As a man whose personal integrity is beyond reproach, the defence minister must step in and stem the rot, says T V R Shenoy.
There are three members of the current Union Cabinet whose personal integrity is, in my opinion, beyond question. They are the prime minister, the defence minister, and the railway minister.
Let me enter a few caveats. First, there may, of course, be others of Cabinet rank -- not to mention ministers of state -- that are equally honest. Second, personal values needn't translate into proper policy.
But honesty in a politician is something to be treasured, not least in the season of the Commonwealth Games scandals and the Adarsh scam.
Will the men of integrity in the Cabinet seize the chance to demonstrate that personal integrity can be translated into departmental honesty?
I believe the Adarsh scam is potentially the more dangerous of the two scandals, and should therefore be tackled with greater expediency.
The Commonwealth Games opened up the politician-bureaucrat-businessman nexus for all the world to see. The Adarsh scam has all of those but it adds a dangerous new element -- corruption in the armed forces.
By now there is a widespread feeling that many netas and babus can be bought. But we all thought that the armed forces were the last bastion of integrity.
The Adarsh scam, coming close on the heels of the Sukhna scandal, has blown that last bubble of illusion into smithereens.
We can sum up the basic issue in the Adarsh scam quite simply.
Eight ministers, at various levels, were involved in permitting the disputed structure to come up.
Sixteen bureaucrats apparently aided them.
Over 30 senior officers in the armed forces seem to have colluded in using the name of the Kargil martyrs to acquire land.
All of the above -- or their families -- acquired flats in Adarsh for roughly a tenth of the market price.
It is up to Defence Minister A K Antony to stem the rot. He has no power to reform politics, not even in a state, Maharashtra, that is his special responsibility in the Congress party structure. And, in my opinion, even hounding out corruption from the bureaucracy is a task beyond him.
But as defence minister he can, and must, undertake the painful task of cleansing the armed forces.
Antony has, if you read between the lines, already started the process without much fanfare. Quite honestly, I am not sure if either the Sukhna or the Adarsh scams would have come to light if not for the defence minister's activity behind the scenes.
Ten months ago I suggested in this column that the defence minister was facing insidious suggestions to let matters slide in the Sukhna case. At that point the then army chief General Deepak Kapoor, was all set to recommend 'administrative' action -- meaning no court martial -- against his own military secretary, Lieutenant General Awadesh Prakash, and others.
This resulted in the defence minister taking the highly unusual step of (very publicly) 'advising' General Kapoor -- one of those allotted an Adarsh flat, by the way -- to take stronger 'disciplinary' action.
If I remember correctly, Antony was criticised in some quarters for his 'interference' back then.
Coming to the Adarsh case, please remember that the scam began at some point in 2003. Frankly, the project stank from the very moment it was brought up.
The Colaba area is one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in India, even by the standards of Mumbai.
It is pure piffle to think poor widows were ever going to get as much as a garage in that particular spot. Everyone involved -- politicians or bureaucrats, soldiers or sailors -- must have known that.
So why is it that nobody -- including, I admit, we of the media -- took a good hard look at the project up until recently?
The point is that one good man can make a difference. When the defence minister is a man of principle everyone around him -- the army, the bureaucrats in the ministry of defence -- take their cue from him.
But Antony's task is but half-done. It isn't enough to identify the cancer, it needs to be surgically extracted.
Only time shall tell whether the defence minister can complete the job.
As for Antony's other job -- reporting on Maharashtra to the All India Congress Committee -- I have no idea what he can do. What are the Congress high command's options at this stage anyhow?
It isn't just the sitting chief minister but three predecessors -- Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Kumar Shinde, and Narayan Rane -- whose names are appearing in some scandal over land.
Decades ago, Jayaprakash Narayan summed up the issue of tackling corruption by saying, 'If the Ganga is dirty we can clean it. But what do we do if the filth flows from Gangotri?'
When one or more chief ministers of Maharashtra and one or more service chiefs are named in scandals, we must admit that Gangotri is beginning to reek.
May one hope that the defence minister and his prime minister succeed at least in keeping Gaumukh free of pollution?