K G Suresh, The Pioneer
While media activism has led to greater awareness in people and enhanced vigilance on the part of the powers-that-be, there is concern that the media has in the process arrogated to itself the role of judiciary
Nine years after being charged with criminal conspiracy in the murder of a temple manager in November 2004, Kanchi Shankaracharyas Jayendra Saraswathi and Vijayendra Saraswathi were acquitted by a Puducherry court last Wednesday. Twenty-one others who were accused along with the pontiffs were also acquitted in the case.
“There is no incriminating evidence against the accused”, declared Principal District and Sessions Judge CS Murugan, who also said no motive for the murder could be established.
The institution of the Kanchi Shankaracharya is not just another spiritual shop opened by a charlatan. Apart from being one of the Pancha Bhuta Sthalas (temples denoting the five elements), the mutt was founded by Adi Shankaracharya. Jayendra Saraswathi, the current pontiff, is the 69th head of an institution which traces its succession in history going back to the fifth century BC. It is believed that the Hindu prophet from Kalady, Kerala, established the Kanchi Mutt in a position of supremacy (Sarvagnya Peetha) over other such institutions he had established across the length and breadth of the country, before attaining samadhi there.
Thus, the institution occupies great significance not only among its ardent followers, the Tamil Brahmins, but also Hindus across the world. Yet, when a vindictive J Jayalalithaa Government, with an apparent agenda to check its dwindling political fortunes in the wake of the 2004 Lok Sabha poll, arrested the seers on Diwali, the holiest day in the Hindu calendar, and also indulged in actions against the mutt and many of its supporters including independent journalists such as S Gurumurthy, some of which were taken exception to even by the apex court, the media went hammer and tongs against the accused in the most vitriolic manner, something inconceivable in a similar case against the Pope in the West or any leading Muslim cleric in the Middle East.
While media activism on the one hand has led to greater awareness on the part of the people and greater vigilance on the part of the powers that be, on the other, there is growing concern over media, particularly television, arrogating to itself the role of judiciary, representing the sole, credible voice of the nation, the know-it-alls, rendering justice to one and all. Here, the principles of natural justice have no sanctity. News anchors preside over kangaroo courts which without any trial, evidence, cross-examination or charge-sheet, pronounces all and sundry as guilty and delivers the harshest punishments — death, dismissal, resignation et al.
Whereas the courts take note of the good conduct of even life-termers and give them some relief, in the media court, there is no mercy, no compassion. All the good work done in the past is erased forever and one are judged for the moment. Media-judges don’t believe in the dictum that to err is human.
Take the case of Mr Nitin Gadkari, former president of the BJP. After the hullabaloo in the media, about his supposedly dubious investments in the Purti group of companies, once headed by him, stalled his re-nomination as party chief, one hasn’t heard any development in the case worth reporting, except for some questioning by the Income Tax authorities earlier this year as a follow- up measure.
To think that either the Congress-led Union Government or the State Government in Maharashtra would show him any leniency, if he is guilty, is far-fetched. Yet, there is a deafening silence to the injustice meted out to Mr Gadkari, whose political career, and reputation built over a lifetime, have suffered on the basis of some details (unrelated to his political life) that were dug up probably by some insider with a grouse or an outsider with an agenda. The media has moved on to another story without batting an eye.
However, to its credit, the media does not spare anyone, even its own. Former Tehelka chief Tarun Tejpal was an icon, so were the others whose names figured in the Radia tapes controversy as well as the scandal involving paid news. Though their own organisations may have tried to hush up the matter, the media at large did not mince words.
But even in Mr Tejpal’s case, it would be prudent on the part of the media to talk about the issues relevant to the case. Here, one has to appreciate the stand taken by Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parikkar, who has categorically distanced himself from all political statements related to the case made by his own party leaders and stuck to the stand that the law shall take its course, without fear or favour.
BJP leaders will be doing a great service to the nation if they restrained themselves and did not add to the politicisation of the issue.
(The author is Senior Fellow and Editor with the Vivekananda International Foundation)