Corruption, more than individual morality, corporate malfeasance or institutional degradation, is an emotive issue in India. It has hampered growth, accentuated inequalities and asphyxiated efficiency.
The average Indian is rightfully indignant, he feels short-charged by the elite class of the super-establishment and the big businesses. Hence, it comes as potent political arsenal in the ugly battlefield that witnesses a daily bloodbath.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a past master at making outrageous allegations by giving them the requisite melodramatic flavour for hitting the right buttons.
Corruption is core content in his playbook. For long, he has succeeded and reaped a huge harvest of electoral triumphs by following this simplistic strategy of maligning opponents liberally; the dirt inevitably sticks. The damage is done, the election is won. At the right time, the old issues are effortlessly regurgitated.
It becomes like a never-ending supply of easy monies from the cash-dispenser at a casino. It’s an assured jackpot. But right now the heat is turned on Modi, as he becomes the principal actor in the controversial Rafale deal for alleged favoritism towards a close crony capitalist buddy.
Modi has escaped surgical scrutiny for long on account of his iron-fisted rein over the big media conglomerates. No one dares to take him on for fear of a vindictive backlash from the government. The Enforcement Directorate, Income Tax, CBI, FIRs, defamation threats, social media trolls provide an eclectic mix of formidable assets that can be easily unleashed on those exasperating the powers-that-be with some home truths. It is not easy being a whistleblower in India these days. It shows. India desperately needs a detoxification.
The Rafale fighter jet deal may have received an unusual level of traction relative to the tepid reception given to other equally grave corruption charges in the Birla-Sahara bribery papers and the GSPC scam, but the fact is that this government has intimidated mass media enough to ensure that serious leakages are never allowed to attain substantial velocity.
The ghoulish Vyapam scam, DeMat scam, PDS rice scam, Bihar’s Srijan scam, Adani scam, Lalit-gate scam, are not even cursorily mentioned in mainstream media. There are many more. In an RTI query, the finance ministry even said they had no idea about Vijay Mallya’s outstanding debts. Recently, Union minister Giriraj Singh has been booked in a land-grab case, but everything is hunky-dory where Modi is concerned. A damning indictment by the Supreme Court no less when it cancelled 88 mining leases issued by the BJP government in Goa (even the Centre had a role) has been insouciantly dumped by the mainstream media.
Arun Shourie called demonetisation the biggest money-laundering scheme since Independence, and we know why. No "Chai pe Charcha" happens on these issues. Modi, thus, thinks he can take a moral grandstand and make tall claims of having reduced corruption. The truth, however, lies elsewhere.
Firstly, the mysterious disappearance into oblivion of the once cacophonous call for the Lokpal bill. Despite a scathing observation by the Supreme Court on the delay of appointment of Lokpal, the government has allowed it to remain in limbo. Ironically, the UPA that got lampooned to the post, passed the robust anti-corruption infrastructure bill in 2013.
Modi literally rode to power in an overwhelming sweep, shooting from the shoulders of the activists who were protesting in Jantar Mantar and the Ram Lila grounds.
The hyperventilating media covered the animated outpouring of the angst-ridden middle-class non-stop for several months. Now, in an extraordinary silence of the conspiratorial performers, both the principal players, the BJP and the media, are in mute mode. Five years have since elapsed. The BJP has mastered daylight sleight of hand into an artistic form.
Suffering collateral damage is the whistleblowers bill as well. Silence pervades.
The RTI has been systematically devalued. Several cases have piled up, and there are not enough personnel to handle the rising volumes. Moreover, opacity rules as answers are refused on flimsy pretexts. RTI activists remain in perpetual threat from political hoodlums who have in the past even orchestrated their deaths.
The government, of course, seems blissfully disinterested about the prevalent stasis. What was once considered the totem-pole of transparency has been trashed.
Incidentally, both the RTI and Lokpal are UPA manifestations, but it is Modi, who supposedly champions the corruption cause. Seriously, irony must have died a thousand deaths at the ludicrous charade.
Democracy is become a chimera. Modi has not given a single press conference in four years albeit he speaks in interminable monologues elsewhere.
Of course, he gives choreographed interviews to favoured TV channels answering innocuous questions. The only thing they did not ask him was the colour of his toothbrush.
India’s ranking in the Transparency International remains abysmal. Not surprisingly, we stumbled 10 places in the Global Democracy Index, an alarming development that reflects the rising apprehension of curbs on freedom of speech. NDTV’s Prannoy Roy has written an open letter to the prime minister, warning of the deleterious impact on media’s fearless liberal reporting because some senior BJP leaders are running a malicious smear campaign against the TV channel. Going by Modi’s past track record, he is unlikely to be moved by Roy’s anguished articulation of his griefs. The media will remain circumscribed.
What takes the cake and the bakery is the electoral bonds scheme floated by the government, an unambiguous subterfuge that will legitimise black money and quid -pro-quo campaign finance from large corporations.
It’s a travesty of transparency and reveals the government’s inner political immorality. Frankly, it mocks the people of India. Every time Modi talks on corruption, it appears trite, like self-righteous balderdash. And since the BJP often quotes foreign sources, it maybe pertinent to point out that the reputed Forbes magazine listed India as the most corrupt country in Asia in 2017. That should not surprise anyone. Because the truth eventually surfaces.
As for where the Rafale deal investigation is headed, stay tuned.