TARUN J. TEJPAL
LAST time we broke a story that rumbled the jungle that
is Delhi’s power elite, we were condemned to a three-year
walk over burning coals. The story, peration West End, an
exposé of the rampant corruption in arms procurements,
was first aired in March 2001, and almost immediately two
things happened. The first was a groundswell of public applause
and affection that did not abate for a long time. The second,
fairly predictable — though not in its ferocity and
longevity — was an immoral and unconstitutional assault
on our work and lives. That too did not abate for a long
time — not till the state’s entire ammunition
was spent, and there was nothing more to throw at us.
At the time, six years ago, we were, in succession, accused
of being Congress stooges, agents of Dawood Ibrahim, on
the payroll of the Hindujas, connected to the ISI of Pakistan,
responsible for crashing the stock market, and in possession
of hundreds of crores in payoffs. The estimates varied from
twenty to two hundred. Narendra Modi — yes the same
one — was at the time I think a general secretary
in the BJP, and I will never forget a television interview
in which both of us were doing phone-ins and he was spewing
lies with the stentorian voice of a Supreme Court judge.
A day later he was to issue printed pamphlets with ten facts
about me. The first and most crucial was that I was the
son of a contractor who was a close aide of veteran Congress
leader Arjun Singh from Madhya Pradesh.
Delhi’s perennially skewed elite — a relic of
the Mughal durbar, pathologically fixated on its positioning
on the social and power chessboard — relished every
floating accusation and relayed it with embellishments.
Even friends and acquaintances whispered. They had never
seen anyone do anything but for a sweet personal reason.
It was fair to assume that, similarly, we had many or at
least one. Now that the state was hunting us with all its
hounds it was only a matter of time before the truth was
out. Having said that — a great job still, much needed,
and most courageous!
As it were I had never met any of the Hindujas.
As it were I had never bought or sold a single share on
the stock market.
As it were I’d never had anything to do with the Congress,
never having been a political reporter in my career. (For
record’s sake let it be said TEHELKA must be the only
company in India which has three CBI cases — all trumped
up and lodged during the time of the NDA government —
still going on against it, three years after the UPA came
to power. We routinely go to court to seek bail on them.)
As it were we were not in possession of a single illicit
rupee, else the hounds of the state that were panting after
us around the clock would have locked us up and thrown away
the keys. At the time there were just four of us left, down
from 120, officed in a small borrowed room in the village
behind South Extension. The money we borrowed then, running
into tens of lakhs, to wage our legal and public battle,
much of it from luminous Indian names, is still being repayed.
And of course, as it were — despite our exposé
on cricket matchfixing, which badly hurt the underworld
— none of us had ever met Dawood Ibrahim or any of
the star-struck bhais.
More absurdly still, leave alone my father I too had never
met Arjun Singh at the time. Not to add that my father far
from being a contractor had spent his life in the Indian
army, wearing olive, and fighting in the two Indo-Pak wars
of 1965 and 1971. Yet Modi had thought nothing of throwing
a blatant untruth into the public space, amid all the others
listed above that were being flung about. And the media
— more giddy than the Sensex — had refused to
clarify and rebut.
And unrebutted and unclarified lies — like an unpoliced
Sensex — have the ability to swell to dangerous proportions,
deforming reality and ushering in chaos. The core fascist
axiom is a cliché: the whisper campaign of lies that
soon becomes the truth or at least drowns it out. We saw
that in 1984 as the Sikhs were put to the sword, and we
saw it in 2002 as Gujarat was set to burn with a mishmash
of false information and ill-intent. Mostly the media relayed
unchecked versions, but sometimes it unearthed the truth.
But truth by then had ceased to be a factor. The strategy
of those exposed was to ratchet up the public noise till
everything was drowned — good, bad, true, false. With
our present exposé it has been: but why have you
left out Godhra? Whereas the truth is we haven’t.
In fact 30 pages of our issue were devoted only to the Godhra
Noise as strategy when faced with serious charges may be
smart if deplorable political tactics, but what is mystifying
is the Indian elite’s penchant for the conspiracy
theory. It smacks of a self-serving culture where the greater
good is seen as no motive at all. Over the years I have
had the bizarre and nauseating experience of the well-heeled
casting aspersions on the financial integrity of fantastic
public warriors like Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy. To
differ in thought is one thing, but to automatically assume
corruption of those who take up public causes says grim
things about the kind of people we are. Some of this deformity
may have to do with our colonial past: the desperate urge
to please the white master engendering corrosive emotions
of envy, cunning, plotting, backbiting and betrayal.
This time — with our investigation into the Gujarat
pogrom of 2002 — the conspiracy-seekers scaled new
heights. While the BJP attacked us for working for the Congress,
the Congress spread the word that we were working for the
BJP! Clearly we were doing something right. In all this
the battle for the idea of India was left to Laloo Yadav,
Mayawati and the Left. The Congress one presumes knows the
phrase — since its forebears literally coined it —
but they can’t anymore seem to remember what it means.
It’s extraordinary that more than a week after the
Gujarat massacre exposé, the prime minister and the
home minister had not made a single statement. For the first
time in the history of journalism, mass murderers were on
camera telling us how they killed, why they killed, and
with whose permission they did it. Nor were these just petty
criminals; these were fanatics, ideologically driven, working
the most dangerous faultline of the subcontinent, revealing
the truth of a perilous rupture fully capable of tearing
this country apart. But that was clearly not enough for
the good man of Race Course Road. Had the CII burped loudly,
the PMO would have issued a clarification. Had they then
organised a seminar on the untimely burp, the prime minister
would have addressed it.
It may be unfair to pillory the prime minister, a man given
responsibility without power, the honest man sitting atop
a dishonest hillock. Let us then look at the grand strategists
of the Congress who cannot win an election themselves but
know the secret of winning elections for the many. On their
perverse abacus, exposing Modi’s hand in bestial murders
and rapes was designed to convince the Gujarati Hindu that
this is precisely the kind of leadership it wanted! It never
struck them that they could use the evidence of violence
to shape a stirring dialogue against it.
THE FACT is the Congress is today run by petty strategists
who no longer know what it is to do the right thing. They
possess neither the illuminations of history, nor a vision
for the future. They fail to see that once great men sutured
a hundred fault-lines — of caste, religion, race,
language, class — to create the idea of India out
of a diverse, colonised, feudal subcontinent. Foolishly
they preside over the reopening of these fault-lines, unable
to see the chaos that will ensue. They do not know how to
wield morality as a weapon in politics, and they lack the
courage to walk any high road. At best they are vote accountants
who waver between the profit and the loss of various elections.
The present Congress brings grief to the liberal, secular,
democratic Indian who needs a political umbrella under which
to wage the civilisational battle for India’s soul.
By not saying the right thing, by not doing the right thing,
it weakens the resolve of the decent Indian, who lacks the
stomach for conflict and seeks affirmation of his decency.
The vacated space is then colonised by poisonous ideologies
based on exclusion and a garbled — pseudo-religious,
pseudo-historic — hunt for identity.
And all this is happening while the elite Indian behaves
like the elite American during the gilded age, the 1920s
— glitz, glam, champagne times — even as the
ground shifts beneath its feet. The latest statistics show
the numbers living in abject poverty are actually growing
in five major states. In 30 percent of India’s districts
Naxalite insurrections, rising from crushing poverty, are
on the upswing. Can Manhattan and sub-Saharan Africa exist
in the same space endlessly without some resulting cataclysm?
The fact is India needs not just economic tinkering but
great political vision. And there are no signs of it. The
apathy of Gujarat tells us that the most complex country
in the world faces its most complex challenges ever.