If the latest allegations by Arvind Kejriwal against BJP president Nitin Gadkari failed to make an impact in media and political circles as one would have expected, a probable reason is that our politicians have learnt to face them without shame.
How? Simple, use legal statutes and obfuscate.
Perhaps it’s their inherent resilience that has taught politicians how to dodge charges of corruption and criminality by finding refuge in law books and legal-proofing themselves.
If these deeds are legally tenable, how much they might have stolen, or the public money they might have wasted becomes immaterial.
This is certainly a new trend in Indian politics: legal excuses above ethics, probity, propriety and good practice. Just as killer germs learn how to dodge potent drugs, our wily politicians have learned how to resist and survive damning CAG reports and scam charges by quoting law and speaking in legalese.
Drug resistance in public health is a disaster. Our politician’s resistance to probity and ethics will spell disaster for tens of millions of helpless common people that constitute the wonder that is India.
Probably, the first public display of handling a scam with a legal argument was the glib Kapil Sibal’s “zero loss” theory when the 2G scandal broke out. The Congress found no substance in the observations of the CAG and the meticulous charges by anti-corruption crusaders such as Prashant Bhushan. Congress’ lawyer-ministers went out of the way to legally justify every act of corruption in 2G, that later saw corporate honchos and bureaucrats to the telecom minister A Raja ending up in jail.
The CAG report on 2G was an extraordinary situation. And the Congress needed an extra-ordinary response. One would never know if it happened spontaneously or by plan, but the Congress’ response, for the first time, was purely legal. The party fielded the legally smart ones to talk logic and confound without addressing the politics. But the courts fortunately had a better idea of law.
Every additional CAG report or a media expose met with a repeat legal performance.
The same technique of fielding lawyer-politicians to lead the defence of Robert Vadra saw a higher level assertion in using the technique. This time around, the Congress spokespersons were very clear that there was nothing illegal — as if they had studied the papers ahead. The finance minister even gave Vadra a clean certificate in terms of his income tax declaration.
In Vadra’s case, the jury is still out if there is anything illegal or not. One could assume that considerable legal and accounting work had preceded the alleged deals and perhaps it may be difficult to legally pinpoint any wrong-doing. The only possibility, perhaps, are the loopholes that the lawyers, chartered accountants or officials might have inadvertently left unattended.
With the allegations against Gadkari, the BJP is also playing the same legal card. The IAC charges that Gadkari has cornered agricultural land (whether it is on lease or purchase is immaterial) that had been acquired by the government from the farmers who had been tilling it for their livelihood.
In addition, it charges that the water from the controversial dam, meant for the farmers, is being diverted for industrial activities in which Gadkari is also a beneficiary. The IAC also alleges that Gadkari’s factories are polluting the area and waterways thereby directly harming the farmers and that Gadkari has asked for the release of funds to a contractor involved in the Rs 70,000 crore irrigation scam. The IAC’s attempt also was to show the efficient collusion of the BJP leader and the NCP in getting things done.
The summary of the charges is simple — Gadkari has indirectly appropriated farmers’ land and has been acting against the interests of farmers. In other words, politician Gadkari’s business activities are anti-farmer. It is certainly an ethical question. A politician’s commitment should be to his constituency which is people and not to his business at the cost of people’s interests.
As in the case of the Congress, the defence of the BJP in the case of Gadkari, was legal too: the land was only leased out; that it has been allotted by the government for a social service entrepreneurship and Gadkari’s interventions for the release of money was to expedite the process of bringing water to the farmers.
Interestingly, nobody can question the efficiency with which the Maharashtra government acted on his request for the 100 acres of land. It also doesn’t matter if in another case, it took two years (for example, on the farmers’ request) to act. What is illegal about it? Some files get done fast and some take time.
Congress’ argument in the case of Vadra is no different either: legally, most of the alleged deal is out of the government’s purview because it is between a private individual and a company; how can anybody complain that the government was quick in its approvals and clearances of Vadra property? Is there anything illegal if the government was super-fast?
The latest and the most bizarre of the current set of legal arguments came from Rashid Alvi, the Congress spokesman in the Salman Khurshid controversy. According to him, if Kejriwal felt threatened by Khurshid’s menacing speech in Farrukhabad, he should go to court.
It looks as if there is no more propriety, probity, ethics and good practice in Indian politics. The Congress, followed by the BJP, has devised the new defence and is currently perfecting it. It’s the evolution of Indian politics in the era of scams.
Better than fighting the causes and consequences of scams and at least attempting to cleanse it, it’s easier to prepare a legal defence and ask people to go to court. Push it back to people like Prashant Bhushan who will finally go crazy with the legal burden of taking them on.
Perhaps it is a natural result of too many dirty deals coming into public knowledge — thanks to institutions such as the CAG and the new avenues of transparency and leaks — and too many senior lawyers in power and politics. Legalising public life and politics above ethics and probity will spell disaster for our democracy.
According to George Orwell, “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Had Orwell been alive and in India, the shame-resistant Congress and BJP spokespersons would have definitely surprised him.