Maverick: One Man's Right is the Other Man's Wrong
By Farzana Versey
Covert, December 1-14
When you read this, you will be between two dramatic events in the history of Mumbai – the city of stiletto heels and the city of unshod feet nine years apart. The November 26 anniversary preparations clearly conveyed the celebrity nature of the tragedy, while December 6 remains an exhumed corpse that no one is interested in performing a postmortem on.
Against this backdrop one can see that the celebrity Indian has sneaked in to make claims over social thought. It began with the campaign for the appointment of the new chief information commissioner. Then, after his son revealed what he knew about LeT man David Headley, Mahesh Bhatt said, “I thought the war against terrorism could not be won without the participation of the civil society that prompted me to encourage my son Rahul and his friend Vilas to go to the police. There can be no ‘them’ and ‘us’, we are after all one nation fighting the war. But, sadly, I was wrong.”
One can understand the anguish at a personal level. Unfortunately, these days vigilantism has come to stand for nationalism. This has resulted in loose talk about ‘wars’. There are security agencies to deal with that. The moment citizens act as quasi cops it results in fear psychosis that spreads like an epidemic; epidemics make people protective only of themselves.
Therefore, how much credence do we give those who live with dread? Think about the number of fake accounts that are given in the courts. Think about bomb hoaxes in public places. Think about threatening calls that result in added security for the famous. Think about the ridiculous comments by commentators about how safe they feel when they can see a coast guard boat bobbing in the sea from their high-rise apartments. How are these people helping the cause? Terrorism is not a single tangible evil whose effigy you can burn. 26/11 and its aftermath revealed the hollowness of playing with emotions and making a Ram Leela event of it. Media persons prostrating before the Taj Mahal hotel started it.
We thought we were being informed. We are now so much into this right to information business that we fail to ask whose right we are talking about. Aamir Khan, Narayan Murthy, Subhash Chandra are rich and famous. But do they have the right to pressurise the authorities on who to select as CIC and ask them, “If you are appointing another person, please let us know how that person is more suitable than Kiran Bedi”?
On what basis have they decided that Kiran Bedi is the best person for the task, her considerable achievements notwithstanding? A bureaucrat I know told me, “She may be hailed as top of the pop if she/he is known to have asked some politician to piss off (which most of us keep doing outside the glare) or be present near the scene of some 'encounter'.”
The RTI Act might become stronger only for a handful. Some of these celebrities could use this Act to have their way and use it as one more calling card. It is bad enough that much of the security machinery leaks out information to the media. This added empowerment of the pampered citizen will demote the right of the common person. Do you think anyone will want to know about kickbacks on tube-wells or how hooch tragedies take place? How many farmers are going to file PILs?
The important thing is not just getting information but whether anyone can act upon it. Who will be made answerable and to whom? Isn’t there a possibility that to snuff out corruption there could be more corruption with some big names smuggling out information using their good offices and a tacit barter?
If the idea is empowerment, then the signature campaigns should include those whose rights are being fought for and not merely unsolicited spokespersons. Today, we have a situation where landmark structures are being given special security while badly constructed buildings crash every other day. Does anyone want information about that?
Such talk only works as a style statement and sheds no light on the right to know. And knowledge does not stop with information.