In a recent apex court plea by The Wire the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra reminded journalists that they can’t write as pore their imagination and deliver sermons like the “Pope sitting in a pulpit”.

Dipak Misra

Dipak Misra

This was a very important case in which very high profile persons were involved. The son of Amit Shah, Jay Shah is involved and therefore there was a great deal of interest in the case.  Apart from other considerations, the high political tensions prevailing in India and that too on the day next when the by elections in Gorakhpur and Phupur and even from Bihar were out and the first shock defeats of the ruling party were uppermost in the minds of the countrymen.

So, the very case and also the very casual observations, we think of the CJI were taken in very different meanings by all the interested persons and groups.

CJI’s every word and utterance has the power of   the law and has many implications. So, every word counts.

Media freedom too is not a simple word or phrases either. Also the timing is crucial. CJI’s remarks came at a most vulnerable time for the BJP. Is this the freedom of the humble scribe, the paid employee or the pay master’s very many needs?

And nowadays, media functions have become very sensitive issues.
How many people in India know that in recent years there have been much violence and murders of journalists and writers? There is enough statistics to show that we can’t take media freedom lightly.

And also, the very face of the media culture, the industry, and the new investors in the media are all undergoing changes.
Expressing opinion freely is not yet a reality in the Indian context. So, we need more careful discussion. The editors’ guild and the newspaper associations seem to be lying low. We may be wrong and we stand corrected. Let experts speak out.

For newspaper owners, the traditional conservative medium today   how the news appeared. We just looked at three major newspapers, one established for long in Madras, one established in Bangalore and the one established as the dominate paper in Mumbai, how they reported this very important court proceedings?

The most conservative one from Madras left out the news on the next day, Thursday! The one from Bangalore reported the news in full. The news appearing in the Mumbai edition and its regional editions, the one from Bangalore, we read the news where the full report was not there. Only in the Bangalore edition, the use of the term “Poe in a pulpit was reported.

Also the names of the high profile lawyers, Kapil Sibal, A.M.Singhvi and also Raju Ramachandra were all given in the Bangalore newspapers but not in the Mumbai newspaper
All these small details matter in such a sensitive case for the reputed lawyers, the countrymen know are very expensive talents and a small media like The Wire can’t engage them normally, right?

What does this convey? It shows the importance of the case and also the issues involved and also the combatants and what they represent by way of ideas and ideals. You see the media industry is thriving in some areas and also face resistance in some other areas.

First, the government media is really gagged to borrow from the CJI’s observations. The citizens have no way to know of what the government does from either the Doordharsan or from the very functioning of the Prasar Bharati.

So, where the government media is gagging the news from a liberal point of view what islet?

Second, the electronic media on which the CJI concentrated, is now controlled, some of the channels, including the most popular ones are controlled by big business. So, this class of channels too are afraid of the government.

What is left out now?
Only one or two rare and daring individuals who want to feel free to report and comment in an unrestricted atmosphere.
So, what space such rare individuals can do?

Already one or two such individuals facing torture by the vested interests. So, we feel like telling that the real media freedoms come or possible for only “those who dare and act success comes, success possible. Such rare and dare individual comes also rarely. Not every day you can see such light to d shine on the otherwise highly controlled society and the country.

At the international level too India doesn’t rank high in the media freedom. So, what conclusions we can draw?

We have to live like this with fear in the hearts and consternation in our thoughts we have to live the life of second class citizens?

Who cares for such fears and thoughts?
There has to be a wide debate about the sort of ideologies the political parties subscribe nowadays?

It is all power grabs that captures the eyes. The Rajya Sabha is fast turning into rich men’s club and no one cares or asks questions. Also, the reporting from New Delhi is becoming sketchy and unreliable as we have pointed out here itself. May be the role of social media and  the fake news etc must lead to expert debates on the very like future of media freedom we often routinely talk about when we superficially claim a big role for India’s democracy.

In the world itself we see the rise of authoritarian tendencies in all major countries.

So, we say: It is at the end of the day, it is the public perception, it is the public opinion, however restricted and however government-directed that matters.

So, we ask the public to form their own opinions and draw their own conclusions. Media freedom in India is at the crossroads, to put it as a cliche.

There are risks and dangers ahead. There are temptations for moving in a fascist fashion. Fear can be easily injected into the political system. Please resist, please allow some more freedom of action and noise from the people.

Let us all realise that rallies like the kisan rally to Mumbai from Nashik was a positive sign. All parties concerned, the kisan, the organisers, the state government, all behaved in an exemplary manner. Mubaikars, the public, the youth, the helpers all spontaneously to the event.

This is tolerance and expression of freedoms of the people.

On allegations and mere suspicions!
It sounds a bit odd and discomforting?

Sikka Sharma

Sikka Sharma

Yes, it is a sort of news you don’t expect in normal course of business. And in a business like banking, that too high profile banking, you need much discretion and discrete actions. Not you announce in the media that too by such sensitive agencies like these ones.

This time, there has been lots of news where the much feared CBI and the ED  are at a relentless pursuit of the corrupt and the  illegal activities of the rich and the powerful.

Only in India we seem to be obsessed with the rich and the powerful. The humble and the marginalised lot, say, the farmers never make it to the front pages unless there is a sort of large scale suicides. This too sometimes happen and unfortunately, lately, we have come to be reconciled with this reality of the countryside too. So, the poor really make for front pages.

dilution of the SC/ST prevention of atrocities act are competing for front page news or prime time news on the TV screens.
Yes, suddenly put of the blue, it seemed, the two otherwise fine banks, private sector banks at that, run by two high profile and well-regarded and efficient banks with all the modern styles of management and prompt services banks came in to scrutiny.

What surprised the public as we see is the sort of overseeing by the apex bank, namely the Reserve Bank of India? Only recently we felt compelled to comment on the sort of arguments that went on between the Finance Ministry and the RBI over their own responsibility in supervising and controlling the management of the PSU banks.

One PSU bank, the second in the set of the PSU banks, went on to report cheating and large scale looting of public funds, tax payers money and deposits by one big, any two diamond merchants running to the tune of Rs.15, 000, or nearly to this much of funds spirited away and the t duo left the country to avoid action by the CBI and the ED.

What the government did b y way of prompt action?
The Board of Directors of this large PSU remains in place and everything goes on as if nothing had happened?
It this the way a government functions? Only the public wondered and otherwise no one raised any counter voice!

Is there fear in the system, in the country, among the general public?

It is for readers, experts and others to respond and give some light to the otherwise dark passages!
Now in the case of the ICICI and the Axis Bank there are reports of some irregularities.

But then, the counter arguments in the public domain and also from the regulatory regime, the very many agencies and the experts who appeared at the TV debates is that, yes, there looks to be some deviations, the CEO and MD’s family members are beneficiaries and if so the concerned official should have rescued herself so that the alleged conflict of interest could have been avoided. But then there again counter arguments for this. First, already the allegations had been made and the RBI had already probed the ICIC’s Bank loan to v Videocon Group in 2016.

Much more than these technical and subtle issues of good governance at the bank, is the public perception that the Board of Directors of this big private bank had probed the allegation and came out with a clean chit.

Axis Bank had thrived under Sikka Sharma for the last 10 years and had made a mark retail base and won laurels.
Normally, a private bank or business must be left with freedom within reasonable limits. Why the CBI comes in?

Some government agency must have promoted it?
It seems so?
Then the question arises why  the RBI is silent? The finance ministry is silent?

For those matters, so many other regulatory agencies are also silent?
The public would ask such questions. It is not the government that should be doing the work of other regulatory agencies, right?

Anyway, also two high profile ladies whose reputations are hit.
It is no good for the society to be informed of such drastic public exposure to a charge that is yet to be proved.

By looking at it from the public interest point of view that the exposure in such a highly sensational manner is not good for anybody’s interest. The trust and confidence and much else seem to be hurt in a manner that is unlikely to go away so easily.  Private business must thrive in an open and trustful manner. Doing business must be an honest pursuit. Too much intrusion into one’s freedoms is no trait of a liberal and open society.

How the wielding of power and public morality evolved over the centuries?

Cicero(106-43 BC)Ever since the time of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, then in Rome  under Cicero(106-43 BC) the Roman Republic and its institutions evolved up to the French Revolution and  to the  modern day Constitutions, in democracies and authoritarian regimes, the abuse of power and the curtailment of citizen freedoms, we live through uncertain times. Some thoughts and reflections.

We, Indians, inherit what political Legacy?
Or, public morals and conduct?

These questions arise when we look at the way us, as a nation and people, live and thrive.

Just yesterday, the Supreme Court asked the government agencies, CBI and ED, in the open court:
Is there a hidden hand that is ‘manipulating’ the agencies to delay for so long in some of the sensitive cases, legal cases involving big money and also big people, that is, the high and mighty?

This was in reference to some high profile alleged corruption cases that involve the top politicians and their kinds.
It is a scenario that gives rise to some of the most troubling questions for the public life in India.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the world today is also witnessing some of the most challenging issues in world peace and political instabilities.

In the USA we see Donald Trump taking some steps that are almost all against the conventions of governance.USA is taken by the rest of the world as a model democracy, a republican government with Senate and Congress and the parties and the whole exercise of power on almost on the lines of ancient Rome.

But the America today is also faced with some of the most uncivilised outcomes. The rising gun violence fails our imagination of a modern and prosperous society. Such heartless brutalities against innocence children?

The President, given his peculiarities of character etc. is also proving helpless. Given the credit where it is due, Trump also shows enormous surprises, he is, for example willing to meet and speak with the North Korean dictator! The world is suddenly relieved. There is a heaving sigh of relief. At the same time, there is also the phenomenon of the opposite trend in the other two bigger democracies, or regimes that are both authoritarian and almost dictatorships.

In Russia we see Vladimir Putin seeking office after being in power for 17 years. What sort of political regime it is. Also, in China, Presdient Xi votes, himself casts his vote ,also the 3,000 member of the National Congress, Parliament, that  legitimatise XI continuing in power after the expiry of his two -term convention dran by Deng.

What is the sort of politics we, as people at large in India and outside, practice after the world learnt to practise democracy as established in Athens?

It was Plato, later Aristotle, who gave us the idea of a Constitution for political governance. Plato was present at the trial of Socrates and soon after Socrates was put to death in BC 399, Plato left Athens and he travelled to Syracuse where, we know, he drew a Constitution for the “Tyrant”, Dinosius.

We in India live by a political Constitution drawn by eminent brains since 1951. How do we live up to the our Constitution that had withstood the past 70 odd years?

The present regime seems to be doing not badly. But when it comes to some niceties, we seem to be lacking in some vision. We operate a democratic constitution. The basic aim of the Constitution is to ensure the freedoms of the citizens, equality of everyone before the law and we, for all practical purposes run a government by rule of law.

Our laws are derived from the principles of Roman Law. Our democracy is a Greek inspiration and also what we have learnt from the British Constitution and the British Constitutional conventions. These we derive again from what we learn from the British rule.

Is our freedom of the press real and alive? Yes and no!
There is freedom but there is widespread fear in the minds of citizens. The press is not throwing up uncomfortable questions. There is lot of blackout, right?

Our Prasar Bharati and DD and Radio are a sham, right? Our judiciary independent or handicapped. Just today I read something like 400 and odd vacancies in the High Courts!

What does this fact convey?
Why so many are languishing in jails without bail? Why still the delays in appointment of judges?

Here comes the pertinent question asked by the SC on the ‘hidden hand manipulating the delays in such cases like 2G scam?
So, we need eminent jurists to ask questions and worry about the state of affairs in sensitive areas>
Are there not enough talent in the judiciary and the bar?

It is here I thought of other histories, the life and works of the ancient Greek thinkers, the Romans. Figures like Cicero (106-43 BC) who was and remains to this day, the greatest jury, the greatest orator in the Roman Forum courts and also the Senate in the same premises.

You can see the monuments, the earth on which Cicero walked if you walk through the Roman Forum (as we did some time ago).
Cicero, whose writing, speeches, letters and other pieces are the greatest monuments of Latin literature and forms the foundations of education in the Western tradition. Others wrote in Latin, Cicero writes Roman, observed Cardinal Newman.

Fredrick the Great, that incomparable king in that un enlighted age called or claimed infatuation ‘for Cicero! Edward Gibbon, Macaulay and Samuel Johnson…there are no limit to great men and great mind who were not infatuated by Cicero’s wise thoughts. Others on the continent, in France, Diderot and Voltaire! Voltaire declared, ‘Cicero taught us to think’. Between 1465 and the end of the century 200 editions were printed of Cicero writings, the first Greek works in Greek type , other very many firsts in Cicero’s writings in the later fifteenth century.
Cicero became the founder of the Western classical education tradition.

Let us at least become aware of this history.
We have to learn and learn to adhere to the basic tenets of good governance.

No individual, however great or powerful can last for long.
It is wisdom to become aware of this reality, both the ground reality and also historic flow of events that unless men learn to conduct themselves with self-restraint, mass upsurges, revolutions, why even violence and terrorism becomes our day to day reality.

A provocation for this column is a news item I read in the Kolkata edition of the Times of India. The Governor of the West Bengal State, Keshari  Nath Tripathi  has sent out a letter of invitation to several city intellectuals for tea at Raj Bhavan on April 26.The letter was sent to atleast 16 writers and social activists.  

Keshari  Nath Tripathi

Keshari Nath Tripathi

The purpose was to gauge the mood of the intelligentsia, as in Bengal the pre- panchayat poll violence continues. One or two of the names I know well. Nabanita Sen( the former life partner of Prof.Amartya Sen, my own old friend of the Santiniketan days, is one among them. Shankha Ghosh is another name known to me. Incidentally my education was at Santiniketan, also later at Oxford University. The writers, poets and other names I need not enumerate for constraint of space.

In the present  time, as author Sen has said “the present political situation is such that the country and state are going through a terribly bad phase. Everyone can see what is going on and there is no reason why I should keep quiet. In fact, I would expect my fellow invitees to do the same”. Another invitee, the educationist and writer, Pabitra Sarkar said: “It is an honour to be invited by the governor “and so said another invitee, Suranjan Das, the Jadavpur University VC. This news item provoked me to write these lines.

May be other state governors under the BJP regime might also be feeling suffocated to play their legitimate roles as governors.
I know for sure that in the South, the universities  are riddled with so many problems. We talk of politicization of universities; this process started right in Tamil Nadu under the Dravidian parties.

Also came the corruption hand in hand! A series of developments, some 500 odd  self-financing engineering colleges and a rash of deemed universities came in a rush and the highly chauvinistic Dravdianisation so to say; led to third rate appointment along with slogans like classical Tamil and the buildup of the personality of the then Chief Minister as the savior of the Tamil people. This was a heady wine and the rest is history.

Now, the unimagined happened. An incumbent VC is arrested in daylight right in his office accepting bribe! Another two VCs are charge sheeted for hefty corruption. Right now, the state is grappling with other scandals. Unfortunately, the governor by all means, a highly respected person is caught in this whirlwind of false allegations by vested interests. Corruption in universities is now taken for granted. Even the venerable Visva Bharati was not spared. The President of India as Visitor signed the removal of the VC! What a shame!

In Karnataka, another drama is enacted. The VC and the CM don’t see eye to eye on the university affairs.

I had had some experiences  in the university issues when I was the Member of the Madras Legislative Council. It was I who moved a private member’s bill in 1972 in the Council and made a speech that led to the termination of the legendary figure of Dr. A.Laskshmanaswamy Mudaliar’s term as the VC of Madras University. A term that lasted unbroken for 27 years!

Also, I did bring another private member’s bill to set up a full-fledged Tamil University in 1972. It was later established, however, in a very different format and it remains a great disappointment. To reform the Indian universities and their ranking in the international scheme of things is an uphill task, it seems.

First, we have to tackle corruption in VC’s appointment. This step has been now taken by the TN Governor and this is welcome. We need more such efforts. Why even the government, both Central and the States have to take many other steps.

We are living in a democratic state and as such we need radical ideas to make university education as a force for pursuit of new knowledge. Private universities  are welcome and so too some specialized institutions. Both arts and liberal humanities need to be encouraged and so too arts and culture pursuits. Foreign students also need to be admitted so that new cross currents would lend some vigour and innovative spirit in our education system.

One more last most important point! The Macaulay Ghost has to be laid. India is an independent country with a long history. Great leaders had envisaged many ideas. Tagore, Gandhi and so many have  foreseen the country’s future. I have had thought about education all my years; Greece and Rome, I had visited and studied  their histories  in some depth. Great civilizations have to be brought in to build a wholesome education that would endow the individuals, the citizens and their world with the best in the world’s  past and the present.

By-election setbacks, allies rebellion and the banking and other scandals!

Yogi Adithyanath

Yogi Adithyanath

Indian politics is maturing. After a long time we saw the 2014 elections set a new evolution path. Once, the only party, the Congress-led government was the one and only way of political life. Yes, the regional parties like the Dravidian and other parties came along. But at the Centre the Congress seemed unshakable.

This trend was broken by the dare-devil like operation by the BJP; a new revamped BJP did wonders at the polls. We saw an absolute majority for the BJP and a humiliating defeat for the Congress.

Now, it is nearly four years of the present government is left and the last year seems to have become a bit shaky for the otherwise well-placed ruling regime.

The by-election setbacks inks a reminder that in a popular and large and diverse democracy like India, the first big one in history, the Indian people, with all their backwardness, have learnt and also taught some lessons for rulers.
Nothing in excess, said the Greek wise sage.

So too we in India seems to be following the hollowed wisdom.  The BJP in its unstoppable strategy or sheer bragging has carried things too far. The UP CM, Yogi Adithyanath carried his saffron agenda to ridiculous limits. The largest number of communal violence, data shows, is in the UP.

Will the statistics tell lies? No!

So, the UP CM had to pay a heavy price for his credibility.
At least from onwards other hotheads in the party and outside should take a leaf out of this humiliation when the PM seems to be also faced with newer uncertainties.

Also, the Opposition too has to learn some hard lessons. The Congress, the major historic party too seems can’t carry on in the old dynastic and family owned ways and manners.
The crowd surrounding Sonia around the AICC must give way to some real sense and sacrifice.

You can’t be a Congressman in Delhi all through your life and age. Some of the really doddering figures must retire to their home states.They must be available at the state level and do some public service.

See the case of one such leader, Veerappa Moily. He is caught with his own troubles, a seat for his son. So too many sons and daughters are knocking at the 10 Janpath doors!
Also, other oligarchs, high-earning lawyers and others, feudal lords or corporate names and others.

Please realise that a party like the Congress must be built on high principles, we must draw from the past heritage, a great deal of public spirit and commitment, selflessness, great democratic instinct must inform the Working Committee and  the AIVCC and also the most  condemnable blight, the Rajya Sabha nomination culture practiced by Sonia.

You can’t nominate every one! Please see you invite the really competent persons with a track record and award the Rajya Sabha nomination by invitation.

Also please retire on time!
How long one person or one family can own a political parties. May be small caste parties can do this. Not the All Indian Congress organisation.

There must be a well-defined political ideology. Every week, an evening debate or a lecture must be delivered by invited intellectuals or activists on ideological issues. Liberalisms or its variants, lessons from Europe and such issues must grip and inspire the workers.

As for Modi and his Hindutva, yes, we need debate. Opposition unit, the very present disarray would impose on the Opposition.
Finally, leadership. Leadership would shape up India.

Unless one is so incompetent, everyone can aspire. But only the best and the brightest can survive.

Politics is a serious businessman we say.

So, be optimists, countrymen! India will win the world! Win a place in the sun!