A journalist from La Repubblica, the Italian newspaper with the largest circulation, called me this week scoping for some leads. I’d been in touch with him during my Italian chopper chase and when the marines went AWOL from India, my contacts wanted to know exactly what was happening over here.
“Have you heard anything about a deal?” he asked, making me sit up. “We are wondering whether the marines were let off in exchange for the prosecutors to shut up and stop implicating more Indians.” I think a drop of drool actually rolled out of my mouth at the prospect of such a big story. I asked what made him suspect that. “The timing — it is just too convenient.” He also pointed out how documents from Finnmeccanica had reached India around the same time. “Finnmeccanica is a government company, don’t forget, so if they are passing on material to Indian investigators, it is with Italian government’s consent.”
We chatted about turning this into a story, but while I was hesitant to put out the story without more evidence, and especially because it was the Supreme Court which had allowed the marines to go, Italian newspapers were more adventurous. They took the conspiracy theories to print, publishing tweets by Indians on Sonia Gandhi’s alleged influence on the entire thing. While it’s true that Italian journalists are known to be rather gung-ho when dealing with stories, they aren’t the only ones talking about conspiracy theories these days. I’m not just referring to the various Italian dealings — the inability to trust the official version is pervading every news development.
Take, for instance, the Joint Parliamentary Committee that’s probing the 2G scam. Now, if sensible people were running the government, and they were serious about letting the JPC do what it was supposed to do, they’d want to establish credibility after their own minister was caught pilfering crores of rupees. Especially when the case has always been viewed suspiciously with the Prime Minister’s office seemingly ignoring the scam by writing things like ‘keep at arm’s length’ instead of putting a stop to it. So after all that and after one of the main witnesses and Raja’s friend, Sadiq Batcha, suddenly decided to kill himself, why is it that A Raja’s desperate pleas to be heard in front of the panel are going unheard? Why is the Congress head of the JPC, PC Chacko, asking Raja to give a written statement, instead of giving him a proper hearing which will involve cross-questioning by opposition MPs?
Okay, now you might say to yourself that Raja is an accused, and what could he possibly say other than the usual ‘I am not guilty’, ‘I have done nothing wrong, but fuel the telecom revolution in this country.’ But if that was the case, why is it that the other main accused, former telecom secretary Sidharth Behura, was allowed to depose in front of the very same JPC? I can assure you that it isn’t just the loony-bin conspiracy theorists who are finding this very strange — many, many people are raising eyebrows, and assuming the worst that Raja is being silenced so he won’t blow the lid off others in the government.
It isn’t just us regular journalists and common folks that are seeing, or at least suspecting, conspiracies everywhere. This week, the Supreme Court also said something which was unimaginable before. While assessing the progress of the probe into the coal scam, the Supreme Court articulated the oldest conspiracy theory in the book. As if screaming ‘Congress Bureau of Investigation’, the apex court wanted an undertaking from the CBI director that they were not leaking information to the government. And being veteran conspiracy theorists, cynical journalists instantly assumed nothing would stop the CBI from misrepresenting.
Yes, the trust deficit is everywhere. Between the government and its people, between the judiciary and the executive, hell, it’s even within the executive (you just have to hear what each minister says about each other). But perhaps, what the government doesn’t realise, is how dangerous it can be. A National Conference MP told me how it made life very difficult for him when a Kashmiri youth, who was involved at some point in protests against Afzal’s hanging, was found dead in his room in Hyderabad. In Kashmir, they refused to believe his death was suicide and believed that he’d been tortured even though the post mortem found no signs of torture. “Because the family didn’t believe the post mortem report done in Hyderabad, we got another one done, and I spoke to doctors myself who said there were no signs of torture.” But so strong was the trust deficit, that people had no time for the truth and they kept protesting, leading to more unrest, and more unease in the Valley.
I don’t claim to have the solution for all this. I’m just the reporter who listens to all sides and tries to present it as accurately as possible, focussing on facts and not theories. But when theories start overtaking the facts in every field, shouldn’t those in power also be listening?
Sunetra Choudhury is an anchor/reporter for NDTV and the author
of the election travelogue