The Congress set out to win a third successive term this general election with a heavy burden of scams and charges of corruption against senior leaders. By nominating former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan to contest from Nanded, the party has added to its burden. It has also sent out a clear message that corruption charges can be discounted. Mr Chavan was forced to step down from his post in 2010 after he was named in the Adarsh housing society scam. The party defended his candidature on the grounds that he was not barred by any law from contesting in an election and that he did not misuse his power by allotting the land to the society. The Congress appears to have been guided by the principle of ‘winnability’ in the election than by the idea of probity in public life.
The Congress runs the risk of alienating voters across the country who place a premium on probity and have been disgusted by the scam-tainted UPA 2 government. The move to rehabilitate Mr Chavan is not a sudden one. The series of decisions on Adarsh — the judicial commission of inquiry’s findings that the land belonged to the state government, repeated assertions of the lack of evidence to indict the former CM, the state government dragging its feet over accepting the report, the CBI’s bid to drop his name from the charge-sheet, the Maharashtra governor denying sanction to the CBI to prosecute him — all pointed in this direction. The candidature was the logical next step.
The Opposition will grab the opportunity to hit out at the Congress on this issue. But the BJP is not without its own share of leaders and candidates whose laundry list of legal and ethical transgressions runs long. The former Karnataka CM, BS Yeddyurappa, is a case in point. As the election campaign gathers momentum in the weeks ahead, we can expect more self-righteous chatter from the BJP about how the Congress shields the corrupt. In politically rehabilitating Mr Chavan and Mr Yeddyurappa, both parties have signalled that corruption is not an electorally significant issue, never mind the public posturing and prime-time mud-slinging on television.