The allegations against Trinamool Congress MP from Krishnanagar, Mahua Moitra, are certainly serious. She is accused of taking cash and expensive gifts from a businessman, Darshan Hiranandani, with whom she allegedly shared her Parliament login and password, for asking questions in the House. The matter is with the Ethics Committee of Lok Sabha, and there are several steps to go before guilt or innocence can be proved or disproved.
And yet, you might ask, is anyone really waiting for the verdict that will come after the due process of law plays out in full. Is the truth, or untruth, of the allegations against MP Moitra — whose party, by the way, appears to have abandoned her to face them alone — at the heart of this matter?
In times of social media, and with an important set of elections round the corner, the “cash-for-query” case has already achieved two things it arguably intended to — it has thrown a large question mark at an articulate member of the Opposition who may be a political lightweight but who has stood up in Parliament, again and again, to ask questions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the House of Adani. And in so doing, it has underlined, ahead of an electoral campaign for five states, an opposition that the BJP has vigorously sought to paint and project for some time — of Modi versus Them, the latter category comprising those who are in the dock, from Rahul Gandhi, who nearly lost his membership of Parliament to a conviction in a criminal defamation case, to the AAP’s arrested trio, Satyendra Jain, Manish Sisodia and Sanjay Singh, to the now-embattled MP of the TMC.
The impatience with and disregard for the process of justice that is visible in the Moitra case cannot just be attributed to an older syndrome comprising people’s short attention spans and parties’ smear campaigns shifting the onus of proving their innocence on to the accused. It is compounded by at least two more recent factors: The first is a dominant player like the BJP, which nurtures an abiding sense of siege and casts itself in the role of righteous insurgent.
The BJP bears a deep grudge against the System and its institutions and norms that it felt shut out of for the decades the Congress presided over it. It is now armed with both the power and the drive to knock them down and recreate them in its Leader’s interest and image. This combines with the second factor — the waning credibility of almost all mediating institutions that could have salvaged less-hijackable notions of truth and upheld impersonal norms in the space between Leader and the people.
It did not need the Modi government slamming a case under the stringent anti-terror law, UAPA, against a news portal to draw attention to just how vulnerable a place the “media” as a whole finds itself in today — not only can it be targeted by a power-drunk government, it also finds it increasingly difficult to access, in its defence, an institutional cache of goodwill and credibility built over decades.
The latter has been eroded partly because of the past and present abdications of a section of the media itself, and partly because of the multiple onslaughts on it in the present social media age. A competition has been set up, on an unlevel playing field, between journalism and its more eye-catching and much more polarising hit-and-run variant. The media’s authority and truth-telling has been displaced by a noisy, anything-goes battle of narratives.
In this scenario, it is not just Moitra who stands the risk of being judged many times over before she has a chance to argue her case. As election campaigns get going on the ground, important issues — from Israel vs Palestine, to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality verdict at home most recently — are also likely to get cavalier treatment.
These are complex issues — there are victims and villains, more victims than villains, on both sides of the divide in the tortured and prolonged confrontation between Israel and Palestine, and there can be no excuse for using the conflict for minority-baiting at home. The Court withholding recognition to same-sex marriage raises complicated questions about social and constitutional morality, and the lag between the two.
But the ability of society and polity to navigate thorny issues is being severely compromised by the potent combination of a ruling party that calls on both to only trust and follow the Leader, whom it puts at the centre of every denuded frame, and the depleted capacity, for now, of the mediating and countervailing institutions that could have invited and hosted a wider and more open-ended conversation and debate.
Till next week,
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