Sleaze, Amar Singh and the Character Assassination of the Bhushans
Prabir Purkayastha, Newsclick, April 24, 2011
It is not surprising when the individuals fighting against corruption are subjected to a campaign of slander and vilification. Obviously, those who deal with filth would use it to try and malign others. The message is clear – if you want to fight corruption, the corrupt will try and drag you down to their level.
The kind of smear campaign launched by people like Amar Singh against Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan has the obvious backing of the current UPA Government, the protestations of Sonia or Manmohan not withstanding. It is unlikely that ‘undisclosed’ police sources would claim that a fake CD is not fake, without the obvious connivance of higher levels of the Government. This is the UPA striking back after being forced to retreat on Anna Hazare's fast and the ground swell of support it had gathered.
Let us look at the key person in the CD drama – Amar Singh. In the land of the corrupt, graced by figures such as Karunanidhi and Sharad Pawar, Amar Singh touches a new low. He is not only publicly known to be a wheeler dealer, but also proud of it. His smirk and cynical view of politics has been the bane of television for a long time. His recent eclipse after leaving Mulayam Singh would have caused numerous television viewers to heave a sigh of relief. No more. He is back with a bang – producing fake CD's, happy to be the flag bearer of the running campaign of sleaze and dirty tricks that is being directed against the Bhushans.
I am not going to even try and answer the charges levelled against the Bhushans. The fake CD gives the game away. Amar Singh has desperately been trying to suppress hours of his taped conversation. It is true that the original taping was privately done and by all accounts illegal. However, what is contained in these tapes is no different from that of the Radia tapes – a glimpse how a few wheeler dealers, in cahoots with powerful carpet bagging politicians and businessman, are running the country. Coupled with of course the personal filth that only an Amar Singh is capable of. His game is simple – if Prashant Bhushan is arguing for publication of the taped Amar Singh conversations, muddy the waters with some more similar conversation, this time including the Bhushans. This is a win-win for Amar Singh. If some of the mud sticks, he weakens Prashant and therefore helps his case. If he does not, he buys the gratitude of the current Government and therefore helps his various cases that are pending with CBI.
UPA, Corruption and the India US Nuclear Deal
For those with short memories, the India US Nuclear Deal is no longer on the radar. But this is where the great slide into corruption started in the UPA- Manmohan Singh had clearly been told by the Congress and their allies, that he could have his Deal with the US only if he could ensure that UPA would not fall with the Left withdrawing support. This is what Manmohan Singh set out to do. He had two tasks – one was to keep the NCP and DMK with him – they had no stakes in the US Deal but did not want the Government to fall. The other – break the SP from the opposition who would then help with its numbers to compensate for Left withdrawing support.
The DMK NCP part was easy. The telecom 2G scam was a handy way of ensuring that both DMK and NCP would have a huge stake in the continuation of the Manmohan Singh dispensation. The links between Sharad Pawar's daughter, DB Realty and A. Raja-Kanimozhi combine was doing the rounds even earlier. The current charge sheets only confirm this. But let us make no mistake. Manmohan Singh, as his letters indicate, was fully aware of the scam and the huge revenue loss that would happen if Raja went ahead with his so-called first-come first-served plan of virtually giving away licenses. The reason that he was willing to accept what Raja was doing was simply to bind DMK – with strong threads of corruption -- to him.
The next operation was Amar Singh. He was the man who could deliver Mulayam Singh and the SP. The lever is of course now well known – the CBI cases against Mulayam and Amar Singh. It is not surprising that MK Naryanan played a key role in this – he as National Security Advisor was running the Intelligence and Security establishment nominally under a preening but otherwise sleeping Home Minister – Shivraj Patil. He was the one who did the crucial briefing of the SP on the US Nuclear Deal, after which they came away convinced about the need for the Deal. Curiously enough, this briefing was held in the IB Headquarters, not a place where you would expect a briefing on the Nuclear Deal, but very much the place if you wanted to discuss CBI cases. Interestingly, a key SP MP and one of its office bearers then, who was keenly following up the India US Nuclear Deal, also wanted to go to the meeting. Mulayam and Amar Singh told him there was no need – both of them were enough for this purpose.
The Lokpal Bill
While dismissing the attempt to discredit the Bhushans and others who are members of the Committee set up on Lokpal Bill, one must be careful what kind of Lokpal we may get. Unlike the Indian middle class who first thought Manmohan Singh would run a clean Government and then turned to the judiciary and are now finally putting their faith in an all-powerful Lokpal, I do not believe systemic corruption can be fought with just an omnipotent Lokpal. An independent and powerful Lokpal would certainly help, but creating a constitutional authority that holds the powers that the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill contains would be playing with fire.
The solution to a political class responsible to the electorate but unwilling to listen to it, is a problem of democracy. The solution cannot lie in an even more concentration of power in a small, selected body armed with extra judicial powers – an omnibus body with executive, judicial and investigative powers rolled into one. To the elite and the yuppie middle class, democracy is the problem. Therefore, they are comfortable with a solution that is outside politics and provides a new Krishna avatar that will solve all their problems for them. Unfortunately, this only poses the well-known question – who will now police the omnipotent ombudsman?
For me, this desire for a strong arm institution which will remove corruption through a magic wand is a throw-back to earlier times, when the middle class craved for a benevolent dictatorship. The emergency put paid to that – they realised that representative democracy, however distasteful, equated their precious vote with the vote of even the poorest and the unlettered was better than the police raj that existed during emergency. The hankering for a simple solution where somebody else will do the task of cleaning up the system is however still there. That is why the call for a Lokpal who will solve all their problems. All they have to do is to file a complaint.
I do not see cleansing the political system and giving content to Indian democracy as two different things. The only way to cleanse the system is to give democracy, transparency and accountability new meaning. And this requires a much greater participation of the people in day to day affairs of governance.
This does not mean that the Lokpal is no consequence. It is important that we have a strong Lokpal, which can act as an Ombudsman, armed with strong investigative powers. The courts and the executive should be separated from the functions of an Ombudsman or a body armed with such powers. But this must be a complement to the participation of the people in the business of democracy. The Lokpal should strengthen the political system of democracy and not weaken it.
To be fair to the proponents of the Bill, they have accepted that the Parliament has the last say on the Bill and they would not seek to coerce it in order to pass their form of the Lokpal Bill. We all hope that the Bill being drafted will be widely discussed and the Parliament shape a strong Lokpal as an institution. What we do not want is the focus to shift from the Lokpal Bill to the character assassination that Amar Singh and co are conducting with the support of the UPA establishment. This is what we have to guard against.