M class=”spl_lines”>Every one of the leading English language media editors is a Hindu, it speaks highly of their sense of rectitude. There has been not a single instance of any English daily insisting that the pontiff must be let off or that he has been framed.
The arrest and subsequent incarceration of the Kanchi Shankaracharya, Sri Jayendra Saraswati has understandably evoked editorial attention in the English media but througout all the hundreds of words written on the subject runs the refrain that the law must take its course. An event such as the arrest of a Shankaracharya interestingly enough, is the first in the annals of the rule of law. The Chennai-based The Hindu, most likely most concerned?since the event took place in Tamil Nadu?while giving the full background to the arrest and the reason for it in some detail, nevertheless pointed out that ?no public presumption of guilt should be made at this stage?. The paper sharply pointed out that another ex-acolyte of the Kanchi mutt had in the past also been subjected to a murderous knife attack though, in that case the police seemed to run into a political wall after gaining initial clues. Said the editorial (13 November): ?Devotees of the Kanchi mutt are understandably upset.
The Bangalore-based Deccan Herald (November 16) said that while the dismay and disbelief of the supporters and admirers of the pontiff are easy to understand, ?it must also be realised that the issue involved is not one of faith but of the due process of law?. It is very unfortunate, said the paper, that a highly respected religious institution with centuries of spiritual tradition has been involved in such a sordid controversy, but, it added, ?it is necessary to look beyond the immediate shock and dismay to place the matter in perspective?. Like almost every other paper, Deccan Herald said that the investigation should be allowed a free run and the law should be allowed to take its natural course. Maintaining that it will be unwise to politicise the issue, the paper said that ?the best service that can be done is to let the investigation and the judicial process to move forward to their logical conclusion?.
The Kolkata-based The Telegraph (November 15) noted that the turn of events is ?quite startling? and suggested that the manner in which the arrest was made, etc. points to the possibility that the electoral drubbing that Smt. Jayalalithaa received after her tie-up with the BJP ?may have forced her to look for ways to re-build an anti-Brahmin image?. The paper said that the arrest could have been made after Diwali and added: ?Indians love to assault the dignity of the powerful once they are down and police procedures aid the that tendency. The public presumption of guilt precedes the court case. It is not only unjust, it is also distracting and damaging to the neutral ambience of judgement?. The Mumbai-based The Free Press Journal (November 16) said that the arrest and jailing of the Shankaracharya ?is proof of the fact that the rule of law prevails in the country and no one, however exalted he may be in the community, is above law?.
The Times of India (November 17) had some strange ideas. It referred to the Vatican as having both temporal as well as spiritual powers and went on to suggest that the four pithas set up by Adi Shankaracharya?at Badrinath, Puri, Sringeri and Dwarka?should also become independent states, as should also Bodh Gaya and the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar. Said the paper: ?By creating Vaticans of many religions, we will merely acknowledge what is true, that small is beautiful and elective identities?and faiths?often matter more than political constructs.? But only the paper knows what they have got to do with the charges against the pontiff.
The Sunday Statesman (November 14) wrote about the dozen conspiracy theories and said that considering that Tamil politics is more bitter and vicious than the average Indian variety, it would be foolish to dismiss these hypothesis. However, it said: ?But no amount of cynicism affects the fact that on the surface, the Shankaracharya case looks like one of those rare occasions of the establishment allowing the law to run its course.?
The paper made the point that governments find it difficult or sometimes impossible to intervene even when prima facie evidence of impropriety emerges.
That, said the paper is as true of India as in the West. Islamic countries, it added, ?do not even admit the theoretical possibility of correcting the behaviour of the men of God?. It adds: ?But a secular, mature country must have the institutional strength, when it is necessary, to call those who speak in the name of God to account.?
And for good measure it further said: ?But it could be asked, could the law go as far with religious leaders of the minority community?that, too, is a test of secularism.?
Incidentally The Statesman also carried a front-page story a day earlier that pointed out that Tamil Nadu ?has more than its share of god-men, some of whom have provided fodder to the media with their sordid tales of rape and murder and spicy scandals?. What is truly remarkable is that not a single paper has suggested that the pontiff must be let off merely because he happens to be the pontiff. The prevaling sentiment is that the law must take its course and justice must prevail.
And considering that practically every one of the leading English language media editors is a Hindu, it speaks highly of their sense of rectitude. There has been not a single instance of any English daily insisting that the pontiff must be let off or that he has been framed. The Statesman did mention the existence of several theories but that, surely, is only for the record. Incidentally The Statesman was about the only paper which took a dim view of the manner in which Chandraswami was let off in the St. Kitts forgery case. ?The CBI,? said the paper (October 29), ?has this fantastic inability to nail anyone prominent in public life? and pointed out how the Hawala case accused were all acquitted as were those chargesheeted in the JMM bribery scandal. It seems unlikely, however, that in the case of the Kanchi pontiff there will be any move to let him off.
Whatever her motive, nobody can now charge her of being merely anti-minorities?and perhaps that is precisely the message she wants to send to the country at large.