The obituary is the best place to tell the truth for dead men file no libel suits, said Kushwant Singh once. But libel or no, why can’t we tell the truth, so long as we don’t distort and are not perverse? I think Western commentators are far more balanced. Whether an obit or a newspaper article or a full-fledged book, they don’t hesitate to call out – sympathetic to the subject all right, but no drooling, no flunkey business.
Sacred cows are not necessarily a Modi invention. We have been bowing and scraping for god knows how long. I have cringed time and again when my editors would cave in meekly and not speak truth to power. The trend has become worse in recent years. Both journos and management not just crawl but grovel. Such kowtowing has become widespread, corroding our intellectual life.
These dark thoughts, even if nothing unique about them, were stirred in me yet again when I came across a flurry of tributes to former Prime Minister Chandrashekhar.
He was a leader I kept track of rather closely, from his Young Turk days. I cherished a postcard from him reassuring me that he was not leaving the Congress, but would stand and fight. I would flaunt it all the time, whether anyone cared or not. He was indeed a hero, even if used as a stalking horse by Mrs Gandhi; and when she started sidelining him, our hearts went out to him.
Now, whatever his sacrifice when the Janata government was formed, no matter how many ganged up against him, the fact remains that he became a crass manipulator himself, hitting the nadir when agreeing to head a government backed by the Congress. What was there to commend in it except naked ambition, though not greed?
How does one justify the dismissal of the Karunanidhi government – not that the DMK leader was a saint or didn’t encourage the Tamil Tigers – but the dismissal was totally disproportionate to the needs of the hour. It is well-known that Chandrashekhar could do little in the face of pressure from Rajiv Gandhi and Jayalalithaa. He gave in because he was loathe to leave the throne, however shaky his hold was.
Thereafter his reputation went south, even his Bhondsi ashram becoming the subject of litigation, with all kinds of speculation doing the rounds.
Anyway, he became generally irrelevant. But nothing of this figured in any discussions when he passed away.
A while ago, when Sheila Dixit passed away, ‘tut, tut’ rent the air. She was this, she was that, accessible, amiable, able, what not. Fine, she might have been a pleasant politico, a relatively efficient administrator, no issues. But should you not also point out the grave mishandling of the Nirbhaya agitation, her standing in the way of the alliance with the AAP, her son Sandeep’s becoming a law unto himself? If the AAP won big, it was essentially the verdict of the people on her administration. Not a word, not a word in the homages.
If our commentariat are queasy about speaking the truth about the dead, there’s little to say about how they approach the living. A striking example is the adulation for Manmohan Singh. Well, he is an eminently decent guy, scholar, with none of the boorishness we see in his successor. Still, he was a prisoner in the hands of 10, Janpath; of anyone who wielded power in the queen’s durbar. He allowed scam after scam to ruin the UPA’s image. Sonia and her associates were being held to ransom by greedy allies, yes, but when did Manmohan Singh stand up to be counted? Forget Vinod Rai’s machinations, if only Raja had been peremptorily sacked, the damage would not have become irreversible. It was the spectrum scam that Modi milked most.
Many were upset when Manmohan Singh chose to describe the nuclear deal with the US as the single most satisfying moment of his 10-year reign. If he was cocking a snook at the Left, he was being downright silly. Forget the idiocy of the Karats; by jettisoning them, the Congress-led coalition became beholden to the worst kind of vested interests, and nothing of the aura of the previous four years remained. In a way, the fall of the secular forces could be traced to that moment. But whoever speaks of these when trying to pour scorn on NaMo?
After the May 2019 disaster, one finds the Left, secular Twitterati scream shriller – but with little introspection. So also if people turn skeptical of left economic policies, it is because of obvious ground realities, but progressive sections seek to gloss over this instead of admitting the failings or offering feasible alternatives.
It is double standards that is the villain and not any conspiracy of the ruling elite. None heeded the warnings of a Bertrand Russell or Arthur Koestler, or of course Orwell – “No question now what has happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
Sad we are yet to learn.
TN Gopalan is a senior journalist based in Chennai. Views expressed are the author’s own.