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|April 27, 2001||
The Invisible Men
Have you noticed how easily we get scared of unpleasant situations? At the slightest hint of trouble, most of us are ready to drop our dhotis and run.
Our excuse is: Discretion is the better part of valour. What we actually mean is: Why the hell should I get involved in someone else's problem?
Take road accidents, for instance. No one wants to stop and help a hit and run victim lying dying on the street simply because they are frightened that they will get drawn into a case that will go on for years. Even the most compassionate passerby looks away because he does not want to get involved. It is worse when you are responsible for the accident. Even if your heart bleeds for the victim, better sense tells you to flee the scene. Which is why we have so many hit and run cases. People are not heartless. They are simply scared. Even the police tell you: If you hit someone, it is best you speed off and record the accident at the nearest police chowky instead of getting down and trying to help the victim.
That is why people, often decent, compassionate people, do not stop to help those who are in trouble. They run. So people who are unlucky enough to find themselves in a mess suddenly discover that they are entirely friendless, standing alone in the spotlight of shame. I mention this in the context of the recent spate of suicides. Suicides by brokers who were unable pay back their clients because the sudden crash in the stock market broke their cycle of transactions. This is how banks go bust. Not always because they do something wrong. But because rumours and hearsay break the cycle of inflows and payouts, creating mayhem with their planned cash flows.
Take the case of Ketan Parekh. Or, say, Bharat Shah. Both were the toast of Mumbai's social circuit and I have watched the richest businessmen and the most powerful politicians crawl at their feet on social occasions. Yet, all of a sudden, no one knows them now. No one is ready to acknowledge having ever done business with them. No one confesses to having shared a whiskey or broken bread with them. From being the most admired, the most successful people in their business, they are now the pariahs of our society. The invisible men.
Those who once begged Ketan to associate with them, fund them, support their stocks and ready them for public offerings are now going around telling people how they never took his telephone calls, how they spurned his entreaties to do business with them. And, how, they always knew that he was up to no good. Those who chased Bharatbhai to finance their films, join the boards of their companies, invest in their channels are now the first to deny any links with him. The moment he went into police custody, they threw him off their boards, disconnected all business relationship with him and then promptly sent out press releases to tell the world that they had no connection with him. The only exception was Mahesh Bhatt but then Mahesh has always been a maverick.
It is not just Ketan or Bharatbhai. I have seen Harshad Mehta over the past few years fighting a lonely battle against the might of the entire system while all those who had once egged him on and made crores off him vanished from the scene. Ask them about Harshad and they will give him countless gaalis and refuse to even acknowledge that he was once a friend and business associate of theirs.
If you think this kind of selective amnesia happens only to businessmen, think again. Music director Nadeem Saifi was once the toast of Bollywood. Every producer hung around him, every singer, every event manager, every music company. Then, suddenly, when the police accused him of being involved in the murder of Gulshan Kumar, everyone (apart from Shravan) vanished. Worse, they went around spreading the most horrible stories about how he was in league with the underworld and ran an extortion racket for them. Today, Nadeem has got a clean chit from the London courts who have refused to extradite him on the ground that there is simply not enough evidence to implicate him in the crime. So his old friends are now sneaking off to London to build bridges with him once again. To convince him that they were always with him in their heart of hearts.
Ditto for Mohammed Azharuddin. The moment Hansie Cronje named him in the betting scam, everyone around him disappeared into thin air, leaving him to fend for himself. All those who chased him for sponsorships, who hung around him and made huge money off him, who swore by his sportsmanship and amazing skills on the batting crease were the first to badnaam him and walk away from the man. Even his TV ads were yanked off the air before a single FIR was filed against him!
Somehow I think we have lost the ability to make out the difference between someone accused of a crime and someone adjudged guilty by the courts. We jump to instant conclusions and, instead of evaluating the evidence in a manner befitting a civilized society, behave like a lynching mob. No, this is not the psyche of a moral nation. It is the psyche of a frustrated, blood thirsty people who are ready to throw the first stone without circumspection, without fair trial.
Why is this? Why are we so eager to create heroes whom we are not ready to stand by? Why are we so anxious to pre-judge them in the kangaroo court of instant retribution? Has fear replaced our respect for a fair trial? If so, it is a matter for serious concern.
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