Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Once image smeared, can never be cleared ever….Pawan Bansal’s fate sealed

Pawan Bansal, former Union Railway Minister, is a gonner. It doesn’t matter what the CBI finds. It doesn’t matter if the courts acquit him (which in any case will take several years). As far as the media, and in turn the people of the country, are concerned, Pawan Bansal is guilty. Or rather, “must be” guilty. This habit of deciding before hearing a person out, often captured under the colorful phrase “connecting the dots”, ensures that one charged of corruption never gets rid of the smear. Pawan Bansal’s political career may be returned back to him, but his spotless reputation never will be.

Let’s see what the CBI’s case against him – and media’s voluble amplification of – is all about. Bansal’s nephew apparently “fixed” Railway Board appointments using his uncle’s clout. Bansal claims the nephew was acting on his own. The “connecting the dots” theory makes us all ask “how could he have fixed appointments without his uncle’s connivance?”. But anyone who knows anyone in Delhi knows that the city is full of touts who claim to know some or the other politician, minister, bureaucrat….any other type of power wielder. The nephew may well be one of them. There has been money traced back to the nephew, and he surely looks guilty. But what about his uncle?

Here are some facts that have emerged so far:

1)    There is zero money trail leading up to Bansal. It is of course possible that the money is collected by the nephew, on behalf of Bansal, and the two may have some sort of a “verbal” (non-written) understanding. Even if this is true, there should eventually be some money transfer between the two establishing Bansal’s guilt. No such trail has been found.
2)    There is not a single phone recording with Bansal’s voice, even though several phone calls were made from his home. All references to Bansal have been made by the nephew, who obviously visited his uncle’s place often. It is of course possible that the nephew’s usage of Bansal’s name shows they are in it together; it is equally possible that the nephew is just a bragger. There are so many of them in Delhi, like I said earlier.
3)    The “beneficiary” of the alleged fixing, Mahesh Kumar, who was made Member (Staff) of the Railway Board, was indeed the most deserving candidate for the posting. There don’t appear to be any “waivers” made for him. No one was bypassed; no one shafted. The allegation really is not so much about this particular role, as it is about some vague commitment about a future posting as Member (Electrical) where apparently the moolah lies. I call it vague, because there is no such verifiable deal. Besides, the event didn’t even take place. If the CBI was so sure about Bansal’s involvement, it should have waited till Mahesh Kumar became the Member (Electrical) to prove its case. Nothing at present, except the brag of the nephew, shows that Mahesh Kumar’s appointment was fixed.
4)    There are allegations that Bansal’s family businesses reported high business growth during the last so many years when Bansal’s political career rose. But an explanation has been provided for the growth. Whether we believe that or not, we cannot deny that there was a professional management in place which did nothing but run the business 24x7. In contrast, consider the case of Arun Jaitley’s wealth, as reported in media today. It rose from Rs 24 crores (Nov 2011) to Rs 120 crores (yesterday) in 1 year and 7 months. So he added Rs 96 crores in 19 months. Wow. And if you thought it was because of appreciation of property, hold on. His “immovable assets” have increased from Rs 8.25 crores to Rs 34.7 crores; so lets grant him that much concession, even though prices haven’t shot up that much. But more importantly, all other assets have risen dramatically, from Rs 15.75 crores to Rs 85.3 crores. And remember, technically Jaitley has stopped earning since he doesn’t practice any longer. His investments also add up to small amounts, so that couldn’t be the source of his wealth. What’s driven this growth then? Yet, media hasn’t front paged this information. Why? If Jaitley, a non-earner for several years, can see his wealth rise so rapidly, and not be questioned for it, why is such a big deal being made about Bansal’s family’s wealth rising? If this is not a “witch hunt”, what is it?

But what’s the point of all these facts? The media is unforgiving, given its “connecting the dots” attitude. The public has already made up its mind with a “must have done it” attitude. The opposition is bound to say “the CBI went light on Bansal”, even though if that were true, they should never have mounted these charges in the first place. Net net, Bansal’s goose has already been cooked, irrespective of what the CBI finally finds, or what the courts finally say. No evidence, no verdict, no pronouncement can now salvage his reputation. Collectively, through gross irresponsibility, and because of the extreme habit of sensationalism, the media has smeared a man’s reputation. If this same incident had happened in the US or UK, the media there would have cautioned readers that these were mere charges. And if the charges were eventually cleared, media would have given adequate coverage to that, as part of its responsibility. The public there is also far more mature. It would have given a clean chit to the accused.

The real truth is that if we believe in “rule of law”, then our media and we ourselves have to understand what it means. We cannot pre-judge people. We must learn to give them a clean chit if the courts clear their name. Media must learn to report fairly, without any masala thrown in. Media must also apologize if it slurs anyone’s reputation, even by mistake. As far as Bansal is concerned, he is a gonner….his reputation forever has been smeared.

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