Sunday, November 21, 2010

PM failed to curb coalition adharma

By Swapan Dasgupta

During World War II, many people, otherwise good, decent family men, sometimes highly educated and with cultural accomplishments, unleashed unspeakable horrors on fellow humans in the name of Fuhrer, Emperor and Fatherland.

After the War, the victorious Allies set up War Crimes Tribunals to bring the leaders of a defeated Germany and Japan to justice. A recurrent feature of the trials, which covered people ranging from Field Marshals and apparatchiks to commandants of concentration camps and industrialists who benefited from the use of forced labour, was the refrain of many of the accused: "we merely followed orders".

The argument that being a loyal, disciplined soldier of the state or party exonerates individuals from criminal culpability was rejected by the Tribunals on the strength of the Nuremberg Principle: "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."

Over the past fortnight, the 2G Telecom scandal has agitated public opinion, disrupted Parliament and led to the resignation of DMK's A.Raja from the Cabinet. A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General has suggested that a flawed policy was responsible for the national exchequer being short-changed by a whopping Rs 1.7 lakh crore. In a rare move, the Supreme Court has asked the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to explain why he sat over a citizen's request for permission to prosecute Raja. Finally, a media revelation has suggested that PM, far from being a blind Dhritarashtra, actually sanctioned the derailment of the common good. Unless the Government is able to placate a belligerent Opposition with either tokenism or some credible answers to the grave charges, India may witness a full blown political crisis that won't leave the PM unaffected.

In rebutting his detractors, Raja appears to have fallen back on the Nuremberg Defence. He has claimed that he was acting within policy guidelines and that the PM was in the know. Ironically, Raja's claim has been bolstered by the disclosure of a letter of February 28, 2006 by Dayanidhi Maran—the DMK representative who was his predecessor as Telecom Minister—that suggests two things. First, that Raja's actions stemmed from a path that had been determined by the DMK leadership. Raja, it would seem, merely "followed orders". Secondly, that the 'DMK Telecom policy' was known to the PM who did the groundwork by insulating 2G pricing from the Group of Ministers.

The DMK, it would be fair to say, is highly placed in the index of venality. Shaped by the pulls and pressures of the large Karunanidhi clan, its stand on national issues have often been guided by the what's-in-it-for-us question. Raja, wasn't confronted with "moral choices". He, presumably, "followed orders" and turned the spirit of John F. Kennedy's on its head: 'Ask not what you can do for your country; ask what the country can do for you.'

But what about the PM, entrusted by the Constitution to uphold the national interest? There were times when Singh had to let expediency prevail—such as in the distribution of ministerial portfolios and in outsourcing the management of MPs to Amar Singh during the Trust Vote of 2008. But how could he knowingly look the other way while a Cabinet Minister choked a public revenue stream? Why did he allow the CBI to underperform in its inquiries and be censured by the Supreme Court? Did his 'coalition dharma' include the right to insulate a political party from collective Cabinet responsibility? Singh wasn't just guilty of omission; he is on the verge of being accused of complicity.

It is well worth applying the Nuremberg Principles to the PM, even though the issue is fiscal impropriety and not murder. Was the PM "following orders"? This is a strange question to ask. People take orders from the PM and not the other way round, unless there is an extra-Constitutional force at work. Was there? If so, the country is entitled to know.

Moreover, was a "moral choice" available to the PM? Was he in a position to say No to Raja and define the limits of the DMK's arbitrariness? The answers are self-evident.

The country views Singh as a man of integrity and erudition. Left to himself, he would have handled 2G very differently. Yet, despite being the only man who had the power and opportunity to right the wrongs, he abdicated responsibility. His moral failing lay in allowing coalition dharma to become coalition adharma. Judged by the Nuremberg Principles, Singh is guiltier than Raja.

Sunday Times of India, November 21, 2010


Dr. Ajit R. Jadhav said...

Dear Swapan,

Yet again, a very good piece.

But (and how interesting it would be if both American Sangh Wallahs and Indian Socialist academics find the usage of the word "but" here, irksome!), I would like to find, in print or on the monitor, your view(s) of one more point which has often been mentioned in this connection but about which you offer no clue in this article: namely, that this policy of first-come-first-serve had actually been formulated by and followed just similarly in the BJP government(without the benefit of as much political examination of such matters in those heady shining days).

Swapan, get me right. The above request is not to try to put you in a fix or to show that this article follows a narrow viewpoint. Or a viewpoint convenient to BJP.

The last could actually be the case. After all, who (bureaucrats and artists, analysts and intellectuals, and political writers and press-wallahs included) can today survive in this nation well enough to be able to travel abroad once in a while (something which I have not been able to do once in the past decade almost, and something about which I frankly don't care) without having some kind of a political umbrella/shield? And, given this state of affairs, who would want to risk that umbrella/shield too?

Yet, I also am sure that among such people (which means virtually all writers and analysts today, esp. the political ones), you are one of a few can risk quite a lot to be able to stay intellectually honest. (Please don't run with that praise. I know more Congress-sympathetic people than either Socialists or Sangh wallahs, falling in this category.)

Given such inclinations of yours, I am actually curious about this other part not touched by you in this article---the part to do with how BJP handled it and why, whether they too made a killing in the process, etc.

Please see if you can touch upon such points. Even if not in immediate future, that's OK by me. 1.76 lakh crores is a huge amount and it creates a virtual mine-field of sorts, I am aware.

Best wishes,


Anoop Verma said...

In case of the highly lucrative 2G scam many people in position of power seem to have lost their dharma. It is hard to argue against money. This is such a tragedy.

Now fingers are even being pointed at the media. The transcripts published in Outlook and Open magazine show some of the most eminent journalists in the country having a suspicious conversation with the notorious lobbyist.

How can these guys do something so foolish! Was it the lure of money, of political power! The lady journalist who has been the forefront of the TV news revolution in the country has lost a great amount of credibility. No amount of money can compensate for what she has lost. Similar is the case with the very senior and debonair editor who had been running a leading national newspaper and enjoyed the respect of everyone.

Only some journalists are left whom you can still trust blindly, of course, one of them is Swapan Dasgupta, who continues to express the right ideals in his articles.

seadog4227 said...

Does anybody want to know who taped and made these calls public?
Burqa and Creep were scum before and are now radioactive scum.
The BJP/ NDA telecom process DID NOT HAVE arbitrary date changes, deliberate favouritism towards specific candidates, completely unfit/ inappropriate firms being awarded contracts etc etc.For that matter, the CWG was also proposed as a launching pad by the BJP/ NDA but the KKangress buggered it, as it has been doing to this nation for over 60 years. Why blame a party which has had one single tenure at the centre as opposed to 60+ years of constant misrule by a stinking , rotten, family-run outfit?
look up any dictionary on the internet:
"Congress" means a collection or gathering of people.
"Congress" means intercourse as in "sexual intercourse".
Combine the 2 meanings and you get what one group has steadfastly tried to do to the country.