Shobhaa De | So much thin air': Thanks for the strong snub by SC!

Narratives are being altered with complete impunity, while we sit back and do nothing!

Let’s talk about NSTR -- Nothing Significant to Report. Another way for dodgy folk to escape scrutiny, and indulge in a bit of CYA. It’s a fairly common acronym frequently used by those who work for outdated/ antiquated organisations like the UN. Particularly on a washed-up Monday morning after a boozy weekend when their bosses expect them to file coherent reports on the “State of the World”. But, at that point, all that they are capable of filing are far-from-coherent ramblings on the “State of the Mind” -- ten tequila shots at a favourite neighbourhood bar do that to even those with a hollow leg.

Increasingly, most of us in the dodgy world that is the media today struggle to write frankly on even the most innocuous topics, and are forced to fall back on the cowardly NSTR tactic. Chhhhhhay! It’s NSTR, or we jump right into the inferno of manipulated news, and get badly singed in the process. Which is why it’s important to recognise and applaud the recent quashing of the Centre’s telecast ban on Malayalam news channel MediaOne. All hail the erudite Chief Justice of India, D.Y. Chandrachud, and Justice Hima Kohli for setting aside the Kerala high court order that had upheld the Centre’s decision to ban the channel’s telecast on security grounds. The SC order clearly states: “We hold national security claims cannot be made on the basis of thin air. It is seen that none of the material is against national security or threatens public order.” To our great relief, the learned CJI flatly stated: “Can’t call criticism anti-establishment.” Dhanyavad Dhananjay and Hima -- let’s do dinner and celebrate soon!

This is a very significant development given the timing and the context of what’s going on with the NCERT fiddling and tweaking and changing and excluding material from textbooks in such a high-handed fashion. Arbitrary deletions are not just undemocratic, but arouse deep suspicion in the minds of citizens. If entire chunks of our history get knocked off, India’s future generations will grow up reading fiction passing as history. What can be more insulting, even dangerous? Narratives are being altered with complete impunity, while we sit back and do nothing!

I was talking to a highly-placed bureaucrat about this recently and he merely shrugged nonchalantly and said: “It’s a matter of time -- that’s it. Soon our students will have just this one officially-approved, concocted version of India’s glorious past.” Glorious or not, this is our past. We would rather confront a few ugly truths than be fed lies. Lies that are cleverly camouflaged to mimic the truth.

The next generation will neither know nor care about the veracity of the new content that will get them through tough exams. The older generation, that does care, will be dead and gone. As for research scholars who continue to plod on and speak up, soon they too will be replaced by programmed robots repeating the stories of newly-minted heroes and villains, with no questions asked. The word “Mughal”, in particular, seems to cause severe stress, leading to a sweeping dispensation which makes mughlai korma of the Mughal emperors for hungry crows to feed on.

The Congress Party has described the exercise as “whitewashing with a vengeance”. Indeed, it is exactly that, going by the omissions. NCERT chief Dinesh Solanki claims an expert panel had recommended dropping texts on Gandhi. But oh oh… it was “not mentioned in the list of rationalised content due to an oversight…” Come on, Solankibhai, cut the crap. Key paragraphs are missing from the Class 12 political science textbook for the new academic session. This is just the start. In another 15-20 years, a generation of young Indians will not know who Mahatma Gandhi is and a brand-new Father of the Nation will be projected. A systematic, long-term plan is afoot to “rearrange” history and eliminate any mention of those who fall outside the present line of thinking.

India’s bureaucrats are no fools. Some get swiftly co-opted, some hold out. My latest BFF has not been co-opted so far and feels strongly about the issue of erasing history. But he is not in a position to raise objections to this devious tinkering with historical facts either. So he does what hundreds of other, equally smart bureaucrats do… he keeps his head down, stays mum and minds his own business, reminding himself that as a senior officer in a sensitive, powerful post, his salary is paid for by the government in power. Never mind his personal views.

And this is really the crux of the problem across the states. We have the best and brightest bureaucratic brains running the show for netas, who are too busy with elections to bother with the nitty-gritty of their own ministries. That’s left to the babus to handle. The complex, well-knit babu network forms the backbone of smooth functioning across ministries -- that has always been the case. But in recent times it is these very babus who have been informally inducted to work not as public servants (which they are) but as the personal naukars of the netas.

Babudom has been politicised like never before. So many babus function like party workers and report directly to the netas. The rest play hardball with corporate honchos who offer luxury perks and invite star-struck babus to high-profile “family functions”, where they get to rub shoulders with the rich and famous and click selfies. Those who refuse to get pulled into the well-oiled propaganda machinery risk immediate transfer to some obscure administrative wilderness with no hope of promotion or progress. What a shame! And what a colossal waste of a great resource -- the efficient, networked babu!

Frankly, I have never met a dumbass bureaucrat -- all of them are consistently savvy, well-informed, cunning, sly and shrewd. They manage to master the art of gaming the system pretty early in their careers. Uske baad… it’s smooth sailing as they coast along aaram se from one cushy assignment to the next. Some of them also operate as spies for their political masters and smoothly gather information over a friendly, informal drink or two. Given the dull discourse of most business people, and the unemotional, self-obsessed lives of billionaires, social chitter-chatter with bureaucrats comes as a welcome break from the standard inanities one indulges in at glam events.

Meanwhile, my order of Mughali Murg Massalam is on hold. I hear several delivery kitchens are reprinting their menu cards.

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