Sunday, December 08, 2013
A message to the AAP
It is indeed heartening to see a group of idealists, most of them new to the party-based system, making a huge impact in their first ever attempt in elections. The Aam Aadmi Party, true, could not win an absolute majority in Delhi. And in that sense the party is not part of the same league as the Telugu Desam Party or the Asom Gona Parishad. These two parties wrested power in Andhra Pradesh and Assam in the 1980s in the first ever elections they contested. Well. Neither the TDP nor the AGP were powered by idealism and hence it is incorrect.
The AAP’s performance is commendable for another reason. This bunch of daredevil idealists was up against not just the established political parties. From the start they were against a system that was loaded against any such idealist experiments. As for instance they asked for donations and made it clear that details of all donors will be put on the public domain. To be fair, this is not done by any political party. And at a time when the established parties ganged up to legislate against a ruling by the Central Information Commission that parties and their affairs ought to be treated as public information, thanks to the Right to Information Act.
And in doing this, the AAP put idealism above what many would call pragmatism! It is a fact that many of those who look for a chance to fund parties, in anticipation of favours when they come to power, shied away from donating to the AAP. The fact is that such donors detest idealism and they were comfortable contributing to the established parties. As for instance, those who made money through contracts in the CWG works or those who garnered contracts for such other works could not have given money to the AAP; and in the event, one of our TV channels would not have missed an opportunity to preserve the status quo!
This brings the role of the media, the TV channels in particular, in the run up to the elections. All of them were consistently spreading a message that the AAP may do well but is sure to end up a spoiler. Interestingly this was exactly what the BJP kept saying: that a vote for the AAP was going to help the Congress. This certainly was a conspiracy that at least a section of the media was guilty of being a part. At a time when the Congress was sure to lose Delhi, such a campaign in the media with anchors driving the point that the AAP is certain to emerge as a spoiler, was indeed a conspiracy on the part of these anchors. Recall that some channels also went bending over their back to paint the AAP with tar and even relied on hatchet jobs to do this.
That Shazia Ilmi lost her election by a mere 340 votes can be seen as the success of such vested interests that are keen preserving the status quo; and to reiterate that politics and corruption go together and nothing will change. That these channels did not feel constrained to apologise when it became clear that they were distorted and doctored footages is substantive proof that they were party to the conspiracy and not just unethical journalism.
The AAP has also proven analysts wrong on another count: that its appeal does not go beyond the middle classes. The party won in most of the constituencies where the poor and the hapless live in large numbers. It has also proved wrong a section of the left-leaning intelligentsia, most of them either running funded organisations in the name of social movements (the NGO sector), that the AAP was anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit. The party has won most such constituencies. And if there is one area where the AAP did not do as well, it was in constituencies where the salariat live in large numbers. This is no surprise!
There is another and more important aspect of the AAP and its performance in Delhi. It is about the categorical statement that came from its leaders and the ranks: that the party will sit in the opposition rather than resort to the rhetoric that it will explore all possibilities and gloss such opportunism with such words as secularism. Recall the way the established parties had behaved in Jharkhand in the past five years; the two `national’ parties had propped up a Madhu Koda there for different periods of time. That there was no ambiguity in the AAP even while TV anchors were desperate to convince them that they could wield power by cobbling up a post-poll arrangement with the Congress was indeed refreshing.
In all, there is hope for those who cherish the idea of Parliamentary Democracy and the party system that elections need not be fought the same way as most parties do; by distributing gifts and doling out cash to the voters. The AAP’s success is certainly a signal that violent means are not the only way out of the mess that our parties have landed the nation in. The Delhi voters have shown that pollsters either got it wrong or rigged the data to yield results that they desired. The AAP may not emerge a national alternative in April-May 2014. But did anyone see the party emerging the opposition party when Kejriwal and people like him decided to launch the party a little over a year ago?
Meanwhile, Kejriwal and his comrades will find two things useful. One is a book, an autobiography of A.K.Gopalan, legendary communist who refused to be a prisoner of Parliamentary privileges and instead used them to further the cause of agitational politics in the cause of the people. And another is a song; John Lennon’s Working Class Hero. The Aam Aadmi Party cannot and should not turn into another Janata Party that failed.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Sting Operations are not Investigative Journalism
It may be sheer coincidence that the media in the past week was caught up with Tarun Tejpal and yet another sting operation that sought to paint the Aam Aadmi Pary black. The coincidence, notwithstanding, there is a link between the two and therein is a reason for the media as a whole to introspect on the use of sting as journalistic practice. Tarun Tejpal, after all, is the one who put sting journalism on a pedestal and his enterprise gathered support, including the resources, from a cross section.
One does find a fair number of those who hold his enterprise in high esteem and even argue that any discussion on the charges of molestation against him should not gloss over his contribution to journalism in the recent times. Well. It is a matter of one’s opinion as to whether the brand of journalism that he steered calls for celebration or not.
Having said that, it is time we stop celebrating sting reports and stop confusing this with investigative journalism. The first objection to sting operations is from an ethical concern. That deception is the first rule in such operations renders them unethical in the first place.
One may argue then that Ashwani Sarin’s news report in the 1980s (I bought Kamala for Rs. 5000), too was also of this nature and hence unethical. Well. Sarin did not use technology of the kind Tejpal put to use in conducting what they called `Operation Westend’ to hold the then Defence Minister George Fernandes guilty of corruption in purchases. Incidentally, the recent one against individuals in the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party, by Media Sarkar, matches Tejpal’s in all aspects!
Recall the events that followed Tejpal’s operation in the 1990s. After the Justice Venkataswamy Commission’s probe (described as a whitewash) by the Congress, the Left and others who opposed the NDA then, the CBI investigation carried out after the Congress-led UPA came to power in 2004 too did not find evidence to corroborate Tejpal’s story. And yet, journalism in India was driven by more such sting operations, facilitated by the gizmos turning cheaper than at the time when Tejpal used them.
There was the one that Ajit Jogi sought to use against Dilip Singh Judeo and another when Bollywood was scandalized. We also saw this being resorted to by Amar Singh against Shanti Bhushan when the lawyer stood up with Anna Hazare in April-May 2011. It was revealed that the Compact Discs that were circulated were versions that had footages picked up from different sources and audio-bytes superimposed at some advanced edit suites. To cut a long story short, these sting operations were anything but journalism and certainly not investigative journalism.
This indeed is what seems to be the truth in the case of the recent video CDs involving the individuals from the Aam Aadmi Party. And there is indeed something eerie about the way the media in general and Television in particular treats this. There seems to be a celebration and an attempt, even if not conscious, to paint the AAP with the same brush as the established political parties: To convey that party politics is necessarily a cesspool and that anyone who enters the electoral scene is bound to turn corrupt.
This certainly was not there when Ashwani Sarin reported the incidence of women being sold for prostitution when he wrote his story in the 1980s. Or when Neerja Chaudhury wrote about the fate of the bonded labourers who were released from bondage just a few months before, she helped in the making of a law that declared rehabilitation of bonded labourers into a Constitutional right.
Similarly, when Arun Shourie exposed the Kuo Oil deal or the Indira Prathistan scandal, he did not resort to sting operations. N.Ram and Chitra Subramaniam unraveled the Bofors scandal by putting documents in the public domain. This indeed is investigative journalism. It may be true that all these scandals and those behind the deals managed to escape the law. And that is another story. The fact is that these attempts at investigation rendered the media into an important player in the making of our democracy.
It is time that investigative journalism is put on the rails. It will not be out of place to recall the story that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, both reporters for the Washington Post, in 1972. Also known as the Watergate Scandal, these two reporters, with support from Benjamin Bradley, their Editor, established the involvement of Richard Nixon, through his aides, in organizing a break-in at the headquarters of the rival Democrat’s headquarters to plant wads of currency! They relied on building from scratch.
Made into a film, All the President’s Men is indeed a lesson in the art and the skill of investigative journalism. Woodward and Bernstein did not indulge in any deception; and Benjamin Bradley did not ask them to do any. Bradley also did not conceal his political preference: That he stood by the Democrats and thus opposed to the Republican Nixon. But we do see him putting his two colleagues through all the rigours of investigative journalism.
It is time for the media in India to junk this business of sting operations and insist that the practice of investigative journalism is restored with all its rigour. This easy way out – sting operations – is not only a sham but will also contribute to the media losing its credibility and legitimacy. That will not be in the interest of our democracy.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Rahul should be asked to behave his age
It’s now almost a year since we came to know about Robert Vadra’s business in the real estate sector; that he was blessed with powers to turn fallow land expensive. And one has not heard the young Rahul Gandhi speak out his mind on all that about Vadra and his shady business deals. If only the scion had chosen to speak his mind, the Congress Chief Minister of Haryana would not have done anything to hound Ashok Kemka and Rahu’s sister’s husband would have landed in one of the jails in Haryana or in the Tihar.
The way in which the Congress party has behaved after Rahul Gandhi said that the ordinance nullifying the Supreme Court made law – that those convicted shall not be allowed to stay in office and not even as MPs or MLAs – makes one look upon him as the messiah of a nation. It is ridiculous to see Congressmen, including members of the Union Cabinet, speaking out against a cabinet resolution. It is no use talking of the impropriety in Cabinet ministers dissociating from a decision that was theirs. Propriety is a cry in wilderness.
Well. Rahul Gandhi’s theatrics reminds of his grandmother doing similar things in 1969. In her quest for supremacy within the party, Indira Gandhi, as Prime Minister, went about defying her party president and other leaders in the Congress Working Committee. She first tried to foist Jagjiwan Ram, one of her partisans in the Working Committee as the party’s candidate for the presidential elections. She then recommended an ordinance nationalising 14 private sector banks to irritate and thus ease out Morarji Desai from her cabinet.
And as days went by, she orchestrated a demand for conscience vote in the presidential elections and took the fight against her party leaders, including the party president S.Nijalingappa, to a point of no return. And by all these she ensured the defeat of the party’s presidential candidate and the victory of her own nominee, contesting as independent, as President of the Republic. V.V.Giri returned the favour by issuing a presidential order (even while he knew that it was not in order) abolishing the Privy Purses; this was after the legislation to that effect was lost in the Rajya Sabha for want of a single vote!
Lest it is mistaken, there is very little similar between Rahul Gandhi and Indira Gandhi notwithstanding that the former gathers his importance only because he was born to Indira Gandhi’s son. Indira Gandhi, even if she had risen due to her father helping her immensely, did have a mind of her own. She had scripted every line of her acts. Rahul Gandhi, on the contrary, is innocent of any such things. Saying that he is innocent does not mean that he is unaware of Robert Vadra and his business. If those who are privy to the nature of Rahul’s relationship with Robert are to be believed, they know each other too well and hence there is no reason to think that the young vice-president of the party is unaware of things.
It should, hence, be inferred that Rahul Gandhi did not really mean to cleanse the body politic when he said that the ordinance in question should be dumped. It was just that he reacted without thinking. He had done this before. Notwithstanding his own government’s policy on themines and minerals front, he went to Orissa and said few things against mining in the Niyamgiri hills; the point is that he had nothing to say against similar destruction taking place in Andhra Pradesh, Goa or Maharashtra. In any case, the unintended consequence of his statement from Orissa was that all the King’s men joined the chorus and the hills were saved of destruction! One must thank Rahul Gandhi, even if he did not intend anything of that kind.
Likewise, there is reason to celebrate his condemnation of the ordinance. Unintended it may be, the fact that the Congressmen in the cabinet have joined the chorus should render hope to the hopeless in our midst that convicts will be forced to stay out of positions in Parliament, Legisltive Assemblies and ministries. That the law, as set by the Supreme Court, will not face the same fate as did the law that divorced muslim women shall have the right to maintenance. Rahul Gandhi’s father had upset the court’s decision in the Shah Bano case and put the clock back. Rahul Gandhi deserves praise for ensuring that the consensus among the parties – all the parties had wanted and continue to want the apex court’s decision to be nullified – was no hurdle in cleansing the system.
One must, hence, hope for a similar knee jerk response from the young vice-president of the Congress party to declare, even if in a huff, that those who grab land for cheap and make a lot of money selling that, hand in glove with builders and realtors must be dealt with in accordance with the law, however mighty they are and whoever they are related to. This will do the country a lot of good and posterity will remember Rahul Gandhi for doing what many others failed to do.
Such cynicism is not good for democracy. The concept of collective responsibility, which is the cornerstone of a cabinet system, ought to be preserved. Dissent in the open is important. But what we saw after Rahul Gandhi did and the way he did that does not fit into any scheme. He is old enough to be told that politics is a serious business. Not the same as scoring points in a debate completion for students of upper primary classes. It is impossible to desist from saying this; recall Rahul’s speech in defence of nuclear power invoking Kalawati!
Sunday, September 08, 2013
Amending Art 124 : Quest for a committed judiciary
The unity displayed by the political parties during the past week when the Monsoon Session of Parliament passed a number of acts also had ominous signals to convey. Any sense of celebration of the show of a sense of purpose by the MPs should give way to despair if one looks a little deeper into the consensus at play when they united to amend such acts as the RTI, RPA and then Article 124 of the Constitution. The Constitution Amendment putting in place a Judicial Appointments Commission, scrapping the system where a collegium consisting of the CJI and four senior-most judges appointing judges to the higher judiciary, is perhaps the most ominous of this all.
Be it stated, at the outset, that the collegium system was faulty; it was opaque and there were instances when persons with poor credentials were elevated to the Bench. It is a fact that we have had judges who were accused of land grab; some others were found to have kept someone else’s money with them; a few having been caught having received money and favours from litigants; and one judge was found having abused his powers and spent a lot of public money to decorate himself and his office.
Having said this, it is also a fact that the Constitution provides for removing such judges; and yet, our MPs are guilty of either having failed in their duty in this regard or having let things drift and thus given ample time for those who erred to resign and get away. Those who recall the manner in which Justice V.Ramasamy was sought to be impeached, two decades ago, will remember that petty sectarian considerations were behind the way the then ruling party MPs voted on the motion. And some will also remember that Ramasamy was among those who were denied the honour of being taken in a procession, led by the CJI, on the day of his retirement. Be that as it may.
Article 124 (2), as amended by the Rajya Sabha on September 5, 2013, places the process of appointment to the highest court into the hands of the political class. As against the three members consisting of the CJI and two senior-most judges of the apex court, the Judicial Appointments Commission will consist of the Union Law Minister and two ``eminent persons’’ to be appointed by a panel consisting of the Prime Minister, CJI and the Leader of the Opposition. All these appear to be democratic.
But then, the cat was let out of the bag during the discussion in the Upper House. Kapil Sibal tried to sound like Jawaharlal Nehru when he said that this was a moment in the life of our nation to revisit the past and embrace the future commending the Bill; but then, he was actually pushing an idea that Rajni Patel had done in the early 1970s on Indira Gandhi’s behalf. The idea of a committed judiciary was pushed with such vigour then when Indira Gandhi had resorted to `socialism’ as a means to restore her fortunes and found the higher judiciary standing in her way. Her followers in the ruling party orchestrated her views by accusing Justice K.Subba Rao of participating in an anti-socialist conspiracy; and the regime then pulled all the stops to appoint pliant judges as CJI. All that is well known; a process that culminated in the shift to the collegium system (in 1994) began in that context.
What happened on Thursday, September 5 was, in a sense, a repeat of the events in the 1970s; an attempt to have a committed judiciary. If any proof is needed, it came from Arun Jaitley’s intervention during the debate. He placed on record that the judiciary, in the recent past, did not help the cause of justice by interfering in the way it did in economic policies (such decisions as banning iron ore exports or cancelling telecom licenses obtained by fraudulent means) or on administrative issues on how to deal with the Naxalites (as in the Salwa Judum case).
Such references, indeed, were not different from what Indira Gandhi’s followers had to say about the judiciary after the apex court struck down the law nationalising private sector banks or the Privy Purses case in the early 1970s. There is, however, a difference. In the earlier instance, the political establishment was seeking to contain the judiciary and post such men committed to one particular definition of socialism in the higher judiciary. Arun Jaitley then was with those who opposed that idea; he was studying law at the Delhi University then and had joined the forces that opposed Indira Gandhi and thus appeared to have stood up for a free judiciary.
Well. He now belongs to the party whose Government in Chattisgarh had continued propping up the Salwa Judum (a creature founded by the Congress and its leader, the late Mahendra Karma) and sore with the apex court’s judgment in that case that the private army was an affront to the Constitution. And he has a similar sense of purpose with the ruling Congress: To curb democratic protest or any resistance to the liberalisation programme.
Unlike in the 1970s, when a particular variant of socialism was Indira Gandhi’s agenda and it was opposed by the Jan Sangh (that was how Jaitley’s party was known then) and some others, we are now in times when socialism of any variant is a bad word, at least among large sections of the political class. It was this consensus that was witnessed on Thursday September 5 when the Rajya Sabha set out to tame the judges.
Well. This was attempted in the 1970s and it achieved a measure of success. The attempts then were glossed with socialism. It is in the name of capitalism and growth this time.