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Sunday Sentiments

  • When the finger points at you

    Posted On March 18, 2002

    By Karan Thapar

    I’m not sure why it always has to be Pertie. He has an annoying habit of raising disquieting thoughts. When he does he not only disturbs but also makes me feel guilty. This was no different.

    I was enjoying the peaceful afterglow of last friday’s Ayodhya ‘solution’ when it happened. At the precise moment we were watching the news. It was one of those rare occasions when good news is news.

    “God bless the Supreme Court” I said and raised my glass for another contented sip. It was a sentiment everyone seemed to share until Pertie spoke up.

    “Yeah, I suppose so” he muttered.

    We turned to look at him. His face matched his voice. It looked unconvinced. He clearly had more to say and was preparing himself to do so.

    “But what do you make of the Supreme Court’s comment on Parliament?”

    Pertie paused to let his question sink in. A thin smile appeared on his lips. I could sense he had something up his sleeve.

    “What comment?” It was a stupid thing to say even if an honest reflection of my ignorance.

    “Here, let me read it to you.”

    Pertie reached for the nearest newspaper, scanned its pages and sat back once he found what he was searching for. Normally he’s bad at reading aloud but on this occasion he was determined to. It was an article on how one of the Supreme Court’s judges had silenced a lawyer who tried to interrupt him during the Ayodhya hearing.

    “This is no Parliament Mr. Anand, that you can interrupt anybody at any time.” Pertie read from the paper.

    “Well?” I questioned. “What’s wrong with that? MPs behave like a bunch of fishwives. You know that. You’ve often said so yourself. So why can’t a judge say so too?”

    “Because it doesn’t matter when you and I say stupid things” Pertie replied somewhat smugly. “And anyway no one expects any better from you!”

    “Why’s it stupid to claim that the Supreme Court is not like Parliament where anyone can interrupt at any time? After all, that’s precisely what happens there.”

    I thought I had handled his churlish response rather well. None of us has a high opinion of Parliament. Supreme Court judges can hardly be different. But if the rest of us can speak out, why can’t they?

    “Because if one branch of the Constitution starts running down another you simply end up mocking the whole system. It might be fun to read and great to chat about but it’s also the thin end of the wedge.”

    “Oh come on” I said, although I have to admit I was starting to see Pertie’s point. “You’re taking things a bit far.”

    “Am I?” he replied pompously. “Once you start talking about Parliament as if it’s a bunch of bloody fools you’ll start treating it like that too. And when you’ve shovelled enough disrespect on the institution it won’t take long for some jack-booted military dictator to finish the job for you.”

    Pertie’s comments were received in silence. I suppose visions of banana republics as far off as Africa or Latin American suddenly felt closer to home. Even his dogs lowered their heads. Only the television droned on.

    “Hang on a minute.” I was determined to put up a fight before Pertie had his way. “It’s the job of journalists to tell the truth as they see it and if Parliament and MPs make an ass of themselves then it hardly behoves us to say otherwise.”

    “Sure and who’s denying it?” However, Pertie wasn’t agreeing with me. This was only a rhetorical flourish. “But aren’t you guilty of judging the whole institution on the basis of one or two extreme cases? They may be horrific but what makes you so cocksure they are typical of the whole lot? Not every MP is Laloo Yadav.”

    “And suppose you’re right and the press is guilty of painting every MP with the same brush. That’s only an exaggeration not a crime.”

    “It’s unforgivable. And do you know why? Because Parliament and politics is the only mechanism we have for realising change. We in India need change. We need it badly. But if you bring politics and Parliament into disrepute you are

    undermining the only possibility of peaceful change. And when that happens do you know what’s left?”

    “What?”

    “Dictatorship.”

    Pertie could have added revolution but perhaps he didn’t think of it. It only occurred to me afterwards when I was replaying our conversation in my mind.

    We’re all guilty of dismissing our politics – and unthinkingly denigrating our politicians – without realising the implications of what we are doing. However, our guilt goes deeper than that. We also share the blame. But do we ever question ourselves?

    Sometimes pointing fingers is not enough.


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