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Let’s package it right

With so many worthies in Tihar, we could sell it as an adventure tourism destination. Pratik Kanjilal writes.

india Updated: Sep 09, 2011 23:00 IST
Pratik Kanjilal

Wonder why Manmohan Singh doesn’t robustly rebut the charge that his government is not serious about corruption. It enjoys first mover advantage in the season of jail bharo andolans. Months before civil society rolled its own flavour, the government had started packing jails with prominent citizens, with Tihar getting the pick of the crop.

Interestingly, Delhi is planning to build two new jails to decongest Tihar. But why not clean it out altogether? The mini-stry of tourism could sell it as an Incredible India package. A Raja snacked here, Charles Shobraj plotted over there, Madhu Koda was affably unashamed in this cell, Pappu Yadav worked for his human rights degree in that one, Amar Singh slept right here on this durrie — so many possibilities for vicarious adventure tourism.

Omar Abdullah wonders out loud whether the political leaders in Tihar would form a new party, and what they would call it. Well, Tihar already has a brand, TJ’s, under which it markets fabrics, furniture and cookies made by inmates. Potentially, it’s a great name for a new age party, cool, energetic and fun. And TJ’s Tours would be such a hit.

Edinburgh does a fine tourist trade selling its historical blackguards. We can be better, sensitive and nuanced. The freedom struggle has left us with mixed feelings about going to jail. In selling Tihar, we could tastefully mingle darkness with light.

For me, Anna Hazare’s jail bharo andolan was a rousing retro experience. He was living across the street from my apartment before his fast and when he was arrested at dawn and whisked off to Tihar, the andolan began right under my bedroom window. I was stirred out of bed by cries of “Jail bharo” and “Inquilab zindabad”, recalling confused childhood memories of the Emergency and school lessons about the freedom struggle. It felt like a religious experience. Half the neighbourhood turned out to clog the streets, so I wasn’t alone in feeling this way.

But I’m the post-inquilabi generation. To people like me, a jail term for conduct with a political colour is not necessarily a badge of courage. The details matter. The worthies held in recent scam cases inspire shock, awe and confusion, in that order. shock at the scale of iniquity, awe because you have to be some kind of champion to ideate on that scale. And confusion, because the leading scam stars are actually talented people.

Friends in Chennai tell me that A Raja, the Dalit face of the DMK, is a substantial Ambedkar scholar. From my own reading, I know that Kanimozhi is a good poet. And Amar Singh, the ultimate dealmaker, would be the 21st century man if he kept his nose clean.

After the government’s jail bharo andolan, Tihar has enough talented inmates to launch a political party, turn TJ’s into a hot brand or start social and cultural movements. More are in the offing: LK Advani has offered to go to jail and plans yet another diesel-powered rath yatra, which is bound to raise a bumper crop of arrests. And when it’s all over, I’m sure people would pay for weekend packages in the cells which once held these celebrities, with Kiran Bedi’s free yoga and vipassana meditation thrown in.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine
n pratik@littlemag.com
The views expressed by the author are personal