The primary objective of many of our politicians, irrespective of which party they belong to, is to make as much money as they can during their tenure. Accountability is an alien term to our politicians.
One of the seminal political moments of 2015 occurred when at the completion of the first year of the Narendra Modi government, the Great Leader puffed out his 56 inch chest and proudly broadcast that there had not been a single financial scam during his time in office. To use a colloquial expression, “becahara ne koi ni nazar laagi“. Just days after his boast, skeletons began tumbling out of his ministerial cabinet with alarming rapidity.
It started with the lady once said to be in contention for the PM position before the Modi whirlwind laid low all opposition; the redoubtable Sushma Swaraj. In an act of misplaced sympathy and uncharacteristic political miscalculation, Swaraj had written to the British authorities, urging them to grant Lalit Modi temporary travel documents to travel to Portugal to sign the consent form for his wife’s “critical” operation. After news report of her “tender heart” surfaced in the media, the lady was left red-faced. Even then, she might have managed to contain the damage, had not the irrepressible Lalit Modi not spoiled the plot by being seen having a ball in Ibiza just three days after the purported operation. Soon the Opposition led by a rejuvenated Congress was baying for her blood.
Let us accept one reality. The giving and receiving of favours is part and parcel of politics – and not just in India. In the case of Swaraj, the ties to Modi are particularly strong, since both her husband and daughter have been providing legal counsel to the latter. Moreover, Lalit Modi is a master fixer who has perfected the art of manipulating the powerful and the influential to his own advantage. It is the reason why despite being a fugitive from justice, he has not only evaded prosecution, but continues to live the high life in London and Europe. It seems surprising that a highly intelligent lady like Swaraj did not see through Modi’s transparent ploy of requesting travel documents on the flimsy pretext he offered. In fact, it is fairly obvious that Swaraj knew precisely what Modi’s intention was, but did not see any harm in acquiescing to his wish. That’s what friends are for, right? Besides, Modi had helped get her nephew admitted to a prestigious London college – and so he deserved a helping hand, propriety be damned. In Swaraj’s mind, it was such a small matter that the possible repercussions of her action probably did not even occur to her. She forgot that nothing remains a secret in politics; especially when members of her own party would be only too pleased to see her humiliated and dethroned. Swaraj and the BJP will very likely brazen this out, since the Opposition simply do not have the numbers to take any effective action. It does, however, put a dent in the PM’s often touted boast of probity in his government.
Sushma Swaraj was just the appetizer. Waiting in the wings was the darling of the BJP and the marauding maharani who swept her party to a landslide victory in Rajasthan. Vasundhara Raje suddenly found herself battered from all sides; and once again the villain of the piece was the omnipresent Lalit Modi, who happened to be a close family friend. In a moment of weakness – or sheer stupidity – Raje had interceded with a British MP, on Modi’s behalf to help getting him permanent residency status in Britain. Most damning of all, she had insisted that her assistance should not be disclosed to the Indian authorities- and then she had put it all in writing and signed the document. Compounding the maharani’s discomfiture was the revelation that bosom buddy Lalit had showered pecuniary blessings on Raje’s son Dushyant by snapping up ten rupee shares in the latter’s “Naam ke vaaste” company at a mind boggling premium of almost a lakh a share. Such munificence cried out to be rewarded; and Vasundhara apparently did just that.
These sordid revelations about their luminaries had the BJP bosses in a real quandary. Even the Great Orator found himself at a loss for words. After mulling it over, he apparently decided to adopt the lofty position of being above the fray. His man-ki-baat meandered over every topic except the one the public desperately wanted to know his opinion about. Eventually, the BJP triumvirate decided on the somewhat woolly headed strategy of flatly denying any wrongdoing whatsoever, even if it flew in the face of all logic and reason. Our hearts went out to the hapless BJP spokesmen who were forced to defend the indefensible and tied themselves up in knots. One felt a grudging sympathy even for the habitually obnoxious Sambit Patra, whose eyes bulged even more than usual; and who deflected any pertinent question on the topic towards an incoherent diatribe against the past sins of the Congress.
Meanwhile, back in Maharashtra, greenhorn Minister for Child Development Pankaja Munde was having problems of her own. Munde, whose sole qualification for the job was that she is Gopinath Munde’s daughter, had allegedly issued contracts worth Rs.206 crores without tenders and some to blacklisted firms, in a single day. This huge scam by Pankaja Munde exposed the hollow protestations of Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis that he is going to be ruthless in weeding out corruption during his administration. Now that one of his own ministers has been caught with her hand in the till, he is waffling and giving her the benefit of the doubt. This sordid episode also reinforces the public perception that the primary objective of many of our politicians, irrespective of which party they belong to, is to make as much money as they can during their tenure. In Munde’s case, what is even more reprehensible than the financial impropriety is the revelation that because of her greed and indifference, tens of thousands of poor students in the state were served chikki contaminated with clay and even faeces. This in itself is grounds for criminal prosecution. But of course, in India, ministers very rarely get prosecuted. The worst they have to fear is being asked to resign. In Munde’s case, even this is unlikely. Accountability is an alien term to our politicians.
Coupled with the misdeeds of Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje, the boastful assertion of our holier-than-thou PM that there has not been a single financial scam or case of impropriety during the first year of his government, stands revealed as the chimera it is. In the case of Vasundhara, I wonder if other readers observed the irony of the lady being given a clean chit by Nitin Gadkari, who had to resign as BJP President because of his involvement in the Purti scandal; and whose purported innocence has yet to be established by a court of law. The deafening silence of the generally voluble and tweeting PM is indeed intriguing, but perhaps he is preoccupied with his next foreign extravaganza.
FIROZE HIRJIKAKA is a retired civil engineer and freelance writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org