Byline by M J Akbar: Claim Game, Blame Game
When is a man at his most generous? When he wants to forgive himself, of course.
Home minister P. Chidambaram is in need of extra supplies of magnanimity. The "Star List" of 50 names he sent to Islamabad, charging Pakistan with giving these wanted terrorists sanctuary, has exploded spectacularly in his face thanks to some incisive reporting by the Times of India. One of these chaps is selling zari in Thane when not visiting court on the dates of his trial. Two more are far closer to the home ministry, since they are being hosted by the police in Hyderabad and Mumbai jails. A fourth, fortunately or unfortunately, is dead. And buried, along with the home ministry's credibility, in India. The home minister coyly attributed this to "human error" and asked us mere citizens to get on with life.
Is "human" sufficient mitigation for error? What would make an error unforgiveable in Chidambaram's estimation? Would it have to be as degenerate as "animal" error, or some savage "sub-human" error? The last time we checked the home ministry consisted largely of human beings, although a few did tend to sound more pompous than should be legally permissible. To err may be human, and to forgive divine, but this blessed advice does seem a trifle skewered when you are forgiving yourself. When does accountability kick in, or do we need something as tragic as the terror attacks on Mumbai [masterminded by Pakistan's ISI, if some of the evidence being given during a trial in America is to be believed] for a home minister of India to accept guilt?
Chidambaram has an extremely elastic approach towards crime and punishment, or error and consequence. He is clearly no fan of the American President Harry Truman who put a sign on his desk saying that the buck stopped there. The buck can stop anywhere it likes, as long as it is nowhere in the vicinity of Chidambaram's office. So far, a Superintendent of Police, a Deputy SP and a junior office have taken the rap. The first two have been transferred so that they can sleep on duty in some other corner of government. The junior officer has been suspended. At different times, Chidambaram has blamed IB or the Mumbai police. He has even, in a different context, blamed the Prime Minister.
Since error has clearly become a genetic disease in the contemporary home ministry, the much-vaunted CBI could hardly be immune from its toxic effects. Long years ago, when the Marxists were still a potent force in Bengal, a foreign mercenary flew into the state on a private plane that had apparently escapted the country's air defence system, and dropped arms in a district called Purulia. To cut a pretty long story short, the pilot Kim Davy, a Danish citizen, has given an interview saying that this was a Delhi plot to destabilize the Left Front government. Delhi wants to extradite Davy. When CBI went to plead its case before a Constitutional bench it carried an expired arrest warrant. This is not a screw-up on the scale of the "Star List" but it is certainly not an advertisement for efficiency. When the BJP laughed, as any Opposition party has a perfect right to do, Chidambaram accused BJP spokespersons of "monumental ignorance". The chaps who went to Denmark, he said, report to the ministry of personnel, which comes under the Prime Minister, and not him.
Go ask the PM to resign, in other words.
When Cabinet ministers slip from the claim-game to a blame-game, you know the rafters have begun to creak. You have only to contrast the array during UPA1 with the disarray now, and that will give you the clue to election results. Something seems to have been unhinged. Rahul Gandhi's advisers cannot even count correctly when he wants to raise the political temperature against Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh. Common sense would have told them that there is some distance between an inflamed accused made by agitators and reality. But the need for hype was so great that no one bother to check anything. End result: what could have been an effective riposte to Mayawati collapsed in its own contradictions.
The real issue is not that police or politicians make mistakes but the context in which you make them. When the home ministry was preparing a list to be presented to Pakistan, on a subject as vital to India's core interests as the sponsorship of terrorism by Pakistan, one has a right to expect that the police will not behave as if they are entering a First Information Report on petty theft on a sterile afternoon in a thana. This list could not have been passed without the personal clearance of the home secretary and the home minister. If it was, then they are doubly at fault. This is too important a document to be left to someone else's signature.
Dr Manmohan Singh's Cabinet is in slippage mode. If he does not intervene, it will go into free fall.