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Thursday, October 6, 2022

"Clean Chit" regime


An inside look at the resilience of corruption and arrogance. By Sutanu Guru
Tags : Corruption | UPA | BJP | Mukesh Ambani | CBI | Pawan Bansal | Ajit Pawar | Robert Vadra | Virbhadra Singh | CAG | Nitin Gadkari | Manmohan Singh |

Once upon a time, there lived a rapacious Emperor who specialized in plundering his subjects even while taking the moral high ground. Even his critics (also known as the silent majority) refrained from exposing him because they were quite scared of the Emperor's Cruel and Brazen Intentions (better known as CBI). He reveled and flowered in the presence of sycophants who described his plunder as “inclusive politics”. Once before the Republic Day, he ordered his tailors (now known as spin masters) to design and stitch a gown befitting his unparalleled stature as an Emperor. His spin masters (otherwise known as anchors and pundits) worked 24*7 and wove a gown that was invisible to all but their blinkered eyes. Come Republic Day and the Emperor preened in front of millions of subjects. One of them was a kid who was not familiar with the CBI and hence burst out laughing and proclaimed: But he is as naked as a statue! His parents shrunk in fear as they were aware of what the CBI could do if the Emperor was hurt and angry. But in this tale, they need not have worried. This modern tale has a different twist. The Emperor laughs out loud and says: Of course I know I am naked! But look at my pathetic subjects! They are wearing clothes and trying to hide their embarrassment!!!

Sounds corny and maybe even far fetched. But that just about sums up the state of the relationship that exists between the UPA regime and citizens of India. That fantasy tale also explains the arrogance of the UPA regime which is now as good as – or worse than – the naked Emperor with a fetish for plunder. Perhaps this also explains the Faustian audacity and brazenness with which leading lights of this UPA dispensation have been treating this country and its citizens. The thing is: for various reasons including hubris, they seem convinced they will get away with and end up scripting another monster called UPA-3 after 2014. Each time the UPA regime and its members are enmeshed in a scandal or a scam, each time a UPA courtier is caught with a hand in the till and each time a whistle blower gathers the courage to expose a misdeed, out comes the proverbial “clean chit” in a jiffy.

Some weeks ago, the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra Ajit Pawar was addressing a gathering of the faithful in the hinterland. The state, which is already notorious across the world for record number of farmer suicides, is facing an unprecedented man-made drought and life threatening water shortages. Ajit Pawar was irrigation minister for about a decade when the dams meant to store water went dry in the state. How does he react to this calamity? You must be living in a fool's paradise if you thought Pawar was contrite. In typical UPA style, he ridiculed a farmer and an activist who were on a hunger strike for more than 50 days protesting against dry dams and publicly announced: do they expect me to urinate in the dams to fill them with water? After the usual uproar and outrage, his uncle Sharad Pawar chided the 54 year old Ajit for his ‘youthful impetuosity’, gave him a "clean chit" and made him sit on a token one day fast in front of a Mahatma Gandhi statue. Poor Mahatma Gandhi!. Another colleague of Ajit Pawar pushed the brazenness envelope even further. The Maharashtra Home Minister R.R Patil engineered a diktat whereby he would personally supervise the transfers and postings of even junior policemen in the state. Since offensive words like publicly urinating were not involved, there wasn't much outrage. Remember, R.R Patil was Home Minister when Pakistani terrorists struck Mumbai on 26/11. So incensed was India at his incompetence and blasé arrogance that even the brazen UPA was forced to drop him. But then, the UPA won elections and Patil was back as Home Minister. Oh yes, there were many enquiries into administrative failures during 26/11. But R.R Patil got a “clean chit”.

Ask any objective and unbiased observer (a difficult person to locate nowadays) and she will tell you unhesitatingly that Maharashtra today is one of the worst governed states in the country. And yet, either the Congress or some version of Congress has ruled the state continually ever since the state was formed except a five year stint of the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance.  The same unbiased observer will tell you that the odds favor yet another UPA victory next year in the assembly elections because of a fractured opposition.

Such cockiness is not restricted to Maharashtra. It was in full public display last year when the whistle blower bureaucrat of Haryana Ashok Khemka made serious allegations against Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. The brief story of Robert Vadra is: he started with Rs 50 lakh and bought land near Gurgaon by giving cheques to the owner; cheques that were not encased. Incidentally, nobody seems to know how he got even the Rs 50 lakh! The real estate company DLF then buys the land from Robert Vadra for hundreds of crores. The moment this dubious deal was made public, Khemka was given a punishment posting and a battery of top Haryana officials and Congress spokespersons rushed ahead to castigate Khemka and give a “clean chit” to destiny's son in law Vadra. Subsequent revelations show that Vadra also bought huge tracts of land in Rajasthan mysteriously before their values jumped manifold. Even for this, Vadra was given a “clean chit”. Why is the Haryana government so brazen and cocksure? Well, the man who could topple the Congress government in Haryana, Om Prakash Chauthala is himself behind bars, convicted on charges of corruption and the opposition seems to be in disarray! Forget the political situation in Haryana. What is to be admired and marveled at is the nonchalance with which Congress courtiers  insist that Robert Vadra transformed Rs 50 lakh to Rs 500 crores in double quick time because of his unique entrepreneurial skills and not because of any hanky panky.

Robert Vadra is a lucky entrepreneur. Not just because he has married into the first family of India, but also because he is smart enough not to publicly challenge the first family. Look at what is happening to another “young” entrepreneur Y.S Jagan Reddy, son of the late Y.S Rajasekhara Reddy who was the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh and one of the favorites of 10 Janpath till he died in a helicopter crash some years ago. It is almost one year since Jagan Reddy was arrested by the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation and not Cruel and Brazen Intentions!) on charges of corruption and for allegedly amassing disproportionate assets. Now, according to the CBI, Jagan Reddy amassed hundreds and thousands of crores of ill gotten wealth when his father was chief minister between 2004 and 2009. No action was taken against him; no steps were initiated to prosecute him by any authority even after the death of his father. Till he openly revolted against the Congress High Command and 10 Janpath. Soon after Jagan declared war on his party, and the Congress sensed that it was almost certain to lose Andhra Pradesh, the “caged parrot” was unleashed and Jagan Reddy remains in jail. The million dollar question is: would he be behind bars if he was more patient and not demanded that he be forthwith made the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh? Surely the man himself must be pondering over that inside jail. Meanwhile, Congress leaders remain blasé about Andhra. They know that they will lose the “Telengana” seats to the regional party TRS and the rest of Andhra to Jagan Reddy. But they seem confident that both TRS and Jagan will have no option but to do business with the Congress after 2014. Blessed are the arrogant, more so when they have weapons like the CBI to unleash!

There is more cold logic behind the brazen resilience of corruption and arrogance. Last year, even as the media and activists were frothing at the mouth over corruption and scams and how the Indian voter always punishes the guilty, the Congress tried a small experiment in tiny Himachal Pradesh that was heading for assembly elections. There were many contenders to lead the Congress campaign against the incumbent BJP government. One of them was former chief minister and veteran leader Virbhadra Singh who had to contend with many serious allegations of corruption. Despite the shadow of corruption hanging over him and despite the ‘perceived’ nationwide outrage over corruption, Virbhadra  Singh was projected by Congress as its candidate for chief minister. Lo and behold, despite the so called groundswell of anger against corruption, Virbhadra Singh and the Congress won a handsome victory in the assembly elections. The message and the lesson for cynical Congress strategists – already puffed up by hubris – was stark and clear: corruption is overrated as an electoral issue. Before that, the voters of Punjab had sent a similar message by giving a historic second successive term to the BJP-Akali Dal alliance despite numerous allegations of corruption against top leaders of the two parties in the state.

Now let us look at the performance of the scam-tainted Congress and the UPA after a series of scams were exposed after 2009. The Congress lost only one state it ruled on its own and that was tiny Goa. Of course, you could say that it lost Tamil Nadu, but that really was lost by the DMK. And you are either naive or a Rahul Gandhi sycophant if you believe that the Congress had even a ghost of chance in assembly elections of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In contrast, it wrested Kerala from the Left, rode with Mamata Bannerjee to crush the Left in West Bengal and wrested Uttarkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka from the BJP while retaining Assam with a decisive majority. Cold statistics tell a story that is different from media hype and catchy sound bites delivered by impassioned activists. Clearly, the Congress and the UPA have won more than it they have lost since the scams broke out.

And just take a quick look at a short list of staggering scams that have plagued this “clean chit” regime ever since it won a historic second term in 2009. The irony is, the list of these scams hides one of the biggest myths being peddled in India. And what is that myth? It is that UPA-1 was relatively less corrupt and less arrogant and it is the 2009 election victory that made Congress and UPA leaders more corrupt, more arrogant and more brazen. Just look at the bewildering array of scams:

India became a virtual laughing stock in 2010 when sleaze and scandal became the running theme even as the Commonwealth Games were going on. The man in charge Suresh Kalmadi was arrested for a while and the case is in its early stages. Don't bet on Congressman Kalmadi being convicted any time soon, if at all he is. And don't be surprised if he is eventually given a “clean chit”.

For weeks and months, gladiators of the Congress and the UPA point blank refused to even entertain allegations that there were some irregularities in spectrum allocation in the telecom sector. When the CAG submitted a report alleging a potential loss of Rs 1,76 lakh crore, the ruling regime spokespersons delivered a zero loss theory. It is only when the Supreme Court directly intervened that the 2 G scam exploded. The prime accused A. Raja who spent a long time in Tihar Jail is crying himself hoarse saying the then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were aware of all that was going on. He wants to depose before the Joint Parliamentary Committee. But the Congress has not allowed it and issued “clean chits” to both Chidambaram and Singh.

There have been widespread allegations of " gold plating" by Mukesh Ambani controlled Reliance Industries in the KG basin gas supply and pricing controversy. The CAG has raised many red flags and wants an audit of the project which Reliance has stubbornly refused. There has been a massive increase in the price of gas supplied by Reliance and the company is either unable or unwilling to supply the promised volumes of gas. And yet, the oil  ministry prefers to give a “clean chit” to Reliance. This despite the industry regulator V.K Sibal losing his job and facing serious charges of corruption for showing undue favors to Reliance.

The CAG has unearthed yet another “gold plating” scam in the aviation sector. Apparently, the agreement to let the GMR group build and operate the new airport in Delhi is so heavily skewed in favor of GMR that the government stands to lose thousands of crores in revenue. Worse, GMR has repeatedly hiked usage charges claiming that its actual costs were higher than anticipated. Quite predictably, rather than pursuing a serious enquiry, the regime has given a “clean chit” to GMR.

And then there is the coal bloc allocation scam in which the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in direct  line of fire. The Supreme ourt ordered the CBI to conduct a proper enquiry and specifically instructed it not to share any details of the investigations with the government. Yet, it was subsequently revealed that recently resigned law minister Ashwani Kumar and some bureaucrats in the PMO and the coal ministry made changes in the status report filed by the CBI in the Supreme Court. Despite stinging remarks of the judges, the regime continues to provide a " clean chit" to all and sundry involved in this sordid saga.  Just like the CBI has given a “clean chit” to disgraced former Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal even before it has completed its investigations!

You might want to now ask what is the myth that I was talking about a little while ago. Well, the fact is that every single one of these shameful scams originated during UPA-1 when the regime was allegedly less corrupt than the current regime that is universally reviled for its sleaze and hubris! So don't nurture the silly illusion that UPA 1 was clean and sincere. And therein lies the biggest weakness of Indian democracy. How did our aggressive, over active, fiercely competitive, independent and fearless mainstream media completely fail to unearth even one scam and highlight it though they all originated in 2005, 2006 or 2007? Do remember, the Bofors scam was unearthed within months. How is it that the mainstream media which is so hyper active while chasing alleged improprieties of Nitin Gadkari and alleged crimes of Narendra Modi fail to expose even one scam till the judiciary left the mainstream media with no other choice? How is it that the mainstream media kept baying for the blood of Yeddyurappa and fhe BJP for the mining scam while remaining quiet about a bigger mining scam being perpetrated by the Congress government in Goa? How is it that the media continues to remain largely silent about the brazen corruption that has become the hallmark of Andhra Pradesh?  What were so many famous journalists doing then? Well, therein lies the tragedy of our democracy. They were busy chatting with Nira Radia! Talk of delicious irony: most of the media seems to have given a " clean chit" to these journalists"

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017