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HVK Archives: Crime and (No) Punishment

Crime and (No) Punishment - Mid-day

M V Kamath ()
13 November 1996

Title : Crime & (NO) Punishment
The only law is: break the law, if one can get away with it
Author : M V Kamath
Publication : Mid-day
Date : November 13, 1996

It is not always that the English language press is
agreed on any one issue and even when it is, it is not
always that it speaks with the same vehemence. And that,
unfortunately, has once again been proved true in the
case of Bahujan Samaj Party leader Kanshi Ram going
haywire in Delhi and taking the law into his hands by
physically attacking journalists waiting outside his

That incident shocked the nation, but not political
parties who have shown a shameful reluctance to criticise
the Dalit leader who has been behaving in recent times as
if being Dalit gives him special rights to misbehave,
whether in public or in private. A curious explanation
to Kanshi Ram's behaviour is provided by The Economic
Times which, presumably, was writing with tongue loosely
in cheek. According to the paper, Kanshi Ram's attack
"has to be judged against a bigger backdrop: as an epi-
sode in the fight of the backward for social legitimacy".
As the paper sees it, "the tooth and claw struggle for
achievement has left assertiveness as the only Dalit
strategy" and "Dalit aggression mirrors how the rest of
India has reacted to their initial ostracism and plight
and eventual empowerment". Now we know.

The Bangalore-based Deccan Herald was even more mealy-
mouthed. Kanshi Ram's "brush" with journalists, it said,
"was deplorable and an unacceptable way of settling
scores with member of the press". Some "brush" it was.
But wait. According to the paper, it was "the culmination
of political developments in Uttar Pradesh and an expres-
sion of turmoil in the minds of some of its key politi-
cians". With that the Deccan Herald let off Kanshi Ram
without one word of condemnation.

But other papers have not been as charitable. The Times
of India in an editorial, 'Kanshi Rambo' first condemned
the Delhi police for its foot-dragging in registering a
case, condemned it further by saying it is a "conspiracy
of silence" and demanded that Kanshi Ram be hauled up and
put in the cooler "so that he can cool both his temper
and his heels there". The paper warned that to dismiss
the episode as a product of the emerging political cul-
ture "will be unfortunate", nothing that it is a sad day
for In a when its best known Dalit leader bashes up
journalists like "a common thug".

The Pioneer called Kanshi Ram's behaviour "outrageous"
and suggested that the onus is one him "to amend his
ways, failing which he may contemplate a return to the
caves with some chosen compatriots". Considering that
Kanshi Ram is neither "an impressionable youngster, nor a

novice in public life, it can be safely concluded that
someone who is so handicapped by lack of civil courtesies
cannot be amenable to education at his late age" - a
sarcasm that is not likely to be understood by the Dalit
leader. Neither do thugs appreciate humour.

Hindustan Times called it "barbarous assault" and said
that "it the people of Uttar Pradesh had any doubts about
the kind of rulers they are going to have, Kanshi Ram and
Mayawati dispelled them". The paper warned that the
assault on the media "for all its gravity, is more a
symptom of the disease than the disease itself" because
"the serious sickness afflicting the nation is the perva-
sive impotence of law in dealing with criminals and the
absence of respect for law at the highest echelons of

Therefore, the paper argued, "if only to prove that the
law in this country is not impotent against such on-
slaughts, the perpetrators of Friday's outrage must be
brought to book" - an interesting demand considering the
manner in which the leadership of other political parties
are falling at Kanshi Ram's feet.

In Express showed that it understood the situation when
it said in the prevalent political situation. Kanshi Ram
"has to he pampered, indulged and treated with kid
graves". With a great sense of realism, the paper said
that "the existing ground rules of politics deem that
important political leaders are automatically absolved of
criminal charges, whether they beat up intrusive journal-
ists, coerce hapless officials or shoot opponents".

In that same vein the paper said that "Kanshi Ram is more
than a leader, he is a deity", that "he is the messiah of
empowerment who must be packaged in-dollops of squeamish-
ness" and "even denunciation must be tempered with af-
firmative action and a generous measure of double stan-
dards". Finally, the paper ended with a lesson. It
said: "One is not less guilty because he claims to carry
the burden of historical disability. in assessing com-
petitive unwholesomeness, the media must create a level
playing field and apply the doctrine of Moral Equiv-
alence". Easier, of course, said than done.

By now everyone knows that even the press can drag its
feet when it comes to dealing with its own members. It
had been suggested that the Editors' Guild of India
should send a team of two or three of its members to.
Lucknow "to investigate the issue of the fist of journal-
ists alleged to be recipients of Mulayam Singh Yadav's
largess when the latter was the Chief Minister of UP".

The suggestion had been made in November 1995. It is
November 1996 now - and there is no report obviously
because there has been no investigation again obviously
because there is no wolf to do so.

Thus, do our erring politicians get away with murder.

The moral is simple: Unless journalists themselves clean
up their houses, they cannot expect the Mulayams and the
Kanshi Rams to cleanse theirs. There are no standards of
public behaviour any longer.

The only law is: break the law, if one can get away with

it. Journalists are breaking the law in their own way
(in the matter of housing, taking inducements etc). If
the salt loses its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?
And if journalists fall on their faces, who is there to
save their face for them?

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