A Time To Speak Out, A Time To Be Silent

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It is ironical, but a sign of our dysfunctional and dystopian times, that those in public life who should be speaking are silent while those who should be silent are speaking out (of turn). Leading the former pack is none other than our own alpha Sphinx, the Prime Minister. Although a voluble twitter denizen, he rarely addresses any issue of substance or provides any moral leadership in troubled times. He has not held a single press conference in four years and is usually heard only at election rallies, or delivering the ubiquitous “Man Ki Baat” where he talks about yoga, exam warriors, and other such arcane topics which are perhaps better left for Sadhguru. But he is not alone in his studied reticence. Mr. Kejriwal will not talk about what happened that midnight when Delhi’s Chief Secretary was ostensibly roughed up, nor will he utter one gracious word of apology, one word that could have defused the confrontation in Delhi at one stroke. The Chief Election Commissioner will not tell us how the VVPAT votes tally with the votes actually cast in the last few elections: were he to do so, it would dispel a lot of the doubts that bedevil people like you and me, and perhaps even make redundant the many court cases on this subject.The UIDAI boss will not tell us how many Aadhar leaks have actually taken place and why they continue to happen regularly, even though the data is famously “protected by ten feet thick walls”. The RBI Governor will not come clean on the demonetisation figures, and it has been left to RTI activists to dig out the dirt – like the RS. 800 crores of demonetised notes deposited in the Ahmedabad Co-operative Bank (of which Mr. Amit Shah is a director) in just five days. The Finance Minister will not tell us what happened to investigations in the Panama papers or how much moneys have been repatriated from Swiss banks, even though the deposits there have gone up by 50% in the last one year. Everyone maintains either silence or complete deniability. The public’s right to Know has now become the right to NO.

But guess who IS talking? – those who have no business to do so. Like our army Chief, General Rawat, whose soldiers continue to die while he waxes eloquent on human rights, the politics of Kashmir, the psychology of the Kashmiri youth and even on US sanctions! Then there is the IAS Association of Delhi, which recently held a number of press conferences to defend its stand vis-a-vis the standoff with AAP. Now, IAS Associations are known neither for their spines nor for their ability to organise anything more than a farewell dinner. The Press conference, therefore, had all the makings of a command performance, the command of course emanating from either the Delhi Raj Bhavan or the PMO. It is another step in the creeping politicisation of the civil services. Civil servants do not hold press conferences against an elected government or a Chief Minister, no matter what their grievances are. This is not only against the ethos of the service but also stupid: you fight on your territory where you have an advantage, not on someone else’s turf. Press conferences and public oratory are the politicians’ strongholds , and we expose ourselves when we venture out in this unfamiliar terrain . The Delhi IAS officers, by their silent non co-operation or “limited” co-operation these last few weeks were managing to get their point across and even had the AAP govt. worried. By their ill advised public posturing, however, they have now handed the initiative back to Kejriwal: having called off their boycott on the promise of a meeting with the CM, they are now waiting for him to convene the meeting. He, of course, is in no hurry. And now the Supreme Court has knocked the ground from beneath their feet: its judgement of the 4th of July makes Kejriwal, not the Lieutenant Governor, their boss. These chaps had decided to ride the BJP tiger in full public glare: dismounting now in the murky shadows will be a tricky affair. Continuing to ride the tiger, on the other hand, will invite contempt of court. A tactical silence may have served them better.

The IAS has always thrived on the fringes of politics, but the judiciary? Whatever prompted the four Supreme Court judges to hold their press conference some months earlier? Yes, there are massive problems (of autonomy, government interference, nepotism, opacity etc.) in the Court, but the honourable judges should have tried to resolve them in – house. Failing in that, they should have resigned en masse and precipitated a crisis. In India significant changes only come about when there is a crisis, for stasis and somnolence is our normal condition. Instead, the Supreme Court is now worse off than before: the Chief Justice has got away by cocking a snook at his brother judges, Justice Chelameshwar has retired to obscurity, cases are being allotted as heretofore, Justice Gogoi will almost certainly lose the chance to become CJI in September, the govt’s stranglehold on the judiciary has now become a half-Nelson, the media has lost all interest in the matter and has moved on to the next piece of carrion. The moral of the story? – if one chooses to tread a difficult path. do it out of the courage of your own convictions, not those of others. For the “others” cannot be relied upon.

Sometimes it is best to work in silence, using the tools you are familiar with rather than picking up the tools of your enemy: fight on your own turf, not on that of your adversary. Second, a mistake both the Delhi IAS Association and the four judges committed was that they relied too much on the media, or on their peers, or opposition parties to take up their cases. They should have realised, wise men that they all are, that the media today is totally sold out, regurgitating the putrid offal the govt. feeds them; their own colleagues are more focused on their own postings and sinecures; and the public doesn’t give a damn. Political parties, on the other hand, have no abiding moral or ethical values, and should never be relied upon for support: they use us as prophylactics and then discard us. Speak only when you are confident of being heard, otherwise work silently.

Something, incidentally, that Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, the well meaning twitter queen, is now finding out the hard way. For the last two weeks she has been trolled mercilessly for intervening on behalf of the Muslim-Hindu couple in Lucknow who had been denied a passport because of their interfaith marriage. And the abusive trolls are her party’s own hard core, right wing supporters! Only Mr. Nitin Gadkari has come out in her support; all her colleagues and peers – including, naturally, the Prime Minister and the party President- have maintained a significant silence. No one wants to rock the ideology boat or annoy the lumpens who have taken over the steering of it. The wheel is coming full circle slowly, like an auto immune disease: pumped up with the antibiotics of hate, communalism and arrogance the antibodies in the body fabric of the BJP have turned upon its own few remaining healthy organs: they will devour everything that is even faintly different and does not conform to their own DNA. Like Mrs. Sushma Swaraj. But she cannot complain. She said nothing when they were attacking others, she kept the faith with these “bhakts”, she kept silent when she should have spoken out. The hunter has now become the hunted.

There is a time to be silent, and there is a time to speak out.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains.....he has made them his home. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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