Adarsh, snoopgate raise questions about abuse of power

Dateline

Enjoying the relief provided by Maharashtra government a few days ago, Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde has rubbished all talks of any illegality in the controversial allocation of Adarsh flats.

Only days before, his leader Rahul Gandhi had criticised the state’s decision to junk the inquiry report and many believed that Shinde might have to pack his bags from North Block (the seat of home ministry), once the voluminous report highlighting every illegality was accepted. There was reason to believe that the recent Assembly election results had forced Gandhi to talk tough on corruption but the days to follow reinforced the belief that political biggies have their way of getting away.

The Maharashtra government ducked the Gandhi bouncer and in turn bowled a googly at him by accepting the report indicting Shinde, former chief minister Ashok Chavan and others but refused to initiate any criminal action against them, thus nullifying the criminality in their actions. The next day on January 3, prime minister Manmohan Singh, who was earlier at the receiving end of Gandhi’s “nonsense” remark for the ordinance on protecting convicted lawmakers, said he had not got time to “apply my mind” on allegations against Himachal Pradesh chief minister Virbhadra Singh.

But the abuse of power is not just a Congress phenomenon, it run across the political spectrum in the country. Whether it is the BJP-led Gujarat, Samajwadi Party-led Uttar Pradesh or JD(U)-led Bihar or AIADMK-led Tamil Nadu, those in power ably assisted by a section of the bureaucracy, do circumvent laws and procedures to consolidate their grip on the power structure.

The Adarsh scam, the snoopgate scandal involving BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and allegations against Virbhadra Singh have one thing in common: The illegality may be self-evident, but the follow-up action by political and administrative leadership reeks of blatant abuse of power. One sets up an inquiry commission only to thrash it, another constitutes one to paint everything white while the other wants it black. In all this, casualty is the truth and the elite in power continue make sure that none from its fraternity is sent to the jails.

The pattern and speed with which the political leadership scramble to get out of a possible criminal case or a legal action against them could be seen in the failed efforts to save Lalu Prasad from losing his membership in Parliament when the judgement on fodder scam was nearing. The move failed because of the popular mood. However, this will not be the first or the last time that those in the seat of power would use their advantageous position to further their grip on the system.

Political expediency

In the Adarsh case, the list of beneficiaries the high and mighty and the inquiry report names 25 such people, including diplomat Devyani Khobragade, who recently faced charges in the United States of underpaying her domestic help. The Adarsh case is a watertight case but the upcoming general elections appear to have tied the hands of Congress, which does not want Chavan, one of its very few leaders with some grassroots presence in Maharashtra, in trouble.

The fact remains that Gandhi has failed to do a follow up in the Adarsh case. ‘Juniors’ in his party and government managed to sabotage his decision and he still chooses to remain silent. Where does this leave Congress and Gandhi’s fight against corruption? Or does it mean that political expediency has reined Gandhi in not raising the issue again?Take the case of two Commissions of Inquiry (CoI) on the Snoopgate controversy surrounding Modi.

The state instituted a CoI with terms of references, which could be described as a sham that very much suits Modi. What has to be investigated is not the conspiracy behind the release of the tape but why the state is interested in the life of a young woman, why keep a tab on her love life and why a ‘Saheb’ is so much interested in her security. Gujarat government, for obvious reasons, appears to have decided to do its own inquiry to get a pre-decided conclusion.

On the other hand, the Congress-led UPA had Modi on its radar and came up with its own inquiry into snoopgate. It cannot constitute a CoI as the state has already done it. So it circumvents law and sets up an inquiry by combining cases – tapping of the phone of BJP’s Arun Jaitley by a private detective and a two-year-old case of tapping of Virbhadhra Singh’s phone – from two other states. Nobody disagrees with a thorough probe against Modi and nailing him if he is guilty. But the question is how are you going to do it?

Is it by circumventing law for political considerations by ensuring justice?Amid parties’ politically correct posturing on cleansing the system, public appears not convinced with the high moral ground taken by Congress or BJP on corruption or abuse of power. How could they tackle the surging anger against existing political system, which smacks of favouritism and dynastic politics, against the backdrop of the rise of a party like AAP, which does not even have a credible governance plan and rules?

TAILPIECE: On the New Year, 38 ministries, including external affairs, coal, environment and rural development, were asked why they have not put in place regulatory parameters for using ministers’ discretionary powers. The first order to set up such a mechanism came 21 months ago and this shows the political class’ reluctance to let go of discretionary powers.

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