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.