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Not by fear or favour

The real debate on corruption and an effective Lokpal has been obscured by allegations, apologies and angst. This is no way in which to conduct a debate on corruption. Chanakya writes.

columns Updated: Jun 12, 2012 23:42 IST
Hindustan Times
Chanakya,hindustan times,news

The avalanche of words on both sides - Team Anna and the government - threatens to overwhelm us. Both should heed the advice of the great statesman Winston Churchill: "We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out." Like a vehicle looking to gather speed on an uneven road, the Anna gang has unleashed its latest volley. It says several top ministers are guilty of corruption that happened on the prime minister's watch. Of course, I did not expect the foot-in-mouth Anna crew to stop at just that. Just in case we did not get the point, Prashant Bhushan likened the prime minister to Shikhandi from the Mahabharata, who served as a shield for the Pandavas in battle.

This adds to the growing repertoire of over-the-top language favoured by Anna and his merry band. But what really took me by surprise is the normally measured prime minister, in a rare display of hurt and emotion, saying that he would quit public life if any charges against him were proved to be true.

Really Prime Minister? Why unleash the brahmastra in response to the allegations, and they are only that, made by a formation without any political legitimacy? It is not my case that no one can accuse the prime minister or any other public functionary of misdeeds. Such things will happen. But, there is no need to show your vulnerability quite so openly.

What I see is that Anna Hazare and his followers thought they would pitch for the high stakes to generate interest in their campaign against corruption which was earlier flagging. So some of them felt that an attack on the man seen as one of the cleanest in politics would get the TRPs going and grab enough eyeballs. They succeeded, but not quite in the manner they had hoped. All said and done, the prime minister still hovers above the fray.

So along came a quick distancing from this language by Justice Santosh Hegde, Karnataka's former Lokayutka and an apology from the incorrigible Arvind Kejriwal, not one to back off easily. At the heart of the remarks made by Bhushan is the fact that a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General cites irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks when the prime minister was briefly in charge of the coal portfolio.

So seeing that this was stepping over the line, Bhushan tied himself up in knots to tell us that no one was saying the prime minister took any bribes but that he did not stop those who did. You are a lawyer Mr Bhushan, tell us what exactly you are saying. That the prime minister is pure as the driven snow or that by implication he is complicit in illegal deeds?

I find it passing strange that these allegations come from a bunch of people who are accusing each other of financial irregularities in the NGOs that they run. I also find it odd that Anna Hazare himself seems to repose little faith in those who are today the leading lights of his campaign against corruption.

My point is that there are several constitutional bodies to deal with corruption. The government of the day cannot function if it has to answer to each civic body which seeks action on corruption from it. Team Anna has a right to ask, of course, but it would carry a lot more conviction if it targeted the political class evenhandedly. Here many cannot escape the sneaking feeling that it seems to have its knife into the Congress alone. We did not see such moral outrage as the Anna gang professes when it comes to corruption in other political formations.

But what this unseemly war of words has done is, I feel, a singular disservice to our democracy. The real debate on corruption and whether there should be an effective Lokpal has been obscured by what have become allegations, apologies and angst. This is no way in which to conduct a debate on corruption. And if one goes by the likes of Baba Ramdev trying to join the cause, it would seem that anyone who wants their 15 minutes of fame is taking it up.

If Team Anna wants to take on the government, let it come out with charges on which a preliminary investigation can be ordered by the appropriate authority. On this, I agree with law minister Salman Khurshid who says that we cannot have street trials. And for the government's part, it should realise that it does not need to roll out the heavy artillery but answer in a reasonable manner in an appropriate forum. It does not have to react to every remark made by Anna's people only to have them apologise later.

Yes, the people want to eliminate corruption. But no, they do not want it done in this murky way. But then, the people in whose name everyone is speaking seem to be the least of the considerations of this Mahabharata in progress.

First Published: Jun 02, 2012 22:27 IST