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Between the line

The battle has just begun
Aug 15, 2012

Movements against corruption have been, of late, successful in India. They have brought the scourge of dishonesty before the public. That both movements, one led by Gandhian Anna Hazare and the other by yoga guru Baba Ramdev were non-violent is a tribute to those who guided the movements and the thousands of people who participated in them. But both have failed to move the government. In fact, the Manmohan Singh government has become more adamant, more intractable and involved in corruption which is seething the system.

The government’s attitude remains a mystery for me. It appears that the party has already come to infer that it is not going to return to power in the 2014 elections and, therefore, it is better for it not to react either way. This mulish stance may, however, cost the party dearly. The word has gone around that the Congress has much to hide. In fact, people have begun to link corruption with the party, like the Bofors gun scandal with late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the 1989 elections.

By disclosing the list of names the government has received from some foreign countries, it could have retrieved some ground. But if the allegation that some top Congress leaders figure in the lists is true, it is understandable why the government is hiding the names and dragging its feet on ever move to bring back the black money stashed abroad. It could have initiated action against bureaucrats, if not political leaders, to dispel the impression that the Congress was hand in glove with bureaucrats to get bribes on the purchases made abroad. But then the party probably fears that they might spill the beans.

It must be said to the credit of the opposition that it did articulate black money issue before parliament. In the Rajya Sabha one member quoted CBI director A.P. Singh, alleging that Rs 25 lakh crore worth Indian money was kept abroad. A serving CBI director making such a statement is an indication of the seriousness of the issue. Still, the government preferred uproar in parliament to the disclosure of black money stashed abroad.

It is more than a year now that the BJP members said in individual affidavits submitted to the Speaker in the Lok Sabha and the Chairman in the Rajua Sabha that they did not have any foreign account. Although pressed, the Congress members have not done so. It only confirms suspicion against its members that they do have something to hide. In fact, there should be a law for all the legislators, whether at the centre or in the states, to declare foreign accounts as they do in the case of assets in India.

However, a disturbing part of rallies, particularly of Baba Ramdev’s, is that they convert themselves into a mob, gathered at a particular place. The mob can be misused or it can run amuck on its own. President Pranab Mukherjee has rightly warned that institutions should not be weakened or bypassed. Indeed, a democratic system can be stretched up to a point, but not beyond the limit because the string that has bound the institutions together can snap. All political parties should see how the institutions can be strengthened because they have been messed up since Mrs Indira Gandhi came to power.

The still more disturbing part is the presence of General V.K. Singh, who was chief of the army staff till a few weeks ago, first at Anna’s rally and then at Baba Ramdev’s. How could the retired army chief take part in politics and say at the rallies that they would tell the people how to cast their vote? It means that he had political ambitions when he commanded the armed forces, which are apolitical, for two years. His has been the first endeavour since independence to politicize the army. Thank god, his term did not get extended although he used the pretext of wrong birth date to stay on for one more year.

The reaction can be what the government seems to have adopted is to ignore him. Yet this does not convey the nation’s concern which was that of bewilderment and confusion. The other reaction can be to see that no Bonapartisim takes birth in India. The latter would be the correct reaction. The officials from all the three services should be barred from taking part in politics for five years after retirement. By that time the hallo around them because of the weapons they carry would fade away. This type of restrictions should also cover government servants on the civil side.

Yet the sad part of V.K. Singh’s episode is that he has not realized the wrong which he has done to the institution he has served. He does not seem to possess the sensitivity which would guide him to differentiate between wrong and right, moral and immoral. An army chief occupies a big position in India or, for that matter, any country. The Manmohan Singh government did not realize that such persons, although appointed on the basis of seniority, should not be given a position which, if misused, can wreck the entire polity.

President Truman is remembered for his bold decision to dismiss General McArthur after he won the Second World War against Japan. Truman saw in McArthur the signs of Bonapartism which no democratic state could tolerate. V.K. Singh is, no doubt, a history now. But imagine what he could have done with his eyes fixed on politics.

Both Anna and Baba Ramdev cannot be absolved of the blame of parading a former chief of army staff from their platform. Again, their move had no thinking behind, nor any regard for the norms of democracy. What kind of setup they propose to place before the nation, already groaning for democratic space, if an army chief is called upon to tell the people to which candidate they should vote?

Baba Ramdev was wrong in singling out the Congress. In this bath all are naked. There are serious allegations against the political parties like the the BJP, Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samajwadi Party. Even the Baba himself is said to not above board. True, some of his trusts under the scanner. Yet there is no mention of the property which a pickle dealer had purchased and given to the Baba. All those who want equity should ensure that their own house is in order. The battle has just begun. EOM
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