A Time To Speak Out, A Time To Listen

It is relatively rare for retired civil servants to join political parties (though the trend does seem to be increasing of late), and rarer still for those who do to retain the objectivity and value systems that they had been taught in the Academy at Mussoorie. We have only to look at the worthies in the current Union cabinet to see how quickly they have dumped their earlier oath to the Constitution in favour of the rewards of sycophancy. Which is why it was so refreshing to hear the heartfelt words of my batch mate, Jawhar Sircar, Rajya Sabha MP from the Trinamool Congress, last week.

Jawhar, who retired in the rank of Secretary to Govt., was inducted as MP last year by Mamata Banerjee, not for his political inclinations, but for his prolific writings on current affairs, culture and history. But within a year he has gone public with his dismay at the corruption and nepotism prevailing in the TMC in an interview with a Bengali news channel. What he said was: “This practice of loot was absent in our culture,” and went on to caution that “the battle for 2024 will be difficult with one part of the body rotten.” This is quite extraordinary and unheard of in the current political ethos of the country, especially coming from a relative tyro in politics. This is not the fashionable “dissidence” of the Scindias and Azads of the world, a repayment for the thirty pieces of silver, a ploy to jump ship for greener pastures, to mix metaphors. This is the absolution and “confession” before certain political death, for Jawhar surely knows the risks involved, especially with a lady like his party President who runs a tight ship, at least when it comes to people speaking their minds. Which is why he makes me proud and convinces me that there are bureaucrats and bureaucrats.

He will probably be unceremoniously dumped by the Bengal tigress. A big mistake. Mrs. Banerjee badly needs some outstanding, honest, articulate, non-purchasable, rational people around her, for her aura is fading. Increasingly, there is little to differentiate her from Mr. Modi- the same autocratic streak, repressive instincts when it comes to free speech and dissent, loud mouthed, in constant fighting mode, inability to get on with other parties, an outsized ego. As the comedian Varun Grover had remarked some time back- she is Modi in a sari. A sari getting tainted with corruption and sleaze charges every day.

The CBI and ED are almost certainly acting with political motives, but that does not change the reality that the stink of corruption is now pervading Kolkatta and there appear to be more skeletons in the TMC cupboard than in the Bhawanipur cemetery. Mukul Roy, Suvendhu Adhikari, Abhishek Banerjee, Partha Bhattacharya, Anubrata Mondal- the list keeps growing by the day. Right or wrong, some of the allegations and dirt are bound to stick. The Chief Minister’s personal probity and integrity will not be able to recompense for these corrupt doings for very much longer. And the middle class Bengali- the famous “bhadralok”- will start to wonder, sooner rather than later.

Having spent many years in West Bengal and (the then Calcutta), I know the typical bhadralok. He is educated, loves to discuss politics, has a sound moral compass, is fiercely loyal to his party and football club, and doesn’t trust New Delhi. He respects intellectual ability and the thrust and parry of a good argument. Which is why someone like Jawhar Sircar- erudite, a moderate liberal, a writer with no politically ideological baggage, a distinguished track record in government- can be an asset to the TMC. This is probably the reason why Mamata Banerjee inducted him as an MP in the first place. This justification still stands, perhaps even more so today. Having invited him in, she should now give him some leeway and listen to what he is saying. Many of my friends in Bengal think the same way. With the 2024 elections just over the horizon, Jawhar’s advice could be a good opportunity for the Chief Minister to initiate a course correction, throw out the rotten apples instead of adopting a pugilistic approach and blaming the BJP for everything. Her national image has already been severely dented by these corruption charges. Expelling or even side lining Jawhar Sircar could adversely effect her image with the bhadralok too.

Meanwhile, I laud my batchmate for having the courage of his convictions, for having spoken out in the best traditions of John Stuart Mill: ” He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name….(or) will not trouble to use his mind on the subject.” For silence too is a form of complicity in these dystopic times.

There is a time to speak out, and a time to listen.

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