FOLLOWING ND Tiwari’s exist as Governor of Andhra Pradesh on moral (immoral?) grounds, the public seems determined to act as moral police, no doubt with the best of intentions, but with questionable authority. Thus, The Free Press Journal (December 22) carried a story that said that an All India Congress Committee member and Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) general secretary, Rajmohan Unnithan was arrested by the police on December 21 for “alleged immoral activities”. According to the story, Shri Unnithan “was caught from a rented house at Mangeri in Malappuram district by the local people along with a 32-year-old woman from Kallam, the house district of Shri Unnithan, around 11 pm and handed over to the police”. The point made was that local people alleged that the house was being used for immoral activities for some time now. Apparently the Congress has suspended Shri Unnithan who was held under the Immoral Trafficking Act.
The theory is that a public citizen (whether he is a Governor of a state or just a political party official) has to lead an exemplary life with a clean personal record. That is an admirable thought except that if it is pressed to its logical conclusion, there will be soon no more to hold public positions. Morality is what morals claim it is. One remembers a certain married politician in Delhi who was being harassed by the media for allegedly having an affair with a certain woman. The gentleman couldn’t care less. He told the media: “Of course I am having an affair. What business is that of yours?”—or words to that effect, whereafter he was left alone. That was the end of rumour-mongering. One also remembers the case of distinguished Mumbai Congress leader who was well known for his playful activities. Nobody gave them a second thought.
This columnist also remembers an occasion, when he was The Time of India’s correspondent in Paris of having found out that a famous senior cabinet minister well known for his puritanical pretensions had visited Folies Bergere the somewhat notorious music hall and variety entertainment theatre noted in the 20th century for sensational displays of female nudity, along with two senior ICS officers of high standing. When I called up one of them and teasingly asked what he was doing last night—he was a very dear friend—his answer was: “Kamath, I will break your head if you write about it.” It was treated as just fun. Going to a night club is no crime, but for me it seemed somewhat unusual to see a pompous minister with claims to ascetic behaviour, behaving like the rest of all of us ordinary human beings.
Concepts of morality are changing. And laws must keep pace with the times. Meanwhile, the media is changing and, with all due respect to editors, for the worse. Has anyone really noticed the change in the editorial page of newspapers like Hindustan Times? The old lay-out has given place to a new one. Where once the name of the paper, its logo etc (often with a quotation from some great man) was prominently displayed at the top, now all that is disdainfully dismissed as old garbage. What does it imply: That what was once considered editorial space is no longer to be so considered and that what is written in that divine space could possibly be something paid for? This is not an accusation but expression of doubt. Editorial columns should be identified as such, clearly and specifically. An explanation is called for.
Meanwhile, The Times of India (January 1) deserves high praise for teaming up with the Pakistan’s Jang Group for its marvellous and praise-worthy effort to “energise the process of peace” between India and Pakistan. Their joint statement says: “Skepticism about peace between India and Pakistan has long been brewing but it must be unleashed to forge a new social compact between the people of this region to bring about aman ki asha (a desire for peace).” And no more beautiful words were said. Yes, as the eight-column front-page headline says, this is “an idea whose time has come”. It must be pushed hard. As the joint statement so eloquently says: “It is an article of faith with us that the sum of all good must triumph over the sum of all evil—because there is so much more good than evil…. The price of doing nothing is too high to contemplate, for both India and Pakistan….We believe the media can serve as facilitators in fostering greater understanding between people…. Are we being foolishly romantic, are we tilting at windmills? Perhaps. Will our efforts bear fruit? We can only hope they will. All that we can do is to plant as many saplings as possible and pray that they grow deep roots…. Pakistan is one of the few countries where we are made to feel genuinely welcome, not for our growing economic clout or the buying power of our tourists, but for ourselves. What could be amore powerful bond to build on, than this?” Go ahead, gentlemen. All power to your elbows.
This is real thinking out-of-the-box. And it is about time, too. And then we have this news: A new Sunday paper, according to Virendra Kapoor, the New Delhi columnist, is set to hit the news stands ‘soon’. Tentatively named Sunday Guardian, the project apparently has Ram Jethmalani as the chairman of the publishing company. Do we need another Sunday paper? Says Kapoor: “Given the staid stuff dished out by most Sunday newspapers, MJ’s next offering is keenly awaited in both political and journalistic circles.” Till the other day Akbar was bringing out a not-so-successful fortnightly called Covert. Hopefully, Sunday Guardian will do better. It must take some courage to invest in a weekly, though. One presumes that it will be a broadsheet and not a tabloid and hopefully it will spare the reader of the rubbish about film stars, society dames and semi-nudes that goes for journalism today.