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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Uncharacteristically the mainstream media in Bihar has been reporting news on Bihar’s corruption and urban chaos in Patna for the last few months. While the muck raised by the opposition on the score of  dozens of scams could  be dismissed as malicious propaganda,  the admission of Sri Jitan Ram Manjhi the CM of Bihar, that corruption had gone up in and in fact as a minister in the previous  government he  himself  had to pay a bribe of Rs 5000 to get his  electricity bill rectified cannot be dismissed lightly.1  Bihar’s mythical rise from the ashes as the model of good governance- its peace and tranquility, double digit growth, transparency in governance -had caught the imagination of the nation.So the two views of the Bihari reality are deeply confusing . Is it a crisis in mimesis or is this apparent free fall for real?
In November 2005  the Nitish Kumar government came to power in Bihar  riding the popular wave of anger against the RJD regime which had acquired a place in the history of political infamy  for corruption, mismanagement and lawlessness. An abundant fund of goodwill had accrued to the incumbent regime even before it had given any account of itself- good or bad- merely because it had dispatched the seemingly invincible RJD regime into oblivion. It also carried a heavy burden of public expectation and the government did take up the task of rapid development and good governance in right earnest.
The post AH scam RJD regime had severely  restrained public spending; it was difficult to get past the treasury for anything but the most essential housekeeping expenses and regulatory functions like police  etc . Deferral of financial decisions became the norm in bureaucracy for anyone who valued his career.  However, a confident government armed with peoples’ trust and mandate for rapid development was not afraid to unshackle its bureaucracy and the financial rules were liberalized much beyond their dreams. The several fold increase in public spending in Bihar dramatically enlarged the “corruptive interface” for the public servant. More and more areas of our concern became the subject matter of bureaucratic scrutiny and control  due to the enactment of many new, legislations and regulations etc. The opportunities for rent seeking and corruption increased enormously.  So did the need for much greater vigilance. But there was a huge asymmetry between the capability of the anti corruption agencies- ill equipped, poorly staffed, unprofessional, disheartened and above all placed   largely under risk averse officers- whose own past record could not bear much scrutiny-and the enormous challenge at hand. The situation was ideal for the loot to commence and the need of the hour was to crack the whip in earnest.
 The government   seemed to be serious about its efforts. But at the same time it was even more serious to be perceived to be doing that much – often more - to earn the maximum political dividend. So with equal energy it set about the task of building its image on a global scale. In a professional manner it set about projecting the change in government as a millennial event. 25th November 2005 became the temporal marker separating two distinct periods in history, two different modes of being in Bihar. As a matter of considered strategy Biharis were never allowed to forget the nightmare that they had left behind nor of the ever present danger of reverting to the same state of undifferentiated chaos, should the government’s hands be weakened.
Aware of the huge potential and global reach of the social media the nonresident Biharis were feted and treated by the government like royalty at the state sponsored annual conclaves. They in turn, became the greatest messengers of the gospel of resurgent Bihar to the four corners of the earth. They patrolled the social media sites with great energy and hundreds of guardian spirits would materialize from the cyberspace to stamp   out with finality even mildly critical references to the government on the social network sites. (They seem to have departed now or have they taken up other causes.) It was a fertile climate for mythologies and superstitions to grow and proliferate! One of them was that the public sphere had been cleansed and this transparent government free from corruption was a model to be emulated.
The media was more than compliant in reinforcing the beliefs. Its efforts were supplemented by the implacably hostile elements of privileged society , civil servants industrialists businessmen and intellectuals who had been tirelessly reporting about the misrule of Laloo Prasad .Their opinion constituted the common sense on Bihar and now they became the self appointed troubadours, the intellectual outriders of the new régime. The media appeared keener than the government itself to propagate its drive against corruption. It recycled and endlessly highlighted seizure of one house, raid against one IAS or IPS officer creating an illusion of a hyperactive vigilance. Instead of  deploying its resources to verify the extravagant official claims, expose the fake and fictitious and of course endorse the sincere efforts, a large section of the media generally took the government hand outs as the authorized version of truth. Non official versions of reality were all but obliterated through a clever sleight of hand. Reporting of news can make inroads in the public consciousness only if relayed on particular frequencies; there are levels above which they are reduced to being endless background chatter just as the low key positioning of others drowns it in a cacophony of insignificant verbiage. This became a specialized media industry. On the other hand to advertise the Bihari millennium became a collective, coercive creed imposing a moral obligation linked as it became with the issue of Bihari pride. Some said it was voluntary servitude; others called it paid labour. That Bihar was in the grips of a different kind of tyranny was soon evident - the tyranny of (manufactured?) public opinion.
Sadly the government of the day had begun to live by the image of its infallibility and incorruptibility created by the media. The consequences were disastrous. In absence of uncomfortable questions to the government, as the years passed by, the crowd sourced version of the extent of corruption in Bihar diverged more and more with the official reality, much to the delight of the corrupt. In the fissure between the fact and the projection of it they could operate peacefully, thank you very much.
The same tendency to earn money through misuse of public office made worse by a noticeable slide towards unashamed casteism, whose reality no one had imagined or foreseen, became evident to neutral and impartial observers quite early. But those who reported contrary to the official line ceased to be credible witnesses. In the absence of standard outlets it spawned a samizdat whose co-evolution took place with the over ground story. But this one was whispered behind the years. Or published in little known news portals-notably Bihar Times – which kept flagging off issues of urgent concern for the more resourceful media to pick up. They rarely did. 
 To illustrate the point two quotes from media “insiders”, reporting back to us about what they think, and also as outsiders, as shocked and angry about it as ordinary citizens might be   quite apposite. Amarnath Tewari quoting2 Press Council of India wondered aloud: “Has the fourth state in Bihar been sold out ?...The state government is using media for its own publicity and propaganda and the newspapers in the state have totally surrendered to the government for their only sources of revenue, government advertisements”. Saroor Ahmad3 another well respected journalist from Bihar was even more forthright and blamed the media for being complicit in the loot by refusing to “highlight”  “…repeatedly ..rampant loot right from secretariat to panchayat level …. …”
Nine years down the line there was the devil to pay on both sides. The ruling party took its punitive drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections 2014 for rampant corruption as a verdict against transparency and good governance. So it appears to  have , more or less, abandoned the agenda of good governance  and  reverted to its old terms of appeal: in caste identity, in the priming of the latent psychological markers, and exploiting the innate hostility and suspicion between castes. We in Bihar discovered at considerable cost to ourselves that if the media essays the role of a lap dog instead of its appointed role of a watch dog it can have disastrous consequences for democracy as well as for media itself. Marching confidently all the while, to the applause and encouragement of a large section of the media, we have hit the tunnel at the end of light!

Friday, August 22, 2014


My mind was made up. I would not waste a day more in approaching the neighbourhood bank for a loan of Rs 5 crores. But I was not too sure if the bank would as readily make up its mind about my creditworthiness  with such a large sum. How would  I know that, I thought, unless I took the first step.All my life I had been following the principle “neither a borrower nor a lender be”, so I was ignorant of the ways to charm your lender about your creditworthiness.

 Bankers are neat, tidy people. Strutting in their three piece suits they take naturally to those so dressed. So I took out my best suit -a little frayed in places  but it had been considered fashinable once.It stood for stability, mocking the fickle mindedness of my colleagues who seemed to change their suits half a dozen times every winter. Whatever. Looking my best  I presented myself before the manager who made a  huge effort to look pleasant and polite, though I could sense that he had sniffed me with his banker’s nose that I was an interloper.  He made me sit. I thought he had no option – the three chairs in front of him were all vacant!

Without any further ceremony he talked business. Without any ceremony I stated my purpose – I wanted a loan of Rs 5 crores. He just stared at me. Then he took out a neatly folded handkerchief, wiped the nonexistent beads of sweat from his brow and asked with an exaggerated – almost faux politeness, “what do you do, sir.” “I am a retired police officer and I draw a pension of Rs 80, 000 per month”. He stared at me longer, harder and with more venom.  “Before we get to the other details sir, what will you do with this huge sum? You said you had retired?” “I want to buy a Hummer.”He looked quite uncomprehendingly at me now, doubting my sanity. “I said it is not an impulsive decision, it is not a fad. I have given it days of careful thought .You see, actually my first choice was an ocean liner. But it would have been very expensive and quite beyond my means. But even if I had the means there was still the problem of berthing facilities, the uneven depths would require a proper channel to be dug up. Quite expensive. Then I thought of an amphibian vehicle. But that would have raised the hackles of the buggers in Intelligence Bureau and who knows even the CIA might have shown interest. Who wants trouble with these paranoid cops?” I could see his face getting contorted with impatience or incomprehension I could not tell but it looked like he was going to get a stroke. I wanted to give some more details only to convince him that I was not a loony bugger lately escaped from the asylum. Sensing that he was in some distress I stopped. After considerable time and effort he barked at me at an almost subsonic level.“What the hell is a Hummer and why do you want it?”
“Oh I see. I have a Maruti 800 so I want to buy a Hummer. I have heard that it is the sturdiest heavy duty SUV or whatever and with its high chassis it can clear any obstacles. Some of my loan will go to buy the vehicle and the rest to get it periodically filled up, what with the prices of petrol going up by the hour, one has to be well provided for. Dhoni owns one such SUV.” He still looked puzzled. Dear me! I should have told him. “Well my house is in the Gandhi Vihar Colony, in Patna. Now don’t tell me, you don’t know where Patna is. Amitabh Bacchan was here recently and the sheer beauty of the city sent him into raptures. The word is that Joseph Stieglitz who came here for a visit made enquiries about a suitable property.Patna is likely to overtake Paris in terms of beuaty and grandeur and the mayor of Paris is already feeling threatened; he is keenly studying the pattern of construction and destruction in the city. It rekindled the hopes of the likes of Lord Nicholas Stern, professor of economics, London School of Economics as a model for urban renewal and regeneration.  Never mind that it gets inundated even when it just threatens to rain. And if it actually does then it is deluge. I have my house there so I am supposed to go there, aren’t I?”

He lost his cool. “Living in Patna you dream of an existence free of water logging.Next you will come up for buying a garbage disposal truck because garbage doesn’t get cleaned up. You may like to buy an incinerator, or build a brand new power station for yourself because there is no electricity. You better go to the moon. There are no problems of water logging there, none of garbage disposal.”  I was quick to catch the symbolism of my banishment to moon. He was convinced I was touched in some corner of my head and to escape me he seemed ready to throw himself out of the window. I reluctantly made a move.

 But I still have the problem at hand. Perpetual problem .If by some miracle, at some future date the stagnant pool of water does dry up (Well if the Ganges can, cannot the pool around my house?) there will be the piles of garbage and construction rubble. Inspired by Ferrari Kee Sawari an incipient but passing thought crossed my mind “Shall I steal Dhoni’s Hummer? Immediately the former police officer in me caught the momentarily way ward law abiding citizen by the scruff of his collar. I am  still  waiting at the bank to hitch a ride back home, on my private island, from some lucky guy with a Scorpio . 

Sunday, April 27, 2014


The name Gandhi spells magic for my generation of Indians and anyone associated with the lineage raises expectations of character and quality, whatever the occasion.So one felt naturally drawn to Gopal Krishna Gandhi’s Kohli Memorial Lecture, delivered to CBI officers, in the hope of some serious food for thought, some  valuable personal experience or insight which could illuminate our own, troubled questionings as to what exactly had gone wrong with the Indian Republic. But as it is, it turned out to be more in the nature of a  tete –a-tete, rather than a serious engagement with any of the myriad issues staring the nation in the face.

The lecture breathlessly surveys a whole gamut of institutions of the Republic, how they achieved the high noon and then the eclipse set in. But when he came to the CBI the point of the lecture began to be evident to me. What was the occasion for making the point about a CBI director posing a threat to the political class by being a self directed robot, an instrument of terror, a power centre in its own right? Has any director of the CBI ever shown any inclination in that direction? The besetting malady has been their pusillanimity, their reluctance to make a move against the really powerful even after being flogged by the courts? The inexorable laws of natural selection favour only those with the right attitude get to the top of the organization; those whose moral compass always points northwards. The system separates the chaff from the wheat and then opts for the chaff. Those who could instill the fear of law in the hearts of the powerful invariably fall by the wayside. Hence it is not the powerful who have to fear the CBI (or the police for that matter!) Mr. Gandhi seems to have got it all wrong. It is not the highhandedness of the CBI , or for that matter of any police force that people in high places are worried about. It is about the threat to their privilege which is the real issue.

But Mr. Gandhi is a man of culture and his anxiety on this score is sufficiently well disguised. “There is justified criticism of CBI highhandedness and lack of sensitivity to loss of reputation of senior members of the bureaucracy against whom needless enquiries can get initiated.” But even so one would like to know from whose point of view is it “justified criticism”? From the point of view those whose decisions are the subject matter of investigation? From the point of view of  Mr. Parekh who has rightly dared the CBI in his book, because he knows, as indeed everyone else knows, that CBI has that fine sense of discretion not to encroach upon the area marked by the crossed skull and bone of privilege. He is in a boat which the CBI cannot rock. The CBI practices the dichotomy of distinction with panache – put on trial the man who supposedly took bribe on behalf of the railway minister and spare the railway minster himself.

 But post Coalgate a genuine fear seems to have gripped the high and mighty in the upper reaches of bureaucracy.Mr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India in his speech to CBI officers on the occasion of its golden jubilee was more forthright when he instructed a gathering of senior officers   of the CBI on what constitutes the ingredients of criminal misconduct. He claimed an exemption for policy makers from being made accountable in Prevetion of Corruption Act 1988 for policy decisions.There could not be a more disingenuous plea for exceptionalism. It is a plea to be categorized as special  class of citizens. After all who makes policy – not the legislators, not the judges, not the police officers. It is the government on the advice of its top bureaucrats. So all that they have to do is to invoke the magic word “policy” and the loss of 1.76 lac crores of rupees of the Indian tax payers money could be just written off?
 Experience tells us that for long governments have been running on the unstated motto “Dishonesty is the best policy.”Claiming for themselves immunity in the name of policy is the first step. Then they could go ahead and announce that dishonesty is their policy thus taking both their dishonesty and their policy out of the purview of prying investigators.
While we are at it, many police officers believe that extermination of terrorists, criminals etc are the only policy options in times of crisis, but it so turns out that some of them turn out to be normal peace loving people like you and me. Will the immunity extend to these matters of life and liberty also or shall we limit it to pecuniary losses only? The CBI understands things but the rest of us uninitiated folks have still not divined the gnostic themes spelt out to them from time to time by eminent people.  So these tactless undiplomatic questions need to be raised.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Make Haste Slowly, Mr. Kejariwal

Any assessment of Kejariwal must concede the monumental nature of his project. He has dared to dream of an emancipatory politics that is geared to unfold the consequences of a new possibility. Established as well as newly forged opportunistic parties exploiting the various fissures in society, anchored in the minds of their followers by pure greed and rewards of office have been ruling the roost.   Kejariwal arrived at this crucial juncture, this moment of crisis when the various debauched versions of politics had ceased to interest people because ordinary citizens felt they had no say in state decision-making. A sense of pervasive despair had overtaken a large number of people; each one of them thought that alone he could not make the difference; he needed to convince countless others like him. He was able to energies this inert mass of people and inspired by his vision the political arena has seen the influx of IIT engineers, management graduates, former civil servants, apart from common people. It has radicalized the political sphere by posing a challenge to the tired old generation of professional politicians or others who owe their rise to prominence exclusively by inheritance or political maneuvering or daring acts of criminality. A greater variety by way of “new people” itself promises to open the possibilities of radical new evolution which had been stopped in its tracks by the inbred nature of our politics. It would be irresponsible to spot him as the man in Taine’s famous triad of the man, the moment and the milieu so soon but he has certainly brought a glimmer of hope, something solid to stand upon and look beyond the imprisoning wall of despair. But above all he has promised to dismantle the political system where every source of power has been conscripted to politics and political connections. Direct democracy would be a reality and referendum the normal mode of consultation. He needs to be cheered, if for nothing else, for   the mobilsation of valuable social capital in the interest of better politics.

 It will be worth the recall that he was part of the Anna brigade and the main plank of this agitation was
 fighting corruption. After the parting of ways with Anna on the issue of a more direct political engagement to  fight corruption Kejariwal began his campaign for being anointed as the font of moral authority, as the social conscience of the age in a very systematic manner. He painted everyone in the public eye in hues of black. Revelation of financial malfeasance and corrupt practices, a disclosure a day, scandal piled upon scandal. Like Bernard Shaw, he built his reputation by murdering other people’s reputation. But he was also treading a dangerous path by setting himself up, as the Socratic figure, of a detached disinterested dreamer one who could “set against the laws of the    state a discourse of superior law, an ideal against an established order of power.” He was stacking the dice every day but I guess he misread the signal. He seemed to have located his utopia quite some distance away in time. But the people of Delhi took him more seriously than he himself. The “detached dreamer” was now called upon to take the role of a man of action. He was found to be lacking in logistics as well as a viable strategy. Surprisingly for a man who had at his command the national brains trust of IIT and IIM fellows  he did not seem to have thought deeply enough. Abundant goodwill and a determination to do good are not good enough to compensate for amateurishness, lack of experience, and ignorance about the dimension of the problems. When you proclaim sainthood you are bound to be judged by the high standard of a saint! The jury is out – almost on a daily basis.

He solved the easier questions easily. Henceforth it was for the Aam admi to decide whether its party would accept the support of another party to form a government. Whether the CM will stay in a ten room bungalow or in a three room quarter? In fact it seems the AAP is determined to disprove the wry observation of the maverick thinker, commentator and polemicist Slavoj Zizek “those in power pretend that they do not really hold the power, and ask us to decide freely if we want to grant it to them.” he wanted to transform the pretense in to the essence.  Redeeming his promise of electricity and free water were also rather easy and their consequences, whatever they may be, would be felt only in the long run.It may be a bit of pure theatre but it has reaped a great dividend by way of spurring other parties to emulate him. So we have the slightly incongruous situation where an MP sits on dharna to reduce the price of electricity. Another political party has sought the opinion of the constituents to indicate their choice of candidates in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. More reasons for cheer for Mr. Kejariwal.  

Unworkability is one of the main elements of utopian projects; the other being a certain endearing vagueness. Who is an Aam admi? An Aam admi is indeed an abstraction. In him he has sought to locate the source of ultimate purity and honesty. Some kind of a noble savage dressed to make a living in modern times. He is the personified victim of a dysfunctional system. The fact of the matter is that he is a Janus faced creature, much like Sartre’s “half victim half, half accomplice like everyone else”in a polity whose wheels are kept in motion by the grease of corruption and extortion. To begin with who is an Aam admi? The railway porter who will not hesitate to extort the maximum portage   from another Aam admi, on one of the many railway stations? Is it the auto driver who will maximize his advantage by refusing to take a fare on a lonely less frequented route, or late in the night unless he shells out the price he has quoted? Is he the milkman or vegetable vender who considers adulteration his birth right? The international film director whose outing for an evening could mean the domestic budget of any of the three categories of people mentioned previously? Or is he the owner of a private airline? Or is he the law minister who orders about the police to do his bidding whatever the circumstances? Or is he the one who is prepared to let lose anarchy should the central government not accept his advice? Aam admi is the embodiment of all the romantic notions about helpless citizen pitted against the vast impersonal state but he is also Khas in his own sphere of activity. Aam adami subsumes a variety of mutually hostile interests; they do not make a solidarity group and are a source of many contradictions. As indeed Kejariwal learnt to his embarrassment when he fled from them to take shelter on the roof top.

His pronouncements about corruption also showed the same lack of awareness of the scope and reach of corruption nor does he seem to be aware of the slow, inefficient and unreliable process of law to curb it.  When the time came to redeem his promise into the CWG scandal and the lady who gave it a visible face -Sheela Dikshit- to set in motion definitive investigation, punishment, and expiation, the 370 page document with which he had threatened to nail the culprits who had siphoned away tens of thousands of crores of public money during the common wealth games turned out to be just a whole baggage of news paper clippings, not enough to nail the culprit. Or was it? The fact that he was sharing power with Congress added more grist to the rumour mill. The ghost of murdered reputations has come to haunt him.

Kejariwal’s, mind is inscrutable. It is also dangerously agile and jumps nimbly from one issue to another even without so much as a semblance of continuity or design. May be he has programmed such a randomness in his mind that even he does know not where the trajectory of his thinking will lead him to.
 His focus soon shifted the battle lines to the unrequited sinfulness of the African nationals- from plunder of astronomical sums of public money by a CM to peddling of drugs and sex on the street- which was revealed to him by his law – or lawless - minister. Kejariwal’s ideas about governance imply a kind of basic, constitutive naïveté: or else he would not have taken the legally and pragmatically indefensible position. As I understand a minister, a minster of law at that - wanted his impromptu orders to be implemented by the police. The law minister of Delhi has no authority in law to order about police men He has, just as any citizen, the right to be heard and his grievances attended to with utmost dispatch. As subsequent events have shown the police was quite right in exercising circumspection.No one can deny that the CM of Delhi should have control over the police. But so long as the untenable position remains the police is duty bound to act in accordance with this arrangement.

 Unable to counter charges of impropriety on part of his minster, he quickly turned the barrel on to the police. No harm there. Police serves a useful purpose in giving all forms of democratic and undemocratic protests – howsoever senseless, howsoever meaningless- substance and form. A few broken skulls on either side, a demand to punish the guilty policeman is also par for the course. But the revolutionary nature of Kejariwal’s politics consisted in reneging on his solemn oath to the constitution which he swore amidst great fanfare to profess anarchy. His two day old dharna at the Rail Bhawan is reminiscent of the remark of one of the Pussy riot activists “Humor, buffoonery, irreverence can be of use in the quest for the truth.”But the truth did not emerge; here it led to more controversy. How can a CM profess and propagate anarchy? Is he is now trying to locate his support base more in the urban poor even at the risk of alienating a large number of middle class constituents? Police has been a rallying cry for mobilization since the pre independence days. Delhi has a considerable number of urban poor and a fairly large number of youth - traditional foes of police – and they welcomed it with great gusto. They seem to have the least to lose.

  Not surprisingly his exhortations to anarchy have been welcomed, even, by members of the middle and upper class ,including civil servants, personalities from the film world, people living in gated communities and others located in various islands of privilege. Radicalism finds a more fertile breeding ground in the minds of the most conservative and reactionary of circles. They can talk about injustice because they get more than their share of justice all the time. But possibly they have not seen anarchy at close quarters .The  radicalization of the urban masses could prove to be a dangerous thing, especially in view of the fact that our democratic infrastructure- time worn and decrepit- are already finding it difficult  to manage dissent.  More than 350 districts- largely forests and rural areas- are already taken up by the activities of the extremist groups, their criminal activities masked as “revolutionary “struggle. Add to that the communal cauldron which is perpetually on the boil; we are sitting on a tinder box. Anyone with “an adequate sense of causation”, anyone with a sense of history could see that such frontier bravado could easily get out of hand.Tahrir Square is an enticing metaphor but it hides the nightmarish reality of the unworkability of the revolutionary hypothesis.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Paradox of Public Space

The Tarun Tejpal episode has put the cat among the pigeons. Tehelka has for long been considered to be an ethical resort area. A brave new world inhabited by intrepid journalists, like Tejpal, who had taken upon themselves the burden of an extraordinary enterprise of exposing the high and the mighty. But when the searchlight was flashed inwards, the continent showed up as just another moral swamp, with the same climate of atrocity and rhythm of destruction that characterizes the rest of our society. Women are no safer; the minds of those who seek their emancipation on their behalf are themselves so much more in need of emancipation. Followed by news of the sexual atrocity come the troubling disclosures of massive financial wheeling dealing, parking of anonymous funds, betrayal and criminal breach of trust. How shall we hold faith, then? If the best of the media is like this how much confidence can the rest inspire?
But the condemnation of Tehelka is not universal like it has been in the case of some other notorious rapes. The lynch mobs have not come out in the streets demanding instant decapitation or hanging. Those who have taken to such measures have been easily dismissed – with a large measure of truth in it – as partisan BJP mobs with scores to settle. In fact, spirited defences have been set up by some media men, politicians and public figures alike. A major political party has actually slipped in a few words edgeways, by way of support also.
The responses to l’affaire Tehelka can be broadly categorized – the first being the one that rightly condemns the rape because all rapes are condemnable and no exception needs to be made here. This is the response of common people who are unaligned and not too political. There are some channels who have gone in to an overdrive discussing it on primetime, keeping the issue alive, seemingly seeking justice for the victim. Could the stridency be an unconscious urge to justify themselves to themselves and in the eyes of the people that they are different?
Then there are people who seek to contextualize the incident, narrate the extenuating circumstances and tirelessly describe Tejpal’s revolutionary past. It has been dealt with it extensively but I shall permit myself just one observation. Grave and sudden provocation sometimes do count as mitigating circumstances but this can be termed as nothing but a premeditated and willful act committed by a man who was not so much drunk on alcohol as on a sense of his own power, his fame and the fevered adoration of his acolytes. Heady brew no doubt, but it does not qualify as an extenuating circumstance in the eyes of criminal law nor of prevailing morality.
A columnist in plays the devil’s advocate. His contention is that Tejpal is being targeted because his Tehelka was different and it reminded the others of their own inadequacy. Then he goes on to tar every one with the same brush: burked instances of sexual exploitation, conspiracy of silence, pimping for the corporate, suppression of stories, blackmail and extortion are itemized with malicious glee. But his logic of moral relativism does not go too far. He is even more grievously wrong when he insinuates about the misdemeanour of others stopping short of full disclosures. But now is the time to light up the spooky corners, to unmask the charlatans. His rhetoric can be described what Umberto Eco calls ‘a private communication between power groups which leapfrogs the citizen denying him his viewpoint ‘and leaving women as insecure as ever. To that extent it is both anti- democratic and contrary to the credo of healthy journalism.
Not that his disclosures come as a big surprise. The Radia tapes have already shown many media men in their role as power brokers, as political go-betweens, and corporate fixers. They are also into the business of money making like everyone else. Sometime back a blog serialized the libertine lifestyle, the parties and sleeping around in a TV news channel and some of the leading lights could be identified. The action on behalf of the channel was both prompt and peremptory. The authors of the mischief were spotted, promptly sacked and for good measure it was insured that their future did not look too rosy. But that has not deterred a section of the media from seceding to a hidden planet with their own “inverse surrounding values,” a culture of their own where profligacy, unabashed hedonism and promiscuity are the dominant gestures. No wonder women are viewed as the ultimate consumption value. In the newly invented idiom of the place rape becomes “mild sexual banter”, “the easiest way to keep the job.” So why this outrage?
“This is the paradox of public space”, says the maverick Slovenian intellectual Slavoj Zizek, “even if everyone knows an unpleasant fact, saying it in public changes everything.” This is what this girl – or the other girl in the matter of the retired judge – has done. By merely articulating the wrong done to her in a full throated manner she has asserted not only the claims of women to an equal share of the workplace but radicalized the whole atmosphere. In her – and the likes of her, they are not beholden to a name – one can see the emerging image of the new Indian woman.
But young and inexperienced as she is, she has to learn many things especially how things work in the real world, the foremost among them is that Power has only masculine gender. That is why when Shoma Chawdhary – dubbed as a turn coat of her sex –connived with the powerful Tejpal for as long as it was feasible, trying to broker peace and bury the deed, she was only following the logic of power which is devoid of imagination, a dehumanizing apparatus in its own right. So it happens that women are as much unsafe in presence of cult figures and fountainheads of power whether Sant Asaram or Tarun Tejpal, whether in the tutelage of an incestuous father or in police custody. But things are beginning to change; things are bound to change and the society should feel indebted to the courage of such individuals.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Rape By Any Other Name

Tarun Tejpal, the inquisitor par excellence is now himself being pilloried in the media for his “bad lapse of judgment”. This “bad lapse of judgment”, however, comes with its own palliative – his literary worth, his courageous journalism, his mastery of the art form of essay, his Midas touch are narrated in the same breath.That makes me feel so inadequate  because  I must confess,  I have not read anything by Tejpal - essays, fiction, whatever. As a matter of fact, I do not read any fiction at all.In a world saturated by 24/7 TV and the ubiquitous print media; we live our lives as serialized fiction. Or the fictitious world is passed on to us as our very own lived lives.

Tehelka, we have been told, has been unsparing in its efforts to expose to the glare of public scrutiny the conduct of the high and mighty without fear or favour. It did not pull any stops, it even took enormous risks     in the pursuit of     its   objectives.    Its stories called a spade not just a    spade         but        a bloody  shovel.But,uncharacteristically,Tarun Tejpal’s epistolary address to his flock before his proposed self exile – self exile, we have  all  begun to suspect,  is a common place arty gesture, a regular indulgence-is  an exercise in minimalism. When it comes to describing his own escapades, the writer whose fiction has been described as “bold,” “sexy,”  “sultry,”   “sizzling” evokes the literary conventions and cultural mores of the days gone by, he reduces the   horrible incident to the requirements of staid domesticity. The highly shattering and traumatic incident of rape has been routinized, reduced to an embarrassing faux pas rather like getting into a heated argument with the host at a party or some other breach of decorum in a domestic setting. Euphemism characterizes the idiom of the powerful; understatements naturalize the cruelties of power by dissociating the memory of cruelties from the act itself. Language, among other things, is about naming objects, about evoking states of being but understatement subverts the natural association of the word with the mental picture. 

 There are other reasons why I find the opening line of Mr. Tejpal so fascinating and worthy of extended analysis. The obscurity of the message is intended to go over the heads of people outside the Tehelka cult, should it by chance   ever leak because it could be decoded only if you had the key. The key was that a rape had taken place, that the rapist was none other than the pater familas and that the secret must not get out at any cost. Nor is Tejpal’s mail to his staffers in the nature of apology; it is not act of contrition; nor for that matter are these words of repentance. It is sheer  power discourse .The imprecision and obliquity of the text create a sense of moral ambiguity in order to inscribe in the minds of trusting and supplicating followers the version of truth that the powerful leader wants them to believe in. What qualifies to be   called rape   in the Indian penal code should be taken merely as a “mild sexual banter”. “Bad lapses of judgment, itself comes loaded with a whole baggage of memory, promises of reward and implied threat. The counterfactual has not been stated - what are the dividends  of a shrewd reading of the situation, of a proper exercise of judgment. What a pity that the unspoken but clearly understood mantra   of success, “This is the easiest way to keep your job” had to be made explicit to the unfortunate girl.

Tejpal   then goes on to remind them of what Tehelka is what the membership of this group means, and how he built this institution with his blood etc. Will they not excuse him this small little “drunken sexual banter”? He was even willing to recuse himself for six months and, impressed by her ability at damage control, hand over the leadership of cult Tehelka in “more capable hands “of his deputy Shoma Chaudhary.
His trust in Shoma was not misplaced. She had not imbibed the Tehelka culture of double standards and hypocrisy in vain.  When it came to fighting the biggest battle in the life of Tehelka, she betrayed her young, inexperienced but brave colleague to the demands of expediency.  She tried to hush up the scandal as being an internal matter-a stance that is reminiscent of a James Thurber fable, wherein a Fox charged of eating up a rabbit says, “He is eaten and digested, so it is an internal matter.”

Tehelka’s - soi disant (?) - moral authority is rooted in the fact while holding a mirror to the other three estates; it can pass the strictest public scrutiny in terms of its own impartiality, even handedness and fair play. It failed this test miserably.  As the Tehelka story is unraveled layer by layer-it’s funding and ownership is already a subject of some curiousity- we must prepared to be disappointed. This was one more false prophet; we have once again been fooled into mistaking a garden variety cabbage for a rose!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Police : Between the terrorist and the terrorized

If we judge by the result the terrorist strike in Patna failed to achieve its objective. The terrorists seek to disrupt normal life by injecting a deep sense of insecurity and fear, to break the even tenor of life, to disrupt the routine. It kills five and terrorizes a city of five million. But in Patna the other day, the eight blasts seemed like so many celebratory crackers being burst in a cricket match which was going our way. The people listened to the speaker and left the venue safe, unharmed and unprovoked. Yesterday was also their day of glory when the humble, much reviled Bihari made a historic contribution to the cause of communal harmony by defeating the designs of the terrorist, treating it as one more criminal incident.

 From what has appeared in the media there is no doubt that a lot more needed to be done by the Bihar police but I shall not pile more dirt on my beleaguered former colleagues in the moment of their shame. As it is the whole world is doing it. But it is as good an occasion as any to reiterate that police in general has – never was - been a professional outfit exclusively geared to its avowed ends of protecting the people. To mould the police after its own image through extensive systems of formal and informal controls is a typically politico- bureaucratic industry and the political orientation of police leadership often blinds them to the obvious requirements of professionalism. The detractors are already explaining
the half hearted approach of the police in the light of the known antagonism and hostility between the two chief ministers. When professional response has to be factored with political costs the police man falls between two stools as it happened on the day the funeral procisionists went on rampage in Patna.

It has been evident for quite long that police in Bihar is in the need for radical reforms as well as a massive up gradation of its skills, logistics and other wherewithal. The government, however, seems to have become a dupe to its own assiduous propaganda about the enhanced capability of  its  police and  the  state of  law and order,  which was being   cited as an example for the rest of nation to follow. A salutary dose of healthy criticism has for so long been missing from its diet that the administration shows the characteristic sloth and lethargy of a diabetic.

Having said that can even the most organized and professional police force prevent a terrorist attack in a society like ours? No matter how pervasive the surveillance, no matter how ruthless the frisking someone, somewhere is going to get past the safety net. Because now the enemy is within, dispersed within the body politic, looking like just you and me, sharing the same neighborhood. Only his mind is controlled
by hostile elements sitting across the border. How do you know what is brewing in his mind? What dire motivation impels a man to weaponize himself? To become a human bomb ready for   targeted delivery!

 So guns and surveillance are alright but should not we be thinking of striking at the root of the trouble -the deeply alienating nature of our politics. Could we  not  desist  from a politics which goes in a state of overdrive to  inflame passions , polarize sentiments , put  the communities on the throat of each other,
 stoke suspicion of one  caste  against the other  and is  ever willing  make a burnt offering  of human lives in their hundreds  at the altar of electoral prospects. Could the political parties come to some sort of an agreement to cool down the temperature which is already past safety levels? The battle against terrorism is as much a battle for the control of minds of men as anything else and we seem to be losing it. In fact, in view of the fact that the estranged bedfellows- the JD U and the BJP – are likely to make more and more dangerous politics in the days to come , the writing on the wall is clear for us.  There are no indications of politics ceding control of police and the change of its heart seems nowhere on the horizon.  So till then we must take a lesson from this tragedy. Stoic calm in face of a misfortune which affects both the communities in various ways!  We are a state of 100 million people; they certainly could not kill that many!