Family values, family ties, the great Indian family, we really seem to be a very family-minded society. But the same family that is depicted as so joyous and exuberant in films can also become a millstone round your neck if you happen to be a person in high office. As railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, who has had to resign, found to his detriment. This should be a salutary lesson for many politicians who are either complicit with or seem oblivious to the conflict of interest inherent in their relatives trying to use them for power and profit. It is no one’s case that a relative should not be in a business which may have a bearing on the ministry that a politician heads. It is a free country after all. But it would be in keeping with probity in public life to declare this openly when taking up a ministerial berth.
If Mr Bansal was to be believed, he had no inkling that a vast industry had been set up around the ministries he headed. Pharma companies run by close relatives sprang up when he was minister of state for finance. Companies providing bottled water to the railways, catering and cables all took shape after he became railway minister. As of now, it would seem a nephew was selling posts in the railway board to the highest bidder. It is frightening to think that a man who was prepared to pay a very high bribe, clearly with an eye to recovering his `investment’, could have been in charge of railway electricals in a network which transports millions of people. Time and again, we have seen the inexplicable rise in wealth of politicians who started off with virtually nothing. Some have explained it away as donations given by those overcome with love for them. Others have justified this on the grounds that their families have worked their fingers to the bone to increase their coffers. If politicians were to declare each year, around the time perhaps that they file their tax returns, how many of their relatives are running businesses which could possibly profit from their position, they would be doing a public service.
There are notable exceptions like the prime minister himself whose family has scrupulously avoided using his high office for any grace and favour. We have a situation of political family firms like that of the DMK leader M Karunanidhi whose various children and relatives run vast empires ranging from agriculture to cricket teams to the media. Once again, nothing wrong with all this except that the people should be kept in the loop on whether any of these could have directly or indirectly benefited from the position of relatives in political positions. A cynical public cannot be blamed for thinking that quick-witted relatives spot an opportunity to make hay while the sun shines, with or without the knowledge of the august personage whose name they are using or whose clout they enjoy. Aggrandisement, influence peddling and unscrupulous profiteering are not values that are normally inculcated in people. And certainly not in those who hold family values in high esteem.