The subtext of corruption

The subtext of corruption

Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday said she was pained that corruption in the country seemed so widespread. She also said her party was concerned about institutions such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) being undermined.

Her comments, made during a meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party on Monday, are understandable and even worth empathy. But they mean little else. Her party is at the head of the ruling coalition in New Delhi. It is also at the centre of corruption controversies, ranging from the 2G spectrum allocation to Commonwealth Games to housing scandals. In all this, the Congress and its coalition partners are seen to be the problem and few citizens have any hope that matters will be rectified or can be rectified anytime soon. In fact, private sector leaders such as HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh have sounded alarm bells that India’s future may be at risk if business as usual prevails.

The fact is that Gandhi, or for that matter Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, can do little about arresting this situation unless they are willing to take unpalatable and politically threatening action against their party leaders and coalition partners. Gandhi made a mention of action against ministers and chief ministers in this context. But what she omitted was that such action was only taken when constant highlighting of the issue in the press forced the party’s hand. What of those instances where corrupt practices go unchallenged for various reasons?

Today, no political party is immune from corrupt practices. The cost of maintaining itself in power requires any party/coalition to let corrupt practices go unchallenged. The A. Raja affair carried on for so long merely because removing Raja would have led to a breakdown in the coalition. It was only after the stench of corruption became intolerable that action, hesitant and unhappy at that, was taken against the minister.

As to the CBI, perhaps Gandhi should rethink her words. The agency’s record in prosecuting politicians for misdemeanours is shameful. Its flip-flips, be they affidavits submitted to the Supreme Court in such cases or the laxity in prosecuting such cases, tell a story of constant interference by the government of the day, whatever party the accused politicians may belong to. The agency has already been undermined.

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