The great 2G ‘scam’, which supposedly caused a humongous loss of Rs one lakh seventy-six thousand crore to the exchequer, could not stand even the preliminary legal scrutiny. The CBI court dismissed the case, noting with exasperation that in spite of ample opportunity and time, CBI could not produce any legally tenable evidence to prove its case. All the accused were acquitted.
Does the Buck Stop with the CAG?
Shall we say that the man claiming to be the ‘conscience keeper of the nation’ did not even do the job of an accountant with competence and integrity?
Due to his fantastical way of calculating the ‘notional loss’, a Prime Minister with lifelong reputation for integrity was subjected to tasteless barb of ‘taking bath while wearing raincoat’; the political fortunes were made and unmade on a large scale.
Incidentally, the self-proclaimed ‘conscience keeper of the nation’ can also be credited with ushering in the current era of ‘pehli baar (for the first time)’ at the level of constitutional offices. He was the first CAG, who, instead of submitting his report to the president, released it to the press with fanfare.
In fact, it was real incompetence of the UPA government that it did not take its CAG to task for this act, ‘unbecoming’ of a top constitutional functionary.
Corruption, An Endemic in Politics
The irony in the situation is unmistakable. The ‘accused’ were sent to jail during the regime of a prime minister, who was castigated for keeping mum on the wrongdoings under his nose, and they were acquitted when the person and party supposedly committed to fight against corruption are in power.
Of course, it can be argued that the CBI deliberately weakened the evidence. In that case, brazen cynicism underlying the whole fight against corruption is highlighted in bold relief. It bares the fact that ‘scam’ was used to cut some political deal by the present government, and clearly indicates the corrupt nature of that very politics which is built around the issue of corruption .
Let us recall the great ‘Bofors scandal’ at this point. Rajiv Gandhi was elected with unprecedented majority; and within a couple of years, was facing the charges of corruption in defence deals. A mass hysteria was created about alleged top level corruption involving a sum of Rs 64 crore.
Claims were made that as soon the government of the corrupt was replaced with that of the ‘pure’ and non-corrupt, the details of the Swiss bank accounts holding the ill-gotten wealth will be made public. This narrative was enthusiastically bought by the people.
Congress, under Rajiv Gandhi, lost the next election in 1989, that is 28 years ago, and the nation still wants to know (in vain of course) the details of the Swiss bank account. Having achieved their political aim, all the crusaders happily forgot about the fabled Swiss bank account.
The 2G ‘scam’ is infinitely bigger than the mere Rs 64 crore Bofors scam, but the result is strikingly similar. A government was targeted, a spectre was created, warriors against corruption got their kill in the form of great political gains, patronage for business in FMCGs, and thank you notes in the form of plum post-retirement jobs along with official decorations. The Lokpal is as conspicuous by its absence as were the details of the Swiss bank account.
Futility of Anti-Corruption Movements
It may be recalled here, in recent years, the government of Dilma Rousseff in Brazil was brought down through the similar strategy of ‘popular anger and agitation against corruption in high places’. And what kind of government replaced the incumbent? No prizes for guessing.
The new President Michel Temer focused not on tackling corruption but on “reforms”, ie, cut in public spending and pension schemes, coupled with relaxation in labour laws. Interestingly, he has been charged with corruption himself.
Parallels can be seen in India. Let us not forget that the crusade against “corruption in 2G allocation” was launched against a government which took initiatives like the Right to Information, food security, MNREGA, a progressive land acquisition act.
As a matter of fact, populist mobilisations against corruption are only the tip of the iceberg of the larger political designs, and invariably end up putting those in power who abhor the idea of egalitarian governance and distributive economic policies.
Lessons from So-Called ‘Scams’
We can draw some lessons from the story of 2G ‘scam’, along with the Bofors’ tale. First of all, no one is going to suffer any real consequences in any scandal in which international players, India’s big business houses, and cross-party elites have serious stakes. It is very clear, both in 2G and Adarsh housing cases. And here lies the real difference with the fodder scam of Bihar.
All those seriously perturbed about corruption must realise that corruption – big or small, in higher place of power or in lower strata – is a complex systemic problem and cannot be sorted out without basic changes in the structures of governance and policy framing.
Any mobilisation without a workable proposal on this front must be seen as nothing but politically motivated action plan, mostly of the right wing with a regressive agenda in politics, culture and economy.
Ultimately, at stake is the question of accountability. After all, corruption in high places implies breach of trust, for which people responsible must be held accountable. And at the same time, those who are in the habit of destroying not only the personal reputations but also derailing the social and economic policies must also be made accountable.
In the wake of the damning verdict in the 2G ‘scam’, will it be too much to ask those who made a fortune out of the so-called ‘fight against corruption’ take some responsibility?
(The writer is Contributing Editor for Hindi Quint. He can be reached @puru_ag. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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