Judges’ Press Conference: The Way Forward

Judges’ Press Conference: The Way Forward

Regrettable and confounding as it was, the press conference held by the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court did little more than make it look like the Supreme Court was in distress. And we certainly don’t want the most powerful and dependable institution of the nation to look unstable and in turmoil. The press conference, therefore, appears to be more of a hasty misstep than a well thought out way to a solution of any kind to the issues raised by the learned judges in the press conference as well as through the letter addressed to the CJI, which was shared with the media the same day.

Justice Chelameswar meeting D. Raja and Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary Mr. Nripendra Misra turning up at the residence of the Chief Justice of India after the press conference were two further developments that we could certainly do without. It should have been realized that the phrase “in personal capacity” has absolutely no meaning in the situation the two events took place. Apparently, the CJI did not agree to meet the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, and he had to drive away from the gates of the residence of the CJI without meeting him. That was the only silver lining in the muddy cloud.

The Bar Council of India was well advised to hurriedly constitute a delegation to meet the learned judges of the Supreme Court to urge them to resolve the issue in-house, and reportedly the Chief Justice has assured the delegation that the situation will be resolved positively within the Supreme Court brethren without any outside intervention. That’s heartening to know although many — including me — would have much preferred if it had been internally resolved well before his four senior-most colleagues found it imperative to call the attention of the nation to the problems plaguing the administration of the Supreme Court. The press conference called by the learned judges certainly couldn’t be a part of any solution whatsoever, but that does not mean the problem did not exist or was/is not serious enough to warrant urgent redress. It’s not everyday that the four senior-most judges of the apex court feel the urgency to talk to the press in clear breach of The Restatement of Values of Judicial Life adopted by the Full Bench of the Supreme Court of India on May 7, 1997, Clause 9 of which states as under

Dipak Misra9. A Judge is expected to let his judgments speak for themselves. He shall not give interview to the media.  

However, the reservations regarding the mode of addressing the issue does not quite take away from the substance of it, which necessitates a positive, problem-solving approach on part of the Chief Justice of India and his brother judges without interference of any kind from any outside quarter. The delegation sent by the Bar Council of India did well to not even suggest as to how the learned judges should go about resolving the issues. They restricted themselves to urging that the matter be sorted out and put to rest within the institution itself. That’s the only advice that one can really offer the learned judges. There have been three missteps already — the press conference, the meeting with D. Raja and the failed attempt by the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister to meet the CJI. That’s already three too many, and there is absolutely no room for such ominous moves any further.

The way forward, therefore, is pretty simple: Let the learned judges of the Supreme Court sort things out among themselves. The rest of us must keep our faith in their wisdom. They are perfectly capable of handling their differences. Nothing more needs to be done, said or discussed.

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Judges’ Press Conference: Desperate, Reckless and Dangerous

Judges’ Press Conference: Desperate, Reckless and Dangerous

Supreme Court justices addressing a press conference to voice their concerns regarding the internal functioning of the Supreme Court is not only unprecedented and extraordinary but also desperate and mutinous. Surely, there must be something very disconcerting afoot that made the four senior judges of the apex court reach out in distress to the people through the press, but the step is unlikely to produce desired results. Worse, it might not produce any results at all, or, worst, in addition to being fruitless, it might irredeemably shake the faith of the people in the higher judiciary and open the institution to unnecessary criticism and baseless suspicion. Those who cannot keep their own house in order are not seen as dependable guides by anybody. For now it is hard to see what the judges sought to achieve by bringing the matter out in open, for they certainly could not have hoped for a ‘democratic’ solution to an essentially administrative issue stemming primarily from the dissatisfaction with the working style of the Chief Justice, or so it seems.

Any ‘solution’ except the one found through the in-house dialogue and deliberation among the Supreme Court justices without the intervention of any outside party would be nothing short of interference with the independence of the Judiciary, which is a lot more dangerous to the constitutional democracy that India is than just about anything that the current Chief Justice can possibly do during his tenure. Any interference, direct or indirect, with the working of the higher judiciary would be contrary to the spirit of the Indian Constitution and the well-entrenched Doctrine of Separation of Powers that forms the constitutional bedrock of judicial independence in India.

JusticesJudicial independence — it might be pertinent to add here — was not presented to us on a platter and was won only after several hard-fought battles over the past many decades, and, among other things, gave us the present collegium system, which, despite all its flaws, is far better than the Executive deciding which judges be rewarded and which other punished for their judicial verdicts. If the four senior judges of the Supreme Court, in their wisdom, thought it fit to address a press conference and thereby risk judicial independence, the reason must be quite worrisome, and I do hope that it was indeed worth the risk. However, the larger question remains as to what is sought to be achieved by the step and at what cost? What good is a remedy that is far more harmful than the problem itself?

The learned judges did not disclose what remedy they sought. All they said was that they were bringing the issue to the people of the nation and that in doing that they were discharging the “debt” and “responsibility to the nation”, which could be read as that they were performing what they thought was their democratic duty by raising the issue before the “people”. And that’s the most unsettling and perilous aspect of the step. “Bringing the issue to the people” is an all too familiar way of politicizing anything and everything in a democracy, which the Judiciary — particularly an apolitical judiciary such as ours — must avoid at all costs and at all times.

It is a little surprising and is also a mark of utter desperation that the learned justices came forward to address the press without having a solution or way forward on their minds soon after their meeting with the Chief Justice in the morning. Was it a well thought through move or just a ready reaction? They did not say that they sought the impeachment of the Chief Justice, but responding to a direct question in this regard, they left it for the “people” to decide. Impeachment of the Chief Justice is very unlikely, but there is hardly any remedy that “people” can provide. There is no mechanism for “people” to “save” the Judiciary. Constitutionally speaking, it is the judiciary that has to protect the people and not the other way round. To the general public, the press conference would sound like ‘Supreme Court in distress’, and that can only have a chilling effect on them. It is a bit like the armed protector asking the protected for protection.

Furthermore, who exactly is/are the “people”? In a representative democracy like ours, it’s practically the government — the Executive — or the Legislature, which, again, has just one mechanism at hand in the current scheme of things — impeachment. If the Executive intervention is sought, it’s as good as Socrates asking for hemlock.

Dipak MisraThe current Chief Justice is retiring in October this year, which might not leave much time for the impeachment proceedings to go through anyway and it would not be easy to build the required consensus for the extreme step based only on the dissatisfaction of  four learned justices in absence of any specific allegations of improper conduct by the Chief Justice. Also, we are talking about the impeachment of the Chief Justice of India, no less, which is a giant step by all means. It would be worse if the Chief Justice resigns on account of this controversy, for it would set an ugly precedent, and create the impression that even the Chief Justice of India could be shamed into resigning. There is close to zero possibility of that happening either. So, what could possibly be achieved by bringing the dissatisfaction to public notice? The current CJI would no longer be the CJI a few months down the line, but the questions raised and the distrust displayed by none other than the four senior-most brother judges of the CJI would persist as a blemish on the integrity or competence or both of the current Chief Justice of India, which might give further force to the prevailing sentiment that nobody is above suspicion. And, bad impressions, even the baseless ones, are very hard to fight, and far harder to defeat.

The BH Loya Angle

During the press conference, Justice Gogoi said that the four of them had met the Chief Justice in connection with the assignment of a case and confirmed that it was the PIL filed in connection with the death of Judge BH Loya, a special CBI judge, whose death came under the scanner when media reports started talking of the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death. He was hearing the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case, in which Mr. Amit Shah was accused of ordering the extra-judicial killing of Sohrabuddin carried out by the police at his behest when he was the Home Minister of Gujarat. CBI filed the chargesheet against Mr. Amit Shah, and the matter was being heard by Judge B.H. Loya. Judge Loya died of cardiac arrest on December 1, 2014. Two Public Interest Litigations (PILs) have been filed for independent investigation into Judge Loya’s death, one before the Bombay High Court and the other before the Supreme Court of India. On December 30, 2014, the judge succeeding Judge Loya discharged Mr. Amit Shah, and the CBI did not appeal the order of discharge. Admitting the case for hearing, the Supreme Court called the matter of Judge Loya’s death a “serious matter”.

Loya.jpgThis case is a very different can of worms, and Justice Gogoi’s confirmation that the assignment of this case was an issue read with the contents and in context of the letter to the CJI disclosed at the press conference, gives the controversy much grimmer and rather disturbing undertones, and for that reason I would refrain from saying anything further in this regard, for it is too serious a matter to allow for careless speculation.

However, while certainly serious, was the Judge Loya case also all that urgent and of such far-reaching consequences as to call for such an extreme step? Since Bombay High Court is already hearing an almost identical PIL as the one filed before the Supreme Court, the apex court is likely to wait for the Bombay High Court’s verdict rather than hearing the PIL filed before it. And even if it doesn’t, the apex court would order setting up of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to conduct the probe and report back, which would take some time. And by the time SIT is close to finishing the investigation, the current Chief Justice would be either close to retirement, or will have already retired, and with Justice Chelameswar retiring on June 22, 2018, Justice Gogoi is to be the next Chief Justice in all likelihood after CJI Misra retires on October 2, 2018. So, what was the urgency? Was it really necessary to bring the discontent out in open with no clear way forward from there? Or maybe there is more to it than was revealed, but if that is the case, what purpose does it serve to lay only part of the problem in open when, for want of completeness, the problem cannot even be fully understood, let alone solved?

Therefore, the questions we are left with are: Was it worth it? What was the ill sought to be remedied? Was there a remedy to begin with in the current scheme of things? If, yes, what was the remedy sought? Was the press conference the way to finding the remedy or implementing any remedial measures? And, finally, was the remedy or the way to it likely to turn out to be more dangerous than the problem itself? If the last question can be answered in the affirmative, the press conference by the learned judges was certainly hasty and utterly reckless. However, for now, we don’t really have many answers; only a large number of complex and confounding questions, and then some very serious worries.

 

Taj Mahal: The Facebook ‘facts’, and ‘the facts’

Taj Mahal

1. To begin with, it’s not ‘Shahjahan’ but ‘Shah Jahan’, and Mumtaz was his third wife (3rd) wife and not fourth (4th). He had no ‘fourth wife’ because he had only three wives, and NOT ‘seven’.

The other two wives were Akbarabadi Mahal, and Kandahari Mahal. Shaha Jahan was closest to Mumtaz Mahal, who always traveled with him even during wars, which explains her frequent pregnancies. The other two wives did not conceive as often. For the record, Shah Jahan had 16 children out of which 14 were born of Mumtaz Mahal. The reason might be that his relationship with other two wives, the words of official Mughal court chronicler of the time, Qazwini, “had nothing more than the status of marriage. The intimacy, deep affection, attention and favor which His Majesty had for the Cradle of Excellence [Mumtaz Mahal] exceeded by a thousand times what he felt for any other.”

2. Mumtaz was born in April 1592 and was married away to Shah Jahan (Prince Khurram, then) on May 10, 1612 as a 19-year-old having been betrothed to Shah Jahan officially 5 years before in 1607, when she was only 14. The marriage had the apporval of both the families and was a formal arrangement. And she was obviously UNMARRIED before marrying Shah Jahan.

3. Yes. Mumtaz died giving birth to the 14th child. They did not have condoms and the ‘Morning After Pill’ or ‘iPill’, or any alternate contraceptive methods. Besides, Islam prohibits the use of such methods anyway.

4. Well, NO. He never married after that. When he was imprisoned by his son, Aurangzeb, who was one of Mumtaz’s 14 children, Shah Jahan wanted to be detained at a place from where he could see the Taj at all times, which is why he was kept at Agra Fort and breathed his last in Musamman Burj, a tower with a marble balcony with a view of the Taj Mahal. Apparently, he wanted to keep his dead wife in his view as he embraced death in 1666. He wished to be buried by the side of his wife in the Taj, where is rests now.

Taj m“Where the HELL is LOVE here, some one please explain!!!”

I don’t know because I don’t know what ‘LOVE’ is anyway, but neither do you.

But then, it’s more about plain facts than love. Get those right before you venture to make an opinion!

Here are the online references, a dozen, including the facts officially reported by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI)the offical documents at United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), including the official report (Advisory Body Evaluation) submitted to the UNESCO for the inclusion of the Taj Mahal in the list of World Heritage Sites on October 15, 1982:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shah_Jahan

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mumtaz_Mahal

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurangzeb

http://www.bookrags.com/biography/shah-jahan/

http://persian.packhum.org/persian/main?url=pf%3Ffile%3D00702015%26ct%3D304%26rqs%3D181

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agra_Fort

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/251/

http://asi.nic.in/asi_monu_whs_agrafort.asp

http://www.thetajmahalindia.com/

http://www.tajmahal.org.uk/story.html

http://whc.unesco.org/archive/advisory_body_evaluation/252.pdf

First published as a Note on Facebook on February 8, 2012.

 

THE EAGLE REBIRTH TALE: AN INSPIRING LIE?

eagle 00A good number of motivational speakers across the world have used the tale of eagle’s rebirth to inspire loads of people. According to the story, generally told through a PowerPoint presentation, eagle is the most long living bird with a lifespan of around 50 years. But when it crosses 20 years of age, its beak gets ‘bent’, its ‘flexible’ talons are no longer effective and its wings get stuck to its chest from the weight of its heavy feathers making it difficult to fly. This leaves eagle with only two choice — to die or to go through “a painful process of change that lasts 60 days”.

The ‘painful process’ referred to is the one wherein the eagle flies to the top of a mountain and sits at its nest and hits the rock with its beak repeatedly and determinedly until the beak breaks. The eagle waits until the beak grows back on afresh, after which it plucks off its talons, and when the talons grow back, it proceeds to pluck out its feathers to have new feathers take their place. And when the new feathers are back, according to the presentation, “after five months, the eagle takes its famous flight of rebirth and lives for 30 more years.” Then there is a longish inspirational lecture of leaving one’s old self behind and jettisoning bad, old memories together with other past burdens to start afresh like the eagle.

There are many problems with this story right from the start, its inspirations value notwithstanding. First, five months are not 60 days. So, if the eagle takes its famous flight “after five months”, but the “painful process” lasts only “60 days”, what happens during the remaining 90 days? The eagle remains without its talons or beak for months, and without both, it cannot hunt and eat. It’s the top of the mountain, where the conditions are hard, and the eagle remains there without food for five months or two months, depending upon which part of the same version of the story one chooses to believe. However, some of the presentations in circulations have corrected the basic calculation mistake and though everything else remains the same, including the pictures used in most cases, the 5 months stand corrected at 150 days. But it also means that the eagle survives without food for 5 months or 150 days, which is unlikely to the point of being near-impossible.

Even if that error is dismissed as a minor typographical one, the story, despite being inspiring, simply doesn’t ring true. It’s remarkable, but it’s fictional. To begin with, the beak of the eagle is sharp and is always turned down. Hence, the word ‘aquiline’. No eagle has a straight beak at any point of time in its life. So, the curved beak theory, as shown in the PowerPoint presentations, inspires no confidence.

Sharp vision, strong talons and beak are characteristic features of the ‘raptors’ or ‘birds of prey’, who hunt and feed on prey. The beak and talons are made of hard keratin, a bit like the fingernails of human beings, and new layers of keratin grow over the old layers giving them a sturdy structure. The talons, therefore, are strong and hard and are not ‘flexible’ as the story propounds. All raptors, including the eagles, keep their beaks and talons in very good condition by regularly cleaning and sharpening them by rubbing them against the rocks, stones and other hard surfaces. The layers making the beak and the talons grow throughout eagle’s life, which takes care of the wear and tear in regular course.

The idea of feather-plucking by eagles is also quite weak because feather replacement in birds occurs through a version of the process of molting, and is gradual because birds need sufficient feather density in order to maintain the body temperature and repel moisture. Molting is a regular process and the old feathers are regularly shed with new feathers taking their place cyclically in natural course. Therefore, an eagle doesn’t need to take a short trip up the mountains to lose all its feathers and get new ones in their place. It keeps happening every now and then, like in the case of any other bird.

As for the age, in certain presentations of the same kind, the eagle is claimed to live for as long as 70 years, but in nearly all such presentations the lifespan is claimed to be 50 or above. However, the well-documented fact is that the average lifespan of an eagle in the wild is around 30 years, and in captivity, under controlled environment, they might live up to 50 years, but the presentation, quite obviously, is not talking of an eagle reared and maintained in captivity. Furthermore, eagle is certainly not the bird with the longest lifespan. Many birds live much longer than eagle does. A few large parrots live to the age of 80 and the average lifespan of albatross is 50. The nature has not been unfairly kind to the eagles and has not equipped eagles with the ability to extend the duration of their lives at will as the inspirational presentations claim. So, that part of the story also doesn’t hold either.

Eagle is one of the most widely studied birds, and no credible study supports the inspirational story that these slides tell. On the contrary, there a great deal of scientific data to refute the story. The story, therefore, has doesn’t seem to have much going for it in the real world although it certainly is a fancy yarn apparently spun out of thin air by some imaginative speaker.

Hopeless False?

Yes, almost. But we might consider a few things before dismissing the story completely. Reportedly, it has been claimed by the purveyors of the story that since eagle doesn’t have to do much and has to just sit through the period of ‘rebirth’, it needs very little energy and can, for that reason, stay alive without food and water for that duration. Well, it’s not impossible, but certainly very improbable.

Yes, it is also true that eagles bang their beaks against rocks, but scientists believe that they do it in order to clean and sharpen their beaks. One might imagine that it is the beginning of the process of rebirth, but even then it is inconsistent with the story because the story claims that it happens at the top of the mountain, after which the eagle sits there and waits for the beak to grow back on. The beak replacement part of the story is not supported by any observation or study.

So far as the long age is concerned, the life expectancy of the eagles has increased and in some cases eagles have been reported to live upto 70 years, but those have been very rare cases. May be those were the eagles that went through this process of ‘rebirth’ although no study has found that so far.

To conclude, there is negligible factual support available to the story. So, it is very likely that it is just a fictional tale. But then, there is nothing wrong with inspiring fiction so long as it is not passed on as ‘fact’.

Originally written for Let’s Comply on November 18, 2015, but remained unpublished largely because factual verifications undertaken during the course of writing brought the veracity of the claims made in the ‘inspirational tale’ under question, and the story, as it turned out, no longer served the inspirational purposes it was set out to serve to begin with. 

Snapchat Outrage: Why So Serious?

SnapI never knew that my not downloading or using Snapchat would be so wonderfully and so convincingly explained by none other than the CEO of the application himself, assuming that he indeed said what one of his employees attributed to him though some kind of denial is very likely very soon. But as things stand for now, it turns out that I have always been so completely convinced of my status as a poor man in a poor country (hope it’s not yet anti-national to say that) that I never even thought of downloading an application that has been so popular in India.

But what’s this outrage about? Why are people so angry at what the CEO fellow said? What’s wrong in being poor? It just means that one has less money than most other people. So? How is it a disparaging remark? It’s just a judgment on one’s economic standing even if it is not founded on any concrete facts, in which case it’s more of a perception based on some flimsy impression.

But then, even if it was true and was based on sound facts and reasoning, how does it lower one’s worth in the world unless money or wealth is the only or the most important measure of excellence or superiority, which would make everybody who was not rich worthless from Socrates, Plato, Immanuel Kant, Nietzsche, Marx to Mozart, Ghalib, Mir, Vinci, and the endless list goes on and on. Throughout human history there has been no dearth of poor but otherwise perfectly worthy individuals.

Of course, there is nothing wrong in being wealthy or being interested in earning money or having the talent to garner wealth, but there is nothing wrong is being poor either. So, why the outrage?

If you are rich and evil, or poor and manipulative, that might be open to some judgment of some sort, but being rich or poor per se is like being tall or short, dark or light, blonde or brunette, or Superman fan or Batman aficionado. One can be legitimately judged for what one does, and not for the state one eventually finds oneself for one reason or the other unless one has brought about the state on oneself, but even in that case one would be judged for what one did and not for the state itself.

Then again, who said it? A young, opinionated CEO of a media company, which owes its success largely to a good product idea, which they managed to execute well enough to catch the imagination of the people. The CEO is entitled to his opinion regarding who his product is for, especially when he expresses it privately. Why attach so much importance to the words of a 26-year-old man, who is young enough to be entitled to a certain degree of rashness and haste in drawing sweeping conclusions, particularly in a relaxed setting? So, Mr. Spiegel, you are rich, we are poor. Okay. Done. Sleep well.

Personally, Snapchat has always been a non-starter for me. Now I know why. And I am perfectly comfortable being poor.

Demonetization and Black Money

Black Money has been central to public discussions for quite some time now, and the sledgehammer of demonetization is being viewed by a large number of people as the definitive cure. But a sure-fire solution always strikes at the root of the problem whereas demonetization is more like shearing the leaves. Black money stems from the disinclination of the people to pay taxes. So, the natural question is why? Are the people inherently dishonest? Are they so selfish as to not see the obvious benefits of financially enabling the government to govern better? Don’t people in general want the government to function smoothly without having to face shortage of resources? And the most important, don’t they want to be at peace with their money with the fear of the taxman’s knock at the door put to rest? Isn’t peace of mind a valuable thing?

Black money is mostly with the businessmen. Not the top industrialists of the country, but the countless businessmen who run their large and small businesses battling all odds because anybody who has any experience in selling even a needle in India knows it’s not easy to do business in this country largely owing to government’s long-standing anti-business policies. Even golgappa vendors in Connaught Place can tell you what it is like to run such a small business and how many government-made problems they have to brave to sell their things. Permits, licenses, permissions, taxes on goods and sales, this number and that number and then the bribing the government officials so that they do not force in additional hurdles. Running a commercial establishment would require one to have a commercial electricity meter installed with much higher charges payable for the electricity simply because one is trying to do business. In other words, the government does practically everything to discourage businesses through its utterly needless and hugely cumbersome processes that have earned the badge of ‘red-tapism’. When, after having gone through all of it, a businessman manages to make a respectable amount, he finds the government at his throat demanding a substantial share of his hard earned money. What for? For having tried their level best to not let him earn? Any successful business who wants to discharge his tax liabilities has to give over 30% of his taxable earnings to the government.

The frustration of doing business meets the considerable weight of the tax burden to produce the seething resentment against income tax, particularly in the upwardly mobile middle class because they feel that the same body that did everything to make it difficult for them to do business comes after a large chunk of their income when they finally manage to earn a bit despite government-created hurdles in addition to the regular business hassles. So, it’s hard earned and hard fought for money, which turns dark when the businessmen deprive the government of its share under the law. However, retaining black money is not a comfortable enterprise for anyone, and at least some of the less adventurous hoarders of black money would very much like to relieve themselves of the headache provided they do not have to let go of a substantial portion of their earning, for if they have to part with a large amount of their money, it becomes tax evasion becomes worth the accompanying risk and headache.

Let’s not forget that the government has not really been kind on big spending. Taxes on dining out and outdoor entertainment of all kinds, including cinema tickets, has been constantly on the rise as though the government wanted to make it prohibitively expensive for people to relax and have fun outside their houses. Heavy taxation takes a major toll on the volume of the businesses in the hospitality industry, and associated businesses that generally benefit when people go out to have a good time with family and friends. What’s the purpose of raising taxes on dining out and entertainment? Is eating out or watching a film or a play injurious to health, like cigarettes, necessitating discouragement? Why can’t the tax be kept reasonable so that more people have more fun and spend more thereby allowing the commercial establishments to do brisk business making the government get more money by way of taxes? What’s wrong with that kind of arrangement? On the contrary, however, the government currently works on the principle that those who have more to spend on luxuries must pay more in taxes, like there was some inherent sinfulness involved in earning more and having more disposable income.

It seems that the government is working on the premise that a large number of people with taxable incomes would somehow evade tax, and to make up for the lost money, the government needs to tax those who cannot escape tax liability more heavily. quite obviously, if less number of people pay taxes, they have to pay more to compensate for those who do not pay. The other way round is also true. If the taxes are more reasonable, a much larger number of people would be willing to pay the taxes, which, in turn, would enable the government to function just as efficiently as before without having to tax anybody too heavily and also without having to spend huge amounts of money in prosecuting people for tax evasion. Furthermore, it would bring down the size of the black economy without many drastic measures, at least not frequently.

The basic idea is to inspire people to pay their taxes by making the tax environment conducive to that end instead of using coercive measures to chase money out even if it means destroying it. Measures like demonetization are desperate, and are generally not very effective at remedying the problem of black money because the generation of black money is a systemic problem, and needs to be addressed at the root level.

Why the Gujarat 2002 Article?

The rather long piece [Gujarat 2002: Defending the Indefensible?] was not written to reopen old wounds, but was written purely in response to Ms. Tavleen Singh’s attempt at playing down the Gujarat 2002 riots by making a completely unwarranted and rather clumsy comparison with the 1984 anti-Sikh riots just to be able to say that somehow Indian media has been guilty of ‘demonizing’ Mr. Modi by design.

Ms. Singh starts with her cooked up worry about the political pundits’ shortcomings that resulted in their failing to make electoral predictions accurately, and she quickly comes down to the business of defending Mr. Modi, which was perfectly fine if she had not tried to defend the indefensible by trivializing communal violence.

AhmdA journalist’s primary allegiance is to the truth and not to a person, ideology or cause, and Ms. Singh, who is a journalist, and who, by her own candid admission, is also one of the political pundits, fails to watch her step when she glides over the boundary of basic decency to trivialize communal violence like it was no big deal simply because we have failed to do anything about the riots that keep erupting every now and then. Ms. Singh says:

“Most political pundits in our ancient land have been bred on the ‘secularism’ diet, whose most important ingredient is contempt for political leaders unashamed of being Hindu.”

Why should a politician in India be a Hindu or a Muslim, or be ashamed or not ashamed of being one? And why are the political leaders being “unashamed of being Hindu”? Who is shaming them anyway? The expression actually refers to the aggressive communal elements. Ms. Singh conveniently sidesteps the fact that secularism anywhere needs to be defended against the excesses of the majority community because only they have the numeral superiority to subvert it. So, secularism demands that aggressive communal forces are kept down. That’s no special ‘secularism diet’. A just ruler extends protection to the subjects primarily against the ruling class itself, and then against the influential class, who can oppress the weak by manipulating the manipulable sections of the ruling elite. Ms. Singh is trying to create a class where no class can be created. It’s a shell class with zero members.

Ms. Singh asserts:

“The Indian media’s demonisation of Modi was so effective that leaders of important countries treated him as if he were the first Indian politician responsible for organised ethnic violence.”

She doesn’t even pay attention to what she is saying. She goes ahead and brazenly admits that Mr. Modi is indeed “responsible for organised ethnic violence”, but so what? He is not the first. Really? Mr. Modi himself would have huge issues with such a statement.

There is more:

“On my travels I often asked Muslims if they remembered the names of chief ministers who presided over horrific riots in Bhagalpur and Meerut-Maliana. Nobody did.”

Well, maybe because they did not quite ‘preside over’, but only happened to be the Chief Minister when the riots took place. She doesn’t even see what ‘presiding over’ actually means. That’s precisely why Gujarat 2002 and 1984 riots are remembered. It’s not the “horrific riots” part, it’s the “presiding over” part that makes all the difference. But perhaps she is not paying sufficient attention to her own words.

She also covers the Shamshaan-Qabristaan ideas:

“Personally I found nothing offensive about his suggestion that villages should provide land for both graveyards and cremation grounds, but it became a huge anti-Muslim issue in the national media.”

That’s because highlighting the problem where there is no problem amounts to directing attention at the ‘difference’ and lack of ‘equality’, real or imaginary, and the difference stressed here is communal, which was further underscored by the Ramzan-Diwali parallel drawn with respect to the supply of electricity. The statement referred to presupposed that graveyards are aplenty, cremation grounds are needed, and Ramzan is doing fine, but Diwali needs more. If you bat for just one side, you can’t escape being branded partisan. Besides, cremation grounds and electricity were not really the issue because the electricity supply has improved in UP in the recent years, and there is no dearth of cremation grounds. Furthermore, cremation grounds are not needed in the villages because the Hindus cremate their dead by the nearest water body. Drawing the line of distinction and trying to highlight a difference is what was wrong with it. But you are certainly free to find nothing wrong, if you so wish.

And Ms. Singh concludes:

“Journalism is, as it has been famously said, the first draft of history, and in recent years, we whose responsibility it is to write that first draft have been doing a very bad job.”

Well said. But both history and journalism are about the truth, and not about smoothing the facts a bit here, shaving off the rough edges there and hammering clear the sharp protrusions to fit one’s own narrative. And, yes, Ms. Singh is right that she and her likes are indeed “doing a very bad job” and the article in which these lines occur is nothing but another piece of such “bad job”.

Ms. Singh rues the shoddy job the political journalists did because they did not do enough to get to the truth and based their conclusions on their preconceived notions, and to show that she discards truckloads of facts to fit the picture into the frame, just the same way as the political journalists she criticizes did. She admits that she also made the same mistakes. She doesn’t seem to be learning much from the mistakes.

What Ms. Singh decided to overlook is the simple fact that when human beings kill other human beings, it’s a human tragedy first and foremost. The rest is secondary. That’s the basic truth. Every journalist has the duty to report the facts as they exist, but before that he or she has to face the truth himself or herself whereas Ms. Singh is prepared to ignore the hard facts to suit her viewpoint.

The only way one can fight the partial truths, the crafty untruths and plain lies is by bringing the incontrovertible truth to the party. That’s what the long article [Gujarat 2002: Defending the Indefensible?] is aimed at doing. I know it doesn’t make much of a difference to those who are prepared to look the other way, but sometimes we need to tell the truth, not because it makes any difference, but simply because the truth must be told, and, at times, retold repeatedly.

There is nothing in the article that is not, by and large, known. In a democracy, people have the right to make an informed choice. There is no guarantee that the choice made would be necessarily right or beneficial, but so long as the choice is informed, the decision is democratic, which is what journalists must ensure. When journalists like Ms. Singh start questioning the facts, and begin distorting them by playing things up and down in the truly propagandist fashion, they need to be reminded of their relationship with the truth. To comfort the conscience of the people is not the business of a journalist; to tell the uncomfortable truth is.