Sunday, February 20, 2011

The valet knows it all

Byline by M J Akbar: The valet knows it all

No man, it is well known, is a hero to his valet. Nor is he much good before his dentist. You become vulnerable, in other words, when you either reveal too much or too little. The valet sees you waddle and slop out of the bath, bellowing for attention; and it doesn't matter if you plug on a cigar, step into office and turn into a Winston Churchill. The dentist sees only one dimension, the wince and aborted shriek at the plunge of pain. A dentophobic patient could well become a battlefield hero when a higher calling makes pain irrelevant.

A press conference can become, at its worst, a root canal drilling by a posse. Most press conferences emerge out of compulsion, not desire. The big question has to be answered, however, by the patient rather than a dentist: what do you do about the decayed tooth? The easy answer is to dull the pain with palliatives and carry on.

Dr Manmohan Singh is no longer a Prime Minister led by his party. The switch came in his first term, when he forced his hesitant party to follow him on the Indo-US nuclear deal. He was ahead of the Congress even on Pakistan policy. This was confirmed in the general election when he got equal space on the hoardings. Obviously he consults his party president Mrs Sonia Gandhi on crucial issues, but their relationship is far more equal than it was when she named him the surprise Prime Minister of the decade.

But there is one political arena in which he has to bow before the party's decisions: survival of his government. It is the party which decides how far to strain the nerves that hold a disparate coalition together. The slightest disarray would unravel the government. The party cannot afford a midterm general election just in order to preserve Dr Singh's image of financial integrity.
Dr Singh understands politics, but cannot get himself to indulge in the political language needed to roll around a crisis caused by blatant and possibly unprecedented levels of corruption. His nature drags him perilously close to the epicentre, and facts can be injurious to the health of a Prime Minister since he has, of course, been forced to compromise. He used the term "coalition compulsions" but those compulsions are not about the individual who has been thrown into jail because of the telecom scandal, A. Raja.

Raja is the front office boy; the problem is the DMK. The DMK made telecom its private property long before Raja became Cabinet minister with the help of corporate honchos awaiting extraordinary pay-offs for their deals with him. The DMK has milked telecom with a consistency that must generate tears of envy from middlemen. Raja, at best, kept a percentage of the loot; most of the money was taken by the party and members of the Karunanidhi family. Raja is the sacrifice thrown by the patriarch to the mob. His allotted destiny is to be the fall guy and keep his mouth shut, mafia-style, or there will be consequences. The problem is not Raja the individual, but DMK the institution. That is the tension that will test Dr Manmohan Singh. Karunanidhi is being economical with the truth when he claims that he cannot remember receiving a handwritten letter from Ratan Tata praising Raja as the finest thing to happen to telecom since Alexandar Graham Bell. Nor are any disbursements made to the extended family without his permission.

The Congress has sent Raja to prison, ordered a CBI raid on Kalaignar TV [owned by the Karunanidhi clan] and hinted that Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi could be summoned for interrogation. It has also announced that it will ally with the DMK in the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections. That does not seem like a powerful denunciation of corruption. But it is explicable in terms of political survival. If the Congress fought the elections alone it would end up in desolate territory akin to its Bihar results. The trade-off is flexibility in the campaign against corruption, but the Prime Minister used his press conference to suggest that he would be as hard as the law permitted. The CBI moved at his direction.

Key questions: how far can the CBI rush around without toppling the applecart? Those apples are high value. The CBI will hear names from those it is interrogating. It will act against the private sector with much display, but what about the politicians who live too close to the bone?

Is the answer to this paradox another paradox? The Congress would obviously like to repeat its alliance victory in Tamil Nadu, but could the way out lie in defeat? A re-elected DMK would blackmail the coalition at the Centre; a defeated DMK would be more compliant in Chennai and more obedient in Delhi.

Being a hero is not easy, particularly when your valet is on the take.


ViewsRus said...

Punishing Raja, CBI inquiries or Prime Minister crying over spilled milk is not going to reimburse the natonal wealth which was looted. Unless money is retrieved no matter what measures are taken will not be a substantial detterent for other sleazy politicians.

Jon said...

you did a wonderful analysis on the Manmohan's stand in the govt. We have been bored of people writing all over that MMS is a puppte PM

But regarding Raja, I think the entire DMK household was not undivided in supporting him!
His opponents were baying for his blood and they got it. He was a sacrificial lamb and he wil nt get much sympathy from DMK!

srini said...

AAA , Mr.Akbar - Absolutely Accurate Assessment!!

After watching the pathetic performance of your fraternity in the PM's press conference, it is heartening to note that there are a few scribes like you still in the business.

Prithviraj said...

We all know that Raja is the fall guy and Karunanidhi is more than economical with the truth. But what about Congress itself? Why would not any senior editor write about Sonia's role in the corruption quagmire of India? When Subramaniam Swamy has gone to town with the details of the 2G scam loot where he mentions Sonia as the main beneficiary, why the entire media turns a blind eye? Do you mean to suggest that Karuna & company would be allowed to loot India and pocket all the money in a critical ministry like telecom with Congress mutely watching the show! Come on Mr. Akbar!! Please do not reduce everything to elections and strategy and not upsetting apple carts and political maneuvers. Will Kalamadi be arrested in CWG scam and sent to solitary confinement a la Raja (if found guilty)? We do not think so. Would Ashok Chavan be put behind bars for the Adarsh scam? Would Pawar be brought to book for all the scams in agricultural ministry? Absolutely not! In 30 years time Mubarak looted around $ 70 billion. In 2G scam alone the loot is $13.5 billion as per Swamy. Economists say that if all the looted exchequer money is brought back into India, rupee would be stronger than dollar. And this money, if properly spent on development and infrastructure, there would not be Maoism, Naxalism, 500 million people below poverty line and abject poverty. It is high time senior media persons take raw courage in hand and call a SPADE a SPADE - not the toy spade like RAJA but the dinosaur-spades. India can not take solace that our PM is clean when he is sitting right in the midst of a ocean of sleaze and stink! It is time to remove the velvet gloves to punch hard; it is time to deal sledge hammer blows with steel pens not tickle with feather dipped in sugar coated medicine; and it is high time to insist on top-down approach for tackling corruption and not bottom-up. Raja goes free no problem - after all he is an office boy. India should go for the Chairman, Managing Director and board of directors. No one better than you since you have seen it all at very close quarters.

padmum said...

I fully agree with Prithviraj. Mr. Akbar, you have a sharp pen. Go for the real perpetrators.It all started with Bofors. Surely Karuna has not asked the CBI to file the closure report. PM is keeping quiet because its own party has its hand in the cookie jar. It is Karuna who is doing a favour to the Congress. Not the other way round. Karuna knows how to benefit from the State spending. Who sold S band Spectrum to Devas at whose initiative? You have all the resources to unearth the facts. Please go ahead and do it. The country will thank you.