Who killed Rajdev Ranjan, the correspondent of a Hindi newspaper, is a question that reverberates today throughout the public sphere of Bihar and fuels private anxieties of those living in Biharis. The more we know the more stridently we ask the question 'Who killed Rajdev Ranjan?' We know who did it. By asking the question we are merely trying to point the needle of suspicion away from our own guilty selves. The society as a whole killed Rajdev Ranjan.
The criminal element in our society has metastasized over the years and is now firmly lodged in its bone marrow of the body politic. Cancer evokes a feeling of helplessness, of resignation and an existentialist terror in those who are condemned to watch it take its toll of their loved ones. The civil society finds itself less and less able to count on its antibodies – the institutions, whether formal or informal, those whose duty it is to contain crime - have deserted or stand compromised.
Crime has now an overarching presence in our society. It is certainly not true for Bihar only; the entire country is afflicted by this malady, and we the masses- Lenin’s "useful idiots"- are mobilized by the various political parties which control our minds and our consciences to cite a more heinous crime committed in Jharkhand to play down the crime in Bihar, and vice versa. When Vyapam related murder in MP comes to be mentioned it is countered by some other scandal in Bengal. We merely displace the awareness of what afflicts our particular situation by seeking solace in the fact that others are worse off.
But even amidst the apathy, listlessness and an extraordinary passivity of society, the media is supposed to go on playing its role of alerting a comatose community to the various dangers that beset it. Consequently, a small town journalist infiltrates the territory of criminal warlords with the only resources that he can pit against the mighty- his courage and an unflinching commitment to his profession.
As one of the newspapers reported, Rajdev Ranjan had allegedly procured a photograph showing a minister of the government paying obeisance to the incarcerated 'leader' in Siwan jail which became viral. One must not jump the gun of the investigation in progress to establish the link but the act itself was fraught with great risk and the alleged photograph is of great public interest. Poor Rajdev believed that the mere awareness of such hobnobbing of the bigwigs would enrage the community to some form of radical reaction. But alas! Ours is not that kind of society; the people know it only too well how the system runs; who controls the levers of power; what territories are outlawed for the writ of law. And they are fine with it. Rajdev thought that he had prized out a precious gem; the society dismissed it as the merest piffle. The man who occupationally informed and educated public opinion was hopelessly out of touch with the latest news about the society he lived in!
Therein lies the tragedy of Rajdev (or any zealous police officer, civil servant, social activist and all those who still care for moral hygiene in public life) and our guilt by acquiescence, by indifference, by apathy. We profess a particular set of principles and live by quite another; the naïve fall in the yawning gap between the pretence and the essence. Messengers of bad news are murdered; harbingers of good tidings rewarded is the new normal.
The post-modernist media has moved beyond the archaic morality related to content, impartiality, objectivity, balance etc. With new patterns of media ownership and control they have broken free and the earlier (self imposed) accountability on their relation to the political system no longer holds good. The very top of the pyramid now lines up for the privilege of washing the feet of the powerful and wealthy with soda water and unguents, whatever the provenance of such power or wealth. Prominent news anchors become single issue publicists, prime time celebrities double up as secret agents for corporate world and influential columnists become powerbrokers and pimps of politicians. They make hay while the poor, ill paid reporter on the beat dies for a lost cause. The media today is like a train in which the different compartments are headed for separate destinations. Rajdev boarded the wrong compartment. To that extent we, who knew it and did not warn him, are collectively the guilty party.
India Today magazine once referred to Manoje Nath, a 1973-batch IPS officer, as being fiercely independent, honest, and upright. Besides his numerous official reports on various issues exposing corruption in the bureaucracy in Bihar, Nath is also a writer extraordinaire expressing his thoughts on subjects ranging from science fiction to the effects of globalization. His sense of humor was evident through his extremely popular series named "Gulliver in Patiliputra" and "Modest Proposals" that were published in the local newspapers.