Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, in a statement made on the sixtieth anniversary of the Lok Sabha described India, for all its shortcomings, as a “functioning democracy”. Yes, it is functioning all right, but how one wished it functioned with a little more decency and decorum! Thank God, the ex-Army Chief, Gen VK Singh has finally walked into the sunset and hopefully all the controversies surrounding him will quickly be forgotten. But who is to succeed him? Lt Gen. Bikram Singh, that’s who. And he is the first Chief of Army since 1947 who has two cases pending against him in the courts, making him extremely vulnerable. Never mind what the cases are and how he’ll be able to walk honourably out of them. But the very fact that he is taking over the leadership of the Army under a shadow makes it a distressing beginning. It is not just Gen Bikram Singh who is under siege.
Forget the 2G scam. Nobody is being spared among the Union cabinet ministers. P Chidambaram was literally screaming in the Lok Sabha at a charge of nepotism made against him. Abhishek Manu Singhvi was obliged to resign as Congress spokesman and Chairman of Parliament’s Public Grievances Committee following an alleged sex scandal. If Congress could do much ado when a couple of Karnataka’s legislators were noticed watching porn on their cell phones while the Assembly was in session, shouldn’t it ask Singhvi to resign from the Rajya Sabha in equal fairness, asks the media.
Like Banquo’s ghost, the Bofors scam refuses to die and confirmation is now available that Rajiv Gandhi presided over one of the highest covers-up in the history of the Republic. But all we hear from Delhi is a resounding silence. The media noted that a former Chief Minister of Maharashtra – none less! – and thirteen others have been slapped with a money-laundering case for their alleged involvement in the Aadarsh Housing Scam! An ex-Chief Minister, mind, not just a senior official. Towards the end of February, the Mumbai High Court ordered the city police to register an FIR against Mumbai Regional Congress Committee chief and party MLA, Kripashankar Singh for “criminal misconduct”, and to attach his assets and those of his family members. As a media pointed out, “the massive use of money and muscle for political gains is fast turning… even the home town of Maharashtra’s Home Minister RR Patil “into a haven for thugs enjoying political protection”.
On May 11 Sports Minister lashed out at the Indian Olympic Association saying that the body cannot be trusted to organise South Asian Federation Games until it got rid of its tainted chief, Suresh Kalmadi. What exactly is Kalmadi’s position in the scheme of things? Has he been cleared of all charges against him? Nobody seems to know and few seem to care. Several IAS officers from different states have been booked from states like Andhra Pradesh and Assom and in mid-May the media reported that the CBI has arrested Uttar Pradesh’s former principal Health Secretary, Pradeep Shukla for his alleged role in a multi-crore National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scam. His arrest was preceded by the arrest of two more senior officials. On 11 May the media reported that more than a dozen officials in the UP government are “likely to be booked” for “irrational and unaccountable” expenditure incurred on the reconstruction and renovation of former Chief Minister Mayavati’s “bungalow” which looks more like a palace! The amount mentioned is Rs 86 crore!
The rise in Mayavati’s own assets since she became Chief Minister – it goes into crores! – should be a further cause for concern. The matter does not come either under media or government scan. Almost a year ago the media reported that “outstripping the presumptive loss in the 2G Spectrum scam, India’s black money stashed away in foreign banks is estimated at a staggering $ 500 billion (about Rs 24.5 lakh crore)” a revelation made by none other than the CBI, the country’s premier investigating agency. Then there is the case of Bangaru Laxman who was sentenced to 4 year’s rigourous imprisonment for taking a bribe, caught in the act in a sting operation way back in 2001. And we have the sickening case of veteram Congress leader ND Tiwari being asked to voluntarily give a sample of his blood for a DNA test in a paternity suit which for long he has refused to do. And what can one say of the behaviour of YS Yediyurappa, Karnataka’s former Chief Minister was relieved of his post by an embarrassed BJP? Even if he is cleared of all charges against him – which is doubtful – his current behaviour makes him unfit to any job of state or national importance. Question: what on earth is going on in our society across all people and parties? Even the Communist Party is on the verge of breaking up. Is power and pelf everything? Is there no scope for national service outside government? Has Vasundhara Raje a natural right to be a future Chief Minister of Rajasthan because of her royal ancestry? Does she have to make such a song and dance because a colleague in the party, one Gulabchand Kataria, had proposed to run a yatra? Surely, the issues could have been resolved quietly behind-the-scene?
Aggressiveness seems to be the order of the day. And the fight for power for power’s sake. It is self before service and not the other way. Power and money runs the country. Even in ordinary day-to-day life, money has become the measure of success. It comes as a shock to learn that the proposed salary of the Vice Chancellor of Nalanda University is Rs 4.2 lakh per month. Sadly, even the media is getting out of hand. No less than the former editor-in-chief of Outlook weekly, Vinod Mehta has recently admitted that “the media are recklessly squandering the trust that the aam aadmi has bestowed on us” and that the media is guilty of “monumental hypocrisy”. Two top newspapers were early in May at loggerheads with each other on the issue of ‘Paid News’. Can it be that news is increasingly becoming disguised propaganda? Is all this the social result of P.V. Narasimha Rao’s liberalisation of the economy with the creation of an entirely new social order, uncontrolled and uncontrollable with the gap between the rich and the poor widening at an alarming scale? Is it any wonder, then, even AIR India pilots – getting one of the highest pay checks in the country – are on strike, asking for more? Isn’t all this a time for public discussion and debate?