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Between the line

Fresh polls only answer
Feb 20, 2013

Everything under the Congress-led coalition at the Centre is going helter-skelter. Hardly does the bad smell of a scam settle down when another one crops up to foul the atmosphere. No government since independence has been so badly battered and shattered as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s has been. The Prime Minister himself exonerated the then Communications Minister, A Raja, now languishing in jail and facing 22 cases where the Prime Minister did not find even one. Yet, he is an honourable man, with not a spec of suspicion about his integrity.

Similar are the credentials of Defence Minister A.K. Anthony under whose charge the helicopter purchase deal was finalised with the reported kickbacks of roughly Rs. 34,000 crore, the highest ever for a single contract. Yet, the fact remains that Anthony rubbished the kickbacks story which appeared some 11 months ago. The Prime Minister, after a long silence, has said that the government has “nothing to hide” and it is willing for a debate in parliament.

Thanks for small mercies. A debate is a crisscross of ideas and finer points. There is no accountability and no investigation. How does one find out who are the real culprits or recipients of the bribe? We know that the kickbacks were received. We also know who gave them. But we do not know who in India got them when the persons named as recipients deny having got the kickbacks.

The Bofors gun scandal reads more or less the same way. A joint parliamentary committee (JPC) was also appointed. Till today there is no official confirmation of who got the kickbacks and how much. Once again we knew who gave it, but the years of efforts did not pinpoint the parties that received the money.

As for the string of scandals in the Congress-led government, you cannot blame either Manmohan Singh or Anthony personally. It is even unthinkable because of their clean records in life. Then you come to infer that they did not know. But how can you say that when the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is the place where the buck stops? The scams continued to get headlines for months and there is also evidence that the sanctions were given. That the PMO knew about them but the Prime Minister did not is a proposition hard to digest when the transactions were going on.

It is probable, if not possible, that such a situation did obtain and that neither Manmohan Singh nor Anthony knew what was happening under their nose. But then you expect some heads to roll when the scams come to light and particularly when you can spot out the officials in the loop. Why none has been punished till today and why nothing concrete has emerged after the investigations?

Except the detention of a few bureaucrats and a couple of ministers, the business is as usual. It is evident that someone is protecting them. And it is no use making the familiar arguments after the horse had bolted. In fact, the whole matter boils down to a cover up, which the government has done, though not properly, because some nosey media person has brought the house down.

The government does not seem to be even sorry for what has happened to revive faith in governance. Some ministers or a team of them tries to explain things “in proper perspective.” Yet what the Manmohan Singh government does not realise is the yawning trust deficit: none of its claim is accepted, none of its explanation is considered credible and none of its action is taken seriously.  It is a pity that the government is suspect in the eyes of the public as if ministers have been caught with their hands in the till. Hardly any minister is regarded as honest. It is such a loss of faith that every segment of administration has a question mark against it.

Institutions like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) stand devalued. It is a public secret that the probe that it conducts is an eye wash. Several former directors of the CBI have written articles and books to show how they were given instructions from above to decide a case in a particular way. When the CBI remains a department of the government, doubts about its functioning cannot be brushed aside.

Similarly, the other enforcement authorities of the government are any better. If their probes were to be monitored by the  Supreme Court, then the general impression of interference by the government would go. People are awaiting whether the CBI inquiry into the helicopters deal would be supervised by the Supreme Court or not.

No doubt, the effect of corruption on economy is there for all to see. Crores and crores of rupees have been siphoned off. The estimate, though challenged by the Planning Commission,  of the Central Statistics Organisations is that the growth rate has fallen from 9 per cent to five per cent. And soon we may be nearing the Hindu growth rate, as my late economist friend Raj Krishna put it, the growth of 3.5 per cent a year. Therefore, the forthcoming Union budget does not evoke much hope. If it is not the old wine in new bottles, it would be the new wine in old bottles. That makes no difference.

True, the environment in attitudes is unfavourable. This holds good for the entire South Asia. In the countryside, home of our most population, a minority of prosperous farmers is swamped by growing number of marginal cultivators and landless labourers who are increasing by the pattern of development. This has been the scene for a long time. The situation has worsened because of the greed of politicians and bureaucrats who have joined hands to loot the country.

Not that the new elections are sure to bring about a change. But the polls may throw up new representatives and probably change the party in power to herald a new beginning. The best course for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be to go to Rashtrapati Bhavan and submit his government’s resignation to pave the way for fresh elections. EOM
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