New Delhi: While some in the media had a field day sitting in judgment and pronouncing guilt, yet again, with respect to Robert Vadra here are few very simple factoids, I'd like to point out, that expose the blatant double standards of those who consider themselves to be the custodians of the fourth estate of democracy.
1) Robert Vadra "abused" the journalist!
If what Robert Vadra did was 'abuse' the journalist in question (although I am yet to understand how evading an unwanted microphone in your face and using the word 'nuts' or 'are you serious' amounts to abusing) then why doesn't the journalist in question or his organization file a complaint? While everyone made allegations about how the footage was deleted and the journalist was 'detained against his will' by Mr Vadra's 'SPG' security (which if I may point out to those in the business of dealing with accurate facts is not SPG but Delhi Police!), which if true warrants action against the erring security personnel, the organization says it won't file a complaint! So all we want to do is put a spin on the entire sequence of events and sit in judgment, but not have the authorities look into it!
2) The media has a 'right' to ask questions.
Of course the media has a right to ask questions but that right does not do away with its responsibility to be fair and respect an individual's right to privacy, that finds shelter under the most sacred, fundamental right- Right to Life and Liberty under Article 21 of the constitution- that extends to not just private citizens but also public figures. Media's right to ask questions do not exceed somebody else's right to not answer those questions. Its right to ask questions does not entail an inherent right to choose a private event to misrepresent oneself as a sort of in-house videographer asking questions on the fitness event in concern and then jump to a topic that has been answered no less than three times by three courts including the Supreme Court in the negative!
Even in the case of people occupying public positions, which Robert Vadra isn't, journalists seeking reactions and interviews ask the subject if he or she would like to speak on a certain subject and disclose their intent to ask about certain issues in advance. Robert, despite him being Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law, despite him getting Delhi Police protection, not because he wants it but at behest of an assessed security threat by the government and agencies (which, by the way, his wife Priyanka has offered publicly to give up) is a private citizen and holds no public office. Journalists, even while interviewing ministers and politicians, disclose their prima facie line of questioning. Does anybody randomly push a mic in the face of say Mr Arun Jaitley, who as a minister holds more accountability than a mere private citizen and start asking questions? So why should there be different standards in this case? Was it ethical to have not asked Robert Vadra if he was willing to speak on a particular subject? Was this behaviour not akin to a sort of sensationalist, unethical paparrazi culture, which has in the past cost Princess Diana her life (after she was being chased by rowdy photographers and journalists)!
3) This was an 'assault' on media freedom!
Let's assume that despite the above contention that it was the freedom of the media (and not the constitutional rights of an individual) that was trampled upon. It is quite hypocritical for the BJP and media evangelists, who these days are seen clicking selfies often at the expense of their self respect rather than asking tough questions on issues like black money, to raise this issue. Did they have nothing to say when journalists posing tough questions on fake encounters in Gujarat where trials are on or on 2002 riots were called 'newstraders'? When the media was charged with sedition in Gujarat for reporting stories only to be quashed by the Gujarat High court and Supreme Court? What was the view of these journalists when the Prime Minister, Mr Modi or say Ram Jethmalani, stormed out of pre-planned interviews on tough questions posed to them? What are their views on the heckling and abuses that journalists posing questions on 2002 riots have had to face on social media by supporters of the BJP and at public rallies by senior leaders of the party? What about the media freedom of authors whose articles were pulled down by a private news organization for only posing factual questions on subjects like the role of the BJP government in riots? What about the diktat to the national broadcaster Doordarshan to telecast the speech of the RSS chief- the head of a 'cultural' organization? Would anybody care to shove a mic or two for upholding media freedoms please?
And if the rationalisation is that Mr Modi has earned a clean chit from the Supreme court (although the SIT closure report has only been filed in the lower court and in pending appeal in the High Court) then why are three court verdicts ,including the Supreme court decision (Read here: Time to end 'shoot and scoot game' by so-called crusaders), the decision of the Election Commission of India (ECI) falsifying the latest charges levelled at him and the Haryana government not enough? Why is one of the draft CAG reports, by lower officers, today being given more precedence than the final CAG view on the Haryana land deals? Until yesterday, the CAG's final reports were treated as gospel but in case of Vadra we change our standards? And if Vadra's guilt is so obvious, shouldn't media be asking questions of the Rajasthan Government and the Central government (under which the CBI was made a presentation and felt there was no case made out), that despite these merits, has not even gone ahead to register even one FIR against him for all these months now?
4) Why is the Congress party defending a private citizen Robert Vadra?
As soon as the incident took place, it was Robert Vadra's office that put out a clarification. But by then the media narrative had extended to attacking the Congress party and its leadership. The least a party would do is to offer its own clarification. If this amounts to the Congress party defending Vadra then why have those posing this question forgotten conveniently about how the BJP (top brass to district level functionaries) would cry their hearts out in defence of PM Vajpayee's 'controversial' son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya! And here is the catch 22 situation for the Congress party- if they do not take a stand, the party would be accused of 'disowning the first family' if I were to quote a leading news anchor verbatim!
5) Robert Vadra's actions reflect his guilt! He must apologise!
Ironically, those demanding apologies from Robert Vadra choose not to extract the same or far less from those who have done far worse to the media. Nonetheless, it is easy for all of us, who haven't been in his position to say this. For the last 3 years, Robert has been called everything- 'Robber' to 'murderer of his own family' not just on social media but by many senior, responsible people. Even an accused has a presumption of innocence in our legal system but Robert Vadra, who is not even named in a single FIR, should not get any such benefit of doubt which he is constitutionally entitled to. Clearly, his rights to privacy and reputation are negotiable for us, are they? By the virtue of him being married to a Gandhi, we all have the right to hang him everyday without trial and trample upon him without realizing that much like us, he too is a human being who feels just as pained as any one of us would if for three years one was chased on the basis of innuendoes and gossip. And how many media organisations, which consider him to be a public figure, ever reflect the positive stuff he has done? Just last month, there was a report in the papers about him saving the life of a 21-year-old accident victim! If true, why wasn't the media highlighting this?
Is it because Robert Vadra makes for the most delectable, soft target there is. Any attack on him is an attack on the Gandhi family. It serves political ends of some. It satisfies that what is most sadistic in the rest of us?
(Shehzad Poonawalla, lawyer-activist, Congress sympathizer and formerly served with the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs. Views are personal. We welcome counter points)