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Monday, November 22, 2010

PM failed to curb coalition adharma

By Swapan Dasgupta

During World War II, many people, otherwise good, decent family men, sometimes highly educated and with cultural accomplishments, unleashed unspeakable horrors on fellow humans in the name of Fuhrer, Emperor and Fatherland.

After the War, the victorious Allies set up War Crimes Tribunals to bring the leaders of a defeated Germany and Japan to justice. A recurrent feature of the trials, which covered people ranging from Field Marshals and apparatchiks to commandants of concentration camps and industrialists who benefited from the use of forced labour, was the refrain of many of the accused: "we merely followed orders".

The argument that being a loyal, disciplined soldier of the state or party exonerates individuals from criminal culpability was rejected by the Tribunals on the strength of the Nuremberg Principle: "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."

Over the past fortnight, the 2G Telecom scandal has agitated public opinion, disrupted Parliament and led to the resignation of DMK's A.Raja from the Cabinet. A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General has suggested that a flawed policy was responsible for the national exchequer being short-changed by a whopping Rs 1.7 lakh crore. In a rare move, the Supreme Court has asked the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to explain why he sat over a citizen's request for permission to prosecute Raja. Finally, a media revelation has suggested that PM, far from being a blind Dhritarashtra, actually sanctioned the derailment of the common good. Unless the Government is able to placate a belligerent Opposition with either tokenism or some credible answers to the grave charges, India may witness a full blown political crisis that won't leave the PM unaffected.

In rebutting his detractors, Raja appears to have fallen back on the Nuremberg Defence. He has claimed that he was acting within policy guidelines and that the PM was in the know. Ironically, Raja's claim has been bolstered by the disclosure of a letter of February 28, 2006 by Dayanidhi Maran—the DMK representative who was his predecessor as Telecom Minister—that suggests two things. First, that Raja's actions stemmed from a path that had been determined by the DMK leadership. Raja, it would seem, merely "followed orders". Secondly, that the 'DMK Telecom policy' was known to the PM who did the groundwork by insulating 2G pricing from the Group of Ministers.

The DMK, it would be fair to say, is highly placed in the index of venality. Shaped by the pulls and pressures of the large Karunanidhi clan, its stand on national issues have often been guided by the what's-in-it-for-us question. Raja, wasn't confronted with "moral choices". He, presumably, "followed orders" and turned the spirit of John F. Kennedy's on its head: 'Ask not what you can do for your country; ask what the country can do for you.'

But what about the PM, entrusted by the Constitution to uphold the national interest? There were times when Singh had to let expediency prevail—such as in the distribution of ministerial portfolios and in outsourcing the management of MPs to Amar Singh during the Trust Vote of 2008. But how could he knowingly look the other way while a Cabinet Minister choked a public revenue stream? Why did he allow the CBI to underperform in its inquiries and be censured by the Supreme Court? Did his 'coalition dharma' include the right to insulate a political party from collective Cabinet responsibility? Singh wasn't just guilty of omission; he is on the verge of being accused of complicity.

It is well worth applying the Nuremberg Principles to the PM, even though the issue is fiscal impropriety and not murder. Was the PM "following orders"? This is a strange question to ask. People take orders from the PM and not the other way round, unless there is an extra-Constitutional force at work. Was there? If so, the country is entitled to know.

Moreover, was a "moral choice" available to the PM? Was he in a position to say No to Raja and define the limits of the DMK's arbitrariness? The answers are self-evident.

The country views Singh as a man of integrity and erudition. Left to himself, he would have handled 2G very differently. Yet, despite being the only man who had the power and opportunity to right the wrongs, he abdicated responsibility. His moral failing lay in allowing coalition dharma to become coalition adharma. Judged by the Nuremberg Principles, Singh is guiltier than Raja.

Sunday Times of India, November 21, 2010


Anonymous said...

Interesting that even you are not writing about involvement of journalists. There is a tape circulating on net about Nira radia, Barkha, singhvi, tata etc. I would have believed Barkha's excuse if the whole thing was not censored by media, and politicians. Sad to know that even eminent persons like you are not voicing your opinion against this blackout of news in Indian media.

Anonymous said...

Dear Swapanda,

I can't understand why the BJP high command and RSS, led by two supremely corrupt and shady swayamsevaks called Suresh Joshi and Suresh Soni are shielding crooks like Yeddy, KS Eshwarappa, R. Ashok, Katta Subramanya Naidu, Jagadish Shettar, Shobha Karandlaje, Janardhan Reddy, Renukacharya, B. Sriramulu, Sommanna, Umesh Katti and every single member of the current cabinet in Karnataka!

Suresh Joshi and Suresh Soni have made crores in the last two years and we have a situation in Bangalore and Mangalore where low-level RSS guys have suddenly acquired Scorpios and Toyota SUVs.

How can we corner the Congress if the RSS itself has stooped to such low levels? This is disgusting. Only God can help India now.


aw said...

Hi Swapan,

Absolutely correct. Newspapers such as IE have taken to berating Raja/DMK. My view was that they may be guilty but what was MMS doing. "I was watching but I did not touch" cannot be a defence of a man who claims to moral high ground.

Even now instead of feeling ashamed and running ahead of the public opinion Congress is trying to argue about JPC/PAC. As if that is all this is about.

Instead of declaring how they are going to recover the lost revenue and determine punishment for the guilty we have SoniaG dispense pearls of wisdom about greed.

MMS claim to fame at least on behalf of his supporters is that he got rid of the license raj. If this is not it what is?


satyam said...

good one....
finally someone had the guts to be point blank...i think not only the pm but also the party HIGH COMMAND IS COMPLICIT...just wished you had been a bit more upfront... u know where the power lies in case of UPA....

Anonymous said...

This is the best line I heard recently on DMK-Congress alliance.
Kanimozhi to Tehelka:
'As of now, we are coalition partners and it is a strong alliance.'
Does DMA or Congress have a sense of irony?

Anonymous said...

Swapanda. Though this might not be the right forum for this comment but I did not find another place to post this. Why is the glorified liberal Indian media not taking serious cognizance of two very prominent journalists playing the role of broker in bringing Spectrum King into the Cabinet in 2009 and also in taking sides in the Ambani battle to have favorable interviews to one side.This is a taint on the Indian media and I hope enough is done to get rid of the taint and the people causing this, although i can understand all the efforts being made by these journalists and their media outlets to block this story being aired on other news channels and newspapers.

Anonymous said...

No comments on Yeddyurappa !!!!

Anonymous said...

"The country views Singh as a man of integrity and erudition.".

Enough of this Swapan. This man is morally corrupt as VP Singh. You blame 2G scam mainly because of coalition politics. What about CWG & other scams wherein no coalition partner was involved?

Anonymous said...

BJP's insistence on JPC is intriguing. Ultimately prosecution in the court will settle Raja's fate. Enough material to do so. Any substantive inquiry can be ensured only when CBI acts under SC, again JPC useless. JPC can't quash allocations either, again that'll be done by court. Anyway this issue will be alive for long time.

Why not use the forum of parliament to mount a coherent attack instead of wasting time in sloganeering and shouting?

Oldtimer said...


You know that Radia tapes would have spelt the end of career for a 'lesser' journalist than Barkha Dutt or Vir Sanghvi. A 'lesser' media outfit than NDTV would have been busted for good. But NDTV does not merely control the medium, it IS the medium. Its strategy for tiding over the crisis is obvious: pretend that nothing has happened and rely on the power of repeated, winningly-positioned on-screen presence of the tainted journo to turn around public opinion. It helps also that public memory is fickle and short.

So along the way, you'll be in their studios again, chatting with Ms Dutt, and I can imagine what a shot in the arm for them your presence will be. Everybody knows your sympathies lie with the BJP, but everybody also knows your analysis is generally informed by a cold and clinical objectivity. In short, you carry credibility Left, Right and Center; the credibility that a journalist lacking exactly in that department can put to good use.

I'm not suggesting that you should not appear on NDTV. I'm expecting that, before you do so, you'll state your opinion of barkhagate without favor or inhibition. I'm interested in seeing what sort of moral choice you will exercise.

Anil said...

It is clear that UPA Govt cannot accept demands for a JPC because it would expose its misdeeds and bring the government down..but its inevitable and only a matter of time.The parties aligned with UPA now must do some soul searching and weigh their political costs esp Mamta Banerjee in continuing their support to the Manmohan govt.You