Cracking up

As the United Progressive Alliance government headed by Manmohan Singh is being besieged by a welter of charges of rampant corruption and skulduggery, the prime minister, for whom the country had a high regard, is emerging as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. If his weak and unconvincing defence of the 2G spectrum scandal showed him up as a leader without backbone and as someone who would tolerate mind-boggling corruption in order to remain in power, Singh has gone a step further in stoutly denying any wrong-doing during the no-confidence vote against the UPA government in 2008, an allegation which has resurfaced thanks to the expose from WikiLeaks.

The whole country was witness to the unprecedented level of bribery which culminated in opposition MPs displaying crores of rupees of cash offered to secure their support on the floor of the Lok Sabha. At least 19 other MPs who took money voted in favour of the government to enable it to sail through the confidence vote. That pyrrhic victory was a cynical blow to the fair name of Indian democracy. Now that the sordid saga of 2008 is revisiting the UPA government through the publication of the Wikileaks’ cables, ‘Mr Clean’ is running for cover.

It has been most embarrassing for the American government that the ‘secret’ cables sent from its embassies around the world are being exposed, but even it has been unable to question their existence or authenticity. But our prime minister took the unusual step of first trying to distance himself from the scam by saying, “I have not authorised any one to purchase any votes… I am not at all, I think, involved in any of these transactions.” Later, speaking in parliament, he tried to dismiss the reports as ‘speculative and unverified’ and cited the 2009 election results as ‘proof’ that people had rejected the allegations.

Singh, clearly, has been economical with truth both on 2G spectrum and cash-for-vote charges and neither he nor his government can any longer stay away from the heat. The UPA government would do well to ponder over its sliding credibility with the people and take urgent steps to punish the guilty and tackle the root of corruption. Special courts should be set up to deal with the corruption charges in an expeditious manner. The establishment of the long delayed watchdogs against political and bureaucratic corruption, including the institution of the Lok Pal, should receive utmost priority.

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