Up in Arms to Dig Ugly Past of Enemies will Endow no Party with Brighter Future
Poison kills poison, as Duryodhan discovered to his chagrin. When used in ignorance, it kills both the dispenser and the dispensee. Parties assume that poisonous attacks are the only method to flummox foes. Today, past acts of omission and commission have become lethal weapons to neutralise opponents. For the last two years, no party has refrained from digging up the past of adversaries and flung the unsavoury parts into the political abattoir. Promises made during the elections, in 24 months, are not even a remembrance of things past. None of them have taken out peace marches, candlelight processions or walkathons to the Human Rights Commission office to protest the fact that 300-odd drought-struck districts are being denied even basic facilities like drinking water. Instead, defence acquisitions meant to protect the country have become public pantomimes of poisonous projectiles.
Undoubtedly corruption, bribery and nepotism are major threats to the survival of democracy and good governance. But they need to be tackled by investigative agencies. Let the law take its course. But, like the rapacious Indian rivers in flood, Indian laws, too, have deviated from their original course, thanks to the massive encroachment and erosion on the polity by politically pushed probes. None of the well-connected bribe givers or takers in the Bofors scandal have been brought to book, even after 30 years. Shouldn’t Indian leaders be worried about the saboteurs within who derail the legal process? Isn’t the fact that those named in the AgustaWestland scam continue to perambulate through Lutyens’ Delhi’s charmed circles a cause of worry? This shows that the caucus of corporate cartels, middlemen, political leaders and civil servants who paint files and proposals in the colours of the cocktails and cuisine served at coterie dinners is alive and well.
It is a deserving topic for a doctoral thesis as to why not a soul has been convicted for over a dozen major corruption scandals in the past 40 years—the Bofors affair, the Scorpene deal, the Airbus payoff, the Barak Missile scam, stock market manipulations etc. If scandal-ridden Italy, where probity in public life is under a shadow, can conclude the `3,546-crore helicopter scam trial and jail important officials, including the chairman of tech-giant Finmeccanica, how come all key players in the scam, whose names have popped up in India, are roaming around freely in the corridors of power and are VIP guests at political and corporate weddings? An FIR was registered in 2013 and only a Delhi-based lawyer was arrested. The grilling of star suspects was a farce. They were invited for a ceremonial trip to the offices of the investigative agencies. Letter rogatories were dispatched to a couple of countries, routinely seeking details of the transactions. It is only after the Italian trial was finished and its contents made their way into the Indian media and Parliament that the agencies decided to summon the suspects or witnesses.
It is evident that all such scandals remain unresolved, only to be later used by parties to their advantage during and after elections. Undoubtedly, the chopper scam is one of the dirtiest defence deals in recent times. The UPA government signed it under pressure from lobbyists. It was cancelled after the media exposed the role of powerful middlemen. The Italian court has concluded beyond doubt that dirty dealings dominated the sign off. But in India, the issue has turned into a fight between the ruling BJP and the Congress. The government is copiously quoting from the verdict to expose the role of Congress leaders in helping middlemen make money. The party is hitting back for the delay in nabbing the real perpetrators. Ironically, the papers were signed during the UPA regime, though the process to acquire the helicopters began after NDA came to power. In the absence of any visible and credible action against the Indian suspects, the Congress has decided to brazen it out. It has adopted a similar approach, as the Bofors strategy. Since NDA I failed to prosecute any of the suspects during its six-year rule, the Congress has given itself a clean chit. It has challenged the BJP to prove any of the allegations against it or its leaders. Mysteriously, some of the accused were acquitted because investigative agencies failed to produce any original document in court. Curiously, successive Central governments led by either party never approached the Supreme Court to appeal against the lower court orders. Even in L’affaire AgustaWestland, the Congress is trying to turn the tables on its foe. It asked the NDA to explain the reason for the defence ministry’s U-turn over banning Finmeccanica in August 2014, and then diluting the decision a few weeks later.
The moral of the current political slugfest is that parties are still in an election mode. Both the text and subtext of the debate are written using negative adjectives. By spotlighting the past sins of the Congress, the ruling dispensation is giving a fresh lease of life to the demoralised and decimated party. Voters had peremptorily shrunk its tally in the Lok Sabha to just 44—the lowest since Independence. The BJP must keep in mind that double jeopardy prevents anyone from being punished twice for the same crime. Indira Gandhi was ejected by voters for imposing the Emergency. But she was back in 30 months because the ruling Janata Party was obsessed with sending her to prison instead of providing a better government. But the Modi government is not Morarji Desai’s. It has provided a corruption-free system. It has ensured economic stability and decisive leadership. Despite a few flip-flops on Pakistan, India is considered a prominent player in international diplomacy. It has become a superbly attractive and glamorous destination for foreign investors. Instead of projecting its achievements to put opponents on the back foot, NDA strategists have chosen the path of aggressive confrontation. They are convinced that revealing the ugly past of its enemies will endow it with a brighter future. But it shouldn’t forget that the mandate the people gave it, is not to harp on murky antecedents but to cleanse politics and provide a clean and productive present and future.
The moral of the current political slugfest is that parties are still in election mode. By spotlighting past sins of the Congress, ruling BJP is undermining its own achievements and giving a fresh lease of life to the decimated party