THERE are important
lessons to be learnt from the Tehelka expose. Not all of them are new, of
course, but they need to be reiterated. The most obvious lesson is that we
have now reached a stage in our politics where corruption is so
all-pervasive that there is no shame in being caught with your hand in the
cookie jar. Apart from one person, who had the dignity to confess to his
crime and apologise, the rest of the blackguards are still trying to
brazen it out. It does not shame them that they were caught red-handed,
selling out the security of India. That they openly took cash from people
who identified themselves as foreign arms dealers.
To now claim that they
took it. for their party coffers does not absolve them of the crime. Just
as it is no excuse pointing a finger at Tehelka and saying that their
sting violated every principle of honest journalism. Of course it did. But
so did they violate every principle of decent politics when they took cash
from unknown people. Whether they actually offered them deals in return is
not the question.
What matters is that we
have people in power and authority who so easily succumb to the temptation
of accepting bribes. To now claim that they were unfairly tempted is a
joke. This has nothing to do with journalistic ethics. We can look at that
separately another time, on another occasion. But what Tehelka has proved,
without the slightest shadow of doubt, is that the corrupt and the
criminal rule New Delhi today, and, even as you read this column, they are
strutting around with their chests puffed out.
They are not in the
least embarrassed by what has happened. They are still negotiating murky
deals and talking about commissions and kickbacks. They are still boasting
about who they can influence, who they can buy. For what the political and
media establishment describe as power, pelf, influence and reach, is,
today, not much different from what you and I would describe as crime,
corruption, compromise and skulduggery.
Those whom we admire as
the rich and the famous, who adorn page three of our newspapers, are
mostly the scum of the earth. Crooks, criminals, carpetbaggers who survive
only because we do not swat them hard enough. Instead, we look upon them
admiringly as role models and encourage others to follow in their path.
Mind you, India does
not agree with you and me. The man on the street knows exactly what is
right and what is wrong. He knows who is honest and who is not. That is
why, despite their best efforts, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
government has not been able to blunt the outrage, the terrible sense of
disenchantment. It has hit them hard, very hard. Bangaru Laxman may keep
trying to explain his position. Jaya Jaitiy may keep insisting her
innocence. George Fernandes can go on saying that there is no evidence
against him. But India has already judged them. The verdict is out. Maybe
more heads need to roll. That is a political decision and the Prime
Minister has to take the call.
But what concerns me is
this - why do we wait
till it is too late to take action against crimes that we know perfectly
well are being committed every day, in almost every ministry? Is it
because we have come to finally accept the fact that there is an entirely
separate set of moral norms for the rich and the influential?
Perhaps that is why
there is so much speculation over Tehelka's motives. What can the motives
of any journalist be? Glory? Fame? Success? These are motives that drive
journalists everywhere. But the gossip press in the capital is readying to
crucify Tehelka. The antecedents of the journalists are being
investigated. One of them is being linked to an important Congressman.
Another, to an investment banker. A third, to a television channel. But
Maybe Tehelka does have
a Congress connection. Maybe its investors did know about the sting and
sold off stocks in advance. Maybe a television channel did use their
investigations to boost its dwindling viewership. Maybe the sting was
deliberately designed to put the BJP government in a spot.
But how does that alter
the facts in any way? Does it mean Bangaru Laxman did not take the money?
Does it mean the army officers were all clean? That Jaya Jaitly
demonstrated high moral principles when she asked them to leave the cash
with her flunkey? So why are we bending backwards to commiserate with the
guilty? I can understand some people feeling bad for the prime minister.
They see him as a weak but decent guy who was taken on a ride by his party
president and cabinet colleagues.
But then, it is the job
of a prime minister to be strong and firm, to know what is happening
around him. You cannot turn a Nelson's eye to every crime in the name of
coalition politics. You cannot compromise the security of the nation just
because you want a strong political ally to combat Laloo in Bihar. What is
even worse is when you start blaming journalists and attributing motives
to them. Anyone can have motives. But as long as the outcome of that
motivation is the cleansing of India, what is wrong with it?
What matters in the end
are two things. One, how well was the investigation done? Two, did it
reveal the truth? On both counts, Tehelka scores. And nothing that the
government does now can change that simple fact. The political careers of
Fernandes, Jaitly and Laxman are dead. Stone dead. And the demand for the
scalps of Brajesh Mishra and Nandu Singh will only get shriller and
shriller. For the people of India believe that they do not deserve to stay
where they are. In the prime minister's office.