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When a criminal can sit in the Union Cabinet
By H. K. Dua

THE political system that has come to prevail for the last few years across the country stands totally exposed with two orders that have just come out of the judiciary’s portals. On Monday, the Supreme Court stripped the CBI of the fig leaf of its autonomy by virtually ordering that Ms Mayawati’s trial in the Taj Corridor scandal must continue. On Tuesday, a lower court held Shibu Soren, a member of the Union Cabinet, guilty of conspiracy in the kidnap and murder of his own secretary.

The tragedy is that both Ms Mayawati and Shibu Soren have thrived under different regimes. Ms Mayawati’s involvement in the great Taj Corridor scandal was never seriously investigated either by the NDA government or by the UPA government, for reasons purely political. She has a vote bank in UP which helps her win a few seats in the Lok Sabha the NDA thought it might need for survival or for coming to power at the Centre. The Congress-led UPA also tries to appease Ms Mayawati for similar selfish reasons.

Shibu Soren has been a colourful political entity in Jharkhand for decades. He got elected to the Lok Sabha as many as six times. The NDA as well as the UPA have both tried to draw some sustenance from him and his supporters. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha with the BJP’s support in 2002 - eight years after his secretary’s murder. He has been inducted twice into Dr Manmohan Singh’s government as a Cabinet minister despite the fact that he was facing trial in the murder case. In their own way, both the NDA and the UPA provided him a sort of unmerited respectability in the political system. He even became the Chief Minister of Jharkhand for a while last year but had to quit as he could not muster majority in the Legislative Assembly.

Ms Mayawati and Shibu Soren are not the only people who are involved in crimes related to corruption and much worse and who have been in effect saved from punishment by forgiving men at the Centre, who think survival in power is more important than a parliamentary democracy’s simple requirement that only persons without a blot on their reputation should have the right to sit in the Cabinet room.

The cases of Ms Mayawati and Shibu Soren are not the only instances when sheer expediency has been preferred over principles and values that should guide the governance of the country. Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav is yet to be cleared of grave charges against him in the massive fodder scandal of Bihar. Not only has he not been brought to the book all these years, he has also been mocking at the law and the Constitution by asserting on the television channels: “I will be the Prime Minister of India - one day.”

And then no one has been punished in the Rs 50,000-crore Telgi scandal. The reason: It involves influential men in many political parties in several States. Neither the NDA government, nor the UPA government has shown seriousness in investigating the scandal which has political, economic and security ramifications. The lid remains fairly tight on the extent of the scandal; Mr Telgi is said to be suffering from AIDS; and the people denied the truth.

It is sad that no political party is hesitant about supping with criminals. In many States the criminals are enjoying the protection of the politicians; in many States the criminals provide their favourite politicians the muscle and protection they need for fighting elections. The local citizenry knows who is whose man, but is powerless to prevent the system from sliding into lawless decadence.

How do you explain that in the UP Assembly alone there are over 175 MLAs who have a history of crime backing their CVs? In Bihar, Pappu Yadavs of all sorts are having a field day irrespective of who rules in Patna - Mr Lalu Yadav or Mr Nitish Kumar. If the situation is better in some States, it is only by a degree.

The reality on the ground provides enough scope for local toughs to influence the administration in favour of those who do their bidding. Essentially, ground is slipping from underneath the feet of leaders in politics and they, irrespective of their denomination, are conveniently looking the other way.

If only they could see the dangers ahead, before it is too late! The political system should not be a sanctuary for the corrupt and the criminal.

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