Byline by M J Akbar: Lost between bail and bail-out
If the final fatality of this summer of suicides happens to be Dr Manmohan Singh's government, some intrepid, future historian of Congress affairs could be tempted to point a finger at Delhi High Court. The Court has asked DMK patriarch Karunanidhi to choose between a loving father of his daughter Kanimozhi and a loyal ally of Dr Singh. Unlike the Biblical King Solomon, famed for innovative justice, the Delhi High Court has not offered a solution to tricky problems. It has merely delivered its obiter dicta and adjourned.
Simply put: if Karunanidhi wants Kanimozhi out on bail, which he has every legitimate right to desire, he will have to walk across to the Opposition benches in the Lok Sabha, thereby in all likelihood initiating a process that could precipitate a premature general election.
Even a cursory reading of the honourable court's reasons for rejecting yet another bail plea, on 8 June, makes this obvious: "They [the petitioners] have got strong political connections. Petitioner Kanimozhi Karunanidhi belongs to same political party to which accused A.Raja belongs and the said party is sharing power in the central government." That's it, then. If you share power in the central government you share a jail in Delhi. You do not have to be a convict to languish in jail. Being an accused is sufficient, as long as you are among the rulers of the nation.
Logic is not an option. Karunanidhi might well argue - as he is probably instructing his counsel to do before they move up to the Supreme Court - that if he had the clout to disrupt the course of justice, Kanimozhi would hardly be in jail. He might suggest, reasonably, that Kanimozhi and A. Raja, former telecom minister, had been out of prison for years before their incarceration and did not tamper with evidence or influence witnesses, so how could they do so now? Indeed, if proximity to power was sufficient for life in lock-up then Suresh Kalmadi, or anyone else in the Congress, has no chance of leaving Tihar for many years, irrespective of whether they were guilty or not. If he does get tetchy, Karunanidhi could even wonder how the courts will deal will some powerful Congress names who could be next in line, since they approved all the decisions on G2 made by Raja. But all this disappears into the academic category. The court's thinking is categorical: in office? Off to jail without bail.
Perhaps it is the thought of abortion that is making some Congress leaders hysterical. Some of them are turning abusive, and aggravating this offence by making a virtue of the unnecessary. Others, with higher ministerial ambitions, have opted for political rather than personal virulence. They are treating dissent as treason. One of them declared that this was a virtual war against the state and drew out a precise map of the space he had allotted for opposition activity. Anyone who stepped out of that line deserved a muscled thump, if not some unlit recess of a mofussil prison. The pompous rhetoric surrounding nothing more savoury than self-interest is always shrouded in various aspects of patriotism, of course. Out of kindness, we shall not mention their names, but even a casual look at the newspapers will suffice to reveal who they are.
Claim and accusation are not relevant. The moot fact is that governance has disappeared much before this government has disappeared. The union government has frozen into a caricature, with some of its ministers sallying forth into people's territory from their castle, like so many Don Quixotes on individual missions against a rising crowd of windmills. It is as if whatever the union government touches ends up in shambles. Mistakes can be contagious, and the summer of 2011 is acquiring plague proportions. If there is still a semblance of sanity across the country it is because the state governments have not yet been infected with the plague.
The Congress has shown a remarkable inability to manage a partner, DMK, who has in fact nowhere else to go except oblivion. The acid drips from the wounds in this relationship are corroding the stability of the UPA alliance. It has proved incompetent in its response to those forces who are exercising their democratic right to destabilize the alliance. If a union government cannot take the measure of a maverick like Baba Ramdev, and find the right means of defusing someone who was always more bluster than substance, then it has no right to rule the country. Government has turned Ramdev into an unlikely hero for more voters than it can immediately count.
The Manmohan Singh government may not have lost its majority, but it has lost its poise and purpose, and is unlikely to recover its elan. The government seems in desperate need of a bail-out itself.