By Poonam I Kaushish
When does money become dirt? When it begins
to stick. As the Kartigate corruption saga
explodes on the political firmament, it has again come to haunt and taunt the Congress whereby its senior leader Chidambaram’s son Karti has been arrested for receiving Rs 10 lakhs in 2007 from INX Media for using his influence in grant of foreign investment permits of over Rs 300 crores to it from the Union Finance Ministry headed by his father and managing a tax probe.
Chidambaram jr was arrested at Chennai airport on his return from London Wednesday last and is in police custody for receiving the sum to his firm Advantage Strategic Consultancy Private Limited (Advantage India), with its subsidiary in Singapore (Advantage Singapore). The CBI said it also seized vouchers of Rs 10 lakh which were allegedly paid for the services
The facts: Finance Minister Chidambaram met with INX Media then owners Peter and Indrani Mukherjee (who are currently in jail on charges of murdering Indrani’s daughter Sheena Bora) in his office and told them to help his son’s business and to make foreign remittances for this purpose in 2007. Karti then met them at Hyatt hotel and demanded $1 million suggesting Chess Management and Advantage Strategic as alternatives to make payments. The CBI filed a case for criminal conspiracy, influencing public servants, criminal misconduct, cheating and receiving illegal gratification May last year.
Arguably, if the case dates back to 2007, why has action been initiated now? Is it to sidetrack people about the Modi Sarkar’s inability to provide ache din as general elections are 14 months away? True, it had promised to bring people involved in corruption to book but why did it wait for four years to act? Is it to ensure the CBI and ED have iron tight cases? Or is political one-upmanship as elections draw near?
Predictably, like every case where a neta is caught with his hand in the till, the Congress cries vendetta and alleges it is a “the NDA Government’s classic diversionary tactic to hide their own “kali kartootain”, al la Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and Dwarka Das Seth Jewellers”. And the Treasury Benches responds with the cryptic ‘law will take its own course.’
Big deal! In a country where political morality is non-existent, what corruption are we taking out? Aren’t we accustomed to an immoral, corrupt, criminal and unaccountable polity who could stoop to anything for paisa. Loot, bribe and deals have become the bedrock of our system with none interested in reforming it. Wherein a ghotala of a few thousands crores is not worth feeding the chara of morality. Shrugged as one of the “unlisted” perks of their job.
True, the courts will judge the merits of the case, but it raises disturbing questions about our democracy. That it does not strike any chord among our leaders who have reduced graft to a farcical political pantomime. There is no sense of outrage or shame.
Can one compromise on corruption? Does politics force an indulgence on issues of governance and probity? Is this part of political dharma? Whereby politics has everything to do with acceptability, little with credibility and public life is all compromises, not principles dripping morality sermons but not practicing it.
In a milieu where graft and sleaze is India’s creepy-crawly Osama bin Laden which permeates the very core of daily Government functioning and has ensnared the country in its vicious tentacles with the devil taking the hindmost. Undeniably, the temptation to make money is always great, indeed irresistible. In the political brothel of corruption, one may not begrudge our netagan from making money. Ostensibly for Party funds or to feather his own nest. That is the prevailing culture.
Either which way, Kartigate has exposed the hypocrisy of our leaders. As long as a leader is part of the Establishment, all wink at his misdemeanors’ letting him misuse and abuse the legal lacuna to his advantage till he runs out of legal lacunas. Witness, the statement by the ‘secular’ parties, “political vendetta ….framed by ‘communal’ BJP”, they yell.
Certainly, this is not the first or the last rajnitik ghotala. RJD Chief Lalu Yadav is in jail for the chara scam, there is Coalgate, 2G scam, Adarsh, CWG, Mayawati and Mulayam’s disproportionate assets case et al. Bringing to the fore striking immoral aspects of governance. Whereby, an honest person is perceived as one who does not get caught.
Besides, it underscores the inequity in the system is such that while a petty thief languishes in jail for years and a junior babu caught for accepting a princely bribe of Rs.1000 is immediately suspended, a leader who ‘transacts’ crores invariably goes scot free. On the facetious plea that there is “not sufficient evidence, ” or are “innocent till proven guilty” and the “law will take its own course.” Or hide behind the smokescreen of “verdict of the electorate” to escape punishment by manipulating the system.
Only last week the Supreme Court voiced concern over the accretion of income and assets of our MPs and MLAs which grew over 500% to 1200% between two polls 2009-2014 as reflected in their election affidavits, a sure sign of misuse of offices. That too being unemployed! Undeniably, nothing costs a nation more than a cheap politician.
Not a few assert that the cost of corruption to the country might exceed Rs. 250,000 crores. Leading even the Supreme Court to lament and express concern over growing corruption in Government machinery. Said an anguished Bench recently, “nothing moves without money.”
Sadly, our powers-that-be fail to realise that corruption not only perpetuates poverty but makes the poor poorer. Think. Sleaze erodes and cripples the capacity of the State to provide the aam aadmi roti, kapada aur makaan forget bijli, sadak aur paani. Recall, Rajiv Gandhi’s memorable words in 1984, “Only a mere 16 paisa of Re one spent by the Government reaches the poor,” he thundered. Thus, the ‘siphoning-off’ by middle men reduces its capability to offer infrastructural support to the poor.
What worries one is political malfeasance and assiduous cultivation of low morality for a place in high political society. As India aspires to sit at the high-table of nations, it needs assertive action that goes to the depth of these despicable deeds followed by appropriate remedial measures to prevent an encore. We need to get rid of the stigma of deep-rooted corruption at all levels.
Importantly, our democracy needs urgent course correction and corrective action. Governments are custodians of public trust and interest. The nation and people are first — way above selfish and narrow political interests. What the people ultimately want is transparency and accountability. Alas, this has so far been only preached ad nauseum but seldom practiced.
Clearly, the Karti narrative should make our netagan do a double-take. We must devise a political mechanism to create a social atmosphere by empowering the aam janata. Instead of replacing one corrupt Tweedledum with another corrupt Tweedledee. The challenge lies in overhauling our system of governance. There should be no scope for any lingering doubt or suspicion that politics is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Time for doodh ka doodh, aur paani ka paani! —— INFA