Alok Ray

Kejriwal has set the cat among the pigeons

ALOK RAY | Updated on March 12, 2018

Arvind Kejriwal should not becarried away by the media glare.

Kejriwal has set the cat among the pigeons in the political establishment. But he too needs to watch his step.

The ‘India against Corruption’ outfit spearheaded by Arvind Kejriwal has created panic among politicians in Delhi and elsewhere. Unlike the earlier Lokpal Bill movement led by Anna Hazare, the current movement is directed against alleged corruption by specific individuals whom Kejriwal chooses to target.

No one feels safe any more against allegations of corruption that he may bring out in the open before the media and the public.

The allegations on the highly unusual business deal between DLF and Robert Vadra were well known in the Delhi media and political circles for quite some time.

But there is a tacit understanding in the media and among political leaders that no one pursues specific charges (even as they talk about corruption in general terms all the time) against important political leaders, including their close relatives and big business houses.

RULES OVERTURNED

Many politicians across political parties are not clean. No one wants to open a can of worms. Also, in these days of coalition politics, one never knows whom one would need as an ally. The media, too, depends on political leaders and big business for favours.

But Kejriwal is a maverick who is not willing to obey the tacit rules of the game.

Whether the allegations are right or wrong can be established only after proper investigation by independent investigators.

Meanwhile, a prima facie case has been established and popular anger has been unleashed. Now, the media cannot remain passive either. It will have to play the competitive game in bringing out fresh facts and evidences to be one up on rival news channels and newspapers.

Kejriwal (unlike some of his associates in the Anna Hazare movement) is not willing to target only the leaders in the ruling party.

He is a loose canon, firing at leaders (and their relatives) belonging to all political parties. In this sense, he has served a very useful purpose by changing the rules of the game.

Things would never be the same again.

In future, no one in politics or business would be immune from charges of corruption. Everyone will have to be circumspect.

DEFENSIVE ACTION

The reactions from the government have been bizarre, to say the least. First, it tried to argue that Vadra is a private individual and that his dealings with a private firm DLF cannot be the subject of public scrutiny.

This argument is not valid. DLF is a public limited company answerable to shareholders and SEBI for misdeeds.

Further, Vadra has apparently taken a loan of several crores from a public sector bank (as per the balance sheet of a Vadra company), which is a false statement, according to the bank. What is the source of this money?

This is an allegation of criminal conduct, not just impropriety. Finally, Vadra cannot be considered a private person. He is seemingly exempted from search (unlike ordinary passengers) at all the Indian airports (by a public notice displayed at airports).

So, his actions should be the subject of public scrutiny, more than that of any private individual, because of his close proximity to the highest corridors of power. Ceasar’s wife should be above suspicion.

Second, if Vadra is a private individual, then why should Cabinet ministers have fallen over one another to come to his defence?

The Finance Minister, the Company Affairs Minister and the Law Minister all gave him a clean chit within 24 hours of the allegations aired by Kejriwal and the media.

After these summary pronouncements of ‘not guilty’ by all the relevant ministers, it is very difficult for a government official to conduct an impartial enquiry.

If someone still has the guts to do it, he will meet the fate of Ashok Khemka, an IAS officer in the Haryana Government. By serving a transfer order at 10 pm on Khemka, the Haryana government has lent credence to the suspicion that it has something to hide.

If Vadra were really an ordinary citizen, the government should have said that the matter would be investigated by proper authorities and the law would take its course.

Vadra and DLF should be left to defend themselves, without the entire government machinery arguing his case.

Kejriwal’s allegations of irregularities against the trust run by the wife of Salman Khurshid, the Union Law minister, throws up a different set of issues. The amount involved (some Rs 70 lakhs) is perhaps “too small’ for a central minister to appropriate, as pointed out through a Freudian slip by another central minister.

But it is symptomatic of a deeper malaise. Central funds are often distributed through trusts or NGOs run by minister’s relatives in the constituency of the minister.

The minister reaps the political benefit during elections as a saviour of the poor. This is not an illegal or criminal activity. But the question is: Is it a fair practice?

That a few beneficiaries in the list are ‘ghost’ names or have not received the benefits (as alleged by Kejriwal) could very well be due to local level corruption (quite prevalent in other government schemes like NREGS). Whether this is large-scale deliberate corruption can only be ascertained by an independent census/audit of a much bigger sample of all beneficiaries.

Kejriwal should not be carried away by the media glare. He should stick to facts which are documented and can be proved in a court of law. Since there are allegations of corruption regarding acquisition of land by Bhushans (being levelled by Congress spokespersons), the Bhushans should voluntarily go thorough an enquiry by an independent body.

(The author is a former Professor of Economics, IIM, Calcutta.)

Published on October 18, 2012

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