The agony of Mammon

The agony of Mammon

In any democracy, the right to individual privacy is absolute. If what one citizen does in one’s personal life is splashed in a public arena, newspapers and TV channels for instance, the results are not only disagreeable, but also distasteful.

Modern life, however, is much more complicated than life in ancient Athens. Very often, the mighty and the powerful abuse this right to hide facts that have a grave public bearing. As a result, the personal and the political mix in an inseparable manner, leading to dilemmas of a kind that defy easy resolution. Should such information be released at all? Who should decide on what to release and what to withhold? The press, the government, or the courts? Given the serious decline in our institutions, why should any of the above be privileged in taking such decisions?

Industrialist Ratan Tata has decried the “release" of the Niira Radia tapes. He has also moved the Supreme Court on this subject.

The tapes detail the conversations among journalists, public officials and Radia, a corporate lobbyist hired by the Tata group and others.

They are not any conscientious citizen’s idea of good music and require no elaboration on their content here. But they do serve one purpose: they shed light on how elected officials are “persuaded", nay willingly involve themselves, in making decisions that are patently against the interests of the country and citizens at large.

Tata, a respected industrial leader who is often considered to be free from the taint of trying to influence the government in a crony fashion, should think again: After all, it was his lobbyist, Radia, who can be heard trying to move the wheels of a ministry.

There are other tapes that may shed more light on ongoing and other scams whose lid is yet to be blown off. To argue against the release of tapes on the grounds of privacy is, to put it mildly, out of line. If only to enable citizens to know what is happening, the right to privacy does not hold any water in this case.

While it is distasteful to hear private conversations, the tapes deserve wide publicity. Citizens ought to know how decisions involving resources (such as telecom spectrum, minerals and land), of which they are the ultimate owners, are made.

These decisions are made in opaque conditions and what the public and Parliament are told is at considerable divergence from the truth. The tapes should be heard for what our representatives and public officials are all about.

What should be done with the Radia tapes: wide publicity or locked away as a secret? Tell us at