Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A person acting as judge, jury needs to know the truth

During the trial of Jesus Christ with Pontius Pilate acting as Judge and Jury, a question arose about the nature of truth. “What is Truth?” said Jesting Pilate and, as the Bible reports, paused not for an answer. He knew that he was going to sentence Jesus totally unjustly. He did not have to know the truth.

Out of a billion and quarter people in India, the Congress has knowingly chosen Pratibha Patil as its candidate for the presidentship of India; nobody had heard of her before. Overnight, as it were, there were inquiries about her past and Indian Express carried three brilliantly analytical articles by Arun Shourie on Pratibha’s past. Arun Shourie made his name as an investigative reporter when he was editor of The Indian Express; He is a scholar of distinction and a journalist committed to the highest standards of journalism. One can’t imagine him attacking Pratibha out of any personal grudge or party purposes.

The life of a presidential candidate should be an open book. Pratibha is a human being like all the rest of us and susceptible to errors. But the charges levelled against her are not ordinary charges and it is open to Pratibha—and the party she represents—to sue Arun Shourie in a court of law for damages. That she hasn’t done. Instead, the Congress is now finding out the shortcomings of Shekhavat in an act of vengeance. India’s reputation is being dragged in the mud. Pratibha can be tried in a court of law and wait for judgment.

There is a saying in Kannada: adige kaddaru kalla, aane kaddaru kalla thereby meaning: It does not matter whether you have stolen an elephant or just a piece of areca nut, you are still a thief. But few papers have dared to attack Pratibha; among those who have dared is the Free Press Journal which cannot, under any circumstances, be called a BJP paper. It carried two strong editorial. In the first one (June 25) it pointed out that “the string of scandals which have begun to swirl around in the public space after her (Pratibha’s) nomination in the eyes of her hackers do not diminish her usefulness as the tenant of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Indeed they might enhance her value since the allegations would make her more dependent on them in the face of attacks from critics.”

The paper said that “at least Rashtrapati Bhavan should not be tenanted by a tainted person.” It was a damning indictment of Pratibha. In the second editorial (June 27) the paper said that “from what has already surfaced about the sordid past of Pratibha Patil it is clear as daylight that she will only sully the high constitutional office” and it added for good measure: “Even though her success in the presidential poll is more or less assured, Sonia Gandhi and others should ponder the question whether the office of the President of India should be occupied by someone facing grave charges of fraud, defalcation of accounts, theft of public resources and profiteering from avowedly charitable institutions”.

It is not that the Congress was unaware of Pratibha’s past. In his third and final column in The Indian Express Arun Shourie made it plain that Sonia Gandhi was fully aware of Pratibha’s past and that Pratibha was not chosen at random. What is shocking is that except for The Indian Express and the Free Press Journal, the latter with a great reputation for ‘calling a spade a spade” and never shying away from doing its duty by the people, hardly any other paper of repute has dared to take on the Congress.

Fear prevails in editorial dens. The Indian Express (July 2) carried an article by Shekhar Gupta, weak in spirit but nevertheless one that noted that “the Congress guilt is not so much about who they chose for the job as it is about how it trivialised the job.” Gupta condemned the Left (a despicable group of people anyway) by saying that when all the chosen candidates of the Congress had been rejected by the Left “after its Home Minister had been publicly humiliated and his secular commitment questioned, it produced Pratibha Patil”.

Gupta said while Pratibha will surely be ‘elected’ President “let there be no doubt at the same time that her tenure as President will be the most controversy ridden in the history of Rashtrapati Bhavan.” Gupta argued that “Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Chief Election Commissioner and the President are three positions where incumbents must not carry any baggage of the past that could raise any question about their judgement.”

A. B. Bardhan, CPI General Secretary showed the CPI in its true colours when he was interviewed by Kiran Thapar on TV. It was a disgraceful and disgusting performance and one of the founders of the CPI, Comrade Dange would have been ashamed of him. Thapar was merciless and one could see that Bardhan was wilting and all he could say was that the charges were made by the BJP, as if truth and objectivity is the sole virtue of the communists. Whatever else the BJP may have done wrong, it did not sell the country to the British or betray patriots as the CPI did, during the Quite India movement. But one can’t argue with a man who cannot distinguish between right and wrong.

It has been said that F.D.Roosevelt had a mistress, so had Eisenhower, that John Kennedy was a womaniser as was Bill Clinton. But they did not pilfer peoples’ money but even if we concede that the Americans have their own sense of right and wrong, India must elect to the Presidentship someone who can at least hold a candle to Rajendra Prasad, Dr Radhakrishnan, V.V. Giri and Dr. A.P.J.Kalam. It is significant that when the notorious Pentagon Papers were first published by the New York Times, the matter was considered of such vital importance, that many papers like Washington Post and Los Angeles Times reproduced the papers. In India our newspapers are keeping away from The Indian Express as if it is poison.

The revelations that Shourie has made are frightening. If the Congress thinks he had indulged in defamation, he should be taken to court. Otherwise what he has stated, quoting chapter and verse, would remain as truth and an eternal black mark against not just Congress or the UPA but India with its 1.2 billion people.

Is this country so poor that the Congress not only had to humiliate three of its own leading partymen, but had to push Pratibha Patil into the Rashtrapathi Bhavan? What sort of people does the Congress think we are? And what sort of media do we have that cannot stand up for decency in public life?
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