Opening Nelson’s eye.. By Pritish Nandy

Like every Indian I am delighted the battle against corruption has been joined. Finally. How far it will go is tough to predict. But the cynical phase is over, for now. Inspired by Anna Hazare’s campaign, an aggressive media baying for the blood of the corrupt, and a Supreme Court that means business, the people of India are finally ready to believe it’s possible to fight corruption, and take out corrupt politicians, businessmen, Government servants. This is a definitive first step: Opening Nelson’s eye. Unless the Government accepts it is corrupt, it can never bring about change.

The people who have been caught and jailed are not, as in the past, small time crooks. They are powerful and influential, capable of applying enormous political pressure. They did. They hired the nation’s most expensive lawyers too, people who charge per hearing what we earn in a full year. Yet they were unable to escape public outrage and the long arm of the law. They are now languishing in Tihar, with the courts having refused them bail. If nothing else, it shows that when crooks go down, there’s no one to offer a helping hand. Compare this with Binayak Sen’s incarceration where not only thousands of Indians but Nobel Prize winners from all over the world came out in Sen’s support. And Sen’s alleged crime was far worse: Sedition.

The reason is simple: The world knows the difference between crooks and fall guys. Kalmadi never stood for Indian sport. He stood for corruption in Indian sport. Raja never stood for telecom. He stood for bribery in telecom. It’s the same for the businessmen and Government servants in jail. They were all there for their dexterity in bending rules. Some, like VK Verma, had run-ins with the CBI in the past and were yet chosen. The reasons are obvious.

Many of them dared the media to do its worst. Others were confident they would be bailed out at the last minute. Middle class India thought so too. For we are accustomed to seeing corrupt and influential people get away without a scratch and sometimes even being rewarded with a Padma Bhushan as well. But this time it did not happen. With the exception of former Congress CM Ashok Chavan who seems to have quietly snaked his way into oblivion, the rest are cooling their heels in Tihar, like petty criminals. It’s a good beginning and, if this national campaign against corruption continues, we can hope to see some real change.

But when fighting corruption we must be cautious. This is the precise opportunity Governments use to try and subvert democratic institutions. And this is exactly what’s happening. So, if you are not careful, you will see rampant phone tapping by State agencies who will claim they are doing it to catch tax evaders and corrupt officers. Ratan Tata was not much off the mark when he said we are becoming a banana republic. The way his private conversations with Niira Radia were tapped and released to the press shows a dangerous trend. Phone tapping is an extreme step to gather information. No civilized society, no democracy does it unless under severe compulsions. Here, it is easy and rampant. Any rogue policeman can order it and get away. So can any rogue tax officer. There are even businessmen who tap each other’s phones by bribing the system. It’s an old habit of ours begun by Governments in power. Even a moralist like VP Singh as prime minister tapped Chandra Shekhar’s phone because he suspected Shekhar of plotting his ouster.

But tapping phones is old hat today. The Government is openly demanding from RIM that it must be allowed to tap into private Blackberry data. It’s putting pressure on Google to allow it to read your and my emails, enter our chats, have access to everything we say, write, do. It wants open access to DMs on Twitter and privacy settings on Facebook. Trust me, this is not about national security. It’s not about chasing corruption either. It’s a wicked and dangerous subversion of democracy, a quick way to hunt down its critics, intimidate them. It’s an easy route to embarrassing political opponents. A smart device to short circuit democratic norms, perpetuate the rule of those in power. The intent is to harass and blackmail. While you may enjoy the titillation of hearing Nira Radia chat with Ratan Tata about her couture and her cars, you must realise that taping such conversations is dangerous for you, and for every free citizen of India. Imagine the chaos when everyone’s private chats become public news. Everyone’s right to privacy will be compromised. Reputations will destroyed without reason or purpose.

Twitter and Facebook have helped to bring despotic regimes under pressure in the Middle East. This was possible only because technology allows us the privacy to plot against the wicked in power. By allowing the State to subvert that privacy, destroy our freedoms we are compromising on all our rights. So fight corruption we must. But we must also protect our democracy at the same time.


32 Responses to “Opening Nelson’s eye.. By Pritish Nandy”

  1. “Chess is a war game.” This was the first line my father said when I asked him to teach me chess. I was about so high then.

    We began with King’s Indian Attack and Queen’s pawn game (Also called English Defense); then the usual spoilers like Sicilian defense, Alekhine, Caro-Kann, Berlin Defense (Bishop’s opening), Ruy Lopez (Bird’s Defense) etc. I graduated to some famous gambits an year later.

    Indian politics and India’s corruption makes chess look like a toddlers pastime.

    Politics in India is not just an ordinary war game. It is actually peace at war with itself!

    Pritish Nandy, in his signature style, has dealt with one type of corruption that is perpetrated and humored by our politics – the politics of making undeserved money.

    Here are a few more that I can list off-hand:

    1. Decadent social order

    2. Fake propriety

    3. Heinous iniquity

    4. Pragmatism

    5. Damaged integrity

    6. Unjustified persecution

    7. Cultivated prejudices

    8. Bigotry

    9. Pretensions of glory

    10. Misplaced discriminations

  2. Anand Khare Says:

    Somehow, I have this weird feeling that Mr. PN first finds a title and then he writes an article.

    I mean I found nothing new in this stale story of corruption except a brand new title.

    Title ‘nayee’ story ‘wahee’..

    • Sharmila Says:

      That’s very interesting analysis Anand.

      • Anand Khare Says:

        Thanks. There is nothing to analyse in this article. It is just an observation. The thought was developing for quite sometime reading his articles on your page. It reached conclusion after this one.


    • Sharmila Says:

      Then, that is a very interesting analytical observation 😉

  3. Sharmila,

    I can give you a million examples of our own brothers and sisters in India. But that would lead to unnecessary aggression or defence.

    I define pragmatism as a spontaneous epistemic admission of the absence of virtues, ethics or values. But thats only me. Some famous thinkers have gone even further and called it ‘evil’.

    Here is another definition of Pragmatism as a corruption of the metaphysical value system: (This one is by Ayn Rand)

    [The Pragmatists] declared that philosophy must be practical and that practicality consists of dispensing with all absolute principles and standards—that there is no such thing as objective reality or permanent truth—that truth is that which works, and its validity can be judged only by its consequences—that no facts can be known with certainty in advance, and anything may be tried by rule-of-thumb—that reality is not firm, but fluid and “indeterminate,” that there is no such thing as a distinction between an external world and a consciousness (between the perceived and the perceiver), there is only an undifferentiated package-deal labeled “experience,” and whatever one wishes to be true, is true, whatever one wishes to exist, does exist, provided it works or makes one feel better.

    A later school of more Kantian Pragmatists amended this philosophy as follows: If there is no such thing as an objective reality, men’s metaphysical choice is whether the selfish, dictatorial whims of an individual or the democratic whims of a collective are to shape that plastic goo which the ignorant call “reality,” therefore this school decided that objectivity consists of collective subjectivism—that knowledge is to be gained by means of public polls among special elites of “competent investigators” who can “predict and control” reality—that whatever people wish to be true, is true, whatever people wish to exist, does exist, and anyone who holds any firm convictions of his own is an arbitrary, mystic dogmatist, since reality is indeterminate and people determine its actual nature.

    Ayn Rand in “For the New Intellectual”

  4. In a special ceremony held in Mauritius, Pope Benedict bestowed the title of “The Most Blessed Man in the World” to Mr. G. Aravindan, husband of Mrs. Kanimozhi.

    He currently has 2.14 billion Rupees in the bank and the wife is imprisoned.

    “God is in His Heaven and All’s right with the world” said Mr. Aravindan, praising the Lord for His benevolence.

  5. Sometimes one is just not sure. I felt like that kid in the back seat of the car who keeps asking, “Are we there yet?”

    I kept asking myself, “Am I there yet?” and found myself answering, “No, not yet. Some more stations to go.”

    After considering and re-considering for over an year, I signed on the dotted line today for an extension of my contract for another two years.

    By the time this contract finishes I’ll be 49 going on 50. That is my deadline. I shall definitely retire from organized industry at 50.

    If there is time after that I’ll find something else to do by myself. Anything except managing money!

    • Wishing you luck Reader. 50 years is grand. Not sure I will get there, I just live for the day. Thats the best I can plan for myself.

      • Sharmila,

        I am blessed in some ways.

        There are certain privileges that come with experience and age to a limited few. One of them is restricted thinking. The freedom to defy imposition of demands. The joy of changing habits at will. And such.

        Basically it’s a journey to nowhere. Or now here. Whichever.

        Middle age has turned into an advantage in some ways. I am able to look back without regrets and look forward with grace.

        When it hurts, I grow stronger. When it pleases, I celebrate life. 🙂

    • Aishwarya Says:


      Congrats on the contract renewal.

      Why would a person, the best in his field and in a plum position, wish to retire early…? 50 is too young an age to retire…

      Men, who do not manage money, have wives managing it for them… Does this mean there’s a marriage on the cards?

      Kidding. 🙂

      Good luck to you, Reader. May your life be filled with occasions to celebrate. Happy in your happiness…

      • Aishwarya,

        On the contrary, 50 is too late.

        I have had no specific reason to work as an employee since November 1995. I should have retired then at 31. But I needed some effortless money to pay off my divorce expenses. I didn’t want to feel that I was giving out hard earned money to a worthless cause just in order to comply with a law. So I spent some more time in the company till 1999.

        The court needed my balance sheets to evaluate my net worth. I sold all my holdings for 95% cash and 5% paper value. [I remember, the father-in-law had gone wild when he saw me driving into the court premises in a Japanese sedan and then declaring myself bankrupt. I came out of the courtroom rather pleased with the Indian judiciary. So much for the price of virginity.]

        I have never been comfortable as an employee. Something stinks about a heirarchial organisation certified to ISO 9001 and wearing 3 piece suits.

        In industrial environments people are trained for vocations like we train domestic pets. Thats why it’s called training and not education. A train is a long chain of containers that are pulled by an engine. The train has to only stay on the track. The movement is guaranteed by the engine and the couplings.

        I think I am more efficient as a tramp than an engine driver pulling a train of cargo.

      • Aishwarya Says:


        It’s not that dreary, is it? Imparting practical/vocational skills can be far more interesting than classroom lectures and written exams.

        I find the role of an engine driver, a man-in-charge, appealing…but I agree the freedom of a tramp is alluring too… Or it could be a mix, a trampish engine driver…singing “All line clear, all line clear, aage badho, aage chalo…” 🙂


        I am not sure about the price of virginity. May be that’s a man’s prerogative…

        Who said life is fair, right?

  6. Aishwarya,

    This is my perfect dream sequence. R. D. Burman, Gulzar never got closer to my imagination! 🙂

  7. Aishwarya,

    I don’t know about tomorrow, the condition today is somewhat like this:

  8. Hmmm… I don’t know if I got the meaning right. But if it means what I think the answer is no. I am not going back in time.

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