Most corruption cases have a political connection in one way or the other. So whenever a new scam is unearthed, there are allegations and counter allegations. Invariably, the party facing the embarrassment accuses those arraigned on the other side of politicising the issue.
When Congress blamed political connections for the escape of Nirav Mody, uncle Mehul Choksi and families with their loot of over Rs12,600 crores, the BJP and the government went on an offensive, terming the allegation politically motivated. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh cried foul when his son-in-law Gurpal Singh was booked by CBI for a similar bank fraud in his capacity as deputy managing director of Simbhaoli Sugars Ltd, along with several others ,with Rs106 crore at stake, saying the government and the premier investigating agency were politicising the incident. The same is the case with scams involving Oommen Chandi’s son and the clumsy Dubai episodes of Kodiyeri’s ‘entrepreneur’ sons.
The latest in the series is the Karti Chidambaram episode, in which the former finance minister’s son has been picked up by CBI for accepting bribe in return of favours shown in cases relating to Foreign Investment Promotion Board clearances. Although the amount involved is miniscule compared to the other scams, the case scores very high in sensation, thanks to the people involved. Chidambaram’s party has moved earth and heaven in defence of the man and to portray the action as political vendetta. Karti was reportedly running two companies named Chess Management and Advantage Strategic Consultancy, which acted as facilitators and consultants for companies seeking licence and other permissions to operate in India.
When Congress launched a campaign over a 16,000 times increase in the turnover of a company owned by BJP president Amit Shah’s son Jay in just one year after the election of Narendra Modi as prime minister and the elevation of his father as party chief, the BJP and its ministers lined up a solid defence, accusing the opposition of politicising his unique achievement. So, bringing in the political angle is the first line of defence in all cases of questionable achievements. Refuge is always taken behind the argument as to how anyone can be denied the opportunity to do business like anyone else simply because that person happens to be the son or daughter (or son-in-law) of a leader. And they put up a brave front as if they have satisfactorily explained the issue.
If the government is in possession of a piece of evidence of misdeed against Karti Chidambaram, for instance, what should it do? Should it not act on it because such action might invite criticism of political vendetta? Or should the government show courtesy to his father and his party by sitting on it as if nothing happened, while the law enforcement authorities are unleashed on people of less lineage?
These are important questions, but the bigger question is: what is wrong with politicising these cases? Corruption is the biggest political issue in this country right now, because nothing holds India back from progress as this cancerous disease of the nation’s health does. In fact, there is nothing that is more worthy of our politics now. Every case involving corruption must be taken up and pursued to its logical conclusion. Those who object in the name of political propriety must be shouted down mercilessly. Only that can put the fear of god into our politicians and their cronies.
There is need for a paradigm shift in our thinking. The social and moral setting in the country at the time of framing of the Constitution and the statutes were quite different from what they are today. There is a complete transformation. What was the rule then is the exception now; what was exception then has now become the rule. This means one could safely assume that people holding public offices then by and large acted in good faith and honestly; those who erred were few and far between. Today the reverse is true. As a rule most of those who hold public offices now can be assumed to be vulnerable and likely to abuse their position. Those who act honestly will be a miniscule minority and an exception. Our laws need to be rewritten to reflect this new reality.
So when Jay Shah makes his business grow 16,000 times, it is natural that the needle of suspicion will turn towards him. The onus of proving that nothing is amiss must be on him, because the propensity of his privileged position being abused is higher than the opposite. Similarly, Karti cannot say that he has the right to do business like any other citizen of India because he enjoys a privileged position which others don’t and such position is more likely to be abused rather than be wasted. The onus of proving his innocence is on him and his father; instead of the rest of the country working overtime to establish his guilt.
President Trump may not be the best example to cite when discussing propriety. But even he had weighed concerns of conflict of interest for his business while he entered the presidential race. And as soon as he became president, Trump resigned from his company and more than 400 affiliated entities. According to recent reports, with Trump’s name now being tied to partisan politics, there has been a downturn in the US luxury real estate market as a whole and Trump property sales, prices, profits have all dropped.
It is time we in India made conflict of interests a cardinal principle when friends and relatives of people holding public offices enter business. They have to sacrifice something for their privileged position. Only then can we solve the problem of businesses by Jays and Kartis, Chandys and Kodiyeris being lionised.