When the CBI top man, Ranjit Sinha, revealed – not much of revelation though no matter how desperately we hoped it wasn’t true – that the CBI had to ‘consult’ the government on certain issues, I began wondering if I really understood what CBI really was and what it was supposed to do. What did he think he was doing showing an investigation report to the government in a case in which the government officials were the chicken on the roast? If it was an investigation agency, it didn’t make sense for it to ‘consult’, much less take instructions, from those whose role it was investigating in a certain criminal wrongdoing one way or the other.

What did Ranjit Sinha seek to achieve by making a statement as completely out of line as that, I wondered, although it was not hard to understand his reasons to actually ‘consult’ the Law-Minister-no-more, Ashwani Kumar and allow changes to the final report at the behest of his political bosses, which invited the wrath of the Apex Court when the matter came to light.

The fact of the parrot’s parroting its master’s voice and words, and doing the master’s bidding was not exactly a secret, but was still veiled, howsoever thinly. But Mr. Sinha’s statement was more like throwing caution and shame to the wind and admitting rather meekly that CBI was not ‘independent’ in any significant way, but was a government agency, which also implied that it’s being the top ‘investigating agency’ was a sham because if one goes by the letter and the spirit of the law, an investigation officer at any level is independent of departmental hierarchy with respect to the investigation he or she is handling. Nobody has the right to direct the investigation in progress. However, it is only when there is a reasonable threat to the independence or fairness of the investigation, a judicial check – and no other – is warranted. At no point during the investigation is an investigation officer bound to consult any of his superiors in the department or the government. And here was the director of India’s premier investigation agency talking about the necessity of consulting the government.

So, the sacking of Mr. Ashwani Kumar for the reasons too well known to be mentioned did not come as a surprise to me. But it took a bit – just a bit – of thought to guess the possible reasons for Mr. Ranjit Sinha’s making a statement that made no sense at all. Perhaps – and this is only a guess – he found it to be an opportune moment to bring the helplessness of the CBI to the notice of the top court so that it could arrange for the agency’s actual independence. It is not easy to be a little animal with its tail either wagging vigorously or firmly tucked between its legs.

If the independence of the CBI cannot be ensured, let’s change it from ‘CBI’ to ‘CBCC’ – Central Bureau of Consultation and Coordination.


The Final Argument

As a 14-year-old it was beyond me as to why my father wanted my presence when Kailash — a drunkard rickshaw-puller employed for small chores at the hotel owned and run by my father for better part of his life — requested my father to talk his daughter into abandoning her abusive husband for good. Even today I can only speculate, for I never asked and he never told his reasons. But, if he wanted to educate me in the strange ways of the world, well, he did succeed I suppose. 

Her husband lived in a nearby village and kept her with him only so long as her money lasted, after which he would beat her up and throw her out. And she would return back to her native town, start working in the houses as a maid, save money and go back to her husband with the savings. He would readily take her in, eat, drink and make merry till the savings lasted, after which she would again find herself on the street. The cycle continued for long. She had the option of leaving her husband and re-marrying without much fuss, for her husband wouldn’t have bothered. But that was one thing that never crossed her mind, nor did she even as much as entertain the suggestion. 

Her father, Kailash, couldn’t bear to see his daughter suffer that miserably. And so he approached my father to talk some worldly sense into his daughter. My father was his last hope. And I was to witness the undoing of the hope. 

In the early hours of the morning while the hotel waited for its first guests my father sat there hearing intently with a grim, plain face as Kailash retold the whole story while his daughter and I heard on. She was sitting on the floor, cross-legged while I stood with my arms crossed against my chest trying to look as serious as I could manage. Puzzled and startled, I heard the bizarre story for the first time, and I am sure my face must have displayed some funny colours, for my father cast a glance towards me and the hint of a smile appeared on his face momentarily though his light grey eyes remained still betraying no emotion at all.

Kailash had told the story in different words many times over to my father, but — as I would gradually come to know in due course — it was standard practice with my father to make the complaining party place the facts afresh so that the other side could agree or disagree to the presented facts. And if the complaining party changed the facts even minutely or watered down the tone for some reason, he drew certain adverse conclusions. “Those who can’t speak for themselves can’t speak for anyone, and must not be trusted to defend anything and anyone,” he once told me in his typically even tone. 

After Kailash was done with retelling the story as passionately and as angrily as he ever did, my father looked at the girl and asked if it was all true. She nodded slowly. 

I had thought she would say something to the effect that it was not all that bad, and her husband was not quite so evil. None of it. It was how it was. No defenses. No explanation. 

“So, why do you continue with him when he hurts you so much all the time and every way? He does not even provide you with the basics,” my father pointed out without taking his eyes off her as he spoke each word dispassionately. He seemed to note the way each of his word was received and reacted to. The girl nodded sincerely all through, listening. But did not say anything. 

He let a moment pass in silence. And then waited some more. Was it so difficult to understand really? It was elementary to my teenage, public-school mind. But there was a real world outside, which defied reason with dizzying regularity. 

The pause stretched undisturbed. For what seemed quite a long while he did not speak. Neither did she. And then he decided to be more specific and a bit more pointed. “Why don’t you leave him?” 

Kya karoon babu ji. Ab pyar to usi se hai na,” she said very politely and a bit hesitantly, but very clearly and unambiguously. That took me by surprise. I couldn’t believe that I was hearing it said that simply in the real life. It was straight out of any number of Bollywood movies, but was delivered with such astounding ease and such perfect conviction that it took quite a long while to sink in. I looked at my father immediately expecting a surprised look, and met a steady gaze. He had simply nodded in understanding. Not a word. He got up and moved away with a smile. And the smile carried no enigma. It was the easy, pleased smile of understanding, which baffled me even further. 

I and Kailash exchanged glances of incomprehension and puzzlement. We were on the same plane of confusion while my father and the girl existed on an altogether different planet of understanding. And I wanted to migrate. So, I walked towards my father. “Papa…?” He looked at me and his smile deepened while he said — and I can hear it as clearly in my ears even now — “Prem hamesha antim tarq hota hai.” (“Love is always the final argument.”) He was a man of few words, but at times he was a man of ‘very few’ words. It was such an occasion. He went away and got busy in the regular business of running his hotel leaving me perplexed. No further elaboration was on the way from his side, I knew. I was on my own with it.

Originally written and published as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE [April 2013 Issue; Vol. XIX, Part 4].

Gujarat 2002: The Unforgettable

Let me start off by admitting that no matter how hard I try I just can’t forget Gujarat 2002. No, I was not personally affected by the pogrom; not even remotely. And, no, I am not a Muslim behind a Hindu pseudonym, in case you are wondering. I am a normal Indian. An average Indian who believes in simple things, and has simple – almost naive – ideas about justice and righteousness. And someone who would not like to believe that we live in a world that runs on  heartless pursuit of selfish goals and we live for no ideals greater or higher or better than individual ‘pursuit of happiness’. 

But at the same time I am not as much of a novice in the ways of the world as to not know that one must relegate the bygone to the dark, dingy, limitless recesses of the past, and forget about it. Turn a new, milk-white page, draw out a clean sheet and start all over again, like there was no yesterday. That’s the way forward. Is it? That’s how one must live, for that’s how life works – forward. Living in the past served nobody, benefited none. History must not be read, much less taught. Look around, the world is what it is because of the past. If the past was any different, the present would also be considerably different; and perhaps far less happy. Why less happy? Why not more? Because a ‘different past’ means ‘less of present’? And ‘less’ in what sense? In terms of happiness? And whose happiness? The grand total of happiness? Does the quantum of sadness offset the quantum of happiness, like ‘negative marking’? Is quality of happiness also taken into account? And is the darkness and density of sadness also similarly measured and considered? None of these questions can be answered because the very first question is unanswerable from the very start. 

Logically, a ‘different past’ could only produce a ‘different present’, and not a ‘better’ or ‘worse’ present. Since ‘present’ is just one entity, it’s being ‘better’ or ‘worse’ is out of the question, for there is nothing as real and as tangible to compare it with. This makes all possible comparisons logically invalid exercises in drawing parallels and pointing out discrepancies between the real and the imagined. 

So, why get into the past when there is nothing to be gained from it? Live in the present, for that is all there is to life – living in ‘now and here’. How comforting is the thought of breaking free from the past. Just how irresistible is the way out. Released from the past, how liberating the present feels. Yes, a ‘present’ suspended mid-air in the middle of nowhere would look pretty much liberated and possibly would also feel truly liberating provided there actually ‘is’ such an unfettered, born-out-of-nothing ‘present’ possible. But actually there is no such ‘today’ that wasn’t born of a ‘yesterday’, and no such thing as a ‘self-born’ present.

“The roads were all clean and smooth. No potholes. The investment from all over has been massive. The buildings. The malls. The industries. That’s what development is! Man! The nation must learn something from this! Really!” Wearing long, rockstar-like hair, smartly dressed in sports attire with a baseball cap to complete the package, this young man was a Delhi University student pursuing M.Phil. in Philosophy. So, I can justifiably consider the fellow ‘well educated’ and ‘well informed’. We were talking casually on a birthday party, and he did not know much about me, or the views I hold. Clearly, he was assuming a few things. And from the fact that I am quoting somebody talking of ‘development’ in a particular State of India, it is very easy to guess the Indian State being talked about.

I kept hearing, and kept nodding to keep him going so that if he really had a point, I did not miss it simply because what he said had not made a great deal of sense that far, for anybody can turn wise anytime at all. And yes, he did manage to thoroughly convince me of a few things. One of them was that the ‘development’ was extremely important, and one who brings about ‘development’ could rightfully indulge in a few excesses.

He also convinced me that riots were a result of public anger, which must be allowed venting in the larger interest of the society. When I asked the obvious question, it was vehemently pointed out that there were anti-Sikh riots in 1984 in the Congress-ruled states, and they, ‘too’, could not do anything about it. And I was left wondering briefly as to what these riots had to do with those riots, and where was the distinction? This was wrong, and so was that. So, where was this bizarre defense going? But it did not take too long for me to realize the attack that he imagined he was facing. A very similar sentiment is detectable when it is argued that even the Muslims in Gujarat approve of Modi’s developmental policies, and are ‘happy’ under Modi’s ‘rule’.

But it’s a monumental mistake to think that this is about BJP versus Congress, or Hindus versus Muslims. It’s simply about state versus citizens. And it’s all that my complaint relates to. So, even if a Muslim is or all Muslims are prepared to ‘forgive’ Modi, it would still not suffice because popular opportunism cannot accord moral legitimacy to something as heinous as a state allowing its own citizens to be brutally raped, maimed and slain.

But I was still listening intently until I realized that he had begun repeating himself citing instances of injustice to justify other instances of injustice. He continued, and I kept nodding for a while. And then I tuned out, like I always do.

Originally written as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE. However, the Editorial Board found the piece too hard hitting and a bit too politically charged to be published.