Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Equally disturbing is the manner in which the Press Council’s two-member investigation into the “paid news” scandal is being sought to be delayed, suitably “moderated” or possibly scuttled from within.

Loose Cannons Volley and Thunder

From junior ministers sounding off out of turn and sordid influence peddling for control of the airwaves to “paid news” scandals, a litany of disorder.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 17 May, 2010

The volley and thunder from loose cannons in recent weeks has reached epidemic proportions that call for prophylactic action. There is a certain political, social and individual discipline that people in public life must observe if they wish to be taken seriously and make claims to leadership.

Shashi Tharoor’s gaffes have been followed by a series of actions and observations by Jairam Ramesh, another bright and intelligent younger minister, mistaking hubris for superior responsibility. To criticize one’s own government outside one’s own sphere of official responsibility on foreign soil on shaky premises and in defiance of collective responsibility was singularly brash and invited the stinging rebuke that inevitably followed. What signal was it supposed to send? And then the needlessly negative stance on Bt brinjal, forest-environmental clearances and in delaying national highway and other projects. These have once again tended to reinforce the unjustified notion that the Ministry of Environment and Forests is blocking development and hampering poverty alleviation on purist rather than practical considerations. Poverty, let it be remembered, is overall a great enemy of the environment as it compels communities to practice survival economics that are often sub-optimal.

Thereafter, what does one do with coalition ministers who shirk their official duties to indulge in a variety of extra-curricular activities to advance their own agendas. Mamta Bannerje is in the government not to run the Railways, except to win credit in West Bengal, but to organize herself the better to fight her Leftist rivals. When the suburban motormen’s strike hobbled commuters in Mumbai recently, the Minister was playing truant in Kolkata preparing for the forthcoming municipal elections there to the neglect of her ministerial and parliamentary responsibilities.

Not to be outdone, Alagazhi, Karnunanidhi’s eldest son and his nominee in the Union cabinet as Chemicals and Fertiliser Minister, has been largely absent from Parliament. During the just concluded budget session, Alagazhi was formally “on holiday” in the Maldives from April 17 to 22. He is among the many dummies in the cabinet whose contribution is unlikely to be recorded in letters of gold, anytime, anywhere. He is otherwise in Madurai, planning how he can outwit his younger brother Stalin, in the race to become chief minister of Tamil Nadu when the throne to the fiefdom is vacated. Like the Trinamool Congress, the DMK holds the balance of power in the Lok Sabha on critical occasions.

But what shall one say of A. Raja, Telecom Minister and another DMK nominee, who has presided over the 2-G and 3-G spectrum sales at great profit to a lot of interests other than the national exchequer. Reports have appeared, without contradiction, that he proceeded energetically with his mission in defiance of the prime minister’s cautions and instructions. Questions are being asked why anti-corruption investigations against him on the basis of material evidence were mysteriously put into cold storage last year on the intervention of powerful lobbies. When questions were raised, Karunanidhi rose to Rajas’s defence with the extraordinary plea that he was being targeted because he is a dalit.

The telecom spectrum investigations conducted by the income tax and telecom authorities named leading corporate houses and famous media persons, among others, who wanted certain things done in a particular manner and indulged in influence peddling. Aspects of this sordid record, including official papers and approved telephone intercepts, are now in private circulation in the form of what are called the Radia papers, named after one of the leading lobbyists allegedly involved. The money in question reportedly runs into tens of thousands of crore which has been used to buy acquiescence or silence, provide slush funds and win influential support.

Equally disturbing is the manner in which the Press Council’s two-member investigation into the “paid news” scandal is being sought to be delayed, suitably “moderated” or possibly scuttled from within. Enough has appeared in the public domain to suggest that the Council divided along media management and editorial lines when the investigation report came up for consideration and adoption and that a larger committee of 11 persons has been appointed to review the initial findings. This is disturbing, even ominous, coming as it does after most newspapers failed to publish the Editor’s Guild code of conduct on “paid news” that was adopted at a well attended meeting a few months ago. Editors have taken the pledge. Managements differ. The line up is clear and it is no secret who calls the shots.

To cap this tale of shame comes the defiance of certain khap panchayats in Haryana and UP to accept intra-gotra marriages and justify barbaric “honour” killings despite court rulings. More surprise that a young Congress M.P, Naveen Jindal, should act as an intermediary for errant khaps on the utterly frivolous ground that it is an MP’s duty to represent his constituents. Matching this medieval obscurantism comes two fatwas from the Sunni Muslim seminary Darul Uloom in Deoband. One spoke against women working in a man’s world, a modern absurdity that no appeals to the divine can remotely justify. Closely following that was a second fatwa denouncing insurance, as this is based on interest earnings which are taboo in Islam. While there have been some modernizing statements emanating from Deoband, they do not “balance” the basic fundamentalism that remains the mainspring of the seminary’s belief and actions.

Whether it is Hindu or Islamic fundamentalism, there is a limit to extenuation as obscurantism upholds a bygone era and menaces the future. A time comes when it is necessary to proclaim that the Emperor has no clothes at all.

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