Total Pageviews

Follow by Email

Friday, November 29, 2013

Tejpal: Reaction is to culture of ‘entitlement’

By Swapan Dasgupta

There are times when a ‘scandal’ becomes more than a gripping tale of individual misdemeanours: it becomes a commentary on society and social mores. The miscarriage of justice in the case involving Alfred Dreyfus brought into the open the fissures in late-19th century French society, particularly its pernicious anti-Semitism. The salacious tale of what came to be known as the Profumo scandal involving Christine Keeler went a long way in exposing the hypocrisy of the post-War British Establishment and contributed greatly in breaking down the culture of deference that once defined the United Kingdom.

It is still early days to be entirely sure if the grim saga of Tarun Tejpal’s conduct at a purportedly intellectual festival in Goa earlier this month will be treated by social historians of the future as an isolated act of criminality or will be regarded as a vivid illustration of the social mores of contemporary India. It is possible that the so-called “private moment” in a hotel lift points to one dirty, middle-aged man and can hardly constitute a generalisation for either the media or even those who combine artistic sensibilities with the good life. At the same time, there is an equally compelling case for the suggestion that the great champion of the underdog behaved as he did out of a sense of arrogance and entitlement—and that he isn’t the only one.

To view the Tejpal controversy as a media event—which may explain the interest it has aroused in the Fourth Estate—is only partially correct. The attempt by the boss (and, in this case, the perceived owner) of an organisation to extract sexual favours from a subordinate isn’t novel. There have been enough highly-publicised instances of ‘modern’ Indians in publishing and information technology misusing their positions to secure sexual favours for the Tejpal case to acquire any novelty. The only possible difference is that the element of consent in this case appears to be exclusively one-sided. What really marked the Tejpal case was the attempted ‘management’ of the crime by the journalist and the Tehelka management. And that is where media, politics and the social milieu of the ‘arty’ world intersected.

The failure of the Tehelka management to report the incident to the police, when it was under a statutory obligation to do so and, instead, settle matters through a private deal, has attracted many adverse comments. Equally, a lot of incredulity and disgust has surrounded the attempt by Tehelka’s Managing Editor to elevate ordinary criminality into a test of high feminist principles. At the heart of both approaches was the astonishing presumption that normal rules—whether of law or society—don’t apply to those engaged in the noble business of exposing the wrongdoing of others.

It is this insistence of exceptional standards to judge Tejpal that has both angered and mystified many. First there was the attempt to minimise the gravity of the charges against Tejpal and settle the issue through what has been described as a “private treaty”. Secondly, there was the bid by Tejpal to unilaterally award himself a punishment: a sabbatical from active journalism for six months. Thirdly, when these measures were greeted with a renewed sense of outrage, there was the attempt by the Tehelka management to establish a private dispute redressal mechanism—a committee headed by a friend of Tejpal who also happened to be a leading feminist. Thirdly, there was an attempt to put pressure on the family of the victim and persuade her to withdraw her complaint, perhaps in return for some compensation.

And, finally, there was the astonishing demand that Tejpal should have a say in deciding which authority was best placed to assess the charges brought against him. The Goa police, it was claimed, was not an appropriate authority because the government there was controlled by the BJP which apparently wanted to settle scores with Tehelka for its role in disgracing former BJP president Bangaru Laxman in a sting operation more than a decade ago.

In any ordinary case, the defendants may well have claimed that the sexual liaison was consensual but they would not have tried to establish a parallel system of justice or claimed political victimisation. That Tejpal did so was revealing and suggested that the man tried to take refuge behind his lofty status in society and his formidable political links.

Tejpal, it has emerged, was more than just an editor who also organised literary events by way of brand extension. He positioned himself as a great crusader for liberal values and secular causes. Cabinet ministers had invested in his ventures, MPs were among those who had large stakes in Tehelka and he had been appointed as a non-executive director of Prasar Bharti. In addition, he was on first name terms with the great and good of the international literary world. He could flaunt his ‘enlightened’ values on sexuality and get away with a style that was reckless. Corporate bigwigs vied for his attention and showered him with generous sponsorships for his Thinkfest in Goa. No, Tejpal wasn’t any old hack. He was among Delhi’s beautiful people, a pillar of the Establishment.

The assault on Tejpal’s pretensions has, willy-nilly, come to express the popular antipathy to the culture of licentiousness and entitlement that defines India’s governing elite. The coming days will determine if the Tejpal affair is another nail in the coffin of a rotten dispensation. 



Anonymous said...

There is the other aspect, too - that's entirely distinct from the sexual assault case. And that's the business model that emerges - Tehelka itself is a loss-making entity, with accumulated losses of over Rs. 60 cr., but the promoters have been continually funded by somebody who couldn't obviously be an "investor" looking for direct returns from this company. This generosity has been further heightened by the purchase of the (close to zero value) shares of the company by some dubious elements (the addresses listed are all fake) that resulted in Tejpal's family getting over Rs. 10 cr from the transaction.

The other aspect to the core business is the Thinkfest - which basically was run based on sponsorships from a range of corporates who would otherwise be the targets of Tehelka stories. So the model is clear here - "we'll come out with a number of damaging stories, and we'll make money by promising to suppress an equal number of similar stories."

No Mist said...

It is not yet a foregone conclusion whether Tejpal will get his just desserts. Fixers (there is no other way to describe him) like him have a unique ability of Jugaad ... a jugaad for the distinctly unethical. He may still find a way to dodge the system though it now looks unlikely.

However the larger question now (and it is fast becoming THE question) is can we get rid of such 'fixing' culture ?

NO easy answers here. We need a wholesale change of the entire establishment. And there is no one - absolutely NO ONE - who can do this quickly enough for our satisfaction. Whoever tries is bound to do some compromises and fail quite a few times. But we need to be dogged like hell.

I am reminded of the actions of Lincoln ... in his day he was perceived as quite a scoundrel by the establishment ... it is famously said that he used Kentucky to screw the south and then he screwed Kentucky too. However he had his focus straight ... never wavered from what he wanted ... and he was successful in changing the 'feudalistic' establishment wholesale ... surprisingly when it came, it was very rapid. Though it led to a different establishment of 'fixers' and a 'gilded age' from which US took another 5-6 decades to recover.

We have a 'fixing culture' and feudalism combined as well as a 'gilded age' thrown for free ... my guess is that when a determined push comes, the establishment will crumble very rapidly (but still less than our impatient waiting), though it doesn't appear that way today.

And for all the above reasons I feel the next election is very very crucial ... throwing out the establishment is an aim which was never closer.

My appeal to all - just do it. Vote for NaMo ... no better way to put it.

Anonymous said...

very nicely articulated. Have been a big fan of Mr. Dasgupta's writings and speech.

sri said...

Always on the money waiting for the day when karma catches up with Teesta, Sagarika, Burka and ilk and they also face their "Tejpal" moment. Sadly Shoma has helped them by providing a how-not-to manual when in front of the the way am I the only one seeing a subdued/frightened Burka, Rajdeep the past week or is it my fantasy in overdrive...

Anonymous said...

In Para 4, I think you mean "milieu" not "mileau"!

Anonymous said...

In Para 3 (not 4) I think you mean "milieu", not "mileau"

Anonymous said...

This is all wrong. Tejpal is a hero of the people. Mr. Dasgupta is just jealous of the central role that Tejpal and Tehelka have played in shaping the national narrative for over a decade.

Tarun Tejpal! The night is darkest before dawn! We, the people of India, are with you!

-Just another Indian citizen

Gerald Oppenheim said...

Spot on Mr.Dasgupta! And the same principle applies across the board! Being a medical man and a family member of a holocaust survivor ( in addition to being Jewish) I have zero tolerance for racism which I regard just as virulent a scourge-specially so in medical profession. I therefore have been battling for nearly 20 years to procure justice for an Indian colleague who used to work in Melbourne. He had obtained specialization in psychiatry ,a doctorate from Oxford and a higher doctorate (DSc) from St.Andrews-and he was in his early 30's. A jealous Australian colleague who vied for the top position accused him falsely of fabricating data(the alleged research did not even have the most preliminary draft) ,falsely claiming that he had a doctorate from London (he had it from Oxford) and declared that his DSc was from a mail order university-the most cruel from of racial oppression I have seen in medical profession. This man David Copolov had a lot of local support. He got a politician friend to publicise this in legislature under legislative immunity! The poor Indian medic left Melbourne for Vancouver. Here he was pursued by his detractors. One day even without the most preliminary enquiry, he received notice that he had been erased from Medical Register-something that would never have happened had he been white!He hired an expensive lawyer and protested .The erasing authority rescinded the erasure and promised him that everyone notified of the erasure would be notified of the rescission-but maintains to this day in its record that the doctor was erased. Appeals to the Premier of British Columbia have fallen on deaf ears-and there is a statutory immunity. The erasing authority have shared their records with General Medical Council and British Medical Journal which publicised their records. This egregious injustice has not been even picked up by the press until now. Which only goes on to prove that despite what people say,some people particularly those of colour and feminine gender are expendible. I hope the lady gets justice.

सौरभ भारती said...

In a way this plague has infected most modern employment systems. IT, BPO, Private banks, Film industry, Media, Art and Music (the new kind): these systems either have started accepting sexual liaison as part of workplace or using it for quid pro quo or sometimes even coerced (like in Tejpal's case).

Only Tehelka employees can unravel the internal truth. Tiya herself is quoted by victim to have seen Tejpal sexually assaulting someone when she was only 13. She also accepts that since then she has turned a blind eye to his such behavior (hinting towards several such incidents!).

Another important aspect of this whole saga is "Silence of the watchdogs". Tehelka incident was abuzz much before it got leaked on internet. Crime was committed around 7/8 Nov. It was leaked 21 Nov. 12-13 days in between! Did the editors of other media houses know about the incident in between? External journalists close to the victim? Did they know? I wonder if the well connected gossip queens like barkha dutt and sagarika ghose wouldn't have heard about it before the news broke out.

Obviously when journos inside tehelka are so angry with the incident, Shoma's claim that she only came to know about it on 18th falls flat as white lie. What the likes of Shoma, Tejpal and gang did for whole 10 days was to come up with a solution so that "साँप भी मर जाये और लाठी भी ना टूटे".

I'm glad people proved it otherwise!

Amitabh Coomar said...

Leveraging family ties or a painstakingly built network to live a previliged life has been and will always be part of the game here and elsewhere in the world. It is almost impossible for an outsider to get in to the circle in one life time. What bothers me more is the breed that not only want and get such entitlements but also prosper and thrive as moral and social beacons in the society. Can some of the resources deployed for discrediting the likes of AAP, please be redirected to bring more such people to book?

4thAugust1932 said...

power corrupts people and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
powerful people should volunteer themselves to 24x7 surveillance.