Need for safeguards

Telephone-tapping

Contrary to breathless news reports, cut motions in parliament are not unique but commonplace though unsuccessful in bringing down governments. However, the Left Front-BJP 13 party cut motions on a budgeted increase in fuel prices, was lost by 88 votes, destroying the rosy calculations of an unprincipled opposition and leaving the Left and the BJP red-faced.

The idea of bringing the government down was not altogether absent. However, several factors weighed. Had the government fallen, there was no credible alternative. The UPA would have remained a caretaker pending fresh polls that would have been unpopular and probably seen an opportunistic opposition alliance fall apart and likely to lose further ground.

The RJD, SP and BSP too were not ready for a fresh poll and bought peace. In the result, the abstentions and crossovers were predictable and Shibu Soren’s crude somersaults in keeping with his past. The Congress too made its deals. But when you win in politics, much is forgiven and forgotten.

Rising prices are worrying. But ignoring the global recession and severe drought and demanding more pro-poor expenditure without corresponding fiscal prudence and measures to restore growth was unconvincing. Meanwhile, the repeated blocking of the House on issues the government was willing to discuss, such as phone-tapping and the IPL controversy, was downright objectionable and undemocratic. In the result, many of the budget grants, as usual, had to be guillotined. An opposition that seeks accountability has become an enemy of accountability through such unparliamentary antics.

Reports of sleaze in the IPL are still unfolding. Tax and other investigations are in progress. But the way it was hyped, reduced to titillation and innuendo and grabbed the headlines was astonishing. IPL ‘culture’ is no longer cricket, whatever the branding. Notwithstanding its merits and appeal, it has become a manipulative combination of greed money, film stars, politicians, businessmen, the underworld, advertising, sales promotion, entertainment and, allegedly, match fixing and betting. The current inquiries into financial and other misdemeanours must be pursued and the process cleaned up and subject to transparent regulations.

Other matters of the moment, concerning security and corruption, intruded thick and fast. ‘Outlook’ magazine broke a story regarding ‘phone-tapping’ of Sharad Pawar, Digvijay Singh, Prakash Karat and Nitesh Kumar by the National Technical Research Organisation. This body was established after Kargil to strengthen the nation’s defences against subversive and terrorist elements.

Political spying

The charge of political spying is exaggerated and any suggestion of deliberate abuse on government orders was strongly refuted by the home minister who  promised to make a statement in parliament after due inquiry. The opposition and sections of the media cried foul with some insisting on a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the matter. This was justifiably dismissed by the prime minister as excessive and the motion of privilege sought to be moved against him for making this ‘policy’ statement outside parliament another bit of theatre.

What the episode tells us is that there is scope for abuse or even innocent misuse in such gadgetry and that safeguards need to be inbuilt in procurement and operating procedures, now that these devices have been obtained by several police and intelligence agencies and perhaps by private parties.

Privacy is an (inferred) fundamental right and must be protected against an intrusive or vindictive state. Whistleblowers too must be legally protected. But perilous times, with unscrupulous state and non-state actors on the prowl, also call for stout defences against catastrophic mischief.

People cannot demand that the government do everything possible to prevent terror attacks, economic sabotage and other subversive acts and cry foul the moment something is done to prevent dire hazards. Intelligence must be accountable and appropriate checks and balances built into the system and reviewed from time to time. Hopefully, this is now being done.

With regard to the Madhuri Gupta spy case too, one should best await the result of investigations without jumping to extreme conclusions flavoured by party-political bias. Not everything should be treated in a partisan manner at the cost of national interest. What the enemy cannot do is often achieved by warring ‘nationalists’ out to prove their patriotism and discredit the other. This must stop. 

When it comes to corruption, the nation must band together to fight a growing menace pervading politics, commerce and institutional life. The sordid story of the Medical Council of India president, Dr Ketan Desai, found selling certification to sub-standard medical colleges for gratification is particularly disgraceful.

Likewise the appointment by the new Meghalaya chief minister, Mukul Sangma, of 17 legislators as parliamentary secretaries with the rank of ministers of state, in order to prevent this rabble turning against his ministry, is not merely absurd but open bribery.
The conduct of  the ministerial Reddy brothers, Karnataka’s iron ore kings, and the Union telecom minister, D Raja, in defying the prime minister in setting questionable 2-G spectrum auction is shameful. Such actions should be promptly investigated and coalition partners told that there can be no connivance or coalition in crime.

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