so senior in government think of stealing a mere Rs 71

lakhs? It is a very good question. When talk of corruption under the

present government swirls into hundreds of thousands of crores, why pick up

petty cash? Khurshid is not a junior official in a minor Union territory:

he is the Union Minister for Law, with an Oxford degree. But the curious do

have a different way of looking at facts. How do you measure the depth of

an iceberg unless you have done due diligence on the tip?

The Congress seems to have adopted two techniques to deflect bad news:

bluff and aggression, as in Khurshid’s case; and self-pity, laced with

threats against media and officials, in the case of Robert Vadra. Perhaps

the nadir came when Digvijay Singh made the preposterous suggestion that

families of the powerful should be kept outside the corruption debate.

It did bring to mind the fact that Vadra is not the only model for a

son-in-law. Jawaharlal Nehru had a son-in-law as well. His name was Feroze

Gandhi, and it is his surname that is being used by the most powerful

ruling family in the country. Feroze was husband of Indira and a Member of

Parliament at a time when Jawaharlal’s personal power was unquestioned.

Feroze did not seek to enrich himself with sordid land deals, encouraged by

a kindly wife wearing a beatific smile, while the Prime Minister pretended

that nothing had happened. One the other hand, Feroze Gandhi as MP exposed

one of the major financial scandals in the Nehru government. By today’s

standards, of course, the amount of money involved was pitiable.

There are many in the establishment who believe that news can be

suppressed; and that if no one knows the story, it has not happened. You

can shield information up to a point, but not beyond it. The oldest and

most revered Indian epic, Ramayana, poses a question that it does not quite

answer: how did a dhobi in Ayodhya know that there were rumours about Sita

in Lanka? News travels, and never faster than when by word of mouth. The

Lord of India did not threaten the dhobi, even when he knew the dhobi was

wrong, because he understood that the credibility of his throne lay in his

ability to eliminate both apprehension and misapprehension with reason and

evidence. That dhobi is nameless. But he cannot be eliminated from history

because he questioned power, and then went back to washing clothes.

India is greater than its governments. India has produced an astonishing

citizens’ revolution to challenge the passage of power into the grasp of

pygmies. Each crisis point produces the hitherto unknown revolutionary who

takes a national mission forward. Ashok Khemka, the Haryana IAS officer who

further exposed Vadra’s land deals in Haryana, has just joined a growing

list of heroes who believe that if they do their honest duty, our nation

will be safe.

1 comment:

Krish said...

Wonderful use of our ancient epic to talk about what this country has always stood for. Lord Rama, who is worshipped even by some of the most corrupt politicians gave more importance to His people than anyone else. I hope the present generation of politicians take a leaf or two out of His book