Ranjona Banerji: More questions, less answers on Durga Nagpal

06 Aug,2013

By Ranjona Banerji


I wouldn’t want to be in Durga Shakti Nagpal’s shoes right now. The IAS officer from Uttar Pradesh is being held up as a beacon of bravery and honesty by the media and by political parties trying to get mileage out of just about anything. Television seeks to sensationalize because it feels that’s what it needs to stay relevant. And print gasps along behind, trying to catch up.


The more the media calls Nagpal “the brave officer” and “an honest officer”, the more frightened the brave and honest officer should feel. Whenever you are set up too high, those that set you up will ensure that your fall is as dramatic and certainly more painful.


The curious thing is, that the reason why Nagpal is being projected as brave and honest is somewhat obscured. Was it because she took on illegal sand miners? Was it because she demolished a wall of a mosque? Or was the mosque an excuse to prevent her interference in sand minding? Did the villagers object to her demolishing the wall of the mosque to did they ask her to wait until after Ramzan? Was there an intelligence report about the tensions in the village and the chance of a communal flare-up or not? Was she brave and honest or just arrogant?


There are no clear answers to any of these questions. There are conflicting reports in different media. And there is nothing from the IAS officer herself. There is speculation about how her parents named her most aptly after a goddess in warrior form and strength particularly female strength in the Hindu context. There are campaigns to protect brave and honest officers from evil politicians. There are opinion pieces on how the bureaucracy is stymied by political interference.


The turnaround when it comes will reverse all these questions. We will find out how the bureaucracy is an evil money-grubbing enterprise, Machiavellian in its spirit as it hoodwinks the people and politicians. Brave and honest will cease to mean anything (if they mean anything now) and become jokey references about dishonest people. TV will quickly move on to something else because this story will have lost its traction.


The media is what the media is. But there are some notable points. The first is that this campaign seems to have started without sufficient background work. How are we to form a reasonable opinion on what happened without adequate facts? And secondly, why start a campaign that is so open-ended and ridiculous. Tweets and online polls – let’s push the issue – might get the charge sheets against Nagpal dropped. But how will all this make any substantial difference to the way bureaucrats and politicians run this country?


The attention around the India Against Corruption movement and the ignoring thereafter and the rise and fall of Anna Hazare must send shivers down Nagpal’s spine. Perhaps that is why she has been silent. And no intrepid (brave and honest?) reporter has managed so far to convey her take on the matter so far.


If I was her, I would run as far and as fast as I could!


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator based in Mumbai. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. She can be reached via Twitter at @ranjona. The views here are her own


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