I’m No Saint

Nelson Mandela

Part I and II of this article deal with the evolution and functioning of the online media which many, including probably Mr. Ratan Tata, fail to grasp. Part III of the article deals with the ‘promise of ethical business’ that ‘Brand Tata’ probably also meant, and salvaging that ‘Brand Tata’ now following the recent example of  Toyota, that stands for safety and quality. Toyota looks to have succeeded by placing its promise before its profits.  Part IV highlights the challenges for Tata Group as the two compared cases differ where it hurts most, and as it seems that Tata Code of Conduct (Point 13) has been violated.

                                        Part I of the article can be found here.

The power of creating the first draft of history to its latest – and to its most viewed drafts of it – has shifted to the society and to its citizens. Victor Hugo probably understood it better (without seeing the digital media in digital age) when he said that an invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come. Newspapers, in its traditional sense, no longer are the solo producers of the first drafts of history. A few tweets on Trafigura, to recent round of wikileaks (that claims to have the power to rewrite history) to many more examples probably would justify that minor change in the process that creates history, to have a more inclusive definition of the history creation process.

I would love to quote from Howard Zinn, a man who probably shaped my thoughts to a great extent through his articles. (And I didn’t know that he is no more until this morning…):

 ‘One of the things we can learn from history is that history is not only a history of things inflicted on us by the powers that be. History is also a history of resistance. It’s a history of people who endure tyranny for decades, but who ultimately rise up and overthrow the dictator. We’ve seen this in country after country, surprise after surprise. Rulers who seem to have total control, they suddenly wake up one day, and there are a million people in the streets, and they pack up and leave. This has happened in the Philippines, in Yemen, all over, in Nepal. Million people in the streets, and then the ruler has to get out of the way. So, this is what we’re aiming for in this country.

Everything we do is important. Every little thing we do, every picket line we walk on, every letter we write, every act of civil disobedience we engage in, any recruiter that we talk to, any parent that we talk to, any GI that we talk to, any young person that we talk to, anything we do in class, outside of class, everything we do in the direction of a different world is important, even though at the moment they seem futile, because that’s how change comes about. Change comes about when millions of people do little things, which at certain points in history come together, and then something good and something important happens.’

In my article on ‘Money, Knowledge and Power’; I extended this analogy of ‘a million in the streets’ to millions in the digital highways. In India, where we don’t know where to get justice or on which street to picket against the injustices we face, a limited few with Internet access is picketing online. So these wikileaks (or #cablegate), leaked conversations of Niira Radia’s tapped phone calls to influential people in India (# RadiaGate) are nothing more than an idea with thousands of people in the digital highways of this world, whose time has come. For a moment, even an experienced eye can make a mistake of thinking these voices to be an army of unruly mob. They actually aren’t an unruly mob – they rather represent an idea. Web 2.0 and Global Reform talks about this idea only.

In India, we may be at an inflection point of this history creation process, with the explosive leakage of conversations that was tapped, with Government approval by certain agencies of Government (whose legality may be a subjudice issue) for this Ms. Niira Radia, the promoter of one Vaishnavi Corporate Communications, a Public Relations firm based in New Delhi. Two magazines apparently have published  these leaked, tapped conversations online, which also got their natural entry in YouTube. 

Question arises on act of publishing here being a legal or an illegal activity from the front-end, in this age of ‘breaking story’ where verification of the process of an ‘illegal leak’ and a ‘legal leak’ can take hours or days. And then addressing next questions like leaking illegal – publishing legal, to both being legal to both being illegal – whatever be the outcome of this sub judice issue is, it surely would be historically significant. Privacy against right to information is another area of conflict.

Prior to the online leak of these conversations, these transcripts were also made available to few (or many?) news editors in India, which the recipient editors ignored applying their discretions – be it for the ‘content’ and/or for questionable ‘journalistic ethics’. The chronological order of the leak is quite murky anyway (and here I presented a limited idea, which may well be wrong, that I got by reading few articles on it) other than those same tapes being offered as evidence by an eminent and upright lawyer, Mr. Prashant Bhushan, before the Highest Court in India in the ongoing 2G spectrum allocation scam.

(Mr. Prashant Bhushan happens to be the son of one Mr. Shanti Bhushan, who, in my eyes, is fit to be a role model in a country of 1.2 billion in its present time; where stating that role models from social areas in India are an endangered species would be an optimistic statement. Mr. Shanti Bhushan also happens to be a former law minister, and a senior advocate).

In the online anarchy related to cyber-affairs, when no one can be 100% certain on how or who hacked Google; or why the U.S. – in spite of all its abilities, could not stop wikileaks from leaking confidential U.S. government documents again and again, it must be another challenging task in India to identify which website first leaked it, when or how.

But once 104 (or 142?) of these nearly 5000+ conversations tapped were leaked online (all of which now would be under the direct custody of the Highest Court of India), there is no way one can stop their circulations. One just hopes that Mr. Ratan Tata, chairman of India’s largest IT services firm, realizes that reality by revisiting Victor Hugo when he said that an invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come. I support him when he petitioned to probe the leak, to ensure that no further private conversations get leaked. However I don’t know how a court can act on his petition to prevent further offline or online publishing of whatever has already been published online. Mr. Tata must understand that it is NOT an invasion against any private or public person’s privacy, orchestrated by a few immoral journalists, possibilities of whose presence I am not denying.   This is about how digital media works in this digital age where no court can truly control it on a global level, and no government can influence it. Digital media essentially has no boundary.

Mr. Tata, if he wants to, with the might of the Tata Empire, and with the covert and overt support from the Indian Government and/or from the other influential Indian industrialists who may fear these leaks, can fight and probably even win against the army of known journalists; but not against the army of the idea that gets generated in innumerable other websites by unnamed entities.  

The preamble has been unduly long. And we haven’t yet got Toyota in the picture. Toyota stands for the promise of quality and reliability; as Tata stood for ethical (and professional, yet profitable) business practices amidst an unethical business society and corrupt Government practices as in India. Mr. Ratan Tata should better follow the actions and examples set up by Akio Toyoda when he faced the upheaval challenges of vehicles recall in 2009-10; rather than trying to justify how Mr. Tata engaged Vaishnavi Corporate Communications of Ms. Niira Radia to ‘fight fire with fire’.

Part III of the article can be found here soon.

Before moving to academics, the author worked with a company, enlisted as a Tata Group Company, in its Senior Management Team.

 I invite you to visit my blog, Wondering Man (or take a look at my book, Wondering Man, Money & Go(l)d that rightly predicted the housing-led economic crisis of 2008, rise of gold prices to the currency war being played now). You are also invited to join me on Twitter.

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