April is the cruellest month, said TS Eliot.
It has certainly been true this year in the context of scandals involving politics and the establishment. We have seen the high and mighty, mostly politicians but also journalists, athletes, film stars and so on, named and shamed in this series of revelations, and there may be parallels between them, even though they are spread all over the world.
In the US, the #28pages issue is that of a redacted chapter of 28 pages from the 9/11 enquiry commission’s official report. Some suggest that these pages — that have been seen by a limited number of people — were deemed too damaging to one of the US’s principal allies, Saudi Arabia. A former senator, Bob Graham, who had seen the impugned pages, suggests so in so many words.
The #PanamaPapers scandal established the fact that there are many loopholes and tax havens that are used by the rich and powerful to hide their (possibly ill-gotten) gains from the taxman. The US has been, quite indignantly, suggesting that offshore tax havens have hidden billions of dollars from the eyes of their Internal Revenue Service, and have forced many countries, including the famously secretive Switzerland, to reveal details about those who might be doing so.
The #Ishratfile revelation, in India’s case, suggests a nexus of politicians, journalists, lawyers and various others engaging in a clear conspiracy to hide certain facts about that dead young woman. For the first time has such a scandal hit P Chidambaram, who has hitherto been untouched, partly because he has such authority that nobody dares question him, although his election in 2009 in Sivaganga, commentators have noted, did seem a trifle odd.
The court case about that drags on.
The #AgustaWestland scam is both more and less sensational than #Ishratfile. The latter does not surprise in the sense that most of us suspected that Ishrat Jahan was indeed a Lashkar-e-Taiba operative: Well, for one thing, the LeT itself said so before quietly removing that from its website. The extent to which the Nehru dynasty has been willing to go to eliminate Narendra Modi (literally or metaphorically is not surprising either: Remember the maut ka saudagar meme, for instance).
The extent of the AgustaWestland scam is sensational, however, especially because the revelation could not be blamed on partisan politics (as it has always been: The mainstream media will suggest that it was a witchhunt by the BJP, and thus, sweep it under the carpet). The fact that an Italian court (yes, Italian!) has said in so many words that Sonia Gandhi was directly involved makes a big difference to the Congress and its pets in the mainstream media.
They responded with thunderous silence.
The problem with all these scandals, of course, is how far they go in identifying and punishing the culprits. In India’s case, there is a history of major scams being buried if they somehow touch the Teflon-coated Nehru dynasty. For instance, the Bofors scandal really didn’t go that far in punishing the guilty. There are at least two reasons for this: One is the compromised judiciary, and the other is the compromised media. The third may well be that the BJP has no stomach for a fight.
Just as Bofors essentially fizzled out, there is the fear that AgustaWestland also will.
The media that should be the watchdogs of society, is clearly shown to be the lapdogs of certain vested interests in the AgustaWestland case: One of the principals had a multi-million dollar war-chest with which to influence media people. We knew this — after all, journalists who have been traditionally penurious, suddenly began to own Rs 52-crore houses (in at least one case involving an arch-dynast).
The case of the judiciary is more complex. Most people are afraid to say anything about them because of the fear of contempt-of-court, and I too shall desist, but only point out that there are two concerns: One is judicial over-reach, as the judiciary is taking on functions that properly belong to the executive and legislative branches, partly because they have been weak.
A graver concern is the very structure of the judicial system. For some strange reason, frivolous PILs (public interest litigation) can be brought directly to the Supreme Court, and the court wastes its time and energy on unimportant and downright ridiculous issues, such as IPL betting and the possibility that a condom label is obscene. There should be a wholesale revamp of the system so that the Supreme Court hears constitutional matters, and only constitutional matters, as befits an apex court.
To give the state high courts their independence, there should be the equivalent of the US’ Federal District Courts in various parts of the country to hear issues that are related to the Indian Union, and not to a state. There should also be the equivalent of Federal Appeals Courts, and only the ‘rarest of the rare’, weighty, constitutional matters, should be elevated to the Supreme Court. Today, any fool with deep pockets can bring any ridiculous PIL.
There are other issues with the courts, for instance their insistence on incestuous appointments (and the number of family members of former judges who get judgeships should raise an eyebrow or two), but it is better to not go there.
The third concern, of course, is that the BJP is not serious about bringing the Nehru dynasty to book. That has appeared true in the past, but may not be so any more, given that there is progress on the National Herald case, and now that the indefatigable Subramanian Swamy is in the Rajya Sabha, I get the feeling that we have not heard the last of #AgustaWestland.
But I see that the heat and light behind #28pages has diminished — it was probably timed to hurt Hillary Clinton in the New York Democratic primary, but failed to do so.
Similarly, the outrage over the #PanamaPapers has vanished. It is hard for people to remain angry, as they get fatigued and distracted by newer and juicier scandals.
I do hope that #Ishratfile and #AgustaWestland will not also vanish without a trace. In this, I am trusting Chidambaram: If he (and his son Karti with his vast global business empire) go down, I am pretty sure he’s going to bring down Sonia Gandhi and son, as well.
He’s not likely to go ‘gentle into that good night’, as Dylan Thomas said.