AgustaWestland scam: Congress continues its Kumbhakarna-esque slumber as its lawyers run with Michels, hunt with Asarams
Expelled Congress leader Aljo Joseph is not the first lawyer linked to the Congress to have embarrassed the party by advocating controversial clients like AgustaWestland middleman Christen Michel and embracing complicated issues
A few days ago, Congress president Rahul Gandhi complained to voters in Rajasthan that the "Kumbhakarna Lift Scheme" sanctioned by the Congress government was stalled by Vasundhara Raje. The malapropism — he meant former minister Kumbharam Arya — was perhaps a Freudian slip. For, like Kumbhakarna who slept for six months, the Congress party’s collective brain appears to be in deep slumber.
Take the curious case of Christian Michel and his attorney Aljo Joseph as the latest example of the party’s brain freeze. First, in the middle of an important round of elections, Joseph, a youth Congress office-bearer, appeared as a lawyer for the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland deal case. Then, embarrassed by the self-goal, the Congress terminated Joseph’s primary membership of the party.
Every person who understands Indian politics knows Michel’s importance, especially in an election year. In notes purportedly written by him, Michel has allegedly named UPA politicians whom he bribed to clinch the chopper deal as a middleman. Since he was extradited by the Indian government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been promising that Michel is a raazdar (confidante) who will sing against the naamdars (the Gandhi family). A Congress office-bearer representing a middleman accused of paying bribes to the Congress top brass is nothing short of political hara-kiri.
Even a layperson would have known that given Michel's controversial background, considering the current political milieu and the reputations at stake, it would be imprudent to have the Congress linked to the middleman in any way. So, what was Joseph thinking before signing up as Michel’s lawyer?
For a moment, let us buy Joseph’s argument that he appeared for Michel in his personal capacity, not as a representative of the Congress. In that case, how does the Congress find such political dimwits to occupy offices of importance in the party? How does a person unaware of the ramifications of being seen in a middleman’s corner for his alma mater get to head the legal cell of Congress's youth wing? The entire episode puts a question mark over the political acumen of the lawyer and his patrons in the Congress. If its critics are now insinuating that Joseph was sent to Michel’s rescue less as a lawyer and more as a "messenger", it has only itself to blame.
This is not the first time lawyers linked to the Congress have embarrassed the party by advocating controversial clients and embracing complicated issues.
A year ago, Kapil Sibal shot the party in the foot when he argued that hearing on the Ayodhya dispute should be deferred till the next Lok Sabha election. He proffered this argument bang in the middle of the Gujarat Assembly election, giving the BJP an opportunity to raise the Ram Mandir controversy during the polls, and forcing the Congress to dissociate itself from his statement.
Before that, Sibal had embarrassed the party by opposing the proposed ban on triple talaq with some outrageous arguments. Prior to that, the former Union minister had represented the Trinamool Congress in the Saradha scam while his party chief was trying to stitch an alliance with Left parties in West Bengal. Not just that, Congress leaders had defended Asaram Bapu and Anurag Thakur, making the party squirm.
The point is: The Congress just can’t stop its legal luminaries from embarrassing the party. They keep taking legal positions that hurt the party’s political interest. But, for some reason, like Kumbhakarna, the Congress continues to be in slumber over the impact of this duplicitous behaviour where its lawyers run with the Michels and hunt with the Thakurs and the Asarams.
Joseph has been sacked from the party. The Congress said it was not consulted by Joseph before he decided to represent Michel. Joseph has also argued that he signed up as Michel’s lawyer on a professional capacity, and not as a politician. His role had nothing to do with his party or political leanings. But the damage has already been done. With the ammo handed over to it on a platter, the BJP will launch a relentless attack on the Congress and the Gandhis on the eve of polling in Rajasthan and Telangana.
Joseph’s ouster from the Congress, of course, smacks of double standards. While many before him have gotten away with the argument that their professional life is different from politics, the young lawyer has been mercilessly booted out. This could have happened only because of two reasons. One, Joseph is a political nobody and is thus expendable. Two, when the fire threatens to singe the Gandhis, the Congress acts in a tearing hurry.
Perhaps, the Kumbhakarna in the party stirs into action only when the dynasty is under attack.
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