Wednesday, Sep 16, 2009 at 0232 hrs
“Arun Shourie has attacked the Chief Minister, A.R. Antulay because the latter has opposed America’s decision to give arms to Pakistan... Arun Shourie’s well-known connections with the American CIA... He was got a job at the World Bank... Since his return to India, he has been using the pretext of his son’s illness to regularly visit his bosses abroad. . .”
Across the top of the page was a photograph of our helpless little son laughing away in my arms.
Though twenty-seven years have gone by, I still remember the smear that a glossy magazine put out when I wrote the series that led Mrs Gandhi to eventually have Antulay resign. That was a load of nonsense, of course. It constituted no answer to the facts that had been printed. Even that bit about the CIA was of no consequence. After all, it was a conventional slur in those days — Mrs Gandhi herself had insinuated that a “foreign hand” had been behind even as saintly a person as JP and his movement. It was that bit about “using the pretext of his son’s illness to regularly visit his bosses abroad” that infuriated me no end. The least of it was that I had scarcely been abroad since I had returned during the Emergency — only once after our child had been reduced to a handkerchief by the sedatives he was fed by doctors here and we were told to urgently take him to London. It was the pretext business.
Pretext? PRETEXT? My head screamed. Our son could not walk: thirty-four now, he still cannot. He could not stand: he still cannot. He could not use his right hand and arm: he still cannot. He could see only as if through a tunnel: that is still the limit of his vision today. He could barely speak: he still speaks syllable by syllable. And here were some swine who said his illness was a pretext that I was using.
I sued the magazine for defamation. Through its lawyer — quite a famous man in Bombay at the time, and, I am sure, a very highly priced one — the magazine ensured one adjournment after another. Eventually, it filed an affidavit: through this sworn document and its famous lawyer, the magazine said we hold Arun Shourie in the highest esteem; indeed, he has blazed new trails in Indian journalism; far from having proof for what we published, we do not believe a word of what was printed, it swore; we only wanted to alert our readers to the kind of things that are being said even about such a person in our society. . .
“They can drag the case on forever. . .” I was advised. “In the end, you will have to settle for an apology. . . They are prepared to print straightaway the apology you draft. . . Why not settle the matter? Why not draft the apology you want printed? They will print it promptly. . .”
I drafted an abject text for the apology. They printed it — conspicuously. For all I know, gleefully. That I succumbed to the advice burns my heart to this day.
This time round also, there has been the usual crop. “These have been the pampered boys of the BJP. . . They came to the party only for cream. As the party, having lost the elections, cannot give them any cream now, they are hurling these accusations. . . He is doing this only for publicity. He wants to be a political martyr. We will give him the opportunity. . . He is saying all this only because he got to know that he will not be given a third-term in the Rajya Sabha. . .”
Nor was I the only one who had such pejoratives flung at him. Jaswant Singh had written a letter asking the party leadership to hold those who had been responsible for the electoral campaign and defeat “only because he was upset that he would be losing a room in Parliament”! Yashwant Sinha too had demanded that the party make an honest and open assessment of the shortcomings that had led to its defeat. He had himself won the Lok Sabha poll, and handsomely. But he was dubbed “a frustrated politician” in the stories that were planted.
Mr Advani had been maintaining that he had not known about various aspects of the Kandahar exchange of terrorists for hostages. Jaswant Singh disclosed facts that put Mr Advani’s account in question. Brajesh Mishra set out further facts. Yashwant Sinha endorsed what Mishra had stated. With these statements, four members of the cabinet committee on security, excluding Mr Vajpayee all four other than Mr Advani, had called Mr Advani’s version in question — for George Fernandes had already said that Mr Advani had perhaps forgotten that he had been in, and participated in, the meetings at which each of the decisions had been taken. There must have been a way to set the doubts at rest. But what did the spokesman do?
“Mr Mishra’s statements are unfounded, unfortunate and politically motivated,” declared one of the current spokesmen of the BJP. “He is not a member of the BJP.”
What had the veracity or otherwise of Mishra’s statements to do with his being or not being a member of the BJP? He was the national security advisor at the time as well as the principal secretary to the prime minister. He had participated in every single meeting and decision relating to Kandahar. Neither the spokesman-of-the-moment nor others holding party offices at the time could claim to have known first hand anything at all about what had transpired then. Nor were they producing or even pointing towards any documentary record to show that Mishra was wrong. Did those formulaic words — “unfounded, unfortunate” — prove the facts to be otherwise?
Just as important is another question, indeed from the point of view of the media, an even more important one: Is there another country in which such words are taken to be ‘“refutations”? Is there one in which they are even reported as they are here?
As for “politically motivated”, not one, but two things stand out each time the words are flung. Everyone has a motive, it seems, except them! Second, in the reckoning of our politicians, the most devastating abuse is that the other fellow is “politically motivated”!
(To be continued)