There was panic in the Congress camp last week. Terror-stricken leaders were scampering about like chicken that had its feathers plucked. The apparent reason was that one of their central pillars, P. Chidambaram, was directly and officially named in the 2-G spectrum scandal that landed former minister A. Raja in jail.
Now Chidambaram is not exactly a popular mascot in Congress circles. An ambitious operator primarily concerned with his own power and prospects, he has more adversaries than admirers. So why did the party frantically rally around him when a Pranab Mukherjee note to the Prime Minister blamed him for inaction? The talk is that Congress leaders were scared that, if Chidambaram was caught, could Manmohan Singh be far behind.
Not that Manmohan Singh is all that beloved a leader either. It is known that he carries little weight in the Government. Coalition partners mock him. Congress ministers themselves often ignore him. So the likelihood of the Prime Minister getting tarred by the spectrum scam cannot be the real reason for the panic among Congress bigwigs.
Then what? Logically, and if we take Congress culture into account, the answer is embedded in another question: If Manmohan Singh is caught in an untenable situation, can Sonia Gandhi be far behind? Now there you have the stuff that shakes empires. The remotest likelihood of damage to the edifice of holiness built around Sonia Gandhi would make Congressmen scamper about like chicken with its head cut off.
Logic does put the Congress President in an uncomfortable position. Consider some recent developments. It now stands proved that three successive Sports Ministers had opposed the appointment of Suresh Kalmadi as the Commonwealth Games boss. The Prime Minister overruled all of them and personally cleared Kalmadi's appointment. Rather uncharacteristic of a play-safe Prime Minister. So what happened? It appears that Manmohan Singh overruled the entire governmental system in order to bow to a recommendation put up by a joint secretary in the Prime Minister's Office named Pulok Chatterji. And who, pray, is Pulok Chatterji? The IAS officer most closely identified as Sonia Gandhi's facilitator. Which means that the Kalmadi buck actually stopped at Sonia Gandhi's desk.
Here's another conundrum of our times. Suresh Kalmadi is in jail for taking money. Amar Singh is in jail for giving money. The conundrum is why would Amar Singh who was never a member of the Congress give money to buy votes in Parliament so that the Congress government could survive? Was he a fool to spend his money to let someone else benefit? That lends weight to Ram Jethmalani's open statement in the Supreme Court that the money displayed in Parliament was paid not by Amar Singh but by Ahmad Patel. And who, pray, is Ahmed Patel? Sonia Gandhi's political secretary. Where does the buck stop this time?
Speculation and all kinds of gossip flourish around Sonia Gandhi thanks to her own addiction to secrecy. The contrived drama about her surgery in America could not have happened in any other democracy. She controls the destiny of every India but no Indian has the right to know whether she is in a condition to do so. Citizens are only entitled to dry titbits dished out by Congress spokesmen trained not to speak a word beyond what they are told.
They have not even told us what her ailment is. How then do we believe what they say? How do we know that she is really back in India? How do we know that she is cured when curing is rare in cancer cases? Photographs are strictly no-no, so how can we not believe that she has lost hair through chemotherapy? By hiding facts, they feed rumours. This is not privacy. This is secrecy. Evidently Congressmen think that there are things about their ruling dynasty that must remain shrouded in secrecy. That is why they panic at the merest sign of a crack in the wall of secrecy. Unfortunately history shows us that walls crumble some day, somehow.