Monday, September 30, 2013
It is too late in the day for Rahul Gandhi to act as though he is unaware of major policy initiatives in his party. If he did not know about the Congress-led Ordinance to protect criminally tainted MPs, he was an unworthy vice president of the party. If he knew about the deliberations that led to the Ordinance and still proclaimed that it should be torn up, then he was playing games. What games? The people of the country were outraged by the Ordinance that belittled the Supreme Court and abetted criminals in one go. Was Rahul Gandhi trying to save his party by showing, however belatedly, that he was on the people's side?
If so, he did it without grace. If he had said that the party had taken public opinion into account and decided to reverse course, there would have been a touch a maturity about it. But his peremptory style and linguistic excess merely reaffirmed that the Congress was a proprietary concern and that proprietors set their own rules. He attacked his party with the demonstrative flair of a Naxalite strike. He gatecrashed into a press conference, made his dramatic denunciations, then left as abruptly as he had entered.
Dutiful Congressmen immediately took up the new line. Like the Ganga, flowing towards Bangladesh, suddenly deciding to flow towards Pakistan. But it will take more than loyalty and dramatics to shake politics free of evil. The circumstances that led to the Ordinance showed the depths to which all political parties had sunk in our hapless land. The Supreme Court was reflecting common sense and widespread public sentiment when it ruled that legislators sentenced to jail for two or more years should be disqualified forthwith. A review petition by the Government was rejected, showing that the Court's ruling was a carefully considered one. A Government loyal to its constitutional obligations would have understood this and accepted the judicial verdict. Instead the Congress mobilised other parties to subvert the judgement and allow convicted legislators to keep their seats with an appeal. The purport of the Ordinance and the motivations behind it were fundamentally immoral.
The audacity of the Ordinance suited the criminal culture into which our political culture has been coalescing in recent years. As many as 161 MPs (30 percent) have criminal cases against them; 78 face serious charges. Not that the remaining 70 percent are snow-white innocents. They become exemplars of unity for personal gain. They agreed five times to enlarge the pot of gold they voted for themselves under the so-called Local Area Development Fund. Currently it stands at an incredible five crores for every MP every year, spent mostly on private projects.
The same unity was in evidence on the issue of protecting criminals. After the Ordinance was approved the BJP took a position against it. That was a tactical manoeuvre, not a principled stand. It had attended the all-party meeting that decided to circumvent the judicial ruling. After all, the BJP tops the list with 42 criminally tainted MPs in Parliament. (The Congress has 41). Its showpiece state of Gujarat has 26 MPs of whom 11 are tainted. In the state cabinet itself Water Resources Minister Babubhai Bokhariya was convicted in an illegal mining case but stayed on in his post. About the parties in UP, the less said the better. All parties are engaged in a conspiracy of the guilty.
Because this is a class characteristic, an election here or a change of government there will make no difference. The nature of politics and the quality of governance will continue to be anti-people. This was the case when Bengal switched from communists to the Trinamool, and UP from Mayawati to the Yadavs. Variations of the same pattern can be seen in other states too. The silver lining is that the people have not lost the capacity to rebel. Outraged public opinion can play a role in our country because we have an open society, a free media and above all an independent judiciary. That will have to be our armour against proprietors out to hijack our history.