By M D Nalapat
THE external image of the Maino family, which runs the country that claims to be the world's biggest democracy, has been carefully and expensively cultivated. Interviews are bestowed only to those journalists who can be expected to lob softballs and to assist in the creation of the aura of saintliness and patriotism which suffuses each of the numerous official accounts of UPA chairperson Sonia Maino.
Space within the internet gets filled up with laudatory accounts, even while—mysteriously—snide references crop up in sites which feature the handful of individuals who challenge the Maino Myth. Union Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram is believed to be behind several of the numerous commands made to website administrators to expunge negative references to the individual whom Chidambaram expects will catapult him to the prime ministership. He has masterminded an internet control law that would make it legally possible for the central and state police agencies to send to prison almost any surfer of the world wide web. Surprisingly, Opposition in India has remained silent over this egregious assault on individual freedoms.
Whenever Sonia’s two sisters, or mother, or nephews and nieces or close personal friends such as the Quatrocchi clan come and go from India after visiting with The Madame, the media are kept far away. Indeed, so are the ordinary people of India, so complete is the security surrounding this privileged group. Their reliance on corporate jets goes unrecorded, as does the fact that exit and entry formalities are minimal, even for individuals who have no security clearance. The numerous foreign visits they make are conducted in secrecy, as is the guest list at the pricey locations where they are put up in by obliging ‘friends’. Not surprisingly, thus far there have been no photographs or news reports about any of the extended Maino clan, while items about Sonia Maino and her two children are almost always in terms that would bring a smile of approval to known admirers of the family, such as Sunil Khilnani or Amartya Sen. Those running media outlets know the baleful consequences of treating Sonia Maino the way the UK media treats David Cameron, or the US media sees Barack Obama. Such lack of teflon is reserved for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has far less sway over his ministers than political secretary to Congress president Ahmed Patel.
Lately, when Rahul Gandhi was informed by his entourage that a heap of cowdung was actually charred human remains, his find was breathlessly covered by the entire media, with a few outlets still reluctant to admit that a Maino could get facts so spectacularly wrong after it was shown that the claim was false. This columnist admits to sympathy for Rahul Gandhi, who may yet bloom into an effective leader. However, this can take place only if he escapes from the protective shadow of his mother and treats the people of India as people deserving of rights and respect, rather than see them the way his mother does, as a seething mass of people who need to be constantly kept under the control of the state. In the guise of ‘security constraints’, Sonia Maino has insulated herself from the very people who have given her entire family status.
Talk of a good horoscope, Sonia Maino has been protected by every Prime Minister of India from Indira Gandhi onwards. The fact that she and Rajiv kept away from the country during most of the 1975-77 Emergency endeared her to Morarji Desai, while Narasimha Rao saw to it that Ottavio Quatrocchi was enabled to escape from India with his secrets still intact. Later on, Manmohan Singh presided over a similar miscarriage of justice in Argentina. The two Law Ministers responsible for this have each been rewarded.
Indeed, it is the Ministry of Law that has become the most effective means of protecting the in-law. The CBI has to rely on the Law Officers of the Government of India for the pursuit of cases, and these usually report to shadowy individuals rather than go by the Constitution of India. During the Vajpayee period, it was National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra and his Italian connection, while later on, that responsibility devolved on Ahmed Patel, whose nod is needed for most important posts to be filled. The reality in Maino Bharat Mahan is that the “Manmohan Singh Cabinet” is—thus far—an Ahmed Patel Cabinet, which explains the prominence within it of elements such as Vilasrao Deshmukh.
An examination of the travel records of the son of a former Maharashtra CM, will show frequent visits to Dubai, and some to London. Usually, another prominent son would accompany him, the two being business partners who in Mumbai discuss deals in the Oberoi Hotel. Dubai is of course the place where the operational headquarters of a particular conglomerate are located (the spiritual HQ being Karachi), and it is there that discussions can take place away from prying eyes. This conglomerate ‘owns’ two Union Cabinet Ministers and at least six from the cabinet of a large state, yet none of these individuals is ever the subject of an enquiry by agencies tasked with responsibility for the nation’s security. Indeed, at least two of the agencies of the state have voluminous data on the two sons, and on others from VVIP families, but these are kept concealed from the public. Small wonder that the Mainos seek to ensure that the CBI and other investigative agencies be kept out of the (sadly weak) provisions of the Right to Information law. Charactertistically, Sonia, Nadia and Annoushcka ensure this through a trusted agent, in this case Home Minister Chidambaram, whose pre-occupation since 2008 has been to fill the agencies with loyalists. In the process, morale is hitting dangerously low levels, while errors such as bogus names in most wanted lists or outdated arrest warrants multiply.
Why is the opposition as silent as the media about the Maino clan? One reason may be the fact that several within this august group are themselves vulnerable to blackmail. A senior office-bearer of a prominent opposition party was recently linked to an individual jailed for his connection to undesirable elements located abroad. This individual recently became the proud owner of a Rs 30 crore apartment in Mumbai. Of course, he is hardly the only leader of that opposition party to have gained control over expensive flats in Mumbai during the past decade. There are many others, including those who travel near-exclusively by corporate jet, when a decade ago, they could not even afford airfare.
The Mainos know that Sabse Bada Rupaiya. Hence the attempted coup in Karnataka, which of course has been attributed to Governor HR Bharadwaj. That hapless individual is known to be faithful to whomsover is his boss, whether it be PV Narasimha Rao in the 1990s or Sonia Maino these days. To expect Bhardwaj to take a decision on his own would be to believe that he helped Quatrocchi escape because he liked the aftershave lotion used by the fixer from Milan. The fact is that the Governor of Kaenataka followed orders, and the reason why the command was given to bring down the BJP government in Karnataka was because the Congress leadership had been given information (by a top BJP office-bearer) that “60 per cent of the cash required for the operations of the party” were sourced from that state. It was to choke off this flow of funds that Bharadwaj was ordered to create a crisis, not once but repeatedly, until Presidents Rule could be imposed. That it was not was because—in a rare show of independence—Prime Minister Manmohan Singh refused to repeat his 2005 mistake of going along with Buta Singh in Bihar. In the Maino universe, it is all about money, and lots of it.
Fortunately, for them, the protective wall around them is too powerful for mere Indians to breach. The media are cowed and silent about their doings, while the agencies of the government ensure that the few who point out facts about the Ruling Family face the consequences of their effrontery. Until those within the government gain the courage to be free persons, casting off the shackles of fear, and until civil society demands that the powerful in India face the same level of transparency as do their US and UK counterparts, this sorry state of affairs will continue. The Election Commission will continue to bar ‘negative references’ during campaigning, and even the Supreme Court can be relied upon to decree that the people of India do not have the legal right to know even the religion of their leaders. Why blame the Mainos? The fault lies within the rest of us.