Friday 23 August 2019

PM Modi launches move against VVIP corruption (Pakistan Observer)

PRIME Minister Modi is known to do what he believes is right, although only at a time of his own choosing. He will not follow the timetables of others, but act only when he regards the time to take a particular action has having arrived. Judging by recent events, it is clear that a major drive against VVIP corruption has begun in Modi’s second term. This is welcome, for unlike the situation in China and Pakistan, where several high-level politicians have been sent to jail on corruption charges, in India, the record of taking action against corrupt VVIPs during the first five years of the Narendra Modi government was not exemplary. Although the BJP leveled charge after charge of wrongdoing against several members of the Manmohan Singh government (that was in power: 2004-14), thus far not a single member of that government has been prosecuted and jailed by the BJP government.
Even the Manmohan Singh government sent to prison one of its own Cabinet Ministers, A Raja. Another Cabinet-level Minister, D Maran, was on track to follow the example of Mr.Raja when the Congress-led government was defeated in the 2014 parliamentary election by the BJP led by Narendra Modi, who was and remains by far the most popular politician in India. It was expected that several of the ministers in the previous government would be sent to jail by Modi, but this didn’t happen. Even Maran, who was earlier headed for jail, was spared. Of course, his business interests suffered. An Airline that his relatives controlled, Spicejet, was sold at a very low price to some investors, who have since converted the Airline into a success story. However, the seeming immunity from prosecution of the central ministers of the Manmohan Singh regime has been ended by the prosecution of the former Union Finance Minister, P Chidambaram.
The high-octane politician from Tamil Nadu state is known to be a maestro in placing friends and supporters in high positions. The only politician who has bettered him in this game of ensuring good jobs for friends and supporters is the BJP politician Arun Jaitley, who has been close to Prime Minister Modi for decades, but who has excellent relationship with top leaders of opposition parties as well. Although Jaitley himself lost in the polls, he was speedily accommodated in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) and entered the Union Council of Ministers in charge of Defence, Finance and Company Affairs. He was far and away the most powerful individual in the country after Modi himself. The quality that those close to him appreciate is that Arun Jaitley can be relied upon to never forget a friend or a supporter.
If you are a friend or supporter of Jaitley, he will make sure that you get accommodated in some position that is comfortable. Many of his supporters are in high positions all over the country and some even abroad as a consequence of the recommendation of Arun Jaitley, who has had tremendous influence in the national capital no matter who comes to power either in the government or in the BJP. Jaitley was as close to former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee as he is to PM Narendra Modi. A man of extraordinary charm, Jaitley has built a formidable network of supporters throughout the government. He is now in very poor health, and many are praying that he will recover and get back to active politics, a field in which he has had as outstanding a degree of success as he has achieved in the legal profession.
The only other politician who has a similar network of supporters placed in high positions is another senior advocate in the Supreme Court of India, P Chidambaram. The former Union Minister for Finance ensured that bureaucrats who could be trusted to do his bidding got hold of key jobs that involved decisions which could affect the way millions and billions of dollars could flow to one individual or the other. A major stock exchange in India, the National Stock Exchange (NSE), was run by those having direct access to Chidambaram, who is said to have ensured that a rival exchange was destroyed in order to protect the interests of the NSE. Friendly bureaucrats saw to it that the promoters of that exchange were put in prison, a situation which continued even after the new government took charge in 2014, as several officials in the Chidambaram network continued in high positions despite the change in government, and despite the way in which they had bent and broken procedures in order to do the bidding of the powerful politician who was in charge of portfolios as important as Home and Finance.
Those officials who were facilitators of the wrongs committed under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (who followed a policy of seeing no evil in his colleagues within the coalition government except in the rare cases when public pressure forced him to act, as in the case of Maran and Raja) worked silently to ensure that corruption allegations against their former bosses were never seriously investigated. A comprehensive inquiry would have revealed their own role in such shenanigans, as a minister can make corrupt cash only with the help of equally corrupt bureaucrats and not by himself. While Prime Minister Modi was sincere in his effort to clean up corruption, not everybody in the government cooperated with him. However, in his final year in the first term, Modi succeeded in charge sheeting P Chidambaram, only to have the judicial system grant the former Union Finance Minister stay upon stay of arrest.
The number of serially unbroken stay orders on arrest in favour of Chidambaram issued by courts in India would probably qualify for the Guinness Book of Records, if such an entry were to be made. However, finally the investigating agencies have built up a sufficient case to convince an upright High Court judge that Chidambaram needed to be subjected to custodial interrogation. It remains to be seen of the Supreme Court will once again ensure that he remains at liberty. If this does not happen, and if the High Court order is upheld by the Supreme Court, the Modi government will have sent for the first time a Union Cabinet Minister from the previous government to jail. It is unlikely to be the last. Investigations are ongoing as to how state carrier Air India procured dozens of aircraft during the Sonia-Manmohan decade at prices much above those paid by rival carriers Go Air and Indigo.

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