In July 2000, a boy was discovered by Scotland Yard in a `drunk and incapableÂ state at Leicester Square, the heart of London's West End. If you've been to Leicester Square as I have, particularly on Friday night, the most likely state you will find anyone is drunk and incapable ! That's one good way to put your worries behind and have a jolly good time, I would think.
Anyway, this boy seemed in bad shape, "lying on the ground, clearly ill," and he had been vomiting. An ambulance was called and medics determined that he did not need hospitalization. He was then hauled off to Charing Cross police station, not too far off. When questioned, Euan John, as he called himself, gave an old address and a date of birth which made him appear over 18 years of age.
Here is another London story. William Straw, all of 17, was caught by the police after he tried to sell $17 worth of cannabis to a lady reporter who was apparently following up on a tip she had received concerning the young man's activities. At some point, the story made it to the news, though not in the manner it was planned.
No prizes for guessing, both these adventurous boys are sons of powerful British politicians. Before we come to what happened to them, lets see what would have happened in India, were similar incidents to occur. Take the first case. Well, you would not even know about it because chances are that the affair would have been suppressed right there.
The second would have been tougher, but rest assured the reporter would have been in jail. Actually that happened in Britain as well, for possession of cannabis. But more on that later. Not quite here. Not only would the reporter be in jail, a private secretary to the politician concerned would have issued a statement saying, "Politicians or their wards cannot be exposed to sting operations."
Fix The Witnesses
Next day, there would have been a hue and cry in parliament asking for the heads of the reporter concerned and maybe the publisher or owner of the media house as well. Surprised ? Well, let me assure you this has already happened not once but many times over in recent years. And the beauty is that this behavior inevitably cuts across party lines.
What would have happened to the legal case, if any ? Well nothing. Witnesses would have either been bought out, threatened or hounded out. The chief inspector of the police station in question would have been transferred, ideally by next morning. The constable who effected the arrest would have been hiding in his house, or looking for another job. All the while fearing for his and his familiy's safety.
So, by the time the matter reached the courts, if it did, all would have been resolved, under the table or over. Else, it would have been put behind as a little prank the boys played. Maharashtra state revenue minister Narayan Rane usually does that when his sons go out of control in their locality in Mumbai (Bombay), which until recently was the same as mine. Click on this link if you donÂt believe me. But then, I don't know who one should fear more, the father or the sons, or the trio.
Back In London
Lets return to the cooler climes of London. The first case involved Euan Blair, son of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. As per law, the boy's parents were summoned to the police station. They didn't go to Charing Cross, but Kennington, to avoid the media onslaught. So that was one concession. According to reports, the parents and son were there for 30 minutes while, among other things, Euan was reprimanded severely by the inspector in charge.
Downing Street later stressed that ÂMr Blair and his wife Cherie acted as `appropriate adults' at the police station when police would have spelled out `in ordinary language' to Euan the full consequences of his punishment. So, the prime minister and his wife had no choice but to behave like normal parents and pay the price for their son's excesses. Obviously, the media had a field day all through.
In the second case, Jack Straw was forced to do something similar. Actually, I read the account as published by then Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan in his book The Insider (an amazing read actually). In the book, Morgan describes how the Mirror was first tipped off that William Straw was into the drugs scene at a pub near the family's London home in Clapham.
A Drug Deal That Blew Up
Morgan says he sent two of his top investigative reporters, Dawn Alford and Tanith Carey to take a look, undercover. After getting a little friendly at the pub, Alford ended up buying the cannabis from William. Now comes the fascinating bit and do bear with me as I narrate from the book, a copy of which I have. Even as Morgan and his team debated what to do with the information they brought back, Alford got a call from William Straw's pub mate to say there was another big party the coming Saturday night and there would be `plenty of drugs'.
At this point Morgan says his team debated the matter. The decision, arrived in consultation with legal help, was not to run an expose because the boy was a minor. However, since the law was likely to be broken again and since the father of the son was the home secretary, they would call the father and alert him. Morgan called up Straw and in a conversation mentioned that the latter's son had been caught selling drugs.
Morgan says Straw called him back the next day and said his son had confirmed that he had indeed sold drugs. "We are still talking over it as a family and I will let you know if we will be saying something," said Straw to Daily Mirror's Morgan. At this point Morgan's interest was the putting the story out and ensuring no one else did it first. He hung up after eliciting a promise from Straw that the Mirror would like to know first.
Boils Down To Functioning Democracy
The next day Morgan ran into a government functionary who revealed that Straw had visited the local police station the previous day and reported the event. Straw apparently concluded that a crime had been committed and as Home Secretary, he had no choice but to report it. Dawn Alford, the reporter who bought the cannabis from William, went to the police station to give a statement and was arrested. Later, she was released on bail.
The press went to town with it, without naming Jack Straw because the law prevented the naming of the minor. In the headlines, he was "a Cabinet Minister" whose son had been trapped in a drug deal. The media, not surprisingly, was on the issue for several weeks. As it happened, despite an injunction and gag orders, all the names eventually made it into public domain.
Several things emerge from this. For one, democracy works better in Britain than it does in India. Of this, I am pretty clear about. Particularly since I have interacted with British politicians and seen the system at work. Which is not to say the British system does not have its problems or scandals. Of course it does. And there are no dearth of scoundrels either.
Moral Of The Story ?
The point is that for whatever reason, strategic, political, opportunistic or plain common sensical, both politicians did the right thing. Which is to co-operate with the law and not subvert it. British media did allege that there was favourable treatment in both cases. And there may have been. Intrerestingly, both politicians were on the backfoot trying to defend their respective positions. And not on the attack saying, "If I don't get privileged treatment, who will ?"
The moral of this long story is that our political class operates differently. They are two sets of rules, for the rulers and the ruled. I am not saying this applies to all politicians but surely a few who can make life difficult for you and me. I shudder to think what would happen if my car were to accidentally cross a Narayan Rane family member. I would expect that my being a `media person' may help, but god knows how and when.
What would have happened if the BJP were in power, Pramod Mahajan alive and his son Rahul Mahajan found drunk and drugged with his secretary lying comatose next to him. Well, you know what happened without the BJP being in power and the father no more. Forget the legal complicity, remember the bit about the `poor' 31-year-old boy making a mistake.
And then, what's changed is really the media, particularly the 24/7 variety. Think about it. That's the only thing that might make the likes of Deshmukh, Rane and the countless other feudal politicians ruling this country think twice before they let their wrath loose on their subjects.
Thank you to all of you for sharing your thoughts on a subject I feel strongly about as well - this is a sequel to the previous post on our arrogant and feudal politicians. Instead of responding individually as I would have liked to, I thought I would put down the next instalment in this train of thought..
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