Monday, October 22, 2012

The right to privacy does not mean the right to do wrong in private

The bad news is that there seems to be no end to the plundering of India.  Sign any deal, there is kickback. Auction any resource, there is quid pro quo.  Spot any stretch of land, there is hanky-panky. Worse, where  there is hanky-panky, there are namby-pamby ministers grovelling to justify it.  Two gems came up last week. As scandals swirled around the nation's son-in-law, Salman Khurshid said : “Sonia is my leader and I would defend her till my last breath”. Jayanti Natarajan said: “Sonia is our president and we are ready to give up our lives for her”. We knew that life was cheap in India. But this cheap?

The good news is that The First  Family (sic) is being directly named and charged. This was overdue. It was anomalous that a family enjoyed powers to take decisions  affecting the lives and fortunes of the people and yet a conspiracy of silence was built around it.  The otherwise unstoppable television channels asked no questions. Even the BJP, ever alert to attacking the Congress, turned deferential before The Family.

The Congress justified everything in the name of privacy. But those who exercise  power have their right to privacy limited by the imperatives of democracy. Today A. B. Vajpayee has full  right to privacy;   his physical condition must be bad, but that is not the public's business. However, when Vajpayee as Prime Minister had to undergo knee surgery, his right to privacy was superceded by the people's  right to know how  he would take the strain while still heading the Government. Vajpayee and his Government respected the people's right and information was provided including details about the surgeon attending on him.

By contrast, the people do not know to this day what exactly is Sonia Gandhi's illness, what treatment she underwent and what the medical prognosis is. People do not know when she is in India and when she is not. Privacy considerations can in no way cover these issues as long as she wields power exceeding the power of the prime minister.

The right to privacy completely vanishes when it is used to do what ordinary citizens cannot do under law. Ordinary citizens who are not natives of Himachal Pradesh cannot buy land in that state. Priyanka Gandhi broke that law with assistance from both Congress and BJP governments; see how enemies unite to serve The Family. Ordinary companies with a paid-up capital of Rs 1 lakh cannot get an overdraft of Rs 7.9 crore from a nationalised bank. Robert Vadra  got that and several other facilities  for his companies. The Government has no responsibility to look into these matters? The people have no right to know the truth?

A surprised nation learned that Robert Vadra enjoyed  exemption  from checking at the country's airports. An official explained – whether truthfully or not,  we do not know –  that the exemption applied only when he was accompanied by a person entitled  to Black Cat security, no doubt a reference to his wife. No one objects to the lady having all the protection she needs. But why was no such consideration extended to Lt. Gen. K. S. Brar despite seven assassination attempts on him for his services to the country? (The London attempt was the eighth).
 It's obvious: The Family's members are more equal than all others. The belief is widespread that they enjoy prerogatives not compatible with democracy, and that these prerogatives are often used for self-aggrandisement. Congress leaders make it worse by saying that Vadra is a private individual and therefore his business activities do not call for any inquiry. That is like saying that suspicious  transactions are beyond the purview of the state as long as they are carried out by private citizens. Then why was Hasan Ali Khan investigated?

In a democracy perception is more important than legality. The  Chidambarams and Digvijay Singhs only add to  the negative perceptions of the Congress by trying to justify what are obvious irregularities. The Congress will go down in  history  as a  party that was destroyed by loyalty.