March 26, 2001


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Varsha Bhosle

We, the suckers

No doubt, the Tehelka sting is one of the best things to have happened to us: Bandaru is out. Jaya is out. NK Singh is soon to be out. Brajesh Mishra's all put out. And the Outlander, known to be out of sorts without assistance from the CBI-charged Vincent George, has announced an outing in Hong Kong without her Man Friday, who's quickly been "re-arranged" out of the private secretary's ante-room at 10 Janpath.

Better yet, the BJP has finally outed from its Kaangresi closet, and the Kaangres, ever at outs with integrity, is back in the political outback after a short outburst against, hahaha... corruption. As for the People's Front, marked by brains perennially out to lunch (its chairman, Jyoti Basu, just accepted from the working-class government of bhookha Bangaal a "retirement package" that works out to over Rs 50 lakh per year), well, it's too out-of-date to fret over. As they say, dono ke jhagde mein, teesre ka laabh. Certainly, this outré outcaste has much to be pleased about: The more the dorks jerk and yank at each other's dirty linen, the cleaner it could get for we, the suckers.

So what's the big news of the past week? Naah, not the Vincent revelations -- anything to do with Congress-and-corruption is so ho-hum. Besides, Swraj Paul had long ago tipped us off that Vincent, when personal secretary to then PM Rajiv Gandhi, had contacted Paul in connection with the purchase of equipment that Rajiv was pressurising him to buy from the Italian firm Snamprogetti (of Ottavio Quattrocchi fame) for the fertiliser plant he was planning to set up in India in 1985. Swraj Paul had dismissed Vincent's denial and reported remarks that the latter was only doing secretarial service for Rajiv Gandhi, and said that everybody knew what the work involved on behalf of the boss. The links, and the quality thereof, go back a lonnng way. So of course, even though Vincent is neither a member of the Congress nor an office bearer, he was allotted government accommodation usually allocated to officers of the rank of joint secretary or above, for which the Congress pulled strings during Narasimha Rao's tenure as PM.

All normal Congress culture. But what's hilarious is that senior BJP leaders, including the worthies heading the home, urban development, and HRD ministries, ignored Vincent's unauthorised occupation of government accommodation (which bill we have been footing, BTW) -- till the Shroud of Turin did her high-decibel banshee turn ("Let the message go forth that we will fight every battle, wage every war, make every sacrifice to ensure that the country is liberated from the shackles of this corrupt, shameful and communal government. There can be no mercy, no forgiveness") at the AICC session in Bangalore. The Asian Age reports that the BJP (which has been remarkably quick in taking over "developable" estates like IGNCA and Sapru House), had developed the blind spot because "a member of the prime minister's kitchen Cabinet was said to have been soft towards Mrs Sonia Gandhi's trusted lieutenant. Therefore, no action was taken in this regard by the Vajpayee government."

Oh yes, the BJP's nationalist members develop a whole bunch of such blind spots at the funniest of times. For instance, veteran BJP leaders from Bihar, Shri Kailashpati Mishra, Shri Sushil Kumar Modi, Shri Nand Kishore Yadav and Shri Ganga Prasad, simply could not catch sight of the considerable presence of Mohammed Shahabuddin -- the absconding MP from Siwan against whom non-bailable arrest warrants have been issued -- even in the close confines of the VIP seating area onboard a Delhi-bound flight from Patna, let alone at the airport. Apparently, the Pratappur encounter between cops and the RJD goon's henchmen, which left 10 dead and the authority of the police totally demolished, has not been enough to evoke a response from the worthies. If it were the Congress, I'd have called it "playing the minority card" (8 of the 10 killed were Muslims). But since it's the BJP, let'scall it "seeking consensus" or "blood of my blood" or something like that.

No, for me, the news of the week was not all this Congress and prati-Congress crapola. Rather, it was Mr (and that Sangh-Parivar-tarred "Shri" just won't do) Arun Shourie's defence of the Tehelka team's methods of holding a mirror up to our ugly society: He asserted that evidence against Bandaru was "direct," period. To tell you the truth, from the day the shit hit the fan, I had been waiting for the reactions from this journalist-turned-politician, surfing every channel at every hour, just in case I'd missed something in print. Soon, his very silence became eloquent. And when he did speak, his "If there is any wrongdoing in dark rooms, in houses, journalists will go there" was totally at loggerheads with the prime minister's line: "There is a maryada sankat in the nation... Irresponsible journalism can harm the national interest." A matter of perceptions, of course. You see, Shri Hajpayeeji, for some of us at least, "national interest" does not include our ensuring that you stay glued to your chair. As for "maryada," which I'm sure you think I've just crossed again, I've no clue who has the authority to define its boundaries.

Ok, I spoke too soon; I retract that Beej has become a dhobi ka kutta. For, just two days after my last column, The Pioneer broke its Tehelka Conspiracy theories. Funny thing though, the other newspapers carried the BJP's line alleging a mega-conspiracy the same day as the Pioneer. I wonder why... Anyway, since then, Mr Chandan Mitra's stable has been churning out one report after another, one editorial after another, one op-ed after another, seeking to prove that the Tehelka tapes have been "tailored"; the journalists had ulterior motives; the conspiracy was hatched by some Congress-linked persons; the journalists lied; and the journalists manufactured evidence.

As I've said before, I'm not a bit bothered about who pushed Tejpal towards the sting operation and why; I'm cynical enough to realise that there are no heroes anymore. But, the whole house of marked cards would have come crumbling down on Tejpal's head *if* Bandaru and Jaitly would have refused to take the offered bait. THAT was the mandate given by a Congress-tired people to this government. Which it ignored. The rest is all poppycock. For instance, did Bandaru -- and go through all his previous statements -- at any stage reject the visual of his grabbing the money and putting it in the drawer? No. Did Jaya Jaitly -- in all her initial statements -- deny that she was in her office room at the defence minister's official residence? No. What's happening now is, the power-tainted forces have re-grouped and are devising ways and means of escape out of the hole they have dug themselves into. But as I said, it's poppycock and none of it is fooling anybody with a smattering of brains.

For, the people KNOW. The people who have to grease the peon's hand to enter a government office; "tip" the postman to ensure reception of letters; pay the linesman to get a phone working; carrot the RTO to hand out a driving-license form; bribe the secretary to push a file... Really want me to go on? We *know* that in post-Independence India, graft is a way of life. Every single ordinary Indian resident I know instinctively believes that what s/he saw on television is the truth. It is a fact of Indian life, and with people who have the authority to refuse, even more so. No amount of poetry on "morphing" and "video technology" will convince us to the contrary. No amount of spin on "exclamation marks" in newspaper headlines will erase the sight of Bandaru's hand closing on the wad. No matter how black Tarun Tejpal & Co, nothing can restore the BJP's past shine. Whether the ends justifies the means or not (and Mr Shourie believes it does), the requirement at this time is to save and cleanse what can be saved and cleansed -- for India and her people. NOT for politicians and their parties.

By discrediting the Tehelka team's effort, and by employing sophistry with the ends-and-means dilemma, we will be back to Square One -- that dark place built by the propensity to let the corrupt thrive, right from the time of, on the one hand, Jawaharlal Nehru, and on the other, Krishna Menon, Pratap Singh Kairon, KD Malaviya and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, and continuing with Mrs G and her durbar and Sanjay, and so on and so forth -- to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Bandaru, Ranjan Bhattacharya and what have you. Back to Square One -- playing right into the Establishment's hand. Like it or not, though we encounter Corruption in stages from the bottom up, it gets a sanction, it gets condoned, from the top down: The assistant of a rigorously clean and strict officer will think a hundred times before opening his drawer so easily. Point is, theoretically, the people are above the government in hierarchy. If we condone the signs of its corruption now, India loses -- yet again.

Is this what we fought for, Mr Lavakare?? Were there video tapes that showed Sanjay skimming Maruti and Rajiv scamming Bofors? What made you so sure about their culpability? Why are you taking the line that Congress apologists have always taken, and are continuing to take about Vincent? Tell you one thing: the BJP may no longer be "the party with a difference," but we, at least, shouldn't throw in the towel and cease to be commentators with a difference. Only India rulz.

Varsha Bhosle

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