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Mainstream, VOL L, No 25, June 9, 2012

Uphold JPC’s Credibility

Tuesday 12 June 2012, by Nikhil Chakravartty


The Joint Parliamentary Committee probing into the securities seam has inevitably to extend its protracted labours. The star character in the securities scandal, Harshad Mehta, having gone back on his previous position and publicly levelled a serious allegation of having paid the Prime Minister Rs 1 crore and have secured benefits in consequence, there was no escape for the JPC from brushing aside this latest development.

What has been entrusted to the JPC by Parliament is an assignment without precedence. No parliamentary Committee since indepen-dence has been entrusted with such an awesome responsibility. The biggest scandal in the stock exchange has shaken the confidence of the country because through speculation and official connivance, reckless speculators have swindled thousands of innocent people apart from the government having to incur a heavy loss, which is estimated at Rs 5000 crores by cautious cal-culations. It was, therefore, urgently necessary that this shocking seam should be thoroughly probed so that the confidence in the country’s banking and financial system is restored both at home and abroad.
There was thus no question of the sordid case being probed in haste or in a cavalier fashion. That is precisely what the JPC has taken care not to do so far. Judging by the draft report prepared by a sub-committee of the JPC in which different political parties have been adequately represented, one may venture to say that the JPC has tried to place before the country not only the magnitude of the scandal but has sought to identify the weaknesses of the system as also the subjective responsibility of individuals holding high offices in the system. It is in this context that the Finance Minister’s responsibility in underplaying the scandal at the beginning has become the subject of exciting debate in the public. The provocation for such a controversy has been provided by the Finance Minister himself who has in an extraordinary public statement tried to pre-empt the findings of the Parliamentary Committee and attempted to pass the buck, seeking to find alibis for his dereliction of duty on this score.

It needs to be noted here that the Finance Ministry has from the very beginning done its best to undermine the standing of the JPC, as when it was found to have sought to brief its members selectively, providing answers and excuses for the likely questions to be raised in connection with the scam. When this was detected, the Finance Ministry including Dr Manmohan Singh himself tried to beat a hasty retreat. Later on, when he was confronted with his own remarks pooh-poohing the gravity of the scam when the stock exchange has already been overheated, he made heroic efforts to show that as far he personally was concerned, he had been all the time issuing orders to different officials to be vigilant, thereby shirking his substantive responsibility as the Finance Minister entrusted with the custody of the nation’s finance. Any honest person holding such an important assignment would have him-self come forward owning up his responsibility for the mismanagement so blatantly shown up on the part of his Ministry. One expects such trotting of lame excuses from third-class politicians and not from a senior Cabinet Minister of a great republic such as ours.

Worse still has been the latest disclosure by a senior officer of the Central Bureau of Direct Taxes that the Finance Ministry bigwigs including the Minister himself displayed reluctance, if not displeasure, at any move for a thorough search of Harshad Mehta’s premises. Side by side there has so far been very little investigation by the CBI into the affairs of other characters in the scandal. In fact, the manner in which CBI Deputy Director Madhavan was dissuaded from following up the track of Harshad Mehta’s foreign accounts which might have led to con-clusive evidence of his close nexus with corrupt politicians in high places betrays the magnitude of difficulties that the JPC has to encounter.

It is reported that some of the Congress members of the JPC are getting impatient with the Committee’s proceedings. It is understand-able that they should be fighting shy of the Committee undertaking a thorough probe into Harshad Mehta’s allegations against the Prime Minister. By normal standards, they should be the one who should have demanded a thorough probe into Harshad Mehta’s allegations so that he could be shown up as an unscrupulous liar, falsely implicating the Prime Minister on the charge of having taken a handsome bribe. But the visible annoyance on the part of some of the Congress members of the JPC at any such thorough probe actually amounts to doing a disservice to the Prime Minister, because any half-heartedness in dealing with Harshad Mehta would actually boomerang for the ruling Congress party as it would generate the misgivings that there may perhaps be something for the Prime Minister’s side to hide.

The JPC today is placed by a strange set of circumstances in a position from where it can make or mar the entire parliamentary system in the eyes of the public. It is important to realise that the public is by no means gullible in today’s world, and its capacity for discernment can be underplayed only at the cost of those short-sighted enough to try to mislead it. It would be the height of folly on the part of the Congress party to smear the JPC or block or filibuster its proceedings. They should realise that by setting up the JPC, the Narasimha Rao Government has contributed considerably towards its own credibility as well.

It is understandable that the Congress party is put in a serious predicament. Minister after Minister are put on the mat, and the prestige of the government has touched an all-time low. What the JPC has achieved so far is to retain the confidence of the public by working steadfastly under the wise guidance of its Chairman. Ram Niwar Mirdha has shown that he is serious and utterly committed to enhance the confidence of the people in the affairs of Parliament. He is certainly a personality of a totally different species from Shankaranand under whose chairmanship the JPC on the Bofors case was reduced to a shame. Perhaps the Congress members who have started maligning the JPC of conducting itself as a Star Chamber expected it to function as the cosy bedchamber that the JPC on Bofors probe turned out to be for the Congress bosses under Shankaranand’s guidance.

Times have changed, but some people are congenitally incapable of realising that. It is only by upholding the credibility of the JPC can the faith of the public in the parliamentary system still be saved. There must be no undermining of the JPC from within the Committee itself.

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