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Disincentives are for real

Taking firm action against the graft-accused can be the morning that shows the day.

india Updated: Apr 26, 2011 22:56 IST

It's far easier to punish the corrupt than to wipe out corruption. The former provides a strong, unwavering disincentive to be dishonest, while the latter is a noble wish and little else. But that hardly means that Lok Sabha MP Suresh Kalmadi's arrest and Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi being charged for corruption on Monday were standard operation procedures. With the public mood and energy unabatedly focused on the two most visible financial scandals to have taken wing under its rule, the UPA government would have found it well nigh impossible to treat the alleged corruption in the run-up to the Delhi Commonwealth Games as well as in the 2G spectrum allocation as things that 'should be looked into', the standard euphemism for letting matters slide and reach a natural state of amnesia. Mr Kalmadi, as the former chairman of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, and Ms Kanimozhi, as the 'operational head' of the Karunanidhi family-owned Kalaignar TV accused of being involved in the transfer of 2G scam-tainted money, have both been brought to the dock. This is a salient moment not only in how we tackle those in high places suspected of corruption but also how India may now have to conduct its politics: with accountability.

Both Mr Kalmadi and Ms Kanimozhi are 'big fry'. The standard - and legitimate - critique of the people really accountable for scams and scandals being let off the hook while minions are rapped on the knuckles doesn't apply to these two cases. Being from within the fold of the ruling party, the action taken against the Congress MP from Pune seems to be less tricky than that taken against the allegedly errant MP from the DMK, an alliance partner on which the ruling coalition depends on for some healthy numbers in the Lok Sabha. But even cynics will admit that letting the CBI do its job against Mr Kalmadi shows a new, welcome intolerance from a government that can now show that it means business when it says that it will come down on the corrupt regardless of what stripes the person wears.

Fumigating one's own house also allows the Congress-led government to have the political legitimacy to set the UPA in order when it comes to resetting its moral compass. The relative ceasefire by the BJP and its affiliates have made the UPA's tasks easier - and 'coalition compulsions' seemingly less overpowering. Instead of a 'tu tu-mein mein' about corruption breaking out, the UPA has been nudged hard into action by a more unbiased party: the Indian public. This allows the government not only more political leeway to clean up its rank and file but also the opportunity to send out a potent signal - being 'one of the boys (or girls)' doesn't make one immune from punitive action when one is bending the rules for pelf.