The Law Takes Its Course
In the country’s
history, it has taken a long, long time for convictions to be handed
down under the Prevention of Corruption Act to those who had charted
the destiny of the country and its teeming millions,
THE LATE INDIRA Gandhi had once said that corruption is a global phenomenon. That, in an oblique way, tantamounts to looking the other way when those in high places and authority acquiesced to dubious under-the-table deals. The saga of decision-makers unabashedly indulging in pelf and self-aggrandisement is now legion in this country which has given itself a democratic system of government. Staying in power at all costs, irrespective of the means adopted in achieving that objective, is unfortunately the rule of the game. Politics has been turned into a putrid exercise of feathering one’s nest amid pious pronouncements of promoting development and serving the cause of the poor and underprivileged sections. People are beginning to look through the machinations of these self-appointed busybodies whose only ambition is to be part of the government and make hay while the sun shines. There is a premium in being picked to be part of the privileged Lal Batti clan, a euphemism for gaining a ministerial berth. A vast majority of those politically inclined crave for this opportunity just once as that is enough to make life easy for the present generation and the succeeding one if not more. They spare little thought for what they can do for their country and the community at large.
Though some of the laws are archaic and antiquated, the heat is being turned on the influential and the powerful. That has gladdened the hearts of the people at large. It is time that those wielding power understand that they are not above the law. It is common knowledge that these marauding public persons have exploited the loopholes in the law and managed to get away scotfree for their wrong doings. It has taken a long, long time in the country’s nascent history for convictions to be handed down under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) to those who had charted the destiny of the country and its teeming millions. It is a first of its kind and daring to get to the bottom of the truth. By and large people have been highly cynical about the long arm of the law ever getting to these venerable politicians of various hues and shades who strut around with impunity.
Political will has been lacking thus far to deal with corruption in high places with the Congress holding sway for more than four decades. Here again it is not so simple with affected parties charging that the ruling clique is out to seek political vendetta aimed at sending their opponents into oblivion. That is easier said than done. It is apparent that if the Centre did not set up the special courts for speedy disposal of corruption cases, the matter would have lingered on in the courts for years on end with no conviction in sight. The Tamil Nadu government did likewise and established special courts to try the AIADMK chief Jayalalitha for taking undue advantage during her reign as the chief minister from 1991 to 1996.
More importantly there are crucial assembly elections round the corner in several states, including West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh next year. There is no doubt that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre and the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazgham in Tamil Nadu have their own political stakes and calculations. The NDA with the BJP in the vanguard is keen to get down to the Bofors kickbacks case and Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi wants to shut out the prospects of the rival Dravidian party of Jayalalitha in the southern state. Then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has necessarily to keep a blow-hot, blow-cold Trinamool Congress colleague and Union Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee in good humour. Banerjee’s ambition is to dethrone the Left Front government in West Bengal and occupy the Chief Minister’s gaddi in Calcutta.
The Congress and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (AIADMK) are in the eye of a raging storm. The conviction of P V Narasimha Rao, a former Prime Minister, which has no parallel since Independence in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery case has put the Congress in a tight spot. It has provided some food for thought to Sonia Gandhi as the numero uno of the Congress as well the party’s strategists. In a far reaching judgement, Rao and his then Home Minister Buta Singh were sentenced on October 12 to undergo three years of rigorous imprisonment and pay a fine of Rs 2 lakh each by a special court in New Delhi. The Special Judge, Ajit Bharihoke, however suspended the operation of the sentence till November 8 to facilitate them prefer an appeal against the order in the Delhi High Court. Rao has also been found guilty of conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code to bribe JMM MPs to buy votes for saving his minority Congress government on a no-confidence motion in July 1993.
Further, the Judge directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to register a fresh case against the three MPs under the PCA for possessing wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income. The Special Court was unambiguous in observing that no immunity from prosecution was available to the JMM MPs for having received a bribe to vote against the no-confidence motion.
Opinion is sharply divided among the Congress heavyweights whether Rao should be sent packing from the party. While one section feels that Rao should be dumped, another section maintains such a step can precipitate matters with the Bofors kickbacks issue gaining momentum. The Congress reacted rather feebly to Rao’s conviction by mouthing the former Prime Minister’s now famous one liner that "the law will take its own course."
For all practical purposes, Sonia Gandhi had already distanced the Congress from Rao after she took over as the party president. It is no secret that Gandhi had serious differences with Rao during his stewardship of the country from 1991-1996 and had publicly criticised the tardy investigation into the Rajiv Gandhi assassination caSse. On his part, Rao was extremely low key and preferred not to play the role of a courtier or pay obeisance at her 10 Janpath Road residence in the Capital. It is akin to the kettle calling the pot black because some of Sonia Gandhi’s close advisers have themselves faced serious charges of corruption. The Congress has to necessarily put on its thinking cap and see how to deflect the threat of others in the party organisation finding themselves in a predicament similar to that of Rao. The party is going to have an uphill task in convincing the masses that its leaders are blemishless and as clean as a whistle especially as the Congress has done precious little during its heyday or otherwise to tackle the problem of corruption head on.
Jayalalitha is in a different boat altogether compared to Rao. Afer a long and chequered political innings, Rao faces the ignominy of going to jail in the evening of his life rather than spending it with calm and serenity. The undisputed AIADMK leader, on the other hand, will desperately try to regain power in Tamil Nadu to undo the harm done to her by the DMK. In Tamil Nadu it is unbridled power that makes the mare go and the DMK knows to its discomfiture that if the AIADMK comes to power then the Amma will dig deep to put them in the dock. Though Jayalalitha lost at the hustings in 1996 giving way to the DMK, the AIADMK nevertheless emerged as the single largest entity in terms of garnering votes. The AIADMK polled about 28 per cent of the votes with the DMK trailing behind by at least five percentage points.
The woes for Jayalalitha are by no means over. She is still battling things out in the court which includes, among others, the coal import deal case and having assets disproportionate to her known sources of income. Her efforts to get the TANSI (Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation) cases quashed in the Supreme Court came a cropper. The country’s apex court refused to give her any relief and directed that the trial court should proceed with the TANSI cases. The special court in Chennai on October 9 convicted Jayalalitha to three years and two years rigorous imprisonment in TANSI land deal cases. The special judge, P. Anbazhagan suspended the substantial portion of his order till November 7 to enable the accused file the appeals. The case in which Jayalalitha was convicted earlier pertained to the "Pleasant Stay Hotel" in February this year.
Tamil Nadu is inevitably moving to coalition politics as people are getting weary of the Dravidian politics of the DMK and the AIADMK over the last three decades. It is highly unlikely that any of these parties on their own can secure a majority in the state assembly. The Pattali Makkal Kakshi (PMK) of Dr Ramdoss is emerging as a potent force. Therefore, courting the PMK has become a necessary evil for the DMK despite the relations between the two parties being rather tenuous in the run up to the assembly elections. For Jayalalitha the extremely worrisome factor is that if her appeal against the TANSI land deals conviction is turned down by the higher court, she cannot contest elections for at least nine years, including the three years that she spends in jail. If a politician who runs the AIADMK with an iron fist without brooking any dissent or building a second-rung leadership remains out of the political eye for nine long years, the curtains have to be rung down. That seeming inevitability is something that Jayalalitha had not bargained for.