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Secrets society

india Updated: Mar 03, 2011 17:20 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times
Indrajit Hazra

I got a strange call the other day. It was from a woman with an overtly friendly yet firm voice. It was my mother.

"Are you still with Hindustan Times?"

That was a strange question. But I guess since I had been on a seven-week sabbatical, it was still a valid one.

"Of course I am. Why?"

"Because your name's not there in the transcripts."

"I'm sorry?"

"You heard me. I knew that something was wrong when they made you Deputy Executive Editor from Deputy Editor. You've joined The Sunday Indian, haven't you?"

"What are you talking about?"

"The Niira Radia transcripts. I heard someone saying on a special NDTV programme that everybody who's anybody in Indian journalism has their names in those transcripts."

"So you want me to be a journalist accused of fixing for corporate-political lobbyists?"

"Of course not. But why didn't anyone even mention your name in passing? You've been in Delhi for almost 13 years. People in the neighbourhood have been asking whether your name is there in the transcripts. I've been telling them that there are 82,665 pages documenting 5,851 phone calls and my son's name is there somewhere. What do I tell them now?"

"Ma! It doesn't work like that..."

"I thought you know many important people. Didn't you tell me you've been to Suhel Seth's parties and that Nandan Nilekani says hello to you and you once offered Tony Jesudasan a cigarette?"

"That was Tony Blair at an HT Leadership Summit not Tony Jesudasan."

"So you're mentioned in the WikiLeaks then?"

"No! But..."

The conversation ended badly with my mother curtly saying that I "sounded thin" and with me actually wondering what the hell I had been doing all these years if not one person in the Radia tapes had mentioned my name - not even in the context of me once standing in the stalls of a hotel bathroom next to a middle-level Congress minister. Is it because I'm incorruptible? (Don't be daft.) Is it because I don't have the knack of stringing along sources for the purpose of a Goenka prize-winning investigative story?

The truth is that I don't know anyone high up in the angelic hierarchies well enough to ask for any kind of favour. And no one knows me as the sort of guy who has the power of facilitating the placement of a midget in a basketball team never mind of a corporate-backed thief in a ministry.

But even as I sit against the glow of the Radia transcripts, I wait for secrets of a different nature to be yanked out soon. We are, by nature, a secretive 'nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say no more' society sated on rumours rather than on facts. Take the Official Secrets Act. No 'secret' government document has been declassified since 1947. Well, that's not technically true. The Ministry of External Affairs did declassify more than 120 files dating from the 1950s and 1960s, but these are stored in the foreign office's records management section - not in the National Archives of India - and out of bounds for the aam janta, journalists included.

So whether it's the Henderson-Brooks Committee report on the performance of the Indian Army in the 1962 India-China war, or the LP Singh Committee report on the misuse of intelligence agencies and the CBI by Indira Gandhi in 1975-1977 during the Emergency, it's a strict no-go area, all in the name of that jelly bean called 'national security'.
And here's the clincher: the rules that deal with India's policy for declassification itself are classified.

The paranoia that applies to the Official Secrets Act and the old codger 'national security' also applies to unofficial secret acts and too many people wanting them to remain just that: secret. So don't tell me that phone taps pertaining to (successful?) attempts to make a crook a minister - whether involving journalists, panda-trainers or kathak dancers with more access to powerful people than I have - becoming public knowledge should make us worry about (in the words of one of Radia's clients, Ratan Tata) "a banana republic-kind of an environment".

I know the difference between a banana and a leek. Let many more taps and leaks and creaks and groans lead to official and unofficial secrets tumbling out of the dingy attic. Because they're certainly not going to come out on their own. I'd be happy to facilitate and make my mother proud.