The CBI has done the BJP an enormous favour by arresting Janardhana Reddy. It gives the party one more chance at redemption, says T V R Shenoy.
One of the hurdles in the way of becoming an elite public servant is the interview. This, with names and other identification data carefully removed, is the story of one that was held recently, where the panel was talking to someone that had listed the Indian Police Service as a top option.
The topic of corruption came up, inevitably so as it is far more of a daily concern than terrorism or earthquakes. The young hopeful was somehow provoked into the statement that "all political parties are equally corrupt, and they must be punished equally."
"There are 809 pages in the Penal Code," one of his interlocutors pointed out gently, "with specific punishments ranging from simple imprisonment for a limited time up to jail for life. Carrying forward the 'logic' of what you just said, should we replace them with the simple statement 'All crimes are equally bad, and all criminals should be punished equally!'?"
I mention the episode because it is symptomatic of the lazy thinking that is prevalent today. No, all parties are not equally corrupt; not even all politicians within a given party are equally corrupt. But how does the voter make out the difference?
Once upon a time, the Bharatiya Janata Party used to boast of being that rare beast, the 'party with a difference'. That phrase has been dropped long since, and for good reason because the electorate would simply not swallow such a claim. In fact, I wonder if the party itself would believe it!
A telling demonstration of the BJP's fall from grace was seen on Friday, August 26, during Anna Hazare's fast. Gopinath Munde and Ananth Kumar, both BJP leaders, went to Ramlila Maidan, positioning themselves on chairs placed close to the dais where the veteran Gandhian was fasting.
It was their presence that seems to have incited Kiran Bedi's now famous 'burkha' act, during which she accused politicians of saying one thing in public and another when they were in conclave with their colleagues. Both MPs were roundly booed by the crowd.
It could be argued that the crowd at the Ramlila Maidan simply did not recognise the duo as being non-Congress MPs. My personal belief is that it would have made no difference at all because the BJP has been steadily losing the moral high ground in the public's eyes.
There were always -- and the BJP should be honest enough to admit it -- some rumours of certain ministers making money back in the days of the Vajpayee ministry. There was disquiet when Jagmohan was shunted out of the urban development ministry -- to tourism! -- just when it was said he was about to take on the developers' lobby.
Disquiet turned to anger in 2004 when the BJP inducted D P Yadav -- whose son and nephew are involved in the Nitish Katara murder case -- and actually gave him a ticket for the Lok Sabha. (Better sense prevailed, but only after four days of public pressure.)
L K Advani made corruption and black money a centrepiece of his campaign in 2009, but the party quietly dropped both after it was hammered in the polls -- up until the judiciary and the media brought it back on stage last year.
Yet nothing speaks to the party's decline as much as the state of affairs in Karnataka, where the party has persistently played fast and loose with principles and pursued short-term gains.
Was it necessary to form a coalition with the Janata Dal-Secular?
Was it necessary to broker compromise after compromise to keep the wealthy Bellary Brothers happy?
Was it necessary to give B S Yeddyurappa the same long rope?
Finally, was it necessary to rush to embrace Janardhana Reddy after the CBI arrested him (along with B V Srinivas Reddy) for illegal mining operations?
Gujarat's Narendra Modi, Madhya Pradesh's Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and Chhattisgarh's Raman Singh regularly make the top five when India's chief ministers are ranked, as does Bihar's Nitish Kumar (who runs a coalition government with the BJP). But their efforts count for nothing when set against the rot in Karnataka.
Consider how the Congress responded when skeletons have come tumbling out in the past year.
The Commonwealth Games Scandal? "What is the BJP doing in Karnataka?"
The Adarsh Housing Scandal? "What is the BJP doing in Karnataka?"
The 2G Telecom Scandal? "What is the BJP doing in Karnataka?"
And now, with its almost frenzied backing for Janardhana Reddy, the Congress doesn't even bother saying that because the BJP seems bent on doing all its work!
Go through the CBI case about the illegal mining and one fact jumps out at you -- the Bellary Brothers-owned Obulapuram Mining Company would never have got as far as it did without the implicit support of the Andhra Pradesh authorities. And the all-powerful chief minister of Andhra Pradesh during the mining barons' meteoric rise was Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, a Congressman to the core.
Yet the BJP's folly has acted as a convenient smokescreen for the Congress, without the ruling party, in Delhi as in Hyderabad, being asked any uncomfortable questions.
By any rational reckoning the CBI has done the BJP an enormous favour by arresting Janardhana Reddy. It gives the party one more chance at redemption, by examining its behaviour for the better part of the past decade, by admitting its various follies in public and without making excuses, and by taking corrective action to arrest its slide from the high moral ground.
Why should it do so when it would be easier to hum from the Congress song-book, attempting to wriggle away by pointing to the Congress's record of corruption? Because times have changed, because Anna Hazare's agitation has given a renewed sense of purpose to the anti-corruption movement, and because it would be political folly for any party to attempt the 'They are also guilty!' ploy.
The electorate wants to vote for the better candidate, not just the lesser of two evils. The follies in Karnataka have robbed the BJP of the chance to point to the greater evils that took place in the UPA's regime. The result is that even literate and intelligent Indians such as that civil service applicant find it easy to believe that 'all parties are equally corrupt.'
Even if it cares nothing for the moral imperative, the BJP should be concerned about the political fallout of such a sentiment.
Why should voters choose the BJP over the Congress? It is up to the BJP to tell us why, and actions, proverbially, speak louder than words.