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Gather round that totem pole

Sitting here with my legs up and a phone just within my reach, what worries me is that despite the ‘boldness’ of Tehelka and the rightness of it all, my moral outrage meant nothing in 2003, writes Indrajit Hazra.
Hindustan Times | By Indrajit Hazra, New Delhi
UPDATED ON OCT 28, 2007 04:42 AM IST

The last two times I had made an educated guess about elections — first,when I expected the Mamata Banerjee-led coalition to gloriously dislodge West Bengal’s Left Front government in 2001; second, when I thought that the NDA would return to power at the Centre in 2004 — I had been wrong. This time round as I make another educated guess about politics, I hope I’m wrong.

I think that Narendra Modi will be returned to power in Gujarat in December. Now, I know that the man is having less of a hunky-dory time than when he had gone into elections in 2002. The squabblings with the Keshubhai Patel faction of the BJP can be heard outside the hut; the RSS has publicly boycotted chipping in during the polls; and not every staunch Gujarati BJP supporter is mesmerised by Modi’s hymns to development. But from what I gather, Gujarat is pretty bereft of any real opposition, with the state’s Congress leaders, at best, too marginalised from the mainstream, and at worst, having shots at playing BJP Lite.

At this juncture — a month and a half before elections — comes the Tehelka sting operation showcasing Sangh Parivar leaders on video footage bragging about how they went about ripping stomachs, cutting limbs, raping women and burning people in Gujarat 2002. I know that there were people who went about murdering Muslims in the gruesome manner described in the tapes. So when there are people saying that they were the ones engaged in these activities, I’ll take my chances and believe them — regardless of the fact that they may now be keen to ‘embarrass’ Modi; regardless of the fact that they may be viciously stupid. (Although one of them has subsequently stated that he was making remarks pertaining to the script of a serial in which he was offered a role. Sigh.) What matters is that they seem to be confirming things that we already know through newspapers as well as through investigating documents available in the public domain.

Now, I’m no legal eagle. So I have no idea how much the latest Tehelka footage will actually contribute to conducting legal proceedings against those caught on camera. I have even less idea about how they might legally affect those bigwigs who have been talked about abetting the self-described murderers. But what I suspect is that the exposé — earth-shatteringly damning as it may be — will inadvertently help the very top dogs that it set out to nail.

I know it’s not any Honest Joe journalist’s business to mull over the political consequences of a story he sets out to print or air. His business is with facts. If Modi’s Gujarat is the best state in terms of economic development, I’m sure Tehelka doing a story on economic ranking of states won’t spike the story just because it may not fit any thesis. But ‘public interest’ are two strange words in a place where we’re not too sure whether the law is on the side of justice or not. The ‘disgruntled’ BJP voter, with his own complaints against Modi & Co. may now be stirred into rallying around the Hindu pride totem pole — “Oh, he’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”

Modi, if memory serves me right, was re-elected by an electorate not even a year after a genocide in Gujarat. This is not the Indian School of Journalism we’re talking about here; it’s the India we live in where the operative word in the term ‘unpalatable facts’ is not ‘unpalatable’ but ‘facts’. I would have been more comfortable about the Tehelka exposé coming out after the Gujarat elections. Not that the election results depend on self-described murderers from the Sangh Parivar caught talking as if they were yapping with Heinrich Himmler in an attempt to impress him and get a job with one of his Einsatzgruppen death squads.

Sitting here with my legs up and a phone just within my reach, what worries me is that despite the ‘boldness’ of Tehelka and the rightness of it all, my moral outrage meant nothing in 2003. I have a nasty feeling that it will mean even less in December 2007. I hope I’m wrong again.

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