Robert Vadra, Salman Khurshid, and another one slated for today: the Arvind Kejriwal juggernaut continues to roll on. The exposes are mounting as each one threatens to outshine the other in impact. Briefly last week, Khurshid seemed to have done a favour to Vadra by pushing him off the lead headlines in the media and away from public scrutiny. Of course, Vadra was back in the limelight thanks to IAS officer Ashok Khemka. But today, the focus has shifted away from Vadra again with BJP president Nitin Gadkari said to be in the crosshairs.
Sadly, that’s not how it should be. Even as the anti-corruption activists rejoice in uncovering newer scams, the law of unintended consequences kicks in and the Commonwealth Games scam, the 2G scam and the coal block allocation scam are displaced by sensational new disclosures. If any real change has to come out of any or all of these busts, that sequence needs to be interrupted. Somewhere in between, each of these scams need to be investigated thoroughly and meticulously and responsibility assigned. If indeed Khurshid’s trust was involved in wrong-doing, it needs to be wound up and action taken against the trustees. And if Vadra was in collusion with DLF to launder money and make abnormal gains, he needs to be tried and sentenced. But corruption in the not-for-profit sector is endemic as is money laundering in the real estate business. The current burst of activism must lead to enduring institutions and processes that will ensure these issues are tackled at the roots.
Is that too much to expect? Perhaps for the first time, there is hope this may not be a single-swallow summer. The last few weeks have been a great time for India’s democracy. A minister under fierce attack from an as-yet unproven charge, a combative activist-turned-politician and a media person who refused to be cowed; this isn’t what we have been used to. While Arvind Kejriwal is the hero of the plot, spare a thought for Khurshid. How many ministers in similar situations would have put themselves out the way he did? Sure, he appeared to lose his temper and at times the barely concealed contempt for the people from the streets might have been visible. But compare that with how the Prime Minister has gone into hiding or even how finance minister P. Chidambaram refused to take any questions when similarly cornered and, of course, the sinister silence of “private citizen” Robert Vadra.
The amount, as the minister of steel Beni Prasad Verma reminded us, is piffling. But for once, we are discussing the principle of the issue and that is more important than the numbers. What is most heartening is that for once in the people vs. the rulers battle, it is the people who are calling for answers. That is the essence of democracy. Nearly 2,500 years ago in Athens, the ancient Greeks fused the words demos (people) and krates (rule) to create the term democracy and initiate a form of government in which all citizens, rather than one king or a small group of wealthy men, made the laws of their state. After 65 years of evolutionary democracy, India is poised to achieve such a status.
In our battle against corruption in politics we face a “moment of truth”. The halfway activism of Kejriwal and Co. has turned the spotlight on the right issues. But for real gains, these exposes need to be taken to their logical conclusion.
Currently, this resembles a street epic: a tiny Arjuna with a quiver-full of singeing corruption scandals taking on the myriad Kauravas is mythopoeic hero-stuff. Modern mythmaking on the streets of Delhi is happening only to explain the mysteries of decision-making in the government that still functions in autocratic and secret ways. Kejriwal’s arsenal is now aimed at a larger circumference that includes political parties of every hue. Hopefully, we will see a new counter culture of extreme sensitivity to corruption that will not tolerate the brilliant Vanity Fair of the privileged.