Corruption of India's Political Class


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Corruption of India's Political Class

  1. 1. Gold is your God: Time to lay down the Bauble Warning for India’s Political Class -I Barun Kumar Basu “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with anindependent will” spoke Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre. Jawaharlal Nehru echoed similarsentiments in his “tryst with destiny” speech. Yet, the more we strive to realize our ideals ofindependence, the more we find ourselves echoing Jane Eyre’s “I do not think, sir, you haveany right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seenmore of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have madeof your time and experience.” The events of the last few weeks only prove the incapacity ofIndia’s political class’s inability to claim “superiority” on the basis of their time andexperience. Slavery of gullible citizens, Eyre’s “free human being with an independent will”have been repeatedly mocked by our political class, irrespective of their ideology. Indeed, atno point in time has India’s political class stood so miserably exposed and naked as they dotoday. Yet they do not flinch from their world view of “us” (rulers) and “them” (the ruled) inan UPA vs. NDA context alone. To start with, I refer to a series of events that commenced with the AugustaWestland chopper episode. A former Indian Air Force Chief was indicted without a trial eventhough he had no solitary role to play in this sordid episode. Promptly, Angelic Anthony,India’s Defense Minister ordered a CBI probe, based entirely on unverified and unprovenmedia reports, even decided to seek reparation from the chopper manufacturer andstopped further supplies of the choppers. The CBI, for its part, acted equally predictably.Julie and Tosca Tyagi……Abhishek Verma and his pretty Romanian wife and sundry otherwheeler dealers on Delhi’s cocktail circuit, promptly came in handy as blame goats. An FIRwas registered and the tail was sought to be pinned on Tyagi’s donkey. No one everquestioned the evidential basis for the CBI’s action. No one ever asked a fundamentalquestion: If our leaders were riding their crest of popularity, why could they not travel bytrain or by commercial flights like Gandhi and Morarji Desai had done? If they indeed had toscale the heights of the Siachen, a la Churchill on the beach heads in 1940, could they nothave been transshipped from Jammu/Pathankot in Spartan Cheetah choppers that werealready doing duty in Siachen, even though these needed urgent replacement? If frugalitymarked UPA from NDA, then why did UPA not scrap the proposal altogether? If everysecond or third defense equipment supplier were unlawfully blacklisted, this would invitedisaster, in the fifth decade after the Sino-Indian debacle of 1962. Nor will India’s privatesector ever be allowed unrestricted entry into the holy cathedral of defense purchases. Our political class only proved its ineptitude as everything was sought to be fittedinto a worldview akin to the classical Bengali-non-Bengali worldview, now replaced by UPAand NDA. Did the political class care for the defense preparedness of the nation, theintegrity and loyalty of our soldiers, their self-respect, and their key role in future conflicts inan increasingly hostile neighborhood? After all what happened in 1962 when politicians ledthe war effort and failed to use the same Air Force to cover our ground troops who weresitting ducks for the Chinese may recur. The whole drama played out as it had for Boforsdecades ago. The CBI had its blame goats, Angelic Anthony’s personal integrity remainedintact and loyal courtiers remained paragons of virtue while UPA and NDA argued endlessly. 1
  2. 2. The media fanned the insensate debate no differently. Whistle-stopping commerciallysaleable sensationalism crept in as armchair-bound panelists, many long superannuated andself-proclaimed defense analysts, appeared out of nowhere to proclaim the demise of theIndian state, even though they had not the foggiest idea of what was wrong with thesystem. Even Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels never visualized the withering of the bourgeoisstate to a proletarian takeover in the manner events unfolded in the last few weeks. Indeedit was not the proletariat that took over, it was the lumpen amongst them that prevailed.Who cared for India’s “tryst with destiny”? After all, the lumpen viewed themselves as a“free human being with an independent will.” Who cared if a future service chief refused tosign a file for purchase of defense equipment and deploy soldiers beyond our borders, lesthe become a pawn in a sordid political game, a decade after his superannuation fromservice? In a similar vein, another sordid saga played out in the courts in Kerala and Delhi.Two Italian marines escorting an Italian cargo ship shot two Tamil fishermen, evidentlymistaking them for Somali pirates, by the color of their sunburnt skin. The case has draggedon for over a year, unmindful of the international ramifications and the fact that theEuropean Union is India’s single largest trade partner. Indeed the entire case stands on asandy foundation that involves the location of the cargo ship with a recording device thatseems to have been corrupted or is missing. Neither has India conclusively disproved thatthe Italian freighter was not in Indian territorial waters, nor has Italy conclusively provedthat the ship was in international waters. Should we have taken the matter to the UN, likeKashmir in 1948? Or was Kashmir disincentive for us to rely on our courts and legal system,even when fundamental questions remained unanswered? Even if a former Italiangovernment committed itself to the authority of the Indian higher judiciary, andsubsequently unashamedly, indeed brazenly, reneged on its assurances, should the Govt. ofIndia not have foreseen the import of the Kerala Police’s submission not to let the marinesgo home to vote? It was only a matter of time before UPA-II found itself in a Catch-22situation with its ineptitude. On the one hand a foreign nation had willingly submitted to the authority of theIndian judiciary, on the other hand, the withering Indian state, was busy “making friends” asits Foreign Minister recently stated on national media. In the meaningless UPA-NDAbrouhaha that followed, predictably the political class did not ask obvious fundamentalquestions. Why was a case of our national honor pending in an Indian court for over a year?Did police investigation prove the Italian contention that the ship was outside our territorialwaters? Why did our mandarins in South and North Blocks not foresee domesticcompulsions in a chronically unstable Italian polity when the same compulsions plagued usconcurrently? The coincidental timing of the Augusta Westland chopper ‘scam’ and theItalian marines faux pas, could only be interpreted as a ploy, yet again, to safeguard thetattered myth of the Gulliverian UPA, indeed a quid pro quo to stymie investigations intothe chopper deal. In sum, Augusta Westland and the Italian marine issues were debated in acaviler manner that threw to the winds “your claim to superiority depends on the use youhave made of your time and experience.” Neither time nor experience mattered, they were not even relevant. Instead, whatwas relevant was a Minister’s obsession for his personal integrity even if it meant sacrificingthe nation’s collective defense integrity and the reputation of an ancient regime that wasdesperately clinging to a heart-lung machine in its last gasps for life. For the opposition, it 2
  3. 3. was good Disneyland fun, a roller coaster that provided gladiatorial thrills for the Oppositionas UPA squirmed, gasped and passed out, indeed reacted in extraterrestrial behavior thatSpielberg would never have approved for ET.The author is a former Ambassador of India 3
  4. 4. Gold is your God: Time to lay down the Bauble Warning for India’s Political Class -II Barun Kumar Basu As if this were not enough, came the drama over Sri Lanka. This time, instead of theItalians, it was a UPA component that hallucinated itself as Protectors of the Tamil faith,even beyond our borders. ‘Har Har Mahadev’ was replaced by cries of ‘war crimes’,‘genocide’ et al. Unmindful of the recent licking by puny Maldives, a smarting Bangladesh(over the Teesta issue) and a Pakistani Premier who sought the Ajmer Dargah Sharif’sblessings before sponsoring the next Mujahedeen attack on a CRPF camp in Srinagar, theDMK marched into battle against the Lankans, all over a photo of a slain child of a formerLTTE commander. Neither was there any direct evidence that Lankan troops had shot thisinnocent child, nor was there any clinching evidence that some other lunatic fringe hadperpetrated this act or publicized it to discredit the Lankan government or that it was yetanother collateral damage of war. The DMK conveniently omitted to include thousands ofnon-Tamils who lost their lives as those Tamils that were caught in the crossfire between anintegrity-preserving Lankan army and integrity-blowing LTTE. Evidently, Tamil deaths were‘genocidal’, all others suicidal! Again, the predictable drama played out even as the UN draft Resolution wasapproved by UN Security Council members. As for Augusta Westland and the Italian marineissues, this time too, the debate centered on the manner in which the UPA-led coalitioncould be sustained till May, 2014. Three or four senior Cabinet ministers were flown toChennai to administer spa treatment to the DMK mandarin who realized the thin ice UPAwas skating upon. In the same manner as Italy’s interim government reneged on its statedundertaking to the Supreme Court, the DMK patriarch withdrew his Ministers from theUnion Cabinet and support from the UPA alliance and government, notwithstanding thesevere damage it could do to our international credibility when it was at its lowest ebb inthe Indian Ocean region, much the same manner in which EU and the Italians are now tryingto cover up their faux pas in submitting the affidavit to India’s Supreme Court. When India has legitimate pretensions of being the superpower of the 21 st century,should UPA have continued with the DMK instead called for premature general electionsand called the DMK’s bluff? In any case, in an era of rising prices, unemployment and risingprices, would the electorate honestly be swayed by the plight of some distant cousins in aforeign land? Or was it a last minute ploy to avoid any further jail terms for prominentmembers of the DMK in the unending 2G saga? If so, then where is the fundamentaldifference between the linked pairs of Augusta Westland and the Italian marines’ issues andthe DMK’s withdrawal and the 2G scam? Yet the UPA-NDA debate only exposed the hollowness of India’s claim to superpower status. Which wannabe super power allows its national debasement to the whimsand fancies of regional satraps, that too for a non-issue? Or do we seek to descend to thehistorically uninspiring Italian bravura, peccadilloes of their leaders and genetic politicalinstability since the end of World War II? To muddy the waters, we now have the TMCsympathizing with the Tamils but not willing to interfere in India’s foreign affairs. Like theDMK, for the TMC, Bangladesh was a mere Indian vassal and thus Teesta waters were India’sunshareable family heirloom but Lanka was a matter of foreign policy. In effect, DMK and 4
  5. 5. TMC’s vassal state perspectives plumbed new depths of political crassness andopportunism, even as Lanka and Bangladesh remained our immediate neighbors! We also had war room precision-timed maneuvering by the Bihar Chief Minister togain ‘special status’ for his State in making good the shortfall of 20-odd DMK legislators andpreserving the myth of a majority government. Not only did this CM invite himself to Delhi,he did not have any model of proven development, only grievances, and expected scrapsfrom UPA-II in return for his messianic support. TMC was not far different when it emergedfrom the shadows to throw a lifeline to the keeling UPA-II ship over the Lankan issue. YetNDA constituents stated they would not bring any no-confidence motion in Parliament inthe hope that the UPA-II government would collapse under the weight of its Marxian-likecontradictions. This only places, on public exhibition, the brazen and crass desperation ofthe entire political class to cling to power, even if it were for less than 365 more days.Equally, it speaks of the reticence of the political class to face an angry electorate. The crowning glory, indeed the most comic episode, came with the introduction ofthe Anti-Rape Bill in Parliament. If a prominent Opposition MP said he too had ogled at girls,many others felt that it fallen upon them to correct a historical wrong with yet anotherwrong. That meaningful enforcement of existing laws was sufficient to safeguard ourwomen folk was not adequately politically appealing to the political class; hence yet anotherunenforceable law, as if the new law was in atonement of the political class’s provenimpotence during the Delhi protests against Nirbhaya’s gang rape and subsequent death. Indoing so, the political class only ensured that the chasm between men and women widenedimmeasurably. Would I, as an employer, risk chiding a female employee for any professionalmisdemeanor or transfer her to a geographical location in NE India? Should my son and mygrandson ride a cab with an assertive tip-demanding lady at the wheel? If a young ladyschool teacher were to make sexual overtures to my below-18 handsome grandson, how doI prove the poor boy’s innocence and keep him from incarceration, lest she falsely accusehim of stalking her? I wonder what would come of a nonagenarian like me if a female bankclerk were to keep me waiting for a legitimate banking service and I expressed my protestvocally, for only the first offence is bailable? Has our political class not already learnt itslessons from the high incidence of legally proven false dowry cases? Law cannot supplantjustice as government ought not to substitute for governance. Sadly, both justice andgovernance were the biggest casualties in the UPA-NDA’s ‘Big Fight’. In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852), Marx described the lumpenproletariat thus, “Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and ofdubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, werevagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers,mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, maquereaux [pimps], brothelkeepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars — inshort, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the Frenchcall la bohème.” Criminal charges against hundreds of legislators testify to the integrity ofour political class. The Indian political class thrives, is indeed grouted among all theseelements and much more, irrespective of ideology, even admitted by senior Cabinetministers. In fact, vain, and most often, illusory ideological moorings only add strength tothe electors’ voice that Charlotte Bronte’s words so aptly summate, “I do not think, sir, youhave any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you haveseen more of the world than I have.” At the dawn of Independence, a tired but hopeful 5
  6. 6. nation had supported Pater Familias in power. Sadly, their families have proliferated andtheir vacuuming tentacles now extend to every sphere of public life, draining the life bloodof this noble nation, even as many denizens of such families forfeited their deposits inrecent State Assembly elections. Indeed they were like Oliver Goldsmith’s VillageSchoolmaster for “…..een though vanquishd he could argue still” although “…past is all hisfame. The very spot where many a time he triumphd is forgot.” Patronage and arrogance of power make a heady mix for violent rejection andJacobean instability. Indeed, this nation desperately needs a Lord Protector of Realm of theintegrity of Oliver Cromwell, who put an end to the ancient regime on 20 th April, 1653, withhis dissolution of the Long Parliament thus, “It is high time for me to put an end to yoursitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiledby your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government;ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess ofpottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money. Is there a single virtuenow remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no morereligion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barterd your conscience forbribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of theCommonwealth? Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defild this sacred place, and turnd theLords temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye aregrown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to getgrievances redressd, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lockup the doors. In the name of God, go!” I hope our electors, particularly GenNext, will deriveinspiration from Cromwell’s words and restore the dignity and reputation of this noble landin the comity of nations.The author is a former Ambassador of India 6