Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Eek another leak!

Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 7th Dec 2010)

This is possibly the hottest winter the US has ever suffered in my lifetime – and it’s got precious little to do with global warming or comely PETA activists bravely shedding designer wear to fight for animal rights. Once again, WikiLeaks is slowly and tortuously making the US sweat with the gradual release of about a quarter-million diplomatic cables that expose back-room bargaining by US embassies around the world, and assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats among other things. Revelations so far have proved that the whistleblowers are not just whistling Dixie. Better still, the cables are liberally sprinkled with candid and often witty impressions of the most powerful people in the world.

India’s Silk Smitha and the Beatles’ Polythene Pam can take a backseat: we now have Teflon Merkel – a mildly unflattering portrait of the allegedly unimaginative German Chancellor. French President Sarkozy is referred to as ‘the emperor without clothes’ – and if you remember that grim fairy tale you’ll agree that as character assassinations go, this is terrifically brutal. The kindest barb is the moniker for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin: Alpha Dog. That sounds pretty cool because it’s sort of like a name of a heavy metal band or a thriller starring Bruce Willis. Heck, I wouldn’t take umbrage if I were him. Now if they’d called Putin Alpha Rat instead, he’d have reason to complain. My, don’t you just love it when poker-faced diplomats reveal their tactless sides?

The gossipy tidbits on Pakistan so far have been the most boring of the lot. We have always known that America regards it as a ‘headache’, a ‘nightmare’ and other synonyms under the word ‘troublesome’ in Roget’s Thesaurus. We also know that no amount of dollars will persuade Pakistan to stop funding terrorist groups. Tell us something new!

Naturally, I’m waiting longingly for more steaming hot gossip (on India in particular) as the rest of the cables are released. Shockingly, some people are outraged at America’s double standards – hey, weren’t they aware of this before? Others are worried about the repercussions these disclosures could have on their own foreign policies – a little bit of tweaking may be called for. And then you have shamelessly irresponsible people like me rolling on the floor with mirth. Honestly, this is the most I’ve laughed since Bill Clinton inadvertently made cigars sexy. I still maintain it’s a shame that the cigar industry didn’t reward him handsomely for free global advertising.

Meanwhile, India has had its own version of WikiLeaks playing out for a few weeks now: recordings and transcripts of PR goddess Niira Radia’s telephone conversations that expose somewhat unsavoury links between political parties, hot shot corporate houses and star journalists are available on the internet. As a result of which social networking sites became unbearably sanctimonious for a few days. I must say that I find this expose disturbing for several reasons too:

1. I always thought my teenage niece would win the prize for nattering incessantly on the phone. She has been beaten hollow – and by a middle-aged woman at that, tsk. I will never let her live this down!

2. It’s just as well that Ms. Radia was working for two of the wealthiest corporate chiefs, Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata. Good heavens, her phone bills must have been staggering – perhaps even more than the loss India suffered thanks to the telecom scam.

3. This expose has been a truly humbling experience and I must say I feel the most humbled of the lot. I’m hanging my head in shame as I confess that Niira Radia did not call me – not even once as a wrong number. I’m just a tragic nobody.

4. Never ever be smug because Fate can play cruel tricks. Just a few days after Ratan Tata gave a disarming speech on how staunchly ethical he was by refusing to bribe a minister to get clearance for an airline and all that goody goody moral science class blah, the Niira Radia lobbying-for-an-amenable-telecom-minister tapes surfaced – and his name came up. His shiny halo faded gently with her husky hello. He may still be regarded as Mr. Clean by the bemused Indian public, but certainly not Mr. Squeaky Clean.

5. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Do not take numerology seriously. Hands up all those who still believe that the extra ‘i’ in Niira’s name brought her good luck!