There is no point in taking a side in the fresh controversy over phone-tapping: the only issue, if there is one, is whether the Israeli agency- Pegasus -was used by the Centre. Barring that both the pot and the kettle (sic NDA and UPA-interchangeable) are as black as they can be. The Editors' Guild of India has brought some dignity to the cacophony of the Opposition by moving the Supreme Court (SC) in the matter. If they had not stepped in this would have been yet another pathetic initiative by our desperate Opposition to bruise the Modi (Moody?) juggernaut.
Further, no Sherlock Homes is needed to prove that phones are being tapped. We know that all governments do it and HAVE to do it! The state is agreeably a WATCHDOG and functions with the tacit understanding that it shall keep an eye on things in general and on sensitive matters in particular. I remember how the ghost of phone-tapping haunted successive governments-no matter which party/coalition was in power. One can also see that such matters are raked up when the Opposition runs out of ideas to corner the ruling party: just like the cry wolf whining 'the situation in the country is like the infamous Emergency'- of almost half a century ago. So in a way discussion is redundant: the SC has its own (lack of?) speed and deferred the matter by a week; promptly remarking that the allegations are 'serious' if true'. One wonders whether it could have done more! If such is the case why are some of the biggies like N Ram moving the SC? It would be naive and foolish to say that they were 'shocked and outraged' when they suspected their phones were tapped? Also, these petitioners are hardly the ones to play into the hands of the Opposition.
Power is a crazy drug in that it drives one crazy with/without it! If you capture power it goes to the head and if you lose it power gnaws at the heart. Either way, it makes one lose all sense of proportion and decency! Both NDA and UPA are guilty of this. The PM wants to be SEEN all the time and the subservient media go out of their common sense reporting brief to oblige him: the Opposition, therefore, makes childish attempts for visibility-riding a bicycle to protest hike in fuel price or gheraoing the parliament building. Both are sickening.
Statecraft is tough - to say the least. It is no fairy tale and shall never end with 'and they lived happily ever after'. But that does not imply that it should be a never-ending exchange of hostility and blood must be drawn all the time. The Rulers and the Opposition need not be at the throats of one another like we witness at present daily. Both claims and boasts of the Centre and the wisecracks and taunts of the Opposition are so extreme that the reality is lost.
Take phone-tapping for example. The business of any government is to protect the State as an institution and not usurp it. Be it Kautilaya, Plato, Socrates, Machiavelli all have expected this of the ruler/s. They also have conceded, realistically, that there will always be threats/enemies to the State: both internal and external. Spying is encouraged against both. War and diplomacy (earning subservience from other rulers) are the obvious solutions against external enemies. For internal enemies, more tact and less force have been advised by all these theorists of statecraft. The internal threats have to be contained by co-option, allurements (bribes), isolation/confinement. To achieve all this the King (sic Prince) must continuously collect information-eaves dropping, listening through cracks in walls and doors and tailing in ancient times and phone-tapping, hidden tape recorders and cameras, satellites in our times. So if the present government did tap the phones one need not bring the whole house down. Understandably, the UPA is suffering from short memory- under UPA its own ministers had flung charges of spying at one another's ministries while Manmohan and Sonia helplessly watched. Let me also assure the detractors of Modi that knowing his learning he might not know of Socrates' observation that it is impossible for the tyrant to rule unless all the talented-irrespective of their political position- in the kingdom are destroyed! Thank you Mr Modi for your inadequate reading!
That brings us to the crux of the matter: the Centre that we have got is watching too visibly and barking too loudly all the time! One wonders if Modi and Co ever look up a dictionary and whether it has the word 'subtlety'; so blatantly loud has been their language-both semantic and political- ever since they came to power. ' More governance and less government' they had (loudly) assured but their actions tell another tale-it has been government (sic Modi) all over all the time! They are not happy with modest visibility and decent decorum-the multi-crore gold suit of Modi and the vulgar mention of his chest size were just the beginning. Only once did Modi concede that he had no experience of running the country and wanted to learn from those who had it. Yet he has never been civilised in dealing with the opposition both in words and deeds: he has either treated them with scathing condescension or just flung taunts at them- like the present 'self/own goal' jibe! Taking 'inspiration' from him his reduced editions in Delhi and the states vie with one another in humiliating the opposition. It is just not cricket if one dubs the Opposition as traitors/destroyers in a democracy. This loudness of the Centre in thought, word and action oblige the Opposition to lose the sense of decency and subtlety in their turn and we hear chants like 'Samvidhan Zindabad; PM (Modi) Murdabad!'
Pundits of statecraft have advised since ages: the Ruler/s have to look dignified, dress with taste, walk slowly, talk in low voice, smile choosing, frown selectively, listen more, respond with control, avoid physical contact, show little emotion, read the minds of supporters/opponents and so on... Sadly all this falls on deaf ears in the scramble to look grand, smart and more than life-size...
Take the late Father Stan Swamy for instance. He was 'four scores and upward' (Shakespeare: King Lear); weak and ailing with limited or no mobility; could only talk and write letters-if at all. The Home Minister could have contrived to keep a strict eye on him if the old man was really a threat to the Nation without nobody knowing. But that is contrary to Amit Shah's work ethic. What followed need not be recounted. I would like to remind Shah that Indira had treated JP with similar loud hatred and was thrown out by the voters for that!
Another point for pondering would be the involvement of a foreign agency-Pegasus- in the surveillance. It is known to one and all that the present rulers belong to RSS which has always had a special bond with the Israeli brand of brave nationalism notwithstanding the compulsions of Muslim politics in the country. The Centre has issued (by habit) a strong denial: I remember Rajiv Gandhi and the Bofors Gun scandal- initially, he denied strongly anything at all but ended with losing power just like his mother.
Whatever may be the facts but there is something to be conceded at this point; though embarrassingly! Are there any trustworthy data collecting agencies in our country? For one thing, Indians by nature are dangerously imaginative and it is next to impossible to ascertain the terse reality of events and individuals alike. Garrulity is our national trait. The moment something gets tagged as 'confidential' it becomes public! Information in India is synonymous with misinformation. Add to this political interference, bias, corruption and the total apathy for truth and almost all Indian agencies will be disqualified. Probably the Centre showed some subtlety in this matter but that too was known to all. I had met some years ago an Additional IG of our state who wanted to invite me to the ' public launch of a police squad to fight terrorism' which the CM would inaugurate !
Some detractors of the Centre would argue that the risk in involving a foreign agency has been overlooked: they only need to be reminded that the satellites presently in orbit can practically put an end to all confidentiality of information!
So tap the phones but make less noise; don't pound or hammer them, Mr Modi and Co...
- Vinay Hardikar
(The writer has been working in the public sphere of Maharashtra for the last five decades. His versatile personality has several dimensions, but the primary ones remain to be that of an established writer, journalist, editor, critic, activist, and teacher.)
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