Politicians, and would-be politicians, it seems, have decided to brazen it out. They are no longer apologetic about corruption, nor do they think they have to provide real explanations to searching questions.
Thus Nitin Gadkari, the BJP President, asks NDTV what’s wrong if he is pals with contractors who gained from the award of contracts by his PWD ministry when he was minister in the Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra.
Sreenivasan Jain, writing in DNA about his NDTV interview with Gadkari, asks this: “Should a toll road company, which has received contracts under Mr Gadkari’s tenure, invest in a venture set up by him, that too so soon after his demitting office?” To which Gadkari replies, in as many words: “Why not… Why can’t contractors and ex-PWD ministers be friends? Or business partners?”
Ajit Pawar, till recently Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, and nephew of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, is the man who allotted 100 acres of land to Gadkari’s NGO, Purti Sinchan Kalyankari Sanstha.
He, too, is unapologetic. Asked how he decided to allot the land to Gadkari in just four days flat, his answer, quoted by The Indian Express, is this: “There was a good proposal from his NGO, so I allotted the land. The activists are asking why did Ajit Pawar take the decision in four days? Shall I take four months to take a decision, or four years? If a decision is taken quickly, people question it. If it is delayed, that is also under the scanner. What should one do?”
The question was not about the speed, but why he decided to do so. By focusing on speed, he avoided a proper reply, even though his explanation was given at a party conference.
When Robert Vadra was accused by India Against Corruption of doing sweetheart deals with DLF, he quickly put out the now well-quoted phrase “Mango people in a banana republic”. Though this Facebook post was quickly removed, it did manage to convey what the First Family’s son-in-law thought of his own actions and the people’s reactions to his follies.
Salman Khurshid’s riposte to Arvind Kejriwal’s (and Aaj Tak TV’s) allegations of misappropriations against his NGO, the Dr Zakir Hussain Trust, was even simpler: a veiled threat.
“I was made the Law Minister and asked to wield a pen. Now it is time to replace ink with blood. Let him (Kejriwal) come to Farrukhabad, but how will he go back? He says that we will ask the questions and asks us to give answers. Once you (Kejriwal) have heard what we have to say, you will forget the questions,” Khurshid said.
Digvijaya Singh, Congress General Secretary, stooped even lower by threatening blackmail. Or was it a quid pro quo offer to the BJP?
A CNN-IBN programme quotes him as saying that the Congress has evidence against the kin of both Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani, but would not use it against them. “There were a lot of things which came out during the NDA regime. But did Congress party ever use that. We will never use this. If I say, I do not have it (evidence against kin of Advani and Vajpayee), then it is not correct.”
So what is Singh really saying? I have the goods on BJP’s two icons, so stop messing around with Robert Vadra. Or else…
The big national parties, clearly, have managed to neutralise each other on the issue of corruption by pointing loaded guns against each other, but it seems that brazenness has entered even Arvind Kejriwal’s lexicon.
Confronted by Digvijaya Singh’s 27 questions — most of them red herrings intended to put Kejriwal on the defensive — Kejriwal did the usual politician act by saying he will answer the questions only if Digvijaya Singh can get Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh or Rahul Gandhi to come and hold a debate on Robert Vadra with him. “I request Mr Digvijaya to encourage Mrs Gandhi, PM or Mr Rahul Gandhi to come for a public debate,” Kejriwal tweeted on Sunday.
Since this is not going to happen, it is clear where all this is heading: nowhere.
Moreover, three of his team members — Prashant Bhushan, Anjali Damania, and Mayank Gandhi — will now be probed by a three-judge private Lokpal. All the issues involve land deals, and one wonders how many of them will emerge unblemished from the scrutiny.
Quite clearly, politicians and would-be politicians have mastered the art of brazenness and throwing empty challenges that will muddy the picture and save them the trouble of giving real answers to questions about corruption.
Whether it is the Congress or BJP or even their mutual bete noire — Arvind Kejriwal’s India Against Corruption — there is now no real possibility that anyone of them will emerge as a knight in shining armour, waging a battle against corruption. The electorate is unlikely to take anyone seriously on the issue of corruption.
While Kejriwal does deserve some thanks by showing us how all the parties are in it together, his own hit-and-run approach has been no different. In fact, this is exactly how politicians raise the issue of corruption against one another. Kejriwal has fallen into their trap.
Corruption may become more or less a dead issue by the time we get to the ballot box.