When you've lost something at home, say, a car key or a TV remote, one way of finding it is to retrace your steps to the last time you saw it. But what happens when you've lost something in the house, say, the underwear of a visitor not your spouse or a copy of a bomb-making manual that you'd rather not find, preferring it to be swallowed up by oblivion?
Coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal isn't technically wrong when he told Members of Parliament on Thursday that seven files, 173 applications and nine other documents that have been sought by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) aren't lost. Like the car key, it's somewhere, not vanished or destroyed by some natural or man-made calamity (unless we don't know something that the government knows) but that's currently untraceable. But Jaiswal did sound barmy when he said, "It would be wrong to classify any file or document as missing at this stage when an inter-ministerial committee is actively engaged in locating these papers." There's not much fun in setting up a search party if no one's missing in the picnic, is there?
But like virginity, much too much is being made of the 'loss' of these files. If one is practical about this sort of thing, the 'loss' of documents that could be used to trace key players in the coal block allocation scam is par for the course for this government. Whether one accuses the UPA administration of being absentminded or Machiavellian in its dealings with charges of corruption from within its kurta-clad fold, it has shown a remarkable consistency that really is amazing chutzpah. So where does such brazenness come from?
Manmohan Singh's halo as an incorruptible man radiates as much light these days as the sex appeal of an extra holding up Priyanka Chopra in an item number sequence. Even the 'few rotten apples' argument has turned sour considering these apples have been very expensive for this nation. The ability to hunker down and survive each tsunami comes from the UPA's ability to take the Congress' flak. This government is the Congress' flak jacket, the latter's invincibility coming from the former's ability to take pleasure in the pain doled out regularly by some vigilant wings of the State machinery and a sadomasochistic media.
And if Anil Ambani can safely say in a court of law that he attends "a large number of meetings" and can't recall each one of them, not to mention that he is "not aware" whether Swan Telecom, linked to the 2G spectrum allocation scam, has links with his Reliance Telecom Limited or not, the far busier Government of India can surely be forgiven for misplacing some files. As one of the Congressmen in Manmohan Singh's government Kamal Nath stated with an authority that the prime minister himself lacks, "The prime minister is not the custodian of files. He does not sit in the store room." Quite. In fact, Nath's first sentence could have stopped before 'of files' and still ring true.
The Congress is the entity that will go forth and seek to multiply its votes very soon, not the government. But it is this unique joint venture that has sustained both partners especially in the second term of the UPA government. And why blame (read: give credit to) this good cop-bad cop formulation alone? The main Opposition party of the country, showing a startling lack of political imagination, is now left playing strong man-weak party and has dwindled to the size of one man and his legions of supporters outside the BJP party machinery over whom he really has no control. The political class as a whole has given the UPA its charmed life and anyone coming to power at the Centre at any point after the UPA will have this government as a precedent for eternity.
To take this government down, firewalls need to be taken down. The Central Information Commission's order to bring in six political parties under the ambit of the Right To Information Act in June led to the Union Cabinet approving an amendment to the law this month that would keep political parties out of the RTI. It doesn't take a Samson to figure out that no party is really keen to bring down a government on the stare-at-your-face issue of corruption and risk itself going down at the demolition site.
So mobs on television panels and op-ed pages will articulate their anger at the UPA government. The missing files will certainly be 'found' since SK Shahi, the additional secretary in the coal ministry, who is one of the people responsible for maintaining all records pertaining to coal block allocations is exactly the same person as SK Shahi, the additional secretary in the coal ministry, who is chairing the inter-ministerial committee that's been set up to trace the 'missing' files.
With the CBI having a recent history of seeking a tutorial from the coal ministry, the 'recovered' documents could well be(come) perfectly harmless. If the mud still flies, a cancellation of suspicious coal block allocations, à la dodgy 2G spectrum allocations, should do the trick. And if people haven't moved on to another new scam soon - the frequency of these scams itself creating a fog of apathy - some people may even go to jail. In the meantime, Bharat will continue to be Nirman-ed as we tell ourselves that 'the fundamentals are still strong'. Indeed, they are.