January 23, 2015 12:11:10 am
In the classic film, The King and I, when the king, played by Yul Brynner, ran out of words, he yelled imperiously, “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!” That’s roughly the idea the Intelligence Bureau used to offload Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai from a New Delhi-London flight some days ago. They took strategic advantage of an “etc” left loitering about in the procedural literature, which gives the agencies leeway when issuing lookout circulars against unusual suspects like terrorists and anti-nationals. The list ends with an “etc” which can hold multitudes. A hand-me-down from Latin, “et” means “and”, and “cetera” means “the rest” — it could mean the rest of the universe if you wish.
Pillai was offloaded as a miscellaneous transgressor, adding insult to injury. However, she has walked away from the incident while the government has suffered serious self-inflicted wounds. It has tried to play Big Brother but has been exposed as a country cousin. It has failed to prevent Pillai from expressing her opinions to British MPs. They had a conversation with the activist over the internet, no doubt coloured by the fresh perception that the government had something to hide. Besides, two days ago, the Delhi High Court ordered the Centre to unfreeze foreign contributions in the account of Greenpeace India, on two counts: one, it was unusual to freeze first and investigate charges of anti-national activity afterwards, and two, the investigation had turned up nothing incriminating.
The government’s relations with Greenpeace would appear to be marked by arbitrariness of the kind that did in absolute monarchy. In The King and I, Brynner had rendered extreme arbitrariness audible with a dismissive: “Hah!” Democracy denies the government such colourful options. Having made itself conspicuously absurd, it must now retire hurt from the field.
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