A matter of perception

The arrest of former telecom minister A Raja by the CBI was more a message to the larger world than a necessity for the investigations into the scam. The UPA is battling a severe image crisis. It had been wishing away the gross reality of the public perception of it being corrupt and incompetent. Waking up late, the government is trying to make up.

Indian public has by and large learnt to live with corruption when it happens in smooth flow – like when you grease the palm of the traffic constable or give away a percentage to the taxman for accepting a slightly fraudulent IT return. When corruption turns into a spectacle, our collective morality suddenly surges with a vengeance, with the fury to consume anyone who is more powerful.

In the fast-growing crony capitalism of India, avenues of corruption had increased manifold compared to the license-quota Raj and everyone has been having fun. But the scams that hit the UPA-2 are such spectacles that the coziness of material comfort of the Indian middle class has been shaken. Their dormant but deep cynicism about politicians has become strident. The privileged are unhappy.

The underprivileged are unhappy too, primarily due to rising prices. They have intrinsically connected corruption in the government to their sorrows – which can only be partly true, at best. However, the perception has stuck.

A government that spends unprecedented amounts of money on welfare schemes – and has been reasonably popular until recently – suddenly has lost its soul.

The UPA-2 has severely failed in managing the public perception. There has not been a coherent articulation of what the government or the prime minister is trying to do, to combat corruption. Each minister and each Congress leader is spinning individual stories, often contradicting each other. Each one is trying to boost his/her own image, even when – indeed by – causing disrepute to colleagues.

The only authentic message in such chaos could be what the PM personally delivers. Those too often vacillate between despair and promise. With the collective thrust of the party and government completely lacking in the rescue efforts, the arrest of A Raja has only bludgeoned the image of the government further. Everyone in the government seems to be hedging the bets, in anticipation of the next job, even if it is with the BJP.

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