In a curious quirk of fortune Narendra Modi and Tarun Tejpal, two bitter opponents, find themselves caught in similar predicaments, which are entirely of their own making. Both men have made a bad situation considerably worse by their foolish handling of it.
Let’s start with Modi. His claim he provided protection to the woman in the Saheb tapes at her father’s request, which she fully endorsed, has raised issues that can only embarrass him.
First, this was invasive surveillance not protection.
That’s why she was tailed on planes, eavesdropped at home and pursued in restaurants and cinema halls. The clincher is the fear she might escape. If she welcomed the ‘protection’ why would she run away?
Second, can such surveillance be undertaken at the request of a father? Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act clearly says it cannot. That raises a third point: was this done legally or was it an abuse of power? Finally, an obvious conclusion is suggested: this was misuse of state money and resources.
I’m not sure if another explanation for the Saheb tapes would have worked better but this one has raised disturbing doubts about how Modi uses his power.
These are not questions the BJP prime ministerial candidate wants asked of him. At the moment it’s only the media raising them. If the courts do so as well he could find himself in a very invidious position.
Now turn to Tarun Tejpal. In an email sent to the victim on the November 19, he admitted to “sexual liaison … on two occasions … despite your clear reluctance that you didn’t want such attention from me”.
Four days later, on the 23rd, he told The Economic Times “it happened only once”, “lasted less than a minute” and was “consensual”. The same day he told The Indian Express the victim’s story is “a totally mendacious account of what happened” and claimed “I’m being framed”.
Clearly, he’s either contradicting himself or consciously changing his stand.
If the act was consensual and the victim’s account mendacious, why did Tejpal “unconditionally apologize”, “feel impelled to atone”, want to undertake “penance that lacerates me” and, finally, recuse himself from the editorship for six months? A man only does this if he’s sinned and at that terribly.
One possible explanation is a half sentence in Tejpal’s statement issued on the 22nd: “The complete truth and the need to do the honourable thing can come into conflict”.
Does that suggest his apology, which is presumably the honourable thing, is in conflict with the truth and, therefore, not just unnecessary but also tantamount to a lie? That would only make things worse.
Meanwhile, Tejpal’s lawyers have expressed a lack of faith in the Goa police — accusing them of “some malafide scheme” — presumably because he fears he won’t get justice in a BJP-ruled state. But Shoma Chaudhury called her questioning by the same police “a good experience” and “a positive experience”.
The Hindu complimented them for doing their duty “with professional dispatch and thoroughness”. So are these apprehensions justified or an attempt to politicise the issue and hope for leniency at the hands of a Congress-controlled investigation agency?
Once again, I’m not sure what response to the accusation of sexual assault would have served Tejpal better. Perhaps silence? His verbosity has only tied him in knots.
No doubt, both men will repent at leisure. Their behaviour recalls Walter Scott’s famous lines: “Oh, what a tangled web we weave/when first we practice to deceive!”
(Views expressed by the author are personal)