WILL corruption in high places emerge as a core issue in the assembly and parliamentary elections in the coming years as envisaged by the Bharatiya Janata Party? The party’s strategy firmed up at its Guwahati National Executive Meeting is to focus on the scams exposed during the year 2010 – the year of scams – and to make it as number one poll issues in all elections, including assembly polls, during the next three years. Although it is too early to say how far the BJP would succeed in its objective, its success can’t be ruled out in the face of the stark reality that the Congress-led Government is rattled by a scam a day and the utter failure of the Prime Minister to take any concrete action to prevent the loot of huge public funds.
The tone and tenor of the Guwahati resolution is a measure of the party’s determination to make corruption a big issue. The party plans to hold mass rallies at all block headquarters in the country in the next two months and to subsequently launch a focused and sustained campaign against major scams like 2G, CWG and, of course, the Bofors kickback scandal that has been resurrected by the Income Tax Appellant Tribunal’s significant order based on facts on record that the Italian wheeler dealer Ottivio Quattrocchi had received kickbacks from the Bofors gun deal.
Corruption is eating into the vitals of the national economy and has brought shame to the nation. The renewed energy exhibited by the BJP on this issue of great public interest is a clear sign that the party has given up diffidence and uncertainty born out of its two successive defeats in parliamentary elections. That BJP is on the offensive is a measure of its resilience. This is not only good for the principal opposition party but also for democracy that requires a credible alternative to the ruling party/alliance.
BJP’s long term plan of action is based on the premise that the massive swing in popular mood witnessed in late 1980s against the Rajiv Gandhi Government because of the public perception that the Prime Minister was personally involved in the scandal and that a massive cover up was launched to protect the Italian businessman close to the Gandhi family can be achieved if the scams that surfaced during 2010 and the resurrection of Bofors scandal are forcefully argued in public domain. The political climate in the country is conducive for a big swing as demonstrated in recent Assembly elections in Bihar and in local bodies polls in Karnataka and Himachal – states where BJP is in power. There was no sign of anti-incumbency in any of the three states. On the other hand, the Congress has been vanquished in Bihar and lost ground in Karnataka and Himachal. The BJP has closed ranks at the national level and has regained its self-belief. It is now attacking Sonia Gandhi, the power behind the throne, and has brought Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in the line of fire for his listless leadership and utter failure to prevent the loot of public funds.
Veteran BJP leader LK Advani had in the run up to the 2009 parliamentary elections forcefully raised the issue of bringing back money looted by corrupt politicians, civil servants and business tycoons that have been kept in secret accounts in tax havens. Although the party briefly reiterated its demand in the political resolution, it needs to focus on the issue in right earnest if it is to convince the masses that the party is genuinely committed to probity in public life. BJP also needs to force the Government to ratify the United Nation Convention on Corruption that India signed in 2003 but has not yet ratified till date. It is intriguing that while 126 out of 148 members of UN have ratified the convention, India is amongst 22 countries that haven’t. Is the Congress-led alliance reluctant to ratify the convention because several of its top leaders have secret accounts in tax havens? BJP’s failure to strongly press for ratification may weaken its campaign against corruption.
The fight against corruption on the global level was in focus in the special session of UN General Assembly held in New York in October 2010. Matthias Bachmann, Swiss representative in the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN, forcefully argued for a global fight against corruption and informed the house that Swiss Parliament had passed a law to further facilitate the return of assets to the countries from which funds had been siphoned off. Insisting that Swiss Government was focused on the issue, the Swiss representative said his country had returned large number of assets that were stolen by “politically exposed” citizens of countries that approached the Swiss Government.
He also made the significant observation that the countries that have political will to fight corruption had sought identities of persons holding stolen funds in Swiss banks. Shanta Kumar, a former Union Minister and now one of the vice presidents of the BJP who was part of the Indian delegation to the said special session, says India had not approached Switzerland and other tax havens for the identity of our citizens who have secret accounts there. After his return to Delhi, the BJP leader wrote to the Prime Minister asking why India had not ratified the convention and why no effort had been made to retrieve huge funds – estimated to be RS 70 lakh crore – deposited by corrupt Indian politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen in Swiss banks. The only response Shanta Kumar got from PMO was an acknowledgement of his letter signed by the MOS in PMO.
The saffron party’s ambitious plan to arouse people against corruption can, and will, succeed only if it is able to launch a movement like the one launched under the inspiring leadership of Jai Prakash Narain in 1970s. For that it must identify a leader with impeccable track record and unwilling to accept any public office. It is a tough call that has to be responded to. In the absence of a selfless leader of that caliber and credibility, the party may look up to an organisation committed to probity and social good. A major negative for the BJP is its failure to purge corrupt elements that have managed to occupy positions of power and authority in the party. It will have to do a thorough soul searching and weed out corrupt elements to regain its pristine glory of a party with a difference. The BJP needs to focus on fight against the corrupt in a forceful manner if it is not to give the impression that it is not serious on the issue. Yet another issue on which the Opposition must insist is the enactment of a law that must provide attachment of all properties, including bank accounts, of persons found guilty of economic offences. A corollary should be the setting up of a constitutional authority called Independent Commission against corruption on the lines of a similar commission in Hong Cong.