Saturday, January 08, 2011

Ghosts do not die

Ghosts do not die
By M J Akbar

Third Eye - In India Today
7th January 2011

Ghosts do not die. That is the power of a phantom. You can bury the Bofors body to the chanting of the CBI's fraudulent funeral rites, but its restless spirit keeps rattling through the haunted house of the Congress Party's premier family. The latest rattle, in which the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) confirmed that illegal kickbacks amounting to Rs 41 crore were indeed paid to Italian middleman Ottavio Quattrocchi, and at least some of the money transferred to a Panama bank account, has numbed the Congress.

Dr Manmohan Singh, after wafting for six years as Mr Benefit of the Doubt, has slipped into a trap he unwittingly set for himself when he sought to rise above the more recent stink surrounding his Government. On December 31, his office publicised a new year resolution to "cleanse" the Government. The challenge came immediately, when the Bofors story broke. One thing is now very clear: the broom begins with Bofors. The prime minister can hardly roll his sleeves to scrub out the DMK corner but ignore the carcass under the Congress carpet.

Ghosts do not die

Ghosts do not die. That is the power of a phantom. You can bury the Bofors body to the chanting of the CBI's fraudulent funeral rites, but its restless spirit keeps rattling through the haunted house of the Congress Party's premier family. The latest rattle, in which the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) confirmed that illegal kickbacks amounting to Rs 41 crore were indeed paid to Italian middleman Ottavio Quattrocchi, and at least some of the money transferred to a Panama bank account, has numbed the Congress.

Dr Manmohan Singh, after wafting for six years as Mr Benefit of the Doubt, has slipped into a trap he unwittingly set for himself when he sought to rise above the more recent stink surrounding his Government. On December 31, his office publicised a new year resolution to "cleanse" the Government. The challenge came immediately, when the Bofors story broke. One thing is now very clear: the broom begins with Bofors. The prime minister can hardly roll his sleeves to scrub out the DMK corner but ignore the carcass under the Congress carpet.


The problem before Dr Singh is that he declared Quattrocchi innocent and has presided over the gradual dilution and elimination of the case against Quattrocchi.
Contortions can so easily lead to self-inflicted pains. The CBI has twisted itself into so many knots that it has no option except to take an utterly brazen approach as it continues to protect the Bofors guilty. On January 4, its lawyer P.P. Malhotra told a Delhi court that there was "nothing new" in the ITAT order. The CBI did not say that there was "nothing true"; it merely said there was "nothing new". "I am not disputing what the tribunal has said," asserted Malhotra, acting on his brief. If the CBI is not disputing the tribunal then it agrees that a crime was committed by middlemen with links of personal friendship to the powerful Gandhi family. Since when has time become an alibi for innocence?

The problem before cleansing-crusader Singh is that he personally declared Quattrocchi innocent and has presided over the gradual, step-by-step dilution and elimination of the case against Quattrocchi, to the point that in September 2009 his government told the Supreme Court that it had abandoned prosecution. In June 2003, Quattrocchi's bank accounts in London were frozen under pressure from Delhi. In January 2006, the UPA Government intervened to reactivate these accounts, permitting Quattrocchi to withdraw the Rs 21 crore stacked there. In October 2008, attorney general Milon Banerjee advised the CBI to withdraw the Red Corner Notice against Quattrocchi. Each of these decisions required Dr Singh's concurrence.

Is it any wonder that benefit has finally begun to delink from the doubt?

Since bad news always brings a couple of companions, we also learn that P. Chidambaram, then finance minister, wrote to the prime minister within a week of the A. Raja rip-off, pointing out that what the telecom minister was doing was blatantly wrong. The prime minister's response was silence.

Silence became the theme in the first week of 2011, interspersed by torrid cliché. Someone should tell Congress spokespersons that this is not a dead horse being flogged. This horse is alive. It can kick back.

There is a murmur building up in Delhi that the prime minister has discovered the determination to act; and that the Government will introduce legislation in the next session of Parliament to curb corruption. Curious. Is corruption legal under our current laws?

2G is a scandal because Raja twisted the rules to dispense his largesse. Bofors became a sensation because the law of India was broken to fatten middlemen. We do not need more laws. We need political courage. This has a practical meaning. The Government can start soaping the system by forcing Raja to put into the treasury what he made in backhanders from the 2G scam. There might be a few disputes over the quantum of bribes, but nothing that a friendly chat with DMK patriarch Karunanidhi can't settle. Plus, the prime minister can order his investigative agencies to tell us what they probably already know: the names of owners and beneficiaries of the Panama account and other Bofors accounts. That will calm the ghost a bit.

Dr Singh reads Urdu, so there is a fair chance that he is familiar with Urdu poetry. Two well-known lines about the marketplace of life bear repetition: Kaise bazaar ka dastoor tumhe samjhaaoon, Bik gaya jo woh kharidaar nahin ho sakta. (How shall I explain the law of this market? He who has been sold cannot become a buyer.)

Dr Manmohan Singh has the chance to go down in his nation's history as either a colossal waste of a promise, or as the exorcist who rid India of the ghost of Bofors.

2 comments:

Rajiv Kumar said...

http://rajiv-livinginamemorylane.blogspot.com/

Dinesh PC said...

Hats off to you Mr Akbar. Considering u have once been a Congress politician, it is good to read such incisively objective analysis.