Coalitions of corruption
The DMK’s A Raja’s belated exit from the Union Cabinet had me counting the number of Congressmen removed from positions of authority after the UPA captured power in 2004. A quick count subject to correction showed that half a dozen bigwigs have been forced into relative political wilderness.
The list includes Natwar Singh, Jagdish Tytler, Shashi Tharoor, Suresh Kalmadi and Vilasrao Deshmukh and Ashok Chavan, both former chief ministers of Maharashtra. Deshmukh was made accountable in the aftermath of Mumbai’s 26/11 when he accompanied a filmmaker to the devastated Taj hotel.
The six years of the A B Vajpayee regime were also not without their share of controversies and allegations of sleaze. While he himself showed the door to Buta Singh, then a Union minister, the veteran BJP leader was as helpless as Dr Manmohan Singh at times finds himself, in the face of the Tehelka scam, the Gujarat riots, the Shivani murder case and the petrol pump scam in which many Kargil martyrs were allegedly duped. In a way, it was the NDA’s version of the Adarsh housing fraud.
The Tehelka episode was about slush money in defence deals in response to which George Fernandes made a big show of accountability by announcing his resignation in a televised address. But he embarrassed Vajpayee deeply by gate crashing his way back into the Cabinet even before the Commission that probed the charges could finish its work.
The Shivani case had the late Pramod Mahajan at the receiving end and the Gujarat carnage—as is well known—prompted countless human rights/civil society outfits to ask whether it was spontaneous communal conflagration or a pogrom overseen by the Modi government and its backers in the Sangh.
Sticklers for propriety were most upset by the fact that Modi and Mahajan made no pretence of resigning, leave alone actually demitting office. A dramatic prime ministerial announcement was used to put a lid on the petrol pump scam.
Without meaning to argue that “two wrongs make a right” or that the UPA is a paragon of virtues, I cannot but help mentioning the BJP’s cavalier response to the un-edifying events in Karnataka where a mining mafia could humiliate a chief minister who’s now facing charges of land grab.
All this leads to one conclusion: political parties must sit down and draw up a code of conduct to check corruption in public life. Those accused of corruption while holding public office must immediately step down in the interest of a fair probe.
A minister, chief minister, prime minister or a judge or a bureaucrat shouldn’t just be fair. He must also come across as fair in popular perception.
The worst offenders in such matters have been the regional parties. Like the DMK that embarrassed Singh by delaying Raja’s exit, the Shiv Sena’s Bal Thackeray had slighted Vajpayee by asking him to sack Suresh Prabhu—a clean an efficient Shiv Sena minister who had fallen foul with his party boss.