Dear ToI lit fest, if you did not want extraneous noise, why did you invite Tarun Tejpal?

The newspaper has sensationalist bravado followed by lily-livered pusillanimity.

 |  3-minute read |   25-11-2014
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This is noted columnist and editor Bachi Karkaria on Twitter: "We have asked Tarun Tejpal to drop out of the TOI Litfest. We've got a great program & we don't want it hijacked by extraneous noise."

Karkaria is the driving force behind the Times Literary Carnival, one of two established literary festivals in Mumbai.

Presumably, Tarun Tejpal was invited with full knowledge of the baggage he carries or more likely because of the baggies he carries. In short, he is out on bail after being accused of sexual assault amounting to rape and intimidation of a young female journalist who worked for him. The story was long, sordid and stomach-churning and it was only because of the grit of the young woman that it reached the public eye exactly one year ago. Tejpal first dramatically "took a sabbatical" from his own magazine, apologised for his conduct in florid prose, gave himself a punishment, sackcloth, ashes, lashes, adamantine conceit and all.

However, as a police case and court dates loomed and lawyers read the dice, he suddenly became innocent and together with powerful friends, embarked on a "blame the victim" campaign. All this was played out in the public eye. No journalist in India, least of all those associated with the majestic Times of India, was unaware of the Tarun Tejpal of Tehelka case.

So when you invite Tejpal to a panel discussion on "The Tyranny of Power", with Manu Joseph, one of those journalist friends who helped question the accuser's conduct, as moderator, surely you know what you're doing. You are looking for sensationalism and for extra publicity. The media usually doesn't have much to do with books (when I worked with TOI book reviews were verboten) and stuff unless there's some suitable masala. Like Salman Rushdie at the Jaipur Literary Festival a couple of years ago and some neat backtracking there as well.

The Times Literary Carnival has said that the "tyranny of power" has nothing to do with middle-aged editors assaulting colleagues half their age in elevators. Perhaps. Who knows? If the victim herself is to blame, then it is the middle-aged male editors who are to be protected from the tyranny of the vengeful female? Does that explain the tyranny of power?

And how does one explain "extraneous noise"? An adequate description one assumes of the protests and outrage at the Times Literary Carnival's idea to reinstate Tejpal as a "think leader" in India, since it was at a "Think" fest that it all happened? Just meaningless cacophony in the face of a bold and fair decision to uphold noble concepts like freedom of speech and the presumption of innocence? Why not also invite the minister-on-the-run Nihalchand? He hasn't even been caught by the police after a rape accusation so he can explain presumption of innocence, blame the victim and freedom of expression as well as anyone. It seems more than likely that he fully understands the tyranny of power.

If you didn't want extraneous noise, you would not have invited Tejpal. And you would not have given him this controversial subject matter. He was not invited to speak about editing skills or starting a magazine from nothing or taking on a government or the ethics of sting operations or how to write bad sex all over the Himalayas or how I made friends with VS Naipaul and Robert de Niro.

No. You wanted the tyranny of power. And after a little bit of extraneous noise on social media of all things, you decided you did not have the power after all. This is the Times of India, is it not? Surely no one understands the tyranny of power better? And yet, instead of adamantine resolve (have I got the florid prose right?), you have sensationalist bravado followed by lily-livered pusillanimity.


Ranjona Banerji Ranjona Banerji @ranjona

The writer is a senior journalist who writes on media, politics and social issues.

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