Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal and the Quality of Indian Journalism

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Regular readers of the Indian press would certainly recognize the name, Tehelka. Rabidly pro western in it political and editorial stance and vehemently pro Congress in its ideological orientation, Tehelka acqired a degree of notoriety when it launched what is called a sting operation against Bangaru Laxman, the President of the BJP, a party which is contesting the Congress all over the country. Though the President of the BJP was not holding any public office, nor was he in any fiduciary sense   in a capacity to influence decisions in the defense ministry during the NDA rule, the sting operation caught the President accepting one hundred thousand rupees from the Tehelka journalist who secretly filmed this. The Congress went to town proclaiming the "corruption and venality" of the BJP led Government. Never mind that there was no bribe paid and it was perfectly legal to accept party contributions, the BJP abandoned any defense of the President and he was sentenced to a jail term which he served. 

Tehelka is a new kind of ideologically driven, headline grabbing electronic journalistic venture. It specializes in uncovering scams, scandals and other goings on in BJP ruled on BJP friendly states.  Tarun Tejpal the aging Editor and his second in command a woman called Shoma Choudhary are well known faces in the country's English news channels and whenever they appear they very predictable give of the Congress spiel and refuse to subject the drivel they espouse to any critical scrutiny. Even though it was known that the sting operation against the President of the BJP was illegal the successive Congress regimes continued to prosecute the dalit President of the BJP. On almost all majot controversies such as the Gujarat Riots of 2002 and the more recent episode of a woman who perhaps came under police surveillance in Gujarat for extra legal reasons, Tarun and his cohort Shoma were at their shrillest on television channels like NDTV another Congress friendly news channel.

Tehelka seems to be a front for a number of illegal companies which are funding this news organization. Though the ostensible owner of Tehelka is a Bengali MP from Mamtha Banerjee's TMC, Tarun Tejpal and his family are the dejure owners as nearly 19% of the shares are owned by Tejpal, giving him effective control over the day to day functioning of the news organizations. The holding companies of Tehelka even managed to get unsecured loans to the tune of 1,400 crores which invited the strong sanction of the regulator, SEBI. The balance sheet of Tehelka and its associated companies are not available for public scrutiny and this itself shows that the Company was involved in many shady and dubious, perhaps even illegal activite. It may even turn out that some of the illegal wealth of Congress politicians may be parked in Tehelka.

Tarun Tejpal is in the news for attempting to rape a female employee of his when the International Film Festival was held in Goa recently. Apparently he cornered her in the life of the five star hotel where he and his staff were staying and abused her sexually. When the girl complained to the "Managing Editor" a woman called Shoma Choudhary also from Kolkatta, she made it appear as if the whole affair was consensual and that the woman was making a fuss over nothing. Tejpal magnanimously offered to take leave from the editorial duties and both the man and his woman felt that the ends of justice had been met. In India, there is growing intolerance toward sexual harassment and exploitation and the words of Nancy Poweel mean nothing as she is not aware of the reality of India today. The outrage against Tarun Tejpal and his "Managing Editor" Shoma Choudhary resulted in the Goa police registering  a case of rape against Tejpal.The mananagment of Tehelka is putting a lot of pressure on the young girl not to cooperate with the Police in its investigatioon and this is the way the"flag bearer" of the so called secular liberalism behaves in India.

The Congress is trying to shield its journalistic hit man with all the power at its command. The Minister of the Congress regime whom we jocularly refer to as the Dr Goebbels of the Regime, the Minister for Mis information and Propaganda, the voluble Manish Tewari has not said a word about this incident in public. Obviously the regime would like the uproar to quieten and then offer him some plum assignemnts like membership of the Prasar Bharati Board. The ammended Rape laws that have been passed allow for procecution even if the woman does not file a written compalint. So the ends of justice may yet be met.

This episode only shows that blackmailing journalists like Tarun Tejpal are predatory sexual perverts and like Rathore and Kanda need to be in jail.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Massacre of the Sikhs by the Congress Party in 1984: Memory and History, Helium, a Novel

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Jaspreet Singh
Bloomsbury, 2013

Violence is a part of History and the Nation States of today prefer to erase violence, especially collective and concentrated acts of demonic destruction of life from the pages of History. India is not an exception. In the West, the Holocaust is passed off as a Nazi aberration with the ordinary Germans participating only as innocent bystanders and this version history sits quite comfortably with the ideological and political realities of the Cold War and post Cold War geo political environment. In India too, there has been a denial of violence as a factor in the collective existence of India. The "Secular" scholars wax rather eloquently about the "Idea of India" which they associate with Jawaharlal Nehru ignoring the fact the he oversaw the largest mass killing in the history of the Indian subcontinent when the political leadership of the Congress and Lord Mountbatten decided to bring forward the date of Indian Independence from 1948 without bothering to prepere for the enormous tragedy that was to unfold. We may not ever know the numbers, but a figure of 3 million killed or displaced on both sides of the border is certainly possible, making the birth of the so called democratic republic of India one of the most bloodstained in the twentieth century. Yet the acolytes of Nehru pretend that Nehru and his Interim Government cannot be blamed.

The "communal factor" and the "comunalism" in Indian politics is one thmeme that plays itself out in Indian historiography without any theoretical or empirical understanding. The framing of the political issues either prior tpo Partition or Post Partition (I deliberately do not use the world Independence) as "communal" or "secular" is a game that began with the Congress when it participated in the 1937 Elections in the United Provinces and other parts of British India under the Government of India Act of 1935. The Congress did not win a single seat earmarked for the Muslims though it presented itself as a "secular" and the only organization that represented all sections of the Indian population. Instead of introspecting and trying to comprehend the alienation of the Muslim population the Congress did what it always does best: it created a bogey man so that it could use the bogeyman to frighten the Muslims into supporting the Congress. From 1937 after the Congress failed to win even a single seat and when the Muslim League swept all the Muslim seats thereby exposing the fact that the Congress did not enjoy the support of the muslim minority, the Congress leadership particularly Nehru and his "progressive" faction within the Congress started virulently attacking the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtrtiya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) and converted the political discourse on the future of India as a common homeland for both Muslims and Hindus into one of conflicting religious identities.  The more stridently Nehru lambasted the so called Hindu organizations whose strength was very poor amidst the electorate, the more aggressively Jinnah put forth his case for Pakistan. The fact is that the failure of Congress leadership and its cynical use of a non existing threat to garner support of the Muslim minority resulted in strengthening the march toward Partition. To this of course, we can add the folly of the resignation from the Minstires in 1939 anf the 1942 Movement. This rehearsal of history is needed to set the stage for the most horrendous act of violence committed by the Congress party in Novemnber 1984 when it organized the killing of Sikhs in different parts of Northern India and the capital, New Delhi on  a scale that even the Germans would have found amazing.

The failure to confront the real the structural underpinnings of violence in modern India, meant that the country could live in denial and pretend that violence did not exist in India in any organized sense. The fact is that the Congress party, particularly in Northern India had begun to use violence as an instrument of political mobilization even in the pre partition days. Gyanendra Pandey and other historians conflate all acts of political violence as "communal violence" thereby giving the Congress party the benefit of doubt. 

In 1984 soonn after BBC announced the death of Indira Gandhi at the hands of Beant Singh and Satwant Singh her two Sikh bodyguards, the leadership of the Congress party in New Delhi decided to take vengence. Rajiv Gandhi famously justified the violence saying , "When a big tree falls, the earth shakes". For three whole days rampaging mobs of Congressmen went from house to house looking for Sikhs. They were armed with a database of names and addresses inn the form of telehone directories and electoral rolls. Whereever Sikh men were found, the Congressmen cut their beards and hair and doused them with petrol and burnt them alive. What was worse is that successive Congress Governments abetted the crime by destroying evidence and impeding investigation. Not a single man was convicted though it is well known thta H K L Bhagat, Lalith Maken, Arjun Das, Sajjan Kumar, and Jagdish Tytler were all involved in the killings. In several of them were even appointed ministers.

The novel, Helium which we are reviewing is a classic inn its own right. It is a work of fiction but fiction is only the form because it explores the dark savagery of 1984. Violence is often the starting point of great works of literature of which Primo Levi's works come to mind. Jaspreet Singh too has done just that. He is a memory keeper, a conscience keeper, a record keeper and above all a Historian who uses his novel to memorialize the unthinkable and verbalize the pain and suffering of countless victims. As one who has also relentlessly worked to keep the memory of 1984 alive, I salute Jaspreet Singh and have no hesitation in saying that this is one of the best novels ever written on a difficult and contentious theme. The acolytes of the Congress Party and the apologists of 1984 want to deflect blame and undermine memory by drawing a false parallel with 2002. 1984 like the holocaust is a unique event. and cannot be that easily domesticated in categories of ordinary experience.

The story revolves around the son of a Delhi IPS officer who perhaps under political compulsions looks away when a Sikh Professor at IIT is killed. Raj carries the burden of the guilt of his father and much later in life meets Nelly Kaur, the widow of the Professor who has collected the documentary and visual evidence of the horrors of 1984 in an archive in Simla. The memory of dark deeds committed even in the soft glow of political and ideological consensus can devastate a human being and this novel explores that aspect in detail.

Lastly: In these so called post colonial times when History is seen as a "discourse" without any contact with a reality, we need novelists like Jaspreet Singh who use the craft of the historian to document the horrors of the past as sirens warning the future about the devils lurking within us.And History has to be retrieved, recorded and remembered.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

International Seminar on India-US Cooperation:a ADefining Partenrship of the 21st Century

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

I am not much of a seminarist. I find the  the academic pretensions a trifle too irritating  and I am particularly wary of those that deal with the problems of today as if history and the past have had no role in creating the problems and feel that in the study of International Relations, the academic discipline of History must play a vital role. There are two reasons for saying this: India does not have an indigenous tradition of Historiography and therefore has no tradition of diplomacy and statecraft. The last theory of statecraft that emanated from India was Kautilya's Mandala Theory of Kingship and Statecraft which goes back to the Mauryan perid. Unlike the great civilization of China, India did not practice the craft of writing History. The second reason is more practical. India got its political freedom in 1947 when three great empires disintegrated" the British Empire, the Japanese co prosperity sphere and the the French Empire. The disintegration of these large imperial entities was accompanied by the rise of two ideologically antagonistic empires: the American and the Soviet empires. USA was able to co-opt the defeated Europeans into a NATO military alliance and the Soviets created the Warsaw Pact as a counterbalance. In a discussion on the emerging challenges before the India in the 21st Century, particularly with regard to its relationship with USA, the only world hegemon in the contemporary scenario, I expect these historical trends to be debated so that we understand the historical context of India;s diplomacy vis a vis USA. I do not want to use the word Statecraft because there is no long term planning or goals in the conduct of Indian foreign policy. In a International Seminar in a University situated in Pondicherry these perspectives were raised only by me, a historian and not a "political scientist".

The Seminar was inaugurated by the Vice Chancellor of Pondicherry University Dr. Chandra Krishnamurthy who in her Presidential Address dealt with the major themes of the Seminar. The former Vice Chancellor of the University dr V T Patil gave  a sound overview of the challenges facing India and went on to add rather gratuitously that China will be a major threat to India. This hostility toward China which is the signature of the India political and academic community is what I would like to challenge. Almost all the speakers including Professor Vijayalakshmi from JNU maintained that China is a major threat to India. This kind of ideological framing of an important issue before the Nation without an iota of critical application of mind does enormous damage to Indian foreign policy with regard to China with which India has had 2,000 years of peaceful coexistence. I met mr D S Rajan a China expert who seemed more forthright on China said that the shadow of 1962 has not lifted. The Indian foreign policy experts play up the threat from China in order to justify India;s deadly embrace of the strategic vision of USA which wants to use India as cannon fodder against China.

The Vice Chancellor inaugurating the Seminar along with Dr V T Patil, the former VC

The Seminar was organized by Professor N K Jha and his colleagues in the Department of Politics and International Studies. My observation which I made repeatedly was that China is not a threat to India and USA will not abandon its special relationship with Pakistan in order to build better ties with India. Nobody even mentioned that USA did not allow access to the American terrorist David Coleman Headley who was one of the masterminds of the 26/11/2008 massacre in Mumbai.

As George Santayana said those who forget History are condemned to relive it.