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Congress charade on corruption: A case of pot calling kettle black

Monday, March 05, 2018
By Virendra Kapoor

Karti Chidambaram casts shadow on Budget session of Parliament

Crying vendetta and witch hunt is standard for our corrupt politicians when the long arm of the law once in a long while catches up with them. So, it came as no surprise when Karti Chidambaram, triumphantly  walking into the court house as if he was being hauled up for some  heroic deed which the rulers were too dumb to appreciate, mouthed political witch hunt and predicted that he would  soon be  vindicated.

Remember even that Italian crook, the late Ottavio Quattrochhi, had shouted political vendetta, arguing that his proximity to the Gandhi family was the reason for his being dragged into the Bofors scam. The truth was that Quattrochhi had not only swung the deal the Bofors way, but had also pocketed the largest amount in  commission — in all probability to be shared with those who had helped him clinch the deal in the first place.      

Well, given how the 2-G scamster A. Raja had walked away a free man, despite there being  a cast-iron case against him and the other accused, we cannot bet on the competence and impartiality of the prosecutorial and judicial agencies. Yet, Karti Chidambaram’s Strategic Advantage Consultancy,  a Freudian slip, that?, seems to have landed him and his father Palaniappan Chidamabaram  in a right royal mess. Whatever details have emerged thus far speak of a systemic abuse of his father’s ministerial position to rake in big bucks, both  in Indian  and foreign currency. Ostensibly, he was some sort of a  consultant, though the charge is that that was a smokescreen for his being a facilitator for clearances and suppressions   in his father’s ministry for hefty commissions.

Now, those  familiar with the immediate post-liberalisation period would know that the Foreign Investment Promotion Board was the first port of call for anyone keen to set up shop in India. Indeed, that notorious crook, Deepak Talwar, rose from being a minor fixer to an enormously wealthy go-to man in New Delhi for a vast number of iconic multinational companies. When seeking  the FIPB clearance,   they were gently told that if they wanted it, they had to hire Talwar’s services. And most of them did. Talwar himself made no bones about his proximity to A. N Verma, the principal secretary to then prime minister Narasimha Rao.  Later, in the UPA regime, he teamed up with another key minister, calling shots in the civil aviation sector.

The point is that in the socialist era, the ministers of the realm parceled out all manner of natural resources to their favourite entrepreneurs for a song, helping themselves to big sums in baksheeh in return.  In the post-liberalisation period, the opportunities to make big money grew manifold. But so did the discretion of the ministers to pick and choose from various contenders for exploiting the newly-opened market of a billion-plus people. A Deepak Talwar in the Narasimha Rao regime and a Karti Chidambaram in  the UPA decade eased the way of doing business for a hefty commission, er, sorry, consultancy.  

That Chidambaram senior is an exceedingly clever man is beyond doubt. He has inherited wealth, boasts of a first-rate education and has a huge legal practice. Why would such a man inevitably find himself at the centre of some  controversy or the other every time he is  a minister? Clearly, greed is caste and class agnostic.  His wife, Nalini Chidambaram found herself as a lawyer of one of the tax boards when he was the Finance Minister. Also, she got paid one crore rupees in cash by a  Kolkatta lottery scamster and when the said payment was revealed upon the arrest of the lottery king, she belatedly claimed that she had declared it in her income tax return. Why would she accept one crore rupees in cash in the first place?

Meanwhile, the second half of the Budget session of Parliament can be already written off as a wash-out. The boycott of the Lokpal Selection Committee by Malikarjun Kharge on the flimsy excuse that he was called as a special invitee and not as a full-fledged leader of the Opposition, which, incidentally, he is not,   exposed the hollowness of the  Congress  claim to fight against corruption. Its cussedness trumped the need to put an anti-corruption watchdog in place.  The ruling party and the Opposition are set to indulge in another ear-piercing  round of holier-than-thou charade — meri kameez teri kameez sey jayada safed hain.

The truth is that having embraced a prong of the ruling party’s Hindutva platform, albeit a softer version of it, Rahul Gandhi was keen to appropriate another plank of the BJP’s electoral strategy. But when it comes to selling the   anti-corruption theme, the Congress will eternally remain on a weak wicket. Over the years,  corruption and Congress having become synonymous, the newly-minted Congress boss will find it hard to beat Modi on the anti-corruption plank. Whether you like it or not, Modi’s integrity is beyond reproach. He is widely, and rightly,  seen to be incorruptible.

On the other hand, the seven-star life-style of the Gandhis for generations, without their having  any ostensible source of great income, lends itself easily to the charge that they are the original  parasites of Indian politics  who  live it up in great luxury at other peoples’ expense. An MP’s salary, or, for that matter, even that of a prime minister’s, does not afford  you the freedom to jet off in luxury class at  mere whim to one or another part of the globe. And to own and maintain multiple mansions in plains and hills. The Gandhis did not inherit old money, nor did they  earn new money by dint of  any professional merit. Politics has been their only calling. That does not yield anyone honest income beyond a moderate sum, mind you, the emphasis is on honest.  

In other words, if it is Rahul’s strategy to beat the corruption drum against the BJP, he is wrongly-advised. The bank fraud fugitives were a systemic failure. The political executive was  helpless  --  and did not realise that the banks were hollowed out by the crooks long before May 2014. Besides, the judiciary would not okay wholesale seizure of passports of whoever was likely to emerge next as  a bank defaulter. Why, even on the success of its soft Hindutva plank, we have our doubts. The somewhat higher tally of the Congress in the recent Assembly poll in Gujarat in all probability resulted from  the intensive  grassroots mobilisation by Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mewani. The Congress should find  a new strategy, a new platform, to make itself relevant again.

Finally, the tax noose tightens  
A little bird tells us that a controversial television group which was being investigated for tax fraud and money-laundering since sometime in 2011-12,  has been slapped with a penalty of over Rs. 400 crore and an equal amount in tax demand. The promoters of the group are the loudest in crying `attack on press freedom’, and promptly line up all the usual secularist-liberal suspects in the media, whose visceral hatred of  the Modi Sarkar is widely known,  whenever the authorities pursue investigations rather  too aggressively.  Hiding behind a polished exterior, they apparently resorted to the same financial skullduggery, that is, if you trust the income tax authorities, which is the standard trade-mark of  most unscrupulous businessmen who freely game the system.

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