Finance Minister Mr. Pranab Mukherjee said that the FDI-in-Retail executive decision by the union cabinet was suspended in order to avoid a mid-term poll. The government has put the cart before the horse. The mid-term poll should be held to justify the FDI-in-Retail decision. The mere fact that an executive decision by the cabinet had to be spiked in parliament because of objections raised by the opposition and the government’s own alliance partners exposes such ineptitude as to require a fresh mandate for the government. The lack of basic democratic norms displayed by the entire political class is truly astounding. One cabinet minister is in jail for corruption. Two key cabinet ministers are facing court proceedings. Nevertheless this tattered government is arguing with the opposition whether or not the cabinet ministers concerned should resign. The opposition’s grasp of basic democratic norms is as abysmal as that of the government.
Mr. Subramaniam Swamy on the basis of official documents in his possession is leading the charge against Home Minister Mr. P Chidambaram in court for involvement in the 2G Spectrum scam. Mr. Swamy is displaying surprising inattention to law. He has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court to exonerate the Prime Minister in the 2G scam. He claimed there was no mala fide on the part of the Prime Minister. According to him the PM was "sabotaged by his bureaucrats, as the files just kept moving from one department to another." He said: "The PM is an economist; he doesn't know the law and should be given the benefit of the doubt. After all, he needed advice from the concerned departments." In a TV channel Mr. Swamy likened the PM’s role to that of Bhishama in the Mahabharata while Draupadi was forcibly disrobed. I am not qualified to comment on the moral implications of Bhishama’s inaction. But I can point out the legal implications of the PM’s inaction in the 2G scam.
I would like to draw Mr. Swamy’s attention to the Prevention of Corruption Act which makes clear that even without direct complicity or profit motive any official’s knowledge of the state being defrauded and not acting to prevent it makes him or her an abettor liable to criminal prosecution. Section 10 of the Act reads: “Whoever, being a public servant, in respect of whom either of the offences defined in Section 8 or Section 9 (defrauding the state) is committed, abets the offence, whether or not that offence is committed in consequence of that abetment, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall be not less than six months but which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine.” Is it Mr. Swamy’s contention that the PM was so unbelievably ignorant that he did not know what his Telecom Minister was up to? If the PM remained mute in deference to the interests of his party he cannot escape responsibility.
The ignorance of basic democratic norms displayed by the rest of the political class is even worse. The court admitted Mr. Swamy’s petition to argue his case in court after studying the documents presented by him. As expected the opposition demanded Mr. Chidambaram’s resignation. Law Minister Mr. Salman Khurshid said that the opposition should wait for the court’s final ruling before demanding the minister’s resignation. Mr. Khurshid very well knows that by accepted democratic norms in order to have a credible court case the Minister should demit office pending the court’s verdict.
Similarly Minister of External Affairs Mr. SM Krishna has got lodged against him an FIR for alleged corruption after the Karnataka Lok Ayukta studied a petition filed against him. Congress spokesperson Mr. Abhishek Singhvi dismissed the incident by stating that the FIR merely contained information. He said that subsequent investigation on the basis of that information would determine whether the charges against the minister were valid. One is sure that Mr. Singhvi knows that for any credible police investigation an accused occupying high office should resign during the period of the probe. Need one remind him and his party colleagues about their vociferous demands for former BJP Chief Minister Mr. Yeddyurappa’s resignation when in similar circumstances the Lok Ayukta had ordered a probe against him?
However, all such nitpicking about how much or how little the accused ministers are guilty is really quite irrelevant. Step back and view the government’s overall situation. The former Telecom Minister is in jail for alleged corruption. The Foreign Minister and the Home Minister are facing court proceedings and police investigation for alleged corruption. The Delhi Chief Minister has been indicted by an officially appointed commission of inquiry for involvement in the Commonwealth Games (SWG) misdemeanors. A senior Congress leader is in jail for alleged corruption in the CWG corruption. There is an ongoing case against Hasan Ali, having established links with the political secretary of the Congress President and a cabinet minister, for mind boggling illegal money transfers to foreign banks. Lack of governance is glaringly exposed by a spate of policy rollbacks.
One should not have to wait to ascertain whether the Prime Minister or other ministers actually had their hands in the till. Going by basic democratic norms this cabinet should have accepted the constructive responsibility for the exposed corruption and resigned a long time ago. The government is not doing that. Instead, as the Finance Minister informs us, the government in order to avoid seeking a fresh electoral mandate is making a mockery of the Constitution by allowing an executive cabinet decision to be scuttled by parliament which has no constitutional right to do it.
The cabinet should pause and reflect. It is desperately trying to save a government that is beyond rescuing. In the process it might be permanently damaging India’s democratic system. One is sure that even this government would not want that.