Politicians have continued taking people for granted and managed to stay above the law, says T N Ninan
“Let me tell you about the rich,” wrote F Scott Fitzgerald. “They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them… cynical where we are trustful…They think…that they are better than we are…” Read that passage again, substitute “politicians” for “rich”, and you begin to see that pigs are walking on two legs.
Strangely, we are reluctant to recognise that, so they cynically exploit our trust and carry on a charade. When one gang is in office and looting, the other one shouts “wolf”, or “Lok Pal”. Every so often, roles are reversed but the script does not change. Someone who played a role in the telecom scam one day is a commentator the next. Always, though, it is like in the Panchatantra story: the monkey in the middle eats all the cheese.
If in doubt, consider the dramatic increases in wealth of virtually any political family: the Marans, Jagan Reddy, the Badals… Also the sometime vegetable vendor Chhagan Bhujbal, and now the silver-spooned Dushyant Singh (but not of course J Jayalalithaa). Who other than a politician-businessman would get Rs 11 crore and more as share capital and unsecured loans in a company with paid-up share capital of less than a tenth of 1 per cent of that sum and, it would seem, no business to speak of? I have broken no law, says Singh. You can imagine Robert Vadra smirking. Government and opposition, or birds of a feather?
You then understand why the Maharashtra government has amended the Criminal Procedure Code to say that the police cannot take action against a legislator, not even start an investigation, without the Assembly speaker’s consent. But how do you make a case to the speaker if you are not allowed to investigate? Why not just declare that all legislators are above the law? Because that would be too naked; it would force you to see that some are more equal.
Sushma Swaraj could pitch for the role of Lady Macbeth. No, she hasn’t stuck the dagger into someone. But all the excuses of Arabia or Ibiza will not sweeten a foreign minister’ action in allowing a fugitive from Indian justice to get travel documents from another country while his Indian passport stood revoked -- even as her own ministry and every other ministry in the government had no hint of what she had done with a phone call. “She acted in good faith”, it has been said. Indeed. Humanitarian action, she explains, but the man concerned had engaged her daughter as his lawyer and paid her husband’s travel bills. Anyone heard of conflict of interest?
There is an initial stage in every government’s life when it cares about its image, and what people think of it. With the first whiff of scandal, that concern almost always gives way quite quickly to political calculations: Will a resignation give victory to the opposition? Is he or she too important or powerful to be ignored? You then get a familiar set of responses, unchanged since the Tulmohan Ram scandal of the 1970s, Bofors in the 1980s, telecom: It is an international/media/opposition conspiracy; or government vendetta. The party president’s driver is qualified to be a director on his company board; no, those aren’t benami investors; there is zero loss; there is no quid pro quo...
Recognise the charade. The Central Bureau of Investigation has rarely if ever managed to get a politician convicted; ditto with the Enforcement Directorate; and judges make mistakes while counting. The Lok Pal, who might have been dangerous because of suo motu powers, has been forgotten. An Emergency again, did you say?
What about that journalist in UP who got burnt to death -- at, it has been said, a minister’s instance? And five other journalists who got killed in UP in a year? So who needs an Emergency? But never worry; as Juvenal advised in ancient Rome, “Give them bread and circuses”. And when you fly to the next circus, you don’t have to follow instructions in the plane, and can threaten to slap a stewardess. You are, after all, the frenemy of the people.