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Friday, October 26, 2012

BLACK SHEEP IN ALL PARTIES - For the people, Vadra and Gadkari symbolize the political class

By Swapan Dasgupta

In this exhilarating season of allegations and counter-allegations against public figures and their relatives, there have also been a plethora of silly statements that have helped lighten the overall mood of disgust, despondency and cynicism. Union Minister Beni Prasad Varma has led the pack with his assertion that the charges against his colleague Salman Khurshid are ridiculous because the alleged misuse of some Rs 74 lakh of public is a piffling amount. A disoriented Virbhadra Singh added to the mirth by threatening to break the cameras of journalists who dared ask him about the remarkable coincidence of alleged payments to one ‘VBS’ by a corporate and his sudden fascination for high-value insurance policies. And even the otherwise suave, Oxford-educated Khurshid provided entertainment with his filmi-style dialogue about replacing ink with blood.

The farcical element apart, there are two statements that stand out, not least because they have been made by people who are at the very top of the political pyramid. The first was by Congress President Sonia Gandhi on October 5, a few hours after Arvind Kejriwal charged her son-in-law Robert Vadra of leveraging his privileged position to make windfall gains in the real estate business. Vadra, she claimed “is a businessman”, adding that he had not misused the name of the Gandhi family.

The second statement was by Bharatiya Janata Party leader and National Democratic Alliance chairman L.K. Advani on October 25. This came a day after the media carried detailed reports of the shell companies run from apparently fictitious addresses that had invested in the Purti group of companies run by BJP president Nitin Gadkari. To those familiar with business practices, the implication was that a significant portion of Gadkari’s businesses were funded through the black economy. This in turn raised questions about Gadkari’s role in mobilising this funding. Was this, it was asked, another example of ‘political equity’?

In his defence of his party president, Advani first claimed, quite predictably, that the BJP was victim of a Congress-sponsored conspiracy “to paint the entire political class with the same brush to minimise…and neutralise the unprecedented charges against the ruling UPA.” However, this was coupled with a curious assertion: that the allegations were about standards of business and not misuse of power or corruption.

There is a similarity between Advani’s expression of solidarity with Gadkari and Sonia’s defence of her daughter’s husband: both implied that sharp practices were part and parcel of business, and that somehow was a far lesser offence from unethical politics. In other words, if it could be demonstrated conclusively that Vadra’s cosy relationship with DLF and his ability to fast-track land sales in Haryana were unrelated to his political clout, the Congress would have nothing to answer. Likewise, by Advani’s logic, there was a Great Wall dividing Gadkari the BJP President and Gadkari the entrepreneur. If Advani is to be believed, for the allegations to stick, the ‘conspirators’ would have to demonstrate that Gadkari’s businesses grew and prospered owing to benefits he accrued as a politician.

It is understandable that Sonia would want to detach Vadra’s reputation as a flashy businessman with an astonishing sense of entitlement from the political image built up by her family over decades. At the same time, she was also fully aware that the assault on the tactless Vadra was a proxy attack on the entire structure of dynastic politics that has become the mainstay of the Congress. It is unlikely that she was unaware that the mere mention of Vadra opened many doors and fast-tracked transactions (including land transfers at prices below the circle rate) that would have, in the normal course, taken an inordinately long time to complete.

Sonia’s fire-fighting strategy was based on two calculations. First, it was absolutely imperative to prevent an official probe by the Department of Company Affairs and other agencies into Vadra’s businesses. Fortunately for her, both Veerappa Moilly and Finance Minister P.Chidambaram obliged with suo moto certificates of innocence to Vadra. The peremptory midnight transfer of IAS officer Ashok Khemka from a crucial land registration department in Haryana served as a warning to other conscience-stricken bureaucrats to come to the aid of the dynasty or face the consequences.

Secondly, the Congress calculated, perhaps quite cynically, that public memory is short and that unless Vadra himself did something silly like display his intellectual prowess on Facebook yet again, the issue would subside before the General Election. The Congress is also anxious to combine its faith in public forgetfulness with moral equivalence—the 21st century version of Indira Gandhi’s infamous assertion that corruption is an “international phenomenon”. In this endeavour, the BJP’s embarrassment over Gadkari has come as a bonanza.

In defending its President, the BJP appears to have got itself into an almighty jam. The initial revelations of Gadkari’s alleged corruption by Arvind Kejriwal in his much-publicised press conference last week left most people underwhelmed and there was a basis for Arun Jaitley to claim that India Against Corruption was making a mountain out of a molehill. Yet, by the time the time the media, taking its cue from Kejriwal, conducted its own investigations into the Purti group, the charges could no longer be dismissed as insignificant. Prima facie, Gadkari certainly had a case to answer.

If the logic of Advani’s contrived distinction between business and politics had indeed been pursued, the BJP should have left the defence of Gadkari to the man himself. Since the business dealings of Gadkari were undertaken independent of his party, there was no earthly reason why Sushma Swaraj and Jaitley should have appeared before the cameras to defend him. Most surprising of all was Advani’s intervention on behalf of Gadkari the politician. Popular memory may well be short but BJP workers at least may not have forgotten that last year Advani expended a huge amount of the party’s resources organising a nationwide yatra against corruption and black money. At that time Advani did not care to make a distinction between unethical business practices and corrupt politics. To him, at that time, both fed on each other. Why should the ground rules be changed for Gadkari?

This is a question that must also be addressed to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh whose chief Mohan Bhagwat devoted a large part of his annual Vijaydashami address to attacking corruption. The RSS has long felt that its swayamsevaks had imbibed the necessary samskaras to become good citizens and emerge as leaders of a resurgent India. This is the reason why it has preferred the leadership of the BJP to vest with those who have a strong background of involvement with the Sangh. Gadkari was picked up from provincial politics and thrust into the national stage because it was felt that he had the right values and priorities. Now this belief has been called into question. Should the RSS go into denial and fall back on an individual’s long-standing loyalty to an organisation? Or should it be worried that the presence of Gadkari at the helm of the BJP will give a handle to the Congress and allow it to shift the agenda away from corruption and thereby sap the nation’s inner vitality?

Kejriwal and his associates may not get far in electoral politics but their contention that the entire political class has become venal has struck a chord. For the BJP, the political cost of Gadkari and Vadra being put on par will be more damaging than for the Congress.

The Telegraph, October 26, 2012


Anonymous said...

Elections in India means a bunch of idiots have finished their loot of the country and it is time of another bunch to take over and loot again. Equal opportunity you see! If we choose it could be the same bunch of idiots to continue and have a bonus for another term. Elections is complete waste of money and grave exploitation of the masses. The poor get affected the most as they are more keen to vote as they get a chance to realize at least one of their rights. No one elects a leader, as no one is capable to lead. They simply elect a rule to rule and loot the common people. No one man army of Anna or the likes can change anything in our nation unless we all denounce this complete system which is a big example of miss governance, exploitation and failure. Irony is that we still want to keep our eyes shut and get screwed endlessly by this useless, non deserving, non qualified criminal minded lot. What a pity and how helpless we are?

Brajanarayan Mohapatra said...

Discussing the problem of corruption in India will never end unless people learn that corruption in any form and shape is immoral and destroys the character of the person,family and society.The future loss far exceeds the immediate gain.This learning should start from home and school.Parents and elders in the family as well as teachers MUST be examples for the youngsters.About the role of the State zero tolerance should be the guiding principle,political favoritism must end including appeasement politics, which is again a corrupt political practice.One wrong can not be corrected by another wrong.So no reservation or preferential treatment to anybody in Government because that also breeds corruption.Ok,good luck India.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article Mr Swapan. The comment is also a hard hitting fact. The so called "mango people" of this country are just numbers along with the cattle of this country. Nothing more. Just run through your daily routine without complaining and become a part of this corrupt system and bear it with tears in the heart silently - then you are a true citizen of this country. Raise a voice you are a traitor. The biggest joke on the people of this country is perpetuated with the walls of the Parliament and State Assemblies. I do not think even God would like to save this country.

Manish Lotwala said...

Its so simple " Lands of Tigers is ruled by bunch of Donkeys" in other words it is better to understand "The punishment of staying away from politics is that you will be ruled by fools".....

नितीन निमकर said...

I am asking a question like Christ, only those who have not committed any sin should throw stones (at Gadakari). Can any Indian say that he never touched Black Money?

Due to the 65 years of Neharuvian socialist, leftist policies we have created ample opportunities to create black money. By one estimate 60% of our economy is in Black. It is bound to compete,cooperate with white economy. This is the reason why many people are saying that what Mr. Gadakari did are usual business practices. Now it is only a question whether Mr. Gadakari should have done that. But one should understand that he never thought that, one day he will be the Chief of BJP. He was doing his social business thing. The moment you do the business you are bound to get in touch with black money. That is not a secret in India.

Answer to this problem is more ideological. Are we ready for more reforms on the basis of true and liberal and open capitalism? Unfortunately the answer is no. Unless we change 65 years baggage of socialism from our adminstrative policies,politics,writings,culture, thought process, Theater and Media we cannot reform.

Whatever Manmohan Sing and Congress did in 1991 was due to the crisis. After initial phase of reforms he stopped due to Congress's internal pressure.

Sonia Gandhi is following the same 65 year old failed socialism fooling poor semi literate Indians. Even BJP is no clear on this. Till then we have to suffer with this plague.