A New awakening? : 2010 has been an eminently forgettable year in many ways with confidence in polity and institutions probably hitting an all-time low. Will 2011 be more of the same? The Magazine invited a few experts from various fields to look at the possible positives as another new year begins...
THE NATION: Blessings in disguise
Several positive take-aways indicate that the coming year is one of hope, not dismay… GOPAL SANKARANARAYANAN
As we leave a turbulent year behind, peace is an absent companion. Even the least cynical amongst us cannot but feel a sense of discontent at what 2010 has left in its wake. Apart from rising prices and continuing terror threats (which have become staples when summing up the annual Indian year), we now have our very faith in the Indian government shaken, with startling instances of vice in high places, coupled with an impunity displayed by its perpetrators. Open defiance is adopted by them, trusting in the brevity of public memory. Come spring, and all will be forgotten.
Or will it?
As Oscar Wilde said, “What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.”
Consider the fact that in the past one year, corruption in government has been laid bare with a nakedness hitherto unknown, dishonesty in judicial office brought to book, and clandestine manoeuvrings made subject to public scrutiny. Consider also that despite continuing Governmental ineptitude, Indian sportspersons brought glory to the nation and responsible coverage averted more communal devastation. The common thread running through the stories that made 2010, be it A. Raja, Ashwini Akkunji or Ayodhya, was the role of the media.
As the opposition presses its not unreasonable demand for a JPC, there are voices within the BJP muttering silent prayers thanking the intrepid journalists who managed to first break the issue of improper allocation of spectrum, accompanied by the correspondence between the Telecom Ministry and the PMO. As with the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner, PILs relying on these very reports were entertained by the Supreme Court, which, discharging its sentinel role to the hilt, provided more fodder to the press in examining the conduct of the Central Government, and in censuring those who played questionable roles. Every evening, wizened domes continue to debate the mystifying reluctance of the Prime Minister and hope that the new session of Parliament will see some resolution to the present impasse.
The now-famous Radia tapes provided more grist to the mill, which not only exposed the murky side of corporate lobbying, but also brought a much needed introspection from sections of the press itself with at least two leading news groups clamping down on their editors. While some of this action was belated, provoked by pieces in The Washington Post, The New York Times and this publication, it was long-awaited and necessary.
Judiciary in poor light
As an ill-named ‘civil society' continued to bay for blood, it was members of the public itself, through anonymous whistleblowers and select testimonials that were able to swing media attention towards the judiciary as well. The pressure on the Government led to the initiation of not one but two separate impeachment motions against members of the higher judiciary (Justices Dinakaran and Sen), with the latter even being indicted by the specially constituted judicial committee. In the Supreme Court, Mr. Shanti Bhushan filed an affidavit supporting his son's proclamation that certain previous Chief Justices of India were corrupt, and as the trial for contempt continues, the Bhushan contention of truth being a defence may well lead to more dirty linen being brought into public view. Thanks to the Internet (where the contents of the affidavits are displayed) and the close scrutiny paid to the judicial theatre by the fourth estate, none of these proceedings will be free of public observation.
More recently, the remarkable exchange between Justice Deshmukh of the Supreme Court and former Chief Justice Balakrishnan has shown the latter in poor light as he quibbled about whether he was made aware of the minister who was alleged to have influenced a pending litigation. Press Releases flew thick and fast, and differences in even the most cloistered echelons were exposed. The last week of December brought more allegations against the beleaguered NHRC chairperson.
Similarly, as the Indian hockey team protested non-payment by the national federation, and a triumphant Jwala Gutta berated the president of the badminton body, live images conveyed the raw truth of how sport was being mishandled in India. With YouTube, proud Indians watched with nary a dry eye the indefatigable quartet of Ashwini Akkunji, Manjeet Kaur, Mandeep Kaur and Sini Jose write their names into the history books with back-to-back gold medals in the Commonwealth and the Asiad.
The parallel fortunes of the tycoons of Indian sport — Lalit Modi and Suresh Kalmadi — nosedived, but both sought contrasting methods to decry the allegations through the television cameras. Modi delivered a strong response in his closing address after the IPL finals this year accepting full responsibility as “leader of the team”, while Kalmadi continues to hope that the issue of CWG graft will just blow over.
Probably most remarkable of all was the coverage of the events of September 30. From the early morning, news vans dotted the streets outside the Allahabad High Court awaiting the verdict in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi land dispute. Even as the court's official website collapsed under the weight of heavy online traffic, the 24-hour channels attempted to marshal minute-to-minute reports and expert opinions on the trifurcation of land. For once, the tones were not strident, and anchors and reporters alike were shown displaying a rare maturity in handling what had been such an emotional tinderbox. As a result, the massive police arrangements were happily rendered unnecessary and both sides sought to abide by the rule of law.
The New Year then, is one not of dismay, but of hope. As more stories unfold, and as many more of the criminal classes are brought to justice, we must take strength from the fact that there will always be a vigilant eye to keep society secure. Both the Congress and the BJP will have to convince their allies and their electorates that they can be trusted with governance and that they have nothing to hide. The judiciary is being tested, and we must see whether they will rally around their own, or clean their stables with the swiftness with which they check misfeasance elsewhere. Even within the press, it would be encouraging to have the principle of collective responsibility applied — one which the Government is made answerable for so often.
Graham Greene once cynically remarked that ‘media' was a word that had come to mean bad journalism. In the present age, were it not for print, broadcast and internet (with even Twitter claiming a couple of victims!), the common man may never have had at least some part of the truth revealed to him. Whether his eye is only at the keyhole, or whether it has swept the entire room, only time will tell. Till then, let us not forget that while government may have three wings, governance has four.
Gopal Sankaranarayanan is Advocate Superme Court of India
Send this article to Friends by