Not for a moment am I passing judgment on Tarun Tejpal. Not for a moment am I suggeseting that the girl who complained is lying. Not for a moment am I saying that we should go light on Tejpal. Given the lynch mob conditions that exist in the country today, how dare I? But may I please suggest that the first principle of justice in any civilized society – that one is presumed innocent unless proven guilty – be adhered to? I know the elections are around, and the BJP desperately wants to prop up its image, but can the party please follow at least this basic principle of justice?
For it appears that the BJP’s interest in the Tejpal case is more political than anything else. There could be several reasons for this. The most obvious one of course is that Tejpal’s outfit, Tehalka, had made life quite a mess for the NDA government back in the days when Bangaru Laxman was party president and George Fernandes the Defence Minister. If I remember right, the NDA had also banned Tehalka (or was planning to) for a while. Thereafter when the UPA came to power, it gave Tehelka relief. Whether that makes Tejpal a “congress stooge” or not is for people to decide. But for the BJP, it is understably a good chance to get even. As evidence of how much relief the party is experiencing comes from the fact that even Laxman, who had become a recluse, decided to make that rare appearance on TV, attempting a shot at cleansing his name. Even if Tejpal was a Congress stooge, was that video that nailed Laxman fake?
Another major reason for the BJP to blow up the Tejpal case, and few have commented on this, is that this was a good way to deflect the spotlight from Modi’s snoopgate. The issue had dominated the channels and newspapers for several days, and didn’t seem to be dying down. The Gujarat government had been forced to set up a 2-member probe panel (whatever happened to the party’s usual preference for “independent” probes, outside of governmental control?). The issue had united the opposition and media alike. Suddenly, Modi was on the back foot, refusing to comment on it (as on any other sticky matter). For the BJP to save its PM candidate, some distraction had to be found. What a handly issue Tejpal’s was.
I am not at all saying that Tejpal’s issue was created by the BJP. Of course it wasn’t. But it was grabbed and tossed sky high by it. That’s why its Goa CM took so much personal interest, getting a usually lazy police force to work overtime. That’s why it chose to ignore the thousands of rape cases that take place every year in MP and the thousands more of attacks on women in Gujarat, but focused on this one instead. That’s why it staged dharnas outside Goa airport where Tejpal was to arrive, and defaced former Managing Editor, Shoma Chaudhary’s name plate outside her house. That’s why it has taken such an aggressive stance as to try to link the Congress somehow to Tejpal, even accusing a central minister (unnamed, but well known to all) of somehow being involved (the minister has denied he owns any shares; and that he only loaned the publisher some Rs 5 lacs or so and that too way back when it was founded). And that’s why it used its widely spread (but questionable given the recent Cobrapost scam on this?) social media clout to prejudge the matter and pronounce its opponents guilty.
If the BJP’s keen interest had not been there, could the Tejpal issue have occupied front pages of newspapers and prime times on TV for so long? Tejpal may have been a prominent journalist, but that’s all he was. He wasn’t a senior politician, or a constitutional authority, or even a high-profile celebrity. There are hundreds of prominent journalists like him. He is probably right when he alleges that he is being hounded by the BJP. The Aarushi judgment made for far more relevant content, but because there was no political angle to it, it died a quick death.
Besides, can we please cast one slight glance at the fact that Tejpal hasn’t even been tried yet. And that he may not be guilty, even if that seems improbable? What we must ensure is that he doesn’t get away using his political connections. But apart from that, we cannot pre-judge him. We cannot pronounce him guilty. We cannot let our anger get ahead of us. This kind of “lynch mob” mentality doesn’t augur well for us. And yet, we’re displaying it repeatedly. A lot of media attacked the judgment on the Aarushi case for example. A lot of grief will similarly be directed at retired SC judge Justice Ganguli now, riding on the presumption of his guilt. Can we please await a final judgment before doing this?
Not only this, we’re actually getting extremely vicious as well. A panelist on TV appeared to be preempting a possible acquittal of Tejpal in the future by saying that if that happened, that would mean he used his clout, or that the Congress helped him. This is unfair. This makes the prejudgment final. This makes India like Afghanistan and our systems Talibanesque. What if Tejpal is indeed innocent? What if the woman journalist made a false accusation? Don’t believe she could have? Think again. Remember the SC recently ruled that article 498(A) – introduced in the ‘80s to protect women from dowry harassment – has been mostly misused by women (http://tinyurl.com/patzf5e)?
The real truth is that Tejpal is at least partly, a victim of politics. He may be guilty, but he’s not being given a fair chance. He is being pre-judged. The BJP’s interest in him is disproportionate with his stature. What is worrying is that this indicates a vindictive attitude the party has towards those in media who don’t support it. If Cobrapost’s latest sting on social media involves Modi in any way (and we don’t know it does yet), then it will possibly be targeted next. This is what is so worrying about the BJP’s interest in Tejpal. It’s indicative of fascism….