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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 48, November 20, 2010

PM Cannot Remain A Mute Spectator

Wednesday 24 November 2010, by Analyst


Indian politics has a Mahabharata like nature to it. A casual observation can reveal all the great elements of drama, like the seven sins, classic fight of the good versus evil, and the climax. Electoral democracy tries to sabotage the timing of the climax by ensuring timely elections for those in power, but nevertheless sometimes the characters of this massive ongoing epic catalyse sudden and unexpected developments that can give as much thrill as the climax of a drama. Like the original epic, this democracy too has many characters but no one is as intriguing as Dr Subramanian Swamy. Depending on your perspective, you can declare Dr Swamy a political opportunist, an intellectual, a cantankerous friend who is better as an enemy, a threat to national sanity or a preserver of national insanity. However, no one can deny the importance of Dr Subramanian Swamy.

It was in his company that you can hear all the outrageous stories.
Sometimes these stories are so outlandish and bizarre that you can easily be forgiven for disbelieving them. But Dr Swamy is rooted in the epic of India. When he started sharing with friends and colleagues the dimension of the 2G spectrum, many did not believe. After all, he has a reputation for telling stories, they said. Dr Swamy did not get bogged down by criticism. The result is before everyone today.

It seems, by all means, that A.Raja, the disgraced former Telecom Minister of UPA-II, allowed his corporate friends the freedom and access to dip their hands in the exchequer by giving away licence for 2G spectrum at throwaway price. Though the BJP has taken the high moral ground by demanding a JPC in Parliament, it simply did not do the hard work to expose this humongous case of public-private partnership in corruption. Had it not been the impulsive and sometimes eccentric temperament of Dr Subraamanian Swamy, this corruption would not have come up before the people of India.

Having highlighted the collusion between A. Raja and his big corporate friends, the BJP thought it would score high moral points. But then it soon became clear that the sum of Rs 1,70,000 crores apparently is the tip of the iceberg. Seemingly, this unhealthy practice goes back to 1999 when the New Telecom Policy (NTP) was framed under the NDA Government of Atal Behari Vajpayee. The former Telecom Ministers of the NDA era should also therefore be consulted and investigated depending upon their understanding and complicity in the evolving affairs of the Telecom Ministry.

The scandal has exposed a soft core of the Indian state where all its power, glory, and projections for the future fall flat. For almost twenty years, India has been this haven for market economy and the underlying premise is that the corporate should never be asked to explain. But then what is the basis of corporate success? Corporate success should flow from entrepreneurship and hard work and not from the corrupt public-private partnership to dip into the treasury of the state that is supposed to safely maintain the taxpayers’ money. It seems A. Raja decided to give parts of that treasury to his friends. These corporate friends could easily dip into the biggest conceivable venture capital lying around. Unprotected.

The entire saga has exposed, one more time, the empty core of India’s political elite. L.K. Advani, who cast aspersions on the otherwise unblemished character of the Prime Minister, is either suffering from an onset of foregetfulness or is at his best political dramabaazi. How can be forget that the entire telecom policy was framed under NDA rule? That apart, what about the great exploits of the emotionally turbulent and unstable Yeddyurappa clan in Karnataka which is adding to the cause of concern for the BJP? Now we are being told that in case Yeddyurappa is forced to resign by the party, then his place will be taken by the Reddy brothers who are synonymous with rapacious exploitation of both mother nature and her less privileged children in the quarries of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

It seems the Right and Centre of Indian politics have been so deeply mired in corruption for such a long time that it is the natural order of the day. As usual, the Left is busy playing an angelic role in Parliament. Much appreciated indeed is their voice of sanity. While Dr Subramanian Swamy has made the right kind of noise, it is also true that MPs, mainly of the Left parties, have often brought serious breach of financial propriety to the PM’s office. One such Left MP, who is known to shoot letters to the PM, was indeed reprimanded for writing to the PM too ofen. One of his complaints was against a particular telecom firm that, he said, was soon turning into a threat to national interest and security.

While A. Raja is busy showing his credentials as a Dalit leader who is being victimised, it is another Dalit and also another Raja, the very sound D. Raja of the CPI, who has shone bright on this occasion. A. Raja should have learnt something from D. Raja especially since his office used to be a stone’s throw away from the Spartan quarters of D. Raja at the Constitution Club flats for the MPs.

This particular episode does put a difficult question that is eternal in the Indian epic. Like Dhritrashtra who did not know how to deal with his errant and debouched son as he was blinded by his own issues, Dr Manmohan Singh is caught in a vortex. If he acts, he is bound to unleash a political storm. If he does not, his entire legacy will be besmirched by allegations of positive nodding to corruption when the corporate sharks and corrupt Rajas gnawed away at India’s prosperity. He has to speak up in response to the directives from the Supreme Court which has instructed the PM to answer each and every query of Dr Swamy with clarity and honesty. Dr Swamy, despite his eccentricities and penchant to tell outlandish stories, has done a singular service to India. But this has also highlighted the problems of being Dr Swamy. Though currently a member of the Hindu Right because of his association with the VHP and other Sangh outfits, Dr Swamy has ended up embarrassing the BJP as well as its telecom-related decisions during the NDA era; these also look set to be investigated in case a JPC is formed in Parliament.

It, however, is for Dr Manmohan Singh to save his name. For quite sometime it has been said that Dr Singh has been in a legacy mode. He has already given India the thrust in the energy arena and in international diplomacy by getting the superpower to agree to India’s claim to UN Security Council’s permanent membership. All his hard work stands to get tainted if he does not stand up and address the nation’s faltering confidence on his governmet’s ability to safeguard their financial resources. After all, this government, like a every elected government in India, is expected to safely maintain the public money as a deposit of public trust. It is out of this trust that the legitimacy of the state is born. If this basic premise is allowed to be molested with impunity the legitimacy of the state will be eroded. At this age when too many violent and non-violent actors challenge the legitimacy of the state, Dr Singh needs to act to bolster both his image, his government’s image and the self-image of every Indian which has taken a beating because of their tolerance of rampant public-private partnership of corruption. The time to act is now, Dr Singh.

The entire episode would hopefully open the people’s eyes to the enormity of the crisis.

November 18 Analyst

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