Sunday Pioneer, February 5, 2012
Sunday, February 05, 2012
Arrogant Congress bent on harakiri
By Swapan Dasgupta
There were many long faces in Whitehall last week at the news that the Government of India had chosen to purchase fighter aircraft from the French rather than the European consortium which included Britain. British Prime Minister David Cameron who had set great store in the “enhanced partnership” with India was widely berated in the British media for a “botched” initiative that had included persisting with aid to an India that didn’t really want it.
Amid this despondency, it was refreshing to hear a contrarian view from a British civil servant with long experience in dealing with India. He viewed the Indian decision on combat aircraft purchases as unfortunate, but entirely understandable. The French bid, he explained, was nominally cheaper. “In this climate of anti-corruption, did you really expect India to go for the more expensive aircraft? No Indian will be penalised for opting for the cheaper bid.”
His logic was faultless and, coming in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict cancelling the 2-G licences, was also astute. In India, there may well be scepticism over the long-term impact on the judgment. Will it really help to curb corruption or at least bring it down to more manageable levels? Cynical Indians will reply with a categorical “No” but outsiders will be inclined to take a more charitable view. Indian ministers, they may well have concluded, can no longer afford to be as brazen as the hapless A.Raja. From now on, at least until the dust settles, they will be inclined to be far more careful.
This is really the issue at the heart of the 2-G judgment. It is rare for the apex court to debunk an entire policy of the Government as being born of mala-fide considerations. It is equally rare for the Supreme Court to cloak an entire policy of the Government in the cloak of criminality. But this is precisely what the Supreme Court has done: dubbed policy making in the telecom sector a criminal enterprise and against national interests.
All the sophistry of the Congress’ lawyer-turned-politicians will not be able to obfuscate this grim reality. Of course the judgment was against a policy and didn’t specify individual culpability. But since policies don’t emerge from thin air or by the grace of God but are entirely man made, it necessarily follows that the court judgment constitutes a damning indictment of the integrity of the decision-makers. In even more blunt terms the judgment was an indictment of the Manmohan Singh Cabinet.
True, there will be a spirited debate over which ministers were particularly culpable. Was the Prime Minister’s Office guilty of omission or commission? Did the Finance Minister condone his colleague’s wilful short-changing of the public exchequer? Was the first-come-first-serve approach a mere fig leaf for the institutionalisation of crony capitalism? These, and similar questions will be the subject of CBI inquiries and criminal prosecutions in the coming days.
The question is: will the assault on the Government’s credibility over the 2-G scandal force a change in the culture of decision-making? Or will a good performance by the Congress in the state Assembly elections be taken to mean that it is not the judiciary but voters who will judge the quantum of illegality. If the Congress performs creditably, will the Government claim that it has been exonerated in the court of the people?
The initial signs are not encouraging. The Congress has reacted to the unfavourable judgment by trying to appear unfazed and even claiming that the Supreme Court has actually pilloried the NDA Government which demitted office in May 2004. Some of this bravado can be explained by the imperatives of an ongoing election campaign—dejection at the top, it is said, leads to demoralisation at the grassroots. Yet, what is regrettable is that the Congress has not shown even an iota of contrition.
The Indian electorate is quite forgiving if the guilty party goes before with folded hands and an apology. For all its transgressions, the Congress is remarkably lucky that it has Manmohan Singh at the helm. This is because the main charge against the Prime Minister is not that he was caught with his hands in the till but that he wilfully chose to look the other way while some of his colleagues systematically drained the exchequer of billions of rupees. The popular gripe is not against a dishonest Prime Minister but a weak Prime Minister who has allowed the country to be taken for a ride by venal colleagues and coalition partners.
These circumstances don’t exonerate the Prime Minister. Indeed, history is likely to judge him very harshly but at the full extent of popular fury and disgust will not directed against him—as happened to Rajiv Gandhi during the Bofors controversy—because he still retains the image of innate decency. Had the Congress been wise, it would have advised the Prime Minister to offer a mealy-mouthed apology to the nation. By choosing to brazen it out with the assistance of glib lawyers, the party may have told the electorate that being in power means never having to say you are sorry.
Sunday Pioneer, February 5, 2012