|HOME | NEWS | COLUMNISTS | SAISURESH SIVASWAMY|
|March 20, 2001||
Good journalism, bad politics
At the height of the Bofors scandal, when it was evident to everyone that kickbacks had indeed been paid, even though 15 years later it is still unclear who the final recipient was, neither the defence minister who must have cleared the file, or the finance minister who must have ultimately sanctioned the payment, nor the prime minister whose government contracted the superior Howitzer, put in their papers.
In fact, after V K Krishna Menon served as the fall guy for the China debacle, since no defence minister has resigned till George Fernandes on Thursday, the natural conclusion to draw would be that corruption in the defence establishment was purely the latter's creation. Absurd deduction? Of course it is, but that's not the only thing absurd about the ongoing crisis.
The sorry outcome of tehelka.com's path-breaking expose is that a week later, the nation is no closer to a detailed, informed debate that alone would tell the nation, the voting public, what the actual crime/offence/wrong-doing was, or who stands where on the issue of corruption in public life. Since the Opposition has paralysed Parliament ever since the scandal broke, it is obvious that it is not keen on such a debate, but is comfortable with street-level politics. Isn't that absurd too? If you want to discuss anything, please come to the proper forum for it.
What tehelka.com's expose has done is tell us that the system is corrupt, that there are venal individuals in the defence establishment. To his credit, Fernandes has taken the fall for the corruption in the system -- even though, unlike Bofors or any of the impugned defence contracts, he was not involved in any deal here, he had not received any kickbacks. He took the fall because of his significant other, who compromised the office of the defence minister by discussing the contours of a potential deal right in his house.
There's more absurdity to follow. Even as the government gets thrown into turmoil over two party presidents implicating themselves -- one does so clearly, while the other has trod the twilight zone, perhaps because she has been tutored well not to rush in where even angel investors fear to tread -- the sight that greets us is ungainly. The leader of the Opposition, perhaps believing that she shouldn't botch up history's call like she did the last time when the central government was defeated by one vote, quickly junks her party's rejection of coalition politics.
The rest of the claimants to New Delhi's throne have no time to tell the nation what kind of parliamentary arithmetic would be resorted to this time round, or even if they accept Sonia Gandhi's acceptance of khichdi politics. Clearly, those baying for the government's blood know that as of now, they have little chance of unsettling this government in the Lok Sabha.
Since the fall of the government is not at hand, why are our members of Parliament of all hues going ahead with this gross wastage of the tax-payers' money? They are doing all this, since the name of the game is posturing, doesn't matter if in doing so your money and mine is going down the drain, doesn't matter if there is corruption in defence purchases or any other acquisition or sale by the government.
Posturing is all there is to politics, not principles or policies, let us not overlook this basic fact of Indian democracy. The reality does not matter so much as perception, and if you really want to know how to influence perception please check with Herr Goebbels.
In the current propaganda war, the Opposition has sensed that it is on a winning wicket and hence refuses to be bound by the norms of decorum which it will have to subject to if it agrees to a civilised debate in Parliament. Street-level brawl is a bare-knuckle one, and is fought without the intervention of Queensbury Rules.
For once, it is interesting to see the BJP squirm, for this was the party that took the mass mobilisation path to power in a Toyota Rath. But thankfully, it is not doing what Rajiv Gandhi did in worst circumstances in the Lok Sabha. Rajiv, to refresh public memory, utilised his brute majority in the Lok Sabha to steamroll any reasonable debate on Bofors. And yes, stalwarts of the Opposition who are today railing against the BJP were part of the anti-corruption brigade then, and the contrast between the two governments cannot escape them even if they are blinded by the colour saffron.
But the Opposition runs the danger of overplaying its hand. All revulsion runs its course, and the initial public disgust at the revelations of the sypcam could soon be redirected to the Opposition's continuing stymieing tactics. After all, the public doesn't want protests all the time, they also want some answers, and it is but a short step to sensing that it is the Opposition that is blocking the chances of their knowing the truth which the government too wants to arrive at. It is a double-edged sword the Opposition is holding, a fact that is being overlooked.
And the oversight is deliberate. It is so because the Opposition knows well that there is really no case on the ground against the government. The tehelka.com tapes, including all the unedited portions of it, much as they make for splendid online journalism, will not amount to anything before a court of law for they represent a bunch of allegations. What tehelka has done is tell us like it is, made us confront the ugly reality that Indian democracy is. It is not a truth that we are comfortable with, nor is it a truth we want to face forever. We are happy in our cocooned lives where a defence official does not hawk his time for a bottle of Blue Label or a party president does not shove one lakh rupees into his table.
But the bitterness will remain. At the fact that what we took to be a new dawn was nothing but the dying light at the end of the day, before the long night set in. And it is to remove this bitterness that the government, specifically Prime Minister A B Vajpayee, will have to work at in all sincerity.
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