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Solzhenitsyn, lies and videotape

Last Sunday, the world lost one of its best known literary figures when Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel laureate Russian writer, died in Moscow.

Written by Sudheendrakulkarni |
August 10, 2008 3:00:40 am

Last Sunday, the world lost one of its best known literary figures when Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel laureate Russian writer, died in Moscow. In the second half of the 20th century, he attracted worldwide attention for exposing the cruel crushing of human freedom and dignity on a massive scale under Stalin’s communist dictatorship. His works, most notably One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Gulag Arechipelago, were inspired by his own experience in Soviet prison camps. Solzhenitsyn did not match the literary greatness of the giants of Russian literature — Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov and others — who plumbed deeper depths of the human drama than he did. Nevertheless, in an era marked by the Cold War hostilities between the USA and the erstwhile USSR, he attained an iconic status in the West as the authentic voice of anti-communism. The West soon discovered that he was a complex personality. During his life in exile in the US, he was disillusioned by seeing the moral decay and spiritual emptiness of the media-dominated Western society, and wrote, “…the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by television and rock music.” After his return to Russia in 1994, he emerged as a staunch Russian nationalist and admirer of Putin.

In the outpouring of homage to Solzhenitsyn last week, one thought of his stood out. He wrote that while ordinary men were obliged ‘not to participate in lies,’ artists and writers had a greater responsibility. “It is within the power of writers and artists to do much more: to defeat the lie!” The Soviet communism’s claim that it was the best system for mankind was a lie, and many courageous novelists, poets, filmmakers, singers, and philosophers and others contributed to defeating this lie.

The power of Solzhenitsyn’s thought gripped my mind. I wondered: “Is it the responsibility of only artists and writers to defeat the lie? What about journalists and columnists? Aren’t we, too, writers in a way? Since journalism now encompasses TV journalism, don’t TV reporters, cameramen, producers, editors and owners of TV channels also have the same responsibility? And what about the responsibility of political activists, leaders, parliamentarians, ministers and the Prime Minister? Aren’t they obliged to do more than what is expected of ordinary citizens? Or at least as much as what Solzhenitsyn expected from ordinary citizen — namely, not to participate in lies?”

For any thought to implant itself, it needs a context. For me, the context was when Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh audaciously asked “Where is the proof?” in the course of the confidence motion debate in the Lok Sabha in response to the opposition leaders’ grave charge that his government was indulging in large-scale horse-trading in order to save itself. The PM’s poser lent itself to only one of the two conclusions — either he was convinced that the Congress and Samajwadi Party leaders were not engaged in any horse-trading at all; or he believed that no truth could emerge to validate the charge of bribing non-UPA MPs. The first conclusion means that the Singh who became king on July 22 did not know what was happening in his kingdom. The second conclusion would lead any fair-minded to ask: “Is the PM fulfilling even the ordinary citizen’s responsibility of not participating in a lie?”

In my last week’s column I had mentioned that I was an eyewitness and facilitator in the whistle-blowing operation, conducted by three BJP MPs in collaboration with a reputed TV channel, to expose the “cash-for-votes” scam. The channel stands accused of having double-crossed the whistle-blowers by not telecasting the scam-busting tape. The allegations against senior Congress and Samajwadi Party leaders, which they claim are a lie, are now being probed by a committee constituted by the Lok Sabha Speaker, who received the tape from the channel after a mysterious delay of over 24 hours. I happen to have watched the tape and affirm with full responsibility that it has been tampered with, insofar as it does not include everything of what was recorded during the whistle-blowing operation. A crucial interview with the three MPs, which the channel’s reporter conducted, is missing. Thus, far from the fulfillment of responsibility to “defeat the lie”, here is a case of an attempt to derail the truth!

In any event, the amount of evidence already submitted to the committee, including what is available on tape, is so incontrovertible as to constitute a reasonably sufficient answer to the question that the PM posed in Parliament — “Where is the proof?” And since the PM is the ultimate beneficiary of this scandal, he will definitely be answerable to the nation if there is a fair investigation.

The “cash-for-votes” scam is a blot on Indian democracy. It should not be dismissed as yet another instance of one party trying to blacken the face of another party, nor allowed to die a natural death through the conspiracy of endless delay in its probe. The growing dependence on money power is destroying the soul of our democracy, and all political parties, to a lesser or greater extent, are to blame for this malaise. Let us not delude ourselves into thinking that democracy and human freedom are triumphant and safe after the decline of communist dictatorship, whose ravages were exposed by writers like Solzhenitsyn. The combination of money power and the proclivity of political leaders to save themselves by devaluing democratic institutions (in this case, the Indian Parliament) would gradually create an atmosphere of cynicism (“sab partiyan chor hain”) lawlessness (“upar baithe huye neta log galat kaam karte hain, to hum bhi kyon na karen?”) and anarchy (“bullet, and not ballot, is the answer). Indian democracy’s downslide can be halted at least partially if the probe committee does its job impartially and conscientiously and punishes the guilty.

sudheenkulkarni@gmail.com

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