Wednesday, November 17, 2010

After Raja.... What?

It was inevitable. A.Raja’s continuation as Union Minister had become untenable. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh must have asked Raja to leave the cabinet long ago; 11 months ago to be precise. He was in possession with material by Dr. Subramanian Swamy along with a sanction to prosecute Raja. This is what the Supreme Court judges asked last week. Well. Swamy’s application for sanction is now infructuous. He can now go ahead with a private complaint against Raja.

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, may ask the Union Government to explain a number of things. The CAG report too will be discussed in the media. The auditor, after all, has unravelled lot of things and it is clear that the sale of 2G spectrum was not a clean business. One may disagree with the CAG’s estimate of loss to the Government as such. But then, any disagreement will be only on the quantum: as to whether it was as much as 176000 crores or a little less. But then, one will have to simply guess as to whether the nation’s loss is anyone’s gain? And whether Raja himself gained money from out of the spectrum sale.

I do not think that the Supreme Court will bother to find this out. The apex court, after all, does not have the brief or the powers to investigate into money trails. The court can, however, order the CBI, an agency equipped with the powers as well as the know how to follow and track money trails. This, however, will mean that the Union Government as well as the political leadership of the Congress – Sonia Gandhi to be specific – will have to decide to catch the thief! Let us not be under any illusion that the CBI will do a proper job without being told clearly to catch the thief.

This is where one is forced to turn cynical. The CBI, after all, did not catch the thief in the Bofors scandal. The CBI, after all, has not been able to establish the case against Lalu Prasad Yadav in the fodder scam. The CBI is simply turning into a joke in the cases of corruption involving Mayawati, Mulayam Singh and a number of others. The CBI, though meant to be an autonomous organisation is indeed a wing of the Union Government. It is a fact that has been proved by the agency on so many occasions in the past. The CBI, for instance, has had to change its track many times in the case involving Shibhu Soren.

In other words, there can be little hope that the beneficiaries in the multi-crore 2G spectrum sale will remain far away from the long arm of the law. As for instance, the CAG report as well as the various other stories that have spilt out convey the fact that while someone there took a lot of money to bend the rules and sell spectrum for a song, there is also an implicit message there that some people went about paying up money to buy spectrum for cheap and sell it to others for more money. This is also an illegal act and there are provisions in the Indian Penal Code to act against such persons.

The media is already telling us some of the big players behind some of the shady companies that bought spectrum: The media is also informing us the names of the corporate houses behind these shady companies. The Supreme Court, whose role in ensuring the exit of Raja from the cabinet – let us be clear that the Union Minister had to go only because the matter was listed before the apex court the day after on Monday, November 15, 2010. And Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could not have brazened it out given the revelations in the media.

The apex court will do the nation a huge service by deciding to expand the scope of the case before itself and order the CBI to investigate the case in all its aspects and also order that the investigating agency report the progress of the investigation to the bench. It will also make a difference if the apex court appoints a body consisting of advocates, eminent citizens and responsible media professionals who have brought the story of robbery with such clarity to help the court in this job.

This becomes necessary given our own experience in the past with such scandals. The spectrum sale done when Raja was the Minister must be reopened and those who bought them in 2007 must be asked to pay up the actual cost or return what they bought for a song. Justice cannot be dispensed piecemeal. The corrupt lot in the corporate world too must be brought to book. This is a case that involves the sale of airwaves that belongs to all the people who live in this country.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Myanmar, Obama and We!!!

In his address to the joint session of Parliament, US President Barack Obama implored, rather decreed, that India shall not remain silent on the goings on in Myanmar. The US president did say what a number of those committed to democracy and human rights had said in the immediate past when the regime conducted a farcical election. To be fair, Obama, like his predecessors, has been demanding freedom for Burmese freedom fighter, Aung San Suu Kyi. She has been under detention for over 15 years now.

Obama insisted that he was going to be frank; he complained that ``India has often avoided these issues’’ and went on to stress that it was imperative for nations to speak on such issues. In his own words, ``It meant staying true to our own democratic principles, speaking for those who cannot and giving meaning to human rights that we say are universal’’. It is likely that our own government will soon speak up for democracy in Myanmar. Adhering to the sermons are indeed important! And in this case it may help realize India’s claims to a permanent seat in the reformed UN Security Council. What the reform would mean is for anyone to guess. Left to Obama, it ought to be a forum where the US and its acts are beyond scrutiny.

Well. The cause for democracy in Myanmar is indeed worth standing up for. One cannot overlook the facilities that George Fernandes extended to the fighters; and also the fact that there were times when some, including a few who were listening to Obama’s sermons in the Central Hall, thought otherwise. The Burmese students who lived at 3 Krishna Menon Marg in Lutyen’s Delhi would know that Tibet and its liberation from China was as much a part of that agenda. And it is in the fitness of things that India must take Obama seriously and begin looking East and speak up against the junta in Myanmar in real earnest.

Aung San Suu Kyi, should be released on 13th November, when her detention expires. It is time that we insist on that happening. Let us thank Obama for reminding us of the urgency. Let us also listen to Obama on another point. We shall avoid looking West. He may not have said so. But Obama did mean that when he set up an agenda for us. India may desist from treading the forbidden path. Lest we annoy Obama and the mighty US administration! It may cost us the sanction to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 to book in the immediate context and our dream with regard to the UN Security Council.

But then, it makes sense to make it a point to begin from Myanmar and not stop just there. Columbus, after all, discovered America even if he did not set out to do that. It is possible to go around the world any which way one chooses: Eastwards or Westwards!

The fact that the world is not flat (as it was believed from Aristotle’s times) should then take us to Guantanamo Bay. It is not necessary for anyone in India to look West to reach Guantanamo Bay! And then to move further to the prisons in Bagram and Kandahar where Afgan nationals are held for many years on mere suspicions and all that done under the name of war on terror! And even before that, we may also take note of the violations across Iraq including the decision to send Tariq Aziz to death.

Well. All of these could have been argued even without waiting for Obama’s speech. But then, it becomes necessary in the wake of Obama’s invocation to Tagore and Gandhi in the course of his speech. Rabindranath Tagore did not endorse occupation of another nation in any of his writings. And Gandhi, in whose life, Obama claimed to have drawn inspiration from laid down his life standing up for the rights of Pakistan as a nation. It was indeed a moment to rejoice when the US President reminded us of Bapu’s ``simple and profound lesson’’ and that being ``to be the change we seek in the world’’. And yet it did sound absurd when he claimed that he was inspired by that all his life.

Neither Gandhi nor Tagore would have done what the US under Obama is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. For whatever it means, the US forces have spent longer time in Afghanistan than the number of years in Vietnam.

It will be appropriate here to invoke Gandhi the way Martin Luther King Jr. did. ``True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love’’. Incidentally, Obama did not fail to invoke King too. But then, like he did with Gandhi and Tagore, it was mere rhetoric. A mere mention of Mahatma Gandhi may have pleased a large number of those who sat through the sermon at the Central Hall. They too are guilty of having reduced the Mahatma into a poster boy!

To repeat, it makes sense, moral and ethical, to take Obama’s sermon forward and speak up for a democratic Myanmar. As Vice-President, Hamid Ansari, said (in his address in the same hall, minutes before Obama spoke, but went unreported in the media), the United States and India have much to do together and clearly laid down the scope for that. ``Our areas of agreement are considerable, and expanding’’ he said and stressed the need to ``venture to hope that our two countries would work purposefully for an open world based on the principles of equity and dedicated to peace, freedom and prosperity for all people’’.

Ansari invoked John Rawls that ``rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to a calculus of social interests’’. It is possible to go beyond Rawls in this sense as Amartya Sen had shown in his Idea of Justice. But then Rawls will remain relevant even for Sen. And in that sense, democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan are as important in this context as much as it is in Myanmar. Sen, incidentally, holds the US invasion of Iraq as in-justice and rests his case for justice in that mould.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Adarsh Society Scandal!!!

Nandan Nilekeni, the nation’s pick for the making of Unique ID cards may set out on his project right away from Mumbai’s Adarsh Nagar Housing Society. As someone known to me once remarked that the UID will end up serving the police and other arms of the state to set up a data base of the subversives and pick them up as and when the need arose.

Well. I know that those bent and the beautiful people who inhabit such high-rise structures in our cities will not really constitute the subversives. But then, I do hope that things will change one day when we, the people of India, in whose name the constitution was enacted and on whose behalf the regimes had seemingly worked in the 60 years since January 26, 1950, will one day be realized, not in part but in substantive measure! And on that day, as it happened on the streets of Paris, in 1789, the people will not have to depend on dubious voters lists to identify those to be sent up to the guillotine.

Lest I am misunderstood, I am aware that the Paris commune did not reach anywhere it intended to; nor do I celebrate the guillotine as a means to do away with those who eat into the vitals of our nation. But then, the reference to the commune and the guillotine are indeed inevitable and I try to be figurative in doing that.

Look at the list of people who own flats in that apartment complex, which in a sense, is also a story of scandal, land grab and all things illegal. Contrast the Adarsh Nagar story with the story of the people living on the banks of the Cooum in Chennai; or any one of those sprawling slums elsewhere in Mumbai. We do know that not a day passes without the poor being displaced, JCPs (I know it is a trade name for that machine but it is known better than otherwise) doing the job and when slum clusters are set on fire (and the caste certificates of the school going children, that are so important in their life, getting burnt in those fire that are not really accidents) and the families then being sent to far off places on grounds that the law of the land, under Article 21 of the Constitution, simply says that they will have to be given alternate dwelling sites and not necessarily in-situ rehabilitation.

Nothing of this kind happened to those who encroached upon public land in the case of Adarsh Nagar Housing Soceity! Well. This is only one little story that has come to light. There are numerous such encroachments by the bent and the beautiful across our towns and cities. And they remain there, without necessarily having to show cause, because the builders make sure that such men as ministers, police officers and such others who think the same way as the nobles in France thought around the time before the revolution in France thought. They believe and with some basis that the law of the land does not apply to them.

The trouble is that these are people who will then wax eloquent over the need to love the nation, patriotism and all such virtues. Or else, how does one explain the fact that even almost a week after the scandal, with all the details and evidence, was uncovered by the media, our own Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee and our own A.K.Antony who runs the Defence Ministry are asking for more time. And it is clear that the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan may be asked to go by Sonia Gandhi. But will that do? Certainly No! All those who own apartments there must be dispossessed and the flat complex, rather than being demolished, must be converted into a national museum where the inglorious story of corruption is told.

All those who owned flats there must be prominently listed out in one corner of the building and a plaque be installed in their ``honour’’ as the Rogues who funded this museum! Well. I am not sure if such a huge building, with so many floors and so many apartments will do to tell the story of corruption in independent India. We may require more space. But there could be a beginning!