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The buck stops with you, Mr Prime Minister

By Vivek Gumaste
November 16, 2010 18:29 IST
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With one scam after another tumbling out of the closet, the head of state; titular or not, must accept responsibility for the happenings under his watch, says Vivek Gumaste.

With one scam after another tumbling out of the closet, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government is scrambling for cover with no place to hide. No amount of obfuscation, no amount of stalling and no amount of diversionary tactics is going to absolve them of these crimes or deflect the taint that sticks to them like wet mud.

Instead of coming clean and owning up its responsibility, the Congress party seems hell bent on pursuing a dishonourable course using every trick in its armory to hoodwink the public at large and throw them off track.

Corruption is a canker that eats into the soul and body of a nation, denies legitimate citizens their rights, deprives people of the amenities they deserve and illegally empties the coffers of the nation with large amounts of monies being siphoned of by an unscrupulous few. The net effect is a change in value system that now places a premium on money power rather than honesty, hard work and merit.

It is the duty of the government in power to keep such thievery at bay and the present UPA seems to have done an exceptionally bad job at stemming this rot. The finger of accusation must perforce point to the head of state; titular or not he must accept responsibility for the happenings under his watch.

Leadership is not merely an exposition of ones superlative abilities or chaste character; something to be flashed like a showcase diamond. Intrinsic to leadership is an ability to enforce and demand the high standards that one adheres to. By this criterion, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh falls way short of the mark; his pristine innocence is sinking imperceptibly into the quagmire of sleaze and bribery that engulfs him, nullifying in the process any residual altruistic advantage his personal honor may have conferred.

The prime minister has shown singularly poor judgment in his oversight of A Raja, the telecom minister hailing from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam; his silence and inertia making him an accomplice to the transgression. In a graft of unparalleled proportion, Raja, in 2008, issued 2G spectrum to service providers on a first come first serve basis at rates that corresponded to 2001 levels causing a shortfall to the exchequer to the tune of 90,000 crores; the date of filing was also arbitrarily and abruptly changed to favour a few.

Evidence of wrongdoing has being pointed out by two watchdog institutions. In November 2009, the high court decreed that the Department of Telecom decision to advance the cut-off date was illegal. The Comptroller and Auditor General report directly indicted the ministry for blatant favoritism: "The policy was not transparent and the DoT had tipped off the firms in advance, as a result of which they had been able to arrange demand drafts worth Rs 1,650 crore in just 45 minutes to obtain pan-India licences."

Yet the central government brazenly chose to support Raja. Flouting all norms of decency and in direct negation of public interest, the government embarked on a concerted rescue mission filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court that claimed Raja's actions had the sanction of the prime minister and even questioned the propriety of the Supreme Court's intervention in this matter. Fortunately for the prime minister, Raja resigned on Sunday, saving the government from further embarrassment.

Machinations necessary to maintain a coalition are acceptable but only to a degree. Basic principles like truth and public benefit cannot be sacrificed at the altar of coalition dharma and that is precisely what the UPA government did for almost two years.

Coming to the CWG fiasco, it stands out as a prime example of national interest being relegated to second place by an unholy cabal of unprincipled politicians and crooked vendors. That these misdeeds sent India's ranking on the corruption scale plummeting to a dishonorable 87 didn't really matter to these worthies or their masters. Neither was it their concern if their shenanigans resulted in a negative impact on future foreign investments in India. The point however is that without the incompetence and possible connivance of the Congress party, this grand design of overt embezzlement could not have been carried out to fruitation.

However, it is the Adarsh building scam that must take the cake for depravity. The rights of unfortunate and helpless war widows of the Kargil conflict were usurped by the high and mighty to feather their nests making a mockery of emotions like empathy and ideals such as patriotism. Again this act of deceit was supervised by a host of important Congress functionaries leaving the party little scope for denial.

Nevertheless the Congress party shamelessly made a play for exoneration by naming others like the BJP chief Nitin Gadkari as co-beneficiaries of the scam. By implicating its adversaries the Congress party cannot diminish its culpability. Moreover, the Indian public is not interested in the party affiliations of the corrupt or their vital statistics. They are interested in bringing the guilty to book regardless of whether they belong to the Congress, the BJP, or any other party and the responsibility for this lies fair and square with the Congress as the party in power.

Cosmetic touches like the dismissal of inconsequential players or efforts to disseminate the blame will not pass muster. Assertive action that goes to the depth of these despicable deeds followed by appropriate remedial measures to prevent an encore is the need of the hour. For that the prime minister must take the lead. He has no option: The buck stops with you, Mr Prime Minister.

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