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Clear and present danger

Clear and present danger

Author: Arvind Lavakare
Publication: Rediff on Net
Date: November 22, 2004
URL: http://us.rediff.com/news/2004/nov/22arvind.htm

The UPA government's goal is not restricted to achieving its common minimum programme. Part of its mission statement is the extermination of the BJP Parivar.

That is clear from the way Delhi has functioned in just a few months of its tenure. Detoxification of the NCERT text books, denial of a UN award to an NCERT official, removal of state governors on the grounds of different ideologies, keeping out the Opposition from an official function over some cause of the minorities, probe into allotment of plots of land to RSS units, ignoring the Opposition's file of suggestions on the annual Budget, and removal of the Savarkar plaque from the freedom memorial to revolutionaries at the Andamans -- these are clear indicators that the Manmohan Singh-led government of Sonia Gandhi is out to demoralise and then demolish the BJP before the next Lok Sabha polls dawn upon us.

For sheer single-mindedness of purpose, this approach of the UPA government is commendable in its display of the killer instinct.

The danger is that in its pursuit of finishing off the BJP once and for all, the UPA government may well be losing sight of safeguarding the national interest.

The decision to wind up the Phukan Commission on the Tehelka tapes is one such foreboding step.

The two-step manner in which this was done was a give-away of the UPA's motives. First, it told the Commission that the ethics of Tehelka's sting operation was no longer within the Commission's terms of reference. Just a couple of days later, the Commission itself was done in and investigations into the alleged bribes 'caught' by Tehelka handed over to the CBI.

The initial move to exclude the methods and morals of Tehelka from the Commission's purview was a blatant move to shield Tehelka whose use of hidden cameras to trap its victims had raised eyebrows among the few who still hold morality in public life as a desirable human quality. The quick subsequent move to wind up the Commission itself seemed a strategy to divert attention from the blatant attempt to throw a protective shield on Tehelka.

My personal experience in this regard is worth narration.

I had filed an affidavit in May 2001 with the (earlier) Venkataswami Commission on that term of its reference dealing with Tehelka's making and release of videotapes under its Operation West End. The essence of my affidavit was that such unauthorised, uncontrolled sting operations had potential dangers for national security and that one ought not to be legally permitted to commit a crime in order to expose a crime as was entailed in Tehelka's offences of impersonation and cheating by impersonation listed as criminal acts in the Indian Penal Code. (Two articles of mine on this line of thinking were posted on rediff.com on  March 24, 2001 and April 4, 2001).

Barely a month after receipt of my affidavit was acknowledged by the Commission, I was visited at home by a senior officer of the Delhi police, which apparently, had been appointed as a nodal agency to assist the Commission in policing matters.

By his line of questioning and making notes of my replies, it was clear that the police officer's duty was to assess my credentials -- whether I was a 'plant,' a ghost, of an interested party.

Apparently satisfied, and then visibly relaxed and unguarded over a cup of tea, he said judging by a claimed private screening of the Tehelka tapes to Congresswallahs in Delhi, the impression created was that the Congress possibly had links of some kind with Tehelka.

Months later that impression surfaced again. Having been summoned as a witness by Jaya Jaitly on the basis of my affidavit -- which had been declared by the Commission as a public document available on application -- I had completed a nearly two-hour deposition in the Vigyan Bhavan complex on January 9, 2002 and was waiting to be driven back to Ms Jaitly's workplace in the then defence minister's home.

Even as I was exchanging pleasantries with Tehelka's counsel -- who was somewhat apologetic for his aggressive cross-examination despite his being a fan of my rediff writings, just as the Commission's very suave counsel said he was of my cricket writings -- a man came in quick strides, shoved something in Ms Jaitly's hands and literally ran away. It turned out to be a small piece of paper on which had been written the words: '[name deleted -- editor] is behind all this.'

Whether all that bit of Congress links with Tehelka is just so much rumour, the fact is that the winding up of the Phukan Commission lets Tehelka and its likes free to indulge in more of its journalism without being accountable for the methods used.

Writing on the edit page of The Asian Age, Mumbai, August 27, 2001, Dr N Bhaskara Rao, chairman of Centre for Media Studies, New Delhi, had stated, 'In India we do not have specific laws to regulate the use of covert technologies by journalists.'

The Phukan Commission may well have, on the basis of evidence before it, strongly recommended such regulatory laws -- as, for instance, are prevalent in the US where even the FBI has to present its case for a sting operation before the US attorney general for his prior approval.

That such regulations on sting operations are in vogue in the US -- the freest of free countries where, unlike in India, freedom of the press is guaranteed by a constitutional measure known as the First Amendment -- is an indicator of dangers inherent in an unbridled sting operation. These dangers range from intrusion into a citizen's privacy, commission of crime otherwise punishable by law, and a threat to national security.

Threat to national security cannot be perceived by the run of the ordinary citizens who gloat in what Tehelka did three years ago nor it can be perceived by naïve intellectuals of the kind who hailed Tehelka for attaining a new high in investigative journalism. Rather, it is the seniors in intelligence departments who are able to sniff a danger to national security from a variety of sources.

Below are excerpts from a former chief of the Intelligence Bureau's article published soon after the Tehelka bombshell in The Asian Age, Mumbai, of March 26, 2001.

q Between 'snaring' or 'tempting' people into accepting 'gifts' or 'bribes', where a cause of action does not exist, and exposing corruption regarding specific deals, a vast gulf exists. Not to recognise the significance of this difference would be a grievous mistake.

q No one has shown any concern about the ethics of the operation and whether stilted 'exposure' of this kind can improve the system or will damage it further. The motivation of those responsible for the 'sting' has been accepted without question and a gullible public has not explored whether a hidden game plan exists in all this.

q Most see it as the stuff of investigative journalism. Hardly any see it as a potential time bomb.

q Sting journalism is an offence in countries like the United States but here it is being hailed as an opportunity for virtue to triumph over the forces of evil. Therein lurks the danger.

q It is a serious matter when non-representative organisations conjure up non-existent deals exploiting the purported venality of individuals and hold them up to public ridicule or worse. The intended or unintended consequence of such 'cowboy' or 'frontier' justice can be highly deleterious.

The man who publicly bared the above apprehensions of what Tehelka had done was M K Narayanan who was brought out of retirement and handpicked as internal security advisor of the UPA government.

It is clear that when the Sonia-led sarkar in New Delhi took its two decisions on the Phukan Commission, it either did not consult its internal security advisor or bypassed his known reservations on the subject. That's what happens when an arrogant political set-up goes for its adversary's jugular with a killer instinct that packs the overkill punch. Therein lies the Indian nation's clear and present danger.

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