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As Savukku Shankar lurches from one tryst with law to another, as a friend of yesteryears, I can wish him well alright, but am also nagged by an uncomfortable feeling that the contempt proceedings against him in the Madras High Court is not going to end well at all, either for him or for the larger society.
It’s honestly difficult for this writer to be objective about social media activist Savukku Shankar. I have known him well for too long to make an unbiased critique of the issue of the moment – a contempt of court case against him. Rather difficult to make people believe that I am being objective.
Justice Swaminathan of the Madras High Court has initiated the contempt procedure. Summoned now, Shankar, if I get him right, will not apologize, but would dare the court. The judge will have no other option but to order his imprisonment for a few weeks or months. Thus Savukku will become a cause célèbre of sorts, our very own Julian Assange.
From an avidly followed blogger, he became a minor sensation on Facebook. He went on to have a verified blue tick account on Twitter. And these days his YouTube presentations have a huge following across the world.
Savukku Shankar is very a self-made man. He had just finished his Class 10 when his father, employed with the state police, died, and he took up a lower division clerk post offered on compassionate grounds. Thus he joined the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption.
Though the odds were against him, he is almost a media celebrity of sorts today thanks to his unflagging zeal and dedication to any investigation he takes up.
Savukku Shankar: ‘Can we trust news media?’
He first shot into fame with the expose of the conversations between a top official of the DMK government led by Karunanidhi in 2006-08 – excerpts were carried in Deccan Chronicle’s Chennai edition, betraying a conspiracy of sorts to link the deposed Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in a corruption scam. The authorities traced the leakage to Shankar, and he was promptly suspended. He still remains on suspension 14 years later, case not yet disposed of, and he is getting as suspension pay one third of the salary due to him.
There are some well-wishers who could be occasionally helping Shankar out, but don’t think it will add to much. Inevitably tongues wag, insinuating those who might be making use of the whistleblower would be funding him too. Some even charge he blackmails those about whom he manages to gather damaging information.
Somehow during my interactions I just couldn’t find evidence of any kind of sleaze in his activities – one is free to assume the ill-gotten money goes to some offshore account !!
Justice Swaminathan has a lot of reasons to be angry. No sooner than his appointment as a judge of the High Court was announced, it was Shankar who dredged up images to portray him as a man with an RSS background
Unless Shankar is so extraordinarily clever to cover up his tracks, it is difficult to escape the conclusion he earns a bare living, and that is commendable. Justice Swaminathan has a lot of reasons to be angry. No sooner than his appointment as a judge of the High Court was announced, it was Shankar who dredged up images to portray him as a man with an RSS background. A picture of the judge in his stint as Asst Solicitor General addressing a meeting organized by the RSS was splashed along with the function invite.
Shankar then excoriated a judgement given by Justice Swaminathan, exonerating the Kanchi Shankara Mutt chief Vijayendrar over his failure to stand up during the singing of Tamil anthem.
Justice Swaminathan’s verdict directing CBI inquiry into the suicide of a girl school student raised eyebrows all round. The judge even wondered whether Michaelpatti, where the school was located, was the original name of the place, and observed: “There is an interesting discussion as to how the various areas in Chennai acquired their respective names in V. Sriram’s Chennai [the 2021 book Chennai: A Biography] . Someone can undertake a similar exercise for Michaelpatti also.”
Therefore, the judge concluded, there was nothing “inherently improbable in the allegation that there was an attempt at conversion.” A basis for this judgment was a dubious video statement of the girl. The judgement became yet another opportunity for Shankar to lash out.
Now Shankar is an uncompromising, vehement secularist. When he tweets, attacking the BJP figures in abusive terms, I used to counsel him patience. When his comments seem to be baseless, I would say so. But he won’t listen.
He seems to believe BJP should be as aggressively fought back as possible, saying it is the greatest threat facing the nation and nothing wrong in going all out, fair or foul.
I translated for him Caravan Editor Vinod Joses’s exhaustive critique of Narendra Modi (2012), and Shankar carried it in several installments on his website and then went on to publish the translation as a pamphlet on the eve of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
‘He constantly makes allegations without furnishing evidence or backing things up. But somehow there’s this feeling that what he is saying is true, even if they can’t be proven’
Why should he undertake such strenuous efforts? He was genuinely worked up.
Yet again, he doesn’t tolerate Islamic fundamentalism either. Indeed I got to know him well only when he was blogging stridently, attacking Muslim groups for their agitation against Kamalhaasan’s Viswaroopam 1.
He used to be a fan of LTTE supremo Prabhakaran, but I think he got over it in course of time, unwilling to condone the myriad human rights violations. It may be noted that while he did sport Prabhakaran’s image on his blog for a while, he never lost himself in the Tamil nationalist crowd.
Twice he has been arrested and released on bail. In the case charging him with leaking official secrets, when he was arrested first, he was eventually released. He could be in for another phase of incarceration.
There are woman journalists like Sandhya Ravishankar who come down hard on Savukku for “slandering” them. Many who would otherwise hail his whistle-blowing news breaks are uncomfortable about the coarse language he uses sometimes.
Yet, Savukku Shankar carries respect widely as he steps in where mainstream fears to tread. As an astute observer put it, “He constantly makes allegations without furnishing evidence or backing things up. But somehow there’s this feeling that what he is saying is true, even if they can’t be proven. He is smart enough to know what evidence would be needed for what and stick to it. But he doesn’t seem to care one way or another. Perhaps he thinks he doesn’t have anything to lose. Is he a desperado?”
One can only wish that with his vaulting ambition, he doesn’t land on the other side, as it were. Savukku Shankar is certainly not an asura as Justice Swaminathan implies in his notice. But one has to wait and see how he plays his cards.
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