JUST four months short of the Election Commission of India announcing the schedule for the Lok Sabha polls (the last national election’s schedule was announced on March 10, 2019), the contours of the contest are getting clearer. Set primarily by the Opposition, corruption is emerging as the biggest political agenda for the next round of the polls. Rahul Gandhi and his party are attacking the Modi government over its alleged crony capitalism, essentially for favouring industrialist Gautam Adani; and so is the entire Opposition.
Idealism, and not hypocrisy, is the glue that makes accusations of corruption stick on the slippery slope of political opportunism and greed.
The Opposition consensus on an all-out political assault on PM Modi over sweetheart deals in various infrastructure sectors has led to the political campaign peaking long before the final fight has actually begun. The Opposition has run an effective campaign and tried to make political capital out of short-seller Hindenburg’s report, regime-change agent George Soros’ attack and foreign media reports, but has not been able to find a money trail between the government and its most-favoured company. But the political platform has been set, slogans have been coined, hashtags are ready and the drama of David slaying Goliath has begun.
But the problem here is that Goliath is also using the same sling as that of David. When VP Singh took out his calculator to punch in numbers to compute Bofors bribe money or when Anna Hazare stopped eating to bring down the Manmohan Singh government, the mud sling was working only one-way. No longer so. There is more or an equal amount of muck of corruption sticking to the Opposition; and that has been a carefully crafted response of the government to allegations of cronyism. It has been using investigating agencies to pin down the Opposition, wherever it can, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
While governments of yore, from Nehru’s onwards, tried their best to rebut the Opposition’s charges and explain themselves, the Modi government has not been wasting its breath defending itself. Instead, it is using the same anti-corruption platform, the same agenda of probity and the same slogans against the Opposition. And the difference in this game between the Opposition and the government is that the latter is better equipped to expose corruption with the CBI, the ED, et al. This is a cynical, opportunistic game, where the tainted gets a certificate of cleanliness when he or she switches sides. An Opposition leader branded corrupt overnight turns lilywhite when he or she joins the BJP.
The Opposition cannot even complain because it has been indulging in the same game wherever it is in power. While the Aam Aadmi Party, anticipating Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest, accuses the Union government of vendetta politics in Delhi, the Opposition Congress makes similar accusations against the Punjab government. Four of its former ministers were arrested, while another managed to secure anticipatory bail. When there is no action against former ministers of the Shiromani Akali Dal, allegations of pick-and-choose that apply to the Union government get stuck to the Punjab government as well.
All non-BJP state governments are reeling under corruption allegations, which are at various stages of investigation. For every slogan against Adani or ‘Modani’, there will be an equally creative local counter. In this contest of the politics of anti-corruption, the Left Liberal elite believes that ideology offers immunity. It does not. The greatest ideology of the poor is the utopia of a corruption-free state. Unlike the Russian and Chinese experiences where bloody revolutions have overthrown the corrupt, feudal elite to only create a more crooked leadership, the ever-evolving Indian revolution seeks a democratic coexistence of the poor and the rich, but with a level playing field.
In the pursuit of this level playing field without rent-seeking politicians and bureaucrats, ideology cannot be a detour. The people did not vote out Congress over Hindutva in 2014, but for probity and prosperity. Political Hinduism is anathema to the Congress or the Opposition, but not necessarily for the voter. He abhors crony capitalism, but then his abhorrence of cronyism cannot be treated as a mere excuse for someone else’s hatred for Hindutva. Voters do not condone corruption simply because they are for or anti-Hindutva. The corrupt have a clear identity of their own in the Indian milieu — they are the ones who queer the poor’s pitch. All the perfumes of anti-Hindutva ideology cannot sweeten the little hands of the corrupt.
In public perception, Trinamool Congress parliamentarian Mahua Moitra’s transgressions may not get approved of simply because she is the torch-bearer of the anti-Hindutva brigade in the Lok Sabha. Interestingly, one of the Ethics Committee members who voted for Moitra is a CPM MP. Moitra claims that Adani is behind the attempt to expose her. However, the CPM and the BJP had joined hands to protect Adani’s interests in the Vizhinjam port in Kerala. In fact, the two ideological antagonists had done a joint rally to help Adani last year.
Idealism, and not hypocrisy, is the glue that makes accusations of corruption stick on the slippery slope of political opportunism and greed. Throwing dirt at each other in a muck pit only makes all the participants equally unidentifiable. And that exercise does not lead to the emergence of a political alternative. This is the big lesson to be drawn from the Opposition’s campaign and the government’s counter so far. However, that does not discount the voter’s fatigue. In Karnataka, allegations of 40 per cent corruption against the BJP had become unbearable for the people. Even if there is no similar national mood now, an aggregate of local grouses can add up to a pan-India sentiment in the next couple of months.
For that, the Opposition needs credible, idealistic leaders and not politicians who share their parliamentary login passwords with those who offer expensive gifts. Even if there is no explicit quid pro quo, why would a person who represents some of the poorer people of the country seek obscenely expensive gifts from businessmen? Voters hate expensive shoes, not just Jayalalithaa’s or Imelda Marcos’, and inviting the CBI to count them reeks of arrogance of wealth.
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