Three wise men & their follies

The three major causalities of “2010 scams” that I intend to discuss here pertain to certain good practices and principles expected from the leaders of our democracy, but ones which have not been followed by them while taking decisions. They are:
Erosion of the implicit trust of the people of India in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh;
Serious damage to the credibility of telecom minister Kapil Sibal when he defended the decisions of his predecessor in office in the allocation of 2G spectrum; and
Failure of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership at the national and the state level (in the case of Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa) to take mature political decisions keeping in view the larger interests of the state and the nation.
With regard to Dr Singh forfeiting the implicit trust of the people, I would like to go back to 21 June, 1989, when Prime Minister-designate P.V. Narasimha Rao wanted Dr Singh to join his Cabinet as finance minister. At that time, Dr Singh asked me whether Rao would stand by him even if some of Rao’s own Cabinet or party colleagues were to oppose Dr Singh’s proposals and plans. Knowing Rao’s mind fairly well, I assured Dr Singh that he would have Rao’s full trust and support.
When Dr Singh became the Prime Minister, it was clear that his style of working was very different from that of his predecessors. He created the impression that he was reluctant to be harsh in pulling up his colleagues even when he found some of them crossing the line of Cabinet discipline. The most conspicuous example was when he issued a set of instructions to the minister of telecommunication on policies and procedures to be followed in the allocation of 2G spectrum. However, when the minister insisted on implementing the policies and procedures he considered best, Dr Singh, through his letter dated January 3, 2008, simply acknowledged the latter’s letter dated December 26, 2007, and this left the minister free to do what he was bent on doing.
In doing this, Dr Singh was exposing his weakness to overrule the minister and refer the whole matter to the Cabinet for a discussion. Perhaps he still nursed the fear he had expressed to me in 1989, about losing the support of politicians. Whatever may be the case, one thing is very clear now — that the impeccable faith the common people had in Dr Singh has become a major causality of “2010 scams”.
Now let’s deal with the defence put up by Mr Sibal of the decisions taken by his predecessor A. Raja. During my tenure in the Rajya Sabha (2002-2008), I watched and heard with admiration the persuasive arguments of Mr Sibal couched in very dignified language, both as a member of the Opposition as well as a minister in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. He came to Parliament with the reputation of a successful lawyer in the courts in New Delhi. But I saw an all together new Mr Sibal when I watched him in a very aggressive mood during a recent television interview. One was confused trying to figure out who was interviewing whom. At one stage, Mr Sibal even tried to expose the interviewer’s alleged lack of grasp on the technicalities of the 2G spectrum affair.
My first question about Mr Sibal’s overenthusiastic performance as a defender of Mr Raja is why did a highly experienced lawyer like Mr Sibal intervene at this stage to defend Mr Raja when the Supreme Court itself was monitoring the investigation and a one-man committee was looking into the procedures and policies followed by the telecom department since 2001. And second, whether Mr Sibal had Dr Singh’s permission to do so.
Mr Sibal’s defence came at a time when the Central Bureau of Investigation was investigating the matter. By ridiculing the Comptroller and Auditor General’s estimate of the presumptive loss to the nation, Mr Sibal, a senior member of the Cabinet, showed scant respect for a very important institution of our democracy. It is most unfortunate that Mr Sibal invited very unpleasant comments from the highest court in the country when it asked Mr Sibal “to behave with some sense of responsibility”. This is not a mild rebuke. Mr Sibal’s credibility has taken a severe beating.
What has happened in Karnataka in the last few months after the revelation of the lack of discretion shown by Mr Yeddyurappa in the allotment of land is something about which the BJP leadership cannot feel happy. Its first reaction to the chief minister’s indiscretion was to ask him to resign after returning all the land allotted to his close relatives. But in spite of the BJP’s brave attacks on corruption in the Congress, it yielded to the pressure of the chief minister and allowed him to continue in office. This has tied the national leadership of the BJP in knots and there’s no easy escape.
Ever since his days in the Jan Sangh, Mr Yeddyurappa is considered one of the pillars of the BJP. And his prominence within the party rose significantly after he contributed substantially in bringing the BJP to power in Karnataka. If such a person cares more for the chief minister’s chair than the good of his party and the state, we can form our own opinion about the quality of leaders in the country’s main Opposition party. The state BJP is divided in factions, and Mr Yeddyurappa has been resorting to enticing people from rival camps to his side by giving them undeserved favours from the government, including allotment of land and conferring the title of “minister”. It has been reported that in addition to the 30 members in the Cabinet, Mr Yeddyurappa has appointed 30 members with ministerial ranks. Though without power, they enjoy all the perks of the office. Actions like this by the chief minister are exposing the government to ridicule.
While the blame-game is going on between the BJP and the Congress, this unseemly controversy about who is more corrupt than the other is leading to the digging of graves of both the national parties in Karnataka. If the BJP high command still shows lack of will — or is it lack of courage in taking the risk of losing power in Karnataka? — it may fall under the weight of its own misdeeds.

P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra

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