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  • The second Mr. Seshan

    Posted On March 4, 2012

    By Karan Thapar

    This morning I’m going to stick my neck out and make a prediction with the confidence I’ll be able to stand by it. But even if I’m wrong it won’t be by much. So what’s this wonderful prognostication?

    Justice Katju is going to end up as the T. N. Seshan of modern times. He will attract the same admiration but also, very similarly, raise quite a few hackles and irritate.

    In fact, the similarity between them begins with their personalities. They’re both outspoken with a flair for blunt speech. They know how to attract attention and they have an uncanny talent for touching raw nerves whilst echoing popular sentiments. Both men are blunderbusses and, once they’ve decided on something, they can bulldoze their way to get it done.

    If Seshan changed the image of Indian elections and brought errant politicians to heel, Katju has launched himself on a mission to change the Indian media and make journalists more responsible.

    But I’ll go one step further. Politicians hated Seshan, the people of India warmed to him. Although not to the same extent – as yet – journalists are wary of Katju but his criticisms have found a welcoming response from the wider public. His critique of the media has many nodding in agreement.

    Katju, however, has an additional dimension. He’s also a great champion of press freedom. Perhaps he went over the top, but it warmed my heart to find he’s threatened the Chief Minister of Maharashtra with dismissal if urgent steps aren’t taken to protect journalists. In Bihar, in a speech reminiscent of a Bollywood bully or a Chicago hoodlum, he warned the Nitish Kumar government against trampling on press freedom.

    Seshan ended up revitalizing the Election Commission. After him Chief Election Commissioners have been larger than life and, often, heroes as well. Katju will, similarly, breathe fresh life into the Press Council. Newspapers have so far ignored it. Many editors have been contemptuous of it. But that, I feel certain, will soon and, radically, change.

    Now, let me make a little admission. Actually, this, strangely, adds to the coincidences between them. I got on rather well with T. N. Seshan. I get on famously with Justice Katju. And in both cases a single unpredictable event, which, of course, reflects a beguiling idiosyncrasy in their personality, was the starting point.

    In Seshan’s case it began with a quarrel. He snarled and snapped but I refused to be cowed down. Oddly, this defiance won his respect. A natural bully, he could be won over by simply standing up to him.

    In Katju’s case the story is truly bizarre. He’s written that before we met he did not think very much of me. But, then, at that meeting, he mentioned Emile Zola and I said ‘J’accuse’ and shot up in his estimation. I wonder what would have happened if my riposte had been ‘Nana’?

    My point is that both men are influenced by small, chance developments. They read deeper meanings into them. They’re also quick to change their views and generous in doing so. They maybe firm and steadfast but they’re not rigid or inflexible.

    Of course, they both love publicity. They’re convinced of themselves and the correctness of what they say or do. And they play to the gallery. Whilst the audience loves their tune they will be stars. But, remember, such men can also be their own worst enemies. They carry within them the seeds of their own downfall.

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