The resignation of the British Home Secretary, David Blunkett, over fast-tracking a visa for the Filipino nanny of a former lover seems to be a case of the Raj showing the way. With the unsavory publicity resulting from the episode, Tony Blair was forced to let go of a close friend and colleague whom he was loath to lose. What makes the matter even more ironic is the fact that Blunkett had been responsible for formulating some very Draconian laws relating to immigrants and immigration, not to mention the most recent and controversial of them all ' the introduction of national identity cards.
What is interesting is the role of the British media, which relentlessly pursued the matter forcing Blunkett to step down. What was not so fair, though, was a certain interpretation by a journalist from the BBC who made a very unfair comparison between Blunkett's action and that of politicians in a very poor continent like Africa. There is no denying that nepotism and favoritism are regular features in developing countries like Africa and India, but to hint that Blunkett could have been let off the hook because 'it happens all the time in Africa', is ridiculous. There are many things, which happen in the Southern countries that the Northerners have perhaps never had to face, including poverty and hunger. And in the case of former colonies like Africa and India, one has also to hark back to history to pin responsibility on those who looted the wealth of these nations, leaving them in dire straits. However, this does not in any way absolve the governments of these countries from their acts of nepotism. A free and fair press has a big role to play in this matter and can take a cue from their counterparts in Britain.
One cannot say much about Africa but among the well-known exposes in India is that of Prakash Singh Kairon, who was forced to resign from the Chief Minister's post in Punjab on account of placing his relatives in pivotal posts in the government. In more recent times, J.S. Rajput, an appointee of the NDA government, was asked to step down from the Chairmanship of the NCERT, after it was discovered that he had given his spouse a job in the same organization along with very attractive emoluments. Undoubtedly, this factor must have come as a welcome piece of information to the UPA coalition to ease out someone perceived to have saffron leanings. What is of importance here is that the press was able to bring out this fact.
But one or two swallows do not a summer make and there must be hundreds of incidents where nepotism prevails in government in the poorer countries. This is not to say that the richer ones are absolved of such acts. Even the once-perceived holy cow, the United Nations, has not escaped the taint with charges of nepotism now being leveled against its Secretary General, Kofi Annan. From Hillary Clinton being named in what is now famously referred to as White Watergate to George Fernandes, India's erstwhile Minister of Defence, being accused in the Tehelka tapes, there are innumerable instances of misuse of office by the powers that be. The argument that these are commonplace and to-be-expected-happenings does not in any way detract from their seriousness. What it does boil down to is the misuse of power vested on a leader by the people who voted him to that position. Surely, the role of the media in the Blunkett episode is to be appreciated. One fervently hopes that the press across the world will take a cue from their English compatriots and make a shift from idle celebrity journalism to well-researched, investigative exposes.