A matter of trust

A matter of trust

Recent judgements by the Supreme Court indicate that one judge may have read Ben Bradlee’s memoirs and another has definitely read his Conrad, so it’s quite possible that a third judge decides he will teach the editor of Mint how to be an editor.

I will not dwell on this hyper-activism by the judiciary simply because far better men than me have already done so —the standout piece is Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s in The Indian Express.

What’s happening in the courts is, much like what’s happening elsewhere in this country, a function of trust. So, Constant Reader, who do you trust?

Let me make that easier for you; here’s who I trust. Well, when it comes to work I trust Mint’s senior editors, a smart bunch of men and women who often don’t agree with me or among themselves, but whose integrity is beyond doubt. When it comes to identifying birds I trust my son, who rarely goes wrong. When it comes to most other areas, I trust my wife (He shoots. He scores!) Since I write another column in this paper every other Saturday, I have to say this: I trust Batman. And I rarely trust CEOs, business executives, bureaucrats, and ministers (I implicitly trust journalists, maybe out of a misplaced sense of professional courtesy).

Middle (class) India’s problem is that it currently doesn’t have too many people or entities it trusts. It doesn’t trust the government. It doesn’t trust politicians. It doesn’t trust bureaucrats. It doesn’t trust the media, despite the presence of papers such as Mint (yes, that’s a plug of sorts) and the best efforts of the country’s largest-selling English language paper that has effected a complete make-over in its approach to news and now pretty much sets the agenda for all coverage of scams, scandals, and controversies. It used to trust businessmen—much of Middle India now works for the private sector, so it is difficult to get by without doing this—but that trust has eroded in recent years. There was a time when it unquestioningly trusted Manmohan Singh because it believed he was an economist, not a politician but that distinction has since blurred and the man himself has acquired a Nero-like image. But it desperately wants to trust someone.

Sure, it trusts some business executives who have taken up jobs with the government, but there are too few of them around (I can think of only four and half that number aren’t even in very high-profile roles). So, who does it trust?

For as long as I can remember, Middle India has trusted the army. That continues to be the case, except in Jammu and Kashmir and parts of North East India where special powers granted to the army have resulted in strife, not peace. Middle India also trusts the Supreme Court—and for good reason. It has usually delivered. The nature and the hierarchical structure of the judiciary is such that as one moves up from lower courts to high courts to the Supreme Court, the disputes become less about points of law and more about interpretation of law (and sometimes about justice). Does this position of trust and activist litigation pressurize the court to stake a stand on issues it shouldn’t really be interfering in or commenting on? I don’t know, but a recent order in the “black money" case and a sweeping comment on “neo-liberalism" in another order indicate that this could be happening. At any other time, the government would have taken on the judiciary about its activism, but there’s little chance of that happening now; not when one former Union minister is in jail and another could be headed there. And not when there is a chance that a thorough investigation into the chain of command that oversaw the allocation of second-generation licences and spectrum in 2008 to telcos could lead all the way to the heart of the government.

In the absence of anyone else to trust—apart from the Supreme Court—Middle India is also beginning to trust activists of varying hues, but this is a trend that several papers, including Mint, have commented upon, so I will only state that I distrust activists almost as much as I distrust company executives.

The prevailing environment of distrust has political, social, and economic implications, none of which are positive, but it is also an environment that is conducive to the emergence of a strong leader, someone whom people can and will trust. Only, there are few candidates in sight for this role and this writer can’t help but draw unfortunate parallels with happenings in the Weimar Republic.

Write to sukumar.r@livemint.com