“WOULD you buy a second-hand car from Sharad Pawar?” “Kapil Sibbal, Sonia Gandhi?” I took an informal poll among about 80 people, none of whom I knew. 50 out of 80, or about 60 per cent said No, they wouldn’t buy a second-hand car from any of these people. The rest were either not sure or had not made up their minds.
All the three mentioned above are well-known politicians, and to all appearances respectable ones. But all of them are involved in some kind of scandals and have spoiled their copybooks. Pawar is involved in so many scams – which he keeps denying – that most of us have lost count. That may be the reason why Anna Hazare did not want him in his committee. Sibbal defended none other than D Raja in the Parliament, with involuted logic which only Supreme Court lawyers can decipher. Hazare had a mark against him too but he relented at the last minute. About Sonia Gandhi the less said the better. Mention Sonia Gandhi and Quattrochhi in one sentence and you find people giggling. It is not only that they come from the same country, may be the same family, they are also in the same business – the business of politics.
What Anna Hazare is trying to do is to separate business from politics. There was a time when politics was a mission, not business, but that was long before we became free. In 1937, when the first lot of ministries were formed in the provinces – they were known as provinces then, not states – under the revised 1935 Constitution, Congressmen became ministers for the first time. They used to be Prime Ministers of the time, not Chief Ministers, and all ministers wore khadi, not ordinary white but blinding white. My college in Bombay was close to the Secretariat and I used to go there almost everyday for lunch, as one of the officials was related to me.
The ministers were easily approachable and you could even visit their offices, if you know their private secretaries. The Ministers reported to the Governor, who was naturally a Britisher, and he didn’t wear khadi. He was, of course, not approachable, though I used to see him pass by in the corridor followed by his khidmatgars!
There were scandals, of course, but they were hushed up. Most of them involved no more than a few lakhs, or may be just thousands, but a lakh was a lot before the war. The whiter the khadi, the blacker or greyer the scandal, but people took no notice. They were so convinced that Congressmen could do no wrong, they paid no attention to the rumours.
But corruption is so firmly embedded in the Congress psyche that, no matter how hard you try, you cannot get rid of it. Nehru himself had a squeaky-clean reputation but not all his colleagues were above a little business on the side. Money may not have changed hands, but it did matter, and may have helped in a few cases.
There was the famous – or infamous – jeep scandal at the time Krishna Menon was High Commissioner in London. Apparently some second hand jeeps were purchased and some middlemen made a lot of money. Nehru was asked to recall Menon – who was his friend – and face an enquiry. Nehru, like the good Congressman he was, resisted all attempts to indict Menon, but was forced to sack him, or rather transfer him to our Embassy in the United Nations. The point is that Nehru, for all his incorruptibility, refused to take action against his friend, though there was a great deal of evidence against the man.
A few years later, there was the case involving TT Krishnamachari, a formidable presence in the Nehru cabinet and also his Finance Minister. A businessman called Mundhra had apparently tried to get money out of Life Insurance Corporation of India under false pretences, and since Krishnamachari was Finance Minister, his ministry was apparently involved in the scam and so was Krishnamachari. A Commission was appointed under MC Chagla, then Chief Justice of Bombay, which came to the conclusion that there was indeed a fraud, and it involved Krishnamachari, perhaps indirectly.
Nehru was asked to relieve his Finance Minister under a lot of pressure, and when Krishnamachari left Delhi for Madras, Nehru went to the airport to see him off, as a mark of support. No wonder Congressmen convinced themselves that they could get away with murder as long as they had PM on their side.
This is where Anna Hazare and Manmohan Singh come in and why there is a continuing tug-of-war between them. Both are government pensioners – one, a retired army truck driver and the other a senior civil servant – but there the similarity ends. They belong to the two ends of the political spectrum, one, a typical babu who thinks there is nothing really wrong with the system, the other totally opposed to it. One has become a full-fledged politician with dress to match, the other is a permanent agitator, like Gandhiji, continually at odds with the Establishment and suspicious of it. They are natural rivals, which is why the continuous fireworks.
Manmohan Singh, a typical babu who has become a typical politician, cannot see beyond the next file. He is addicted to protocol, as babus are, and unduly conscious of it. Which is why, throughout the four-day hunger strike of Hazare, he did not or could not find time to see him even once, though Hazare is a very old man and Delhi is a hot place. Manmohan Singh did not call on the old man, because he was after all the Prime Minister, and Hazare was a nobody. Sonia Gandhi did not call on Hazare either.
Actually, what we are seeing is only the beginning. Singh believes, as all babus and politicians believe, that they are a superior lot and the rest of the crowd, which include the likes of Anna Hazare and nobodies. So, if you have a committee headed by a non-minister, ministers cannot be its members. You must have a minister as a chairman if you want other ministers to join it. This is a silly and childish argument, typical of babus, and therefore typical of small-minded men like Manmohan Singh.
I am therefore not at all hopeful that anything tangible will come out of this committee, as long as the likes of Singh and others dominate it. In fact, I suspect that Singh is not at all serious about corruption, and does not really think that there is much to be worried about. Had Anna Hazare not gone on a hunger strike, Singh & co would have laughed off the whole thing, as they still may do. Hazare has a lot of work ahead of him, but only he can do what has to be done, namely, take “business” out of politics, though Manmohan Singh & co will continue to make trouble!