Like the clinically mad, the sycophant is blissfully unaware of his condition. In a feudal set-up where the road is paved with rewards and threats, the servile are protected from notions of being servile by their supine position being a permanent feature and condition of their jobs. No one has shown this more effectively than the extended durbar of the Congress-led UPA. Servility here, of course, is always pitched as loyalty.
The admission by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Ranjit Sinha of a master-servant relationship between the Government of India and the CBI isn’t shocking because no one in his right mind considered the CBI to be ‘independent’. It is shocking because the government didn’t even bother to trot out a convincing ‘This isn’t what it looks like, honey’ line when caught in bed with the CBI.
When law minister Ashwani Kumar wanted to see the CBI’s status report on the coal allocations case prior to it being sent to the Supreme Court, Sinha did a fantastic impression of a top-end Japanese robot. Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury, on her part, was at her most brilliantly comic when she suggested on television that Sinha had gone over to Kumar’s to “probably check some files” as part of the CBI’s routine investigation.
The Sinha-Kumar meeting was attended by the attorney general and additional solicitor general along with a joint secretary each from the Prime Minister’s Office and the law ministry — people whose legitimate jobs are to defend the government. Instead of asking Sinha to let him have a look at the CBI report for the purpose of checking it for ‘language and grammar’, Ashwani and Co. could jolly well have written it out themselves with someone such as the Noida-based Vikram Seth adding a bit of flair to it. Sinha’s attempt to make the CBI’s stooge status sound matter of fact and respectable — “I am a part of the government. I have not shown sensitive information to an outsider. I have shown it to the law minister.” — was quite cute. He had set our minds at rest that the CBI status report was not shown to the pesky Chinese.
If the CBI director has found it perfectly okay to make a fashion statement out of wearing a dog collar, the prime minister, by defending Kumar, has found nothing odd — so far — in his law minister’s action of ‘proofreading’ a report meant for Supreme Court eyes investigating charges that the government’s allocation of coal blocks during 2004-2009 was conducted in “an inefficient manner”.
Now the Supreme Court wants the CBI to state in an affidavit ‘who made what changes’ in the status report. One hopes that Sinha doesn’t interpret this as a go-ahead for him or one of his flunkeys to call up the law ministry, or attorney general’s office or the PMO to go through the list of ‘changes’ made at Ashwani-ji’s March 5 tea party and take dictation.
Over the years, Manmohan Singh has been increasingly at ease with the durbari scheme of things that we saw him to be so uncomfortable with during his first tenure as prime minister-cum-brand ambassador. For one, he’s no longer just expected to be loyal; he now expects loyalty himself. For another, all the 142 coal blocks were allocated during his tenure in the coal ministry. So his reputation as a scarecrow to frighten away all black birds of corruption and dodge now seems crow-pecked with his straw showing.
The UPA, in its infinite wisdom, believes that to make the country get out of its present rut, maintain law and order, protect the nation from external and internal aggression, provide inclusive growth, fix 21st century governance that will force politics to move out of the feudal into the professional zone, and set the stage to make it easier for India to win the 2015 Cricket World Cup, it has to stay in power. If responding to such a public duty means lying, bending the rules out of shape and suspending political and moral accountability, that’s seen as a small price to pay. For the UPA — and certainly for the Congress — there is nothing soul-destroying about such an all-out effort to protect the government at all costs.
But there must have been some sense of guilt in doing something wrong that compelled the now-resigned additional solicitor general Harin Raval to initially lie to the Supreme Court on March 8 that the status report had not been shared with any member of the government. Did Attorney General GE Vahanvati try to influence the CBI probe at his own behest the way many in the Delhi Police successfully have managed to protect their masters in the Congress from going to jail for their role in the 1984 anti-Sikh genocide? Did Ashwani Kumar simply do what a loyal minister is supposed to do? And has Manmohan Singh finally become a Congress prime minister that he was not?
If there’s one thing that seems to have delivered a hammer blow to the UPA’s divine sense of righteousness it is that it’s been caught cheating before the exam. Which means that this is the best chance of any unbiased examination being conducted. But will the madness of sycophancy finally be cured through shock treatment? Don’t lose your head over it.