Old man and a sea of people

Frustration and anger poured out on the streets of cities across India just a day after the 65th Independence Day when an elderly man who has been for the past many months questioning probity in public life was sent to Tihar jail — the very place where three powerful members of the UPA are lodged, charged with spectacular collusive corruption.

It was argued that he had to be arrested as a preventive measure. Preventive of what? Preventing peaceful protest! Only two months ago, on the night of June 4, sleeping women protesters were prodded with lathis, tear-gassed and beaten up. One protester, Rajbala, is crippled for life. They were protesting, demanding of the government to get back black money stashed abroad.
Notably, these protests were peaceful then and continue to be so till today. However, there is a common strain in the way the government has handled them. In both the cases the government has resorted to extreme action — excessive force or unjustified arrest — after engaging with them at the highest levels. To add spice and pettiness to this sordid approach of the government, spokespersons and ministers were slander-mongering and abusing those questioning its inaction against corruption. The height of absurdity was reached when a foreign hand was alleged to be behind the movement.
Even as the ham-handedness continues in dealing with those raising their voice against corruption, let us see where the government stands. Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit continues in her position, notwithstanding the CAG and the Shunglu Committee reports. Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sushil Kumar Shinde who face allegations for their involvement in the Adarsh scandal continue as ministers. Raj Kumar Chouhan, who was indicted by the Delhi Lokayukta, continues as a minister in the Delhi Cabinet after obtaining a pardon from the President of India. The Delhi government, through the home ministry, had applied for presidential pardon for Mr Chouhan.
The Pondicherry lieutenant governor who is alleged to be involved in the fake passport issuance to Hasan Ali, too, continues in his position. Former communications minister Dayanidhi Maran may have resigned from the Cabinet but till date the CBI has not moved an inch in its investigation of the Aircel-Maxis scandal. In the cash-for-vote scandal no action was taken until a court order hit the government. And in free India’s history, for the first time, unable to believe the words of the law officers of the government, the Supreme Court of India asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the country to file an affidavit in the notorious Hasan Ali case.
Nearly for two years the government indulged in outright denial of fraudulent practices even though many Congressmen themselves and others from the Opposition waved the red flag. The people saw the shameless shielding of those facing allegations for corrupt practices blaming coalition “adharma” by a Prime Minister whose individual integrity was used by the Congress to garner votes. It took two years and a court order for the government to book A. Raja in the 2G scam. He continues to say that his decisions were taken with the approval of the then finance minister and Dr Singh. We are told the words of an accused cannot be relied upon. But Mr Raja was, till recently, a Cabinet colleague of Dr Singh. His statements in the court are raising critical questions which cannot be brushed aside. A deafening silence prevails in the government and the people are watching in shock.
Bowing to the pressure in Parliament, Dr Singh appointed the Shunglu Committee to look into the CWG scam, as though the observations made by the CAG were inadequate. The committee’s report was consigned to the dustbin by the Congress and its government in Delhi. So much for their respect for a Prime Minister at whose integrity the party would not let anyone point the finger. The UPA has sucked out Air India of its resources. No accountability is being fixed for the mismanagement of the national carrier. Coalition “adharma” here again!
Under considerable pressure from the people, after questionable delay, the government ratified the UN Convention against corruption. But the government’s ratification was not without certain conditions attached. The government desires to have this convention effective only for prospective cases, clearly excluding, therefore shielding, the offenders of yesterday and today. Doesn’t this speak of a complete lack of sincerity in the government’s fight against corruption? Does it surprise anyone in this country that people today are out on the streets, protesting and demanding time-bound action? This government is clearly facing a trust deficit. History has shown that repressive methods used to silence or defame people have not only failed but boomeranged too. The protests we see today have spurred debates on the kind of democracy we wish for this country. We have blamed the middle class for being arm-chair critics. Today they are out on the streets. The middle class is omnibus — it includes all religion and castes. It is not just urban. And the protests have been remarkably peaceful.
Agreed, a Lokpal is not going to be the magic solution to eradicate corruption at all levels. The frustration, however, is because the anti-corruption agency has been in the making for over four decades. The need for a strong a Lokpal cannot be overemphasised. The government must recognise and respect the mood prevailing in the country today.
Wake up, India!

Nirmala Sitharaman is spokesperson of the BJP. The views expressed in this
column are her own.

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