`We shall overcome’



Someone asked me the other day: do you think any action will be initiated against the ministers named in the land scam in Maharashtra by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG)?

At that point of time the report was merely in the nature of a `leak’ and not yet tabled in the Maharashtra legislature. Already some of the bureaucrats mentioned in the `leaks’ had vehemently denied their involvement in any land/property scam and those airing those leaks were quickly apologising and withdrawing those claims.

When the report was finally laid on the table, it turned out that no names were mentioned – except of the trusts run by these ministers (though some of these are not directly in their control, many of the trustees on those bodies are close relatives of the men in power). Then two ministers – Narayan Rane of the Congress and Chhagan Bhujbal of the NCP – went combative, setting about to prove how they had not broken any rules and how various departments had given hem clearances in full accordance with the law. There was no case against them, they said. They went unchallenged.

But to answer that friend’s question, even before the report became public, I had told her that if both the allies in government set about taking action against those said to be named in the CAG report, the state would be left with no ministers at all because there are no understudies to those currently in government and neither party can escape the responsibility for bending the rules.

What the leaks did not foretell was that the CAG also roundly indicted Sharad Pawar’s pet project – Lavasa city — for violating rules. That project has nothing to do with public interest, unlike the claims of those in government, it said. It is all about public gratification, it roundly stated.

When the leaks happened, we believed the source of the leaks had been Pawar’s nephew, Ajit, the state’s deputy chief minister, who is out to finish all rivals who might lay claim to the job of chief minister in the future – a dream he cannot realise without ending the domination of these stalwarts. But, after the naming of Lavasa by the CAG, I instinctively knew no action would be taken and the report would be talked of no more because Pawar cannot afford to have attention focused on his dream city and create more stumbling blocks in the way of its completion.

Now, whatever might be the culpability of those named (or, more correctly, not) in the report, I could sympathise with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan when he told the assembly that unsubstantiated reports (in this case naming people who were not rally, er, `named’ by CAG) and the mob mentality in the media these days goes about destroying reputations and careers and by the time the truth emerges, it is often too late for any resurrections.

This is particularly rue of the Adarsh scam. The interim report of the judicial committee set up to probe ownership of the land clearly states that the Army and the Navy absolutely failed to prove that the plot belonged to them. On the other hand, papers clearly indicate that the land is the property of the state government and was never allotted to Kargil widows. Hence, the government was well within its rights to put the land to any kind of use they might have wished.

While that has come as vindication to Vilasrao Deshmukh who started the clearances for the project and his successor, Sushil Kumar Shinde, who unambiguously stated in Court that he had only followed his predecessor’s footsteps, that particular misconception has, of course, damaged and, perhaps, destroyed then presiding chief minister Ashok Chavan’s career — or at least marred it forever. Ashok Chavan was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time – he was merely revenue minister when flats in the Adarsh society were allotted to his mother-in-law and sister-in-law. The greater offence was to deny that these two ladies were his `family’. “Family only means wife and children,’’ he had said then, adding insult to his own injury – who would have thought that a chief minister of any state would be so foolish as to think he could fool the people through a dumb statement like that which does not even amount to sophistry?

While that interim report vindicates Deshmukh and Shinde, it by no means lets them off the hook for it has yet to be proved if there was a quid pro quo in sanctioning the project (i.e. did they similarly benefit through allotments of flats to themselves) or if it was simply administrative misjudgment and political expedience that made them bend the rules.

Whatever the outcome of the CBI probe into that aspect, it is not going to be an easy task for the chief minister of Maharashtra who is being damned if he does and damned f he doesn’t, too. What he has `done’ in the past is to instruct the police not to make file notings if they receive calls from high political office over any or whichever case. That instruction came soon after Deshmukh received a rap on the knuckles for, inexplicably, asking the cops to go slow on the arrest of the father of an MLA whose family were money lenders and involved in the killing of a farmer who could not return the loans on time. But, I am told, that happened because the CBI had made it clear to him and many other leaders that in these days of Right to Information, political interference was costing them their credibility and if they wanted the Bureau to behave in particular fashion, they should “put that down in writing’’.

So the sincere chief minister took that rather, well, sincerely as he is on instruction by his party high command that he must clean up the Congress’s image in the state and allow no breath of scam or scandal to get through any more. That now simply means that no files move in Mantralaya as the CM insists he will read every last word before he signs any papers – and the papers pile up faster than he can read them. The bureaucrats will not help him either for they do not want to be blamed for anything that might go wrong – the arrests of retired and serving bureaucrats and army officers in the Adarsh scam has scorched their fingers and they are now absolutely against taking risks.

So even as corporates, builders, party workers and many others hate the Maharashtra government for not working, this current regime is an ideal one for Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare to hold up, as they come together for another fast in June this year, as their dream government and show people how things may be (not) achieved in a corruption-free regime in India.

Meanwhile, with stalwarts like Sharad Pawar around, what is a small thing like a CAG report that names “names’’ even while not really naming them? Meanwhile, people should look at the Information Commissioner’s office these days: officials have retired and petitions are piling up sky high even as no new people have been `named’ to fill up the vacant posts. That’s the best way to kill the RTI act, methinks. Lets see Ramdev and Hazare get the better of this one – and then our politicians, I am sure, will find another way to overcome and get round the duo, again!

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