Cynicism over corruption charge against PM Narendra Modi

The morality scale in Indian politics has taken a sharp shift in favour of cynicism. No longer do politicians lose their sleep when faced accusations of wrong doing or amassing illegal wealth. So, the prime minister is least bothered that there are charges against him for taking Rs 65 crores during his days as Gujarat chief minister.

You can attribute this to his Teflon coated macho image that when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi spoke of allegations that the Sahara group had paid Rs 40 crores and the Aditya Birla group paid Rs 25 crores to Narendra Modi as Gujarat chief minister, the prime minister remained unfazed. In fact he expressed relief that the promised ‘earthquake’ by Rahul Gandhi had passed over without any damage.

There are several other cynical reactions in the media as well with voices pointing out that the same documents included the then Delhi chief minister Shiela Dikshit, and that in order to be fair the Congress must demand action against her.

Now here is a prime minister who is waging war against corruption and black money. His single decision of demonetisation ostensibly aimed at de-hoarding the black money that is with the corrupt has brought untold miseries of millions of masses. Ordinary citizens have been denied free access to their own money kept in banks. Millions have been forced to stand in queues in front of banks and ATMs to get their own, only to be turned back after hours with cash signs. Does such a prime minister have the moral authority to unleash such pain on people when he is personally accused of corruption?

The morality scale in Indian politics has taken a sharp shift in favour of cynicism. No longer do politicians lose their sleep when faced accusations of wrong doing or amassing illegal wealth. So, the prime minister is least bothered that there are charges against him for taking Rs 65 crores during his days as Gujarat chief minister. His party uses the misplaced ‘pure as Ganga” metaphor to assert that the prime minister is above corruption. The metaphor is withdrawn when it is pointed out that “Clean Ganga” is a mission for the Modi Sarkar. But still there is no denial or clarification of the specific charge that has been repeatedly made by the Congress vice-president.

This is not an issue that is limited to the personas of Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, and nor two the two political parties they represent. The larger concern is the response to corruption charges. It is a purely moral issue and morality demands that a person who is holding the high office of the prime minister adheres to spotlessly clean standards of morality. Or else his authority to rule the country stands debilitated. In the final analysis it is for the person concerned to take call on this issue. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of corruption charges, it is personally for him to decide as to what course of action he wants to follow either to have the charges evaluated or toe simply brazen out the matter.

In this case we know that the matter is pending before the Supreme Court, and though the court has held that a case against the prime minister cannot be brought only with this kind of evidence, the matter will come up for hearing in January.

The reliance on courts to adjudicate matters that are essentially moral issues is at the root of the weakening political authority in the country. Unless pushed by the courts to the point of no option, the political class is found wanting to act on essentially moral matters.

Prime Minister Modi would be reluctant admit but it is precisely this kind of behaviour (refusal to be stirred by the moral aspect of corruption charge) that has created the entire class of corrupt politicians and civil servants. They live and thrive in the knowledge that the system has a very poor ability to punish the corrupt. The impunity with which business icons like Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya enjoy the high life in London, and escape from the law of the land in India tells us the tales of corruption in high places. Down the ladder there are dons who manage the jail system to their advantage even they have to serve terms. Every comfort, every facility is available in jails for the right price.

Politicians have the ability to see positives for themselves even in unrelated matters. Whereas there is some kind of logic in extending the results of the local body elections in Maharashtra where the BJP topped the seats tally as support for the demonetisation policy, such extrapolation has its own flaws. After all the opposition Congress and NCP did not win an insignificant number of seats. So, if we look at the issue in proportional terms, then the support for demonetisation is not that one-sided. But this an intrinsically flawed approach. It is bound to result in a skewed understanding of the situation.

On December 30, the RBI will give the data for the currency that has come into the banking system. The wider the gap between this amount and the total demonetised currency in circulation on November 8, the better would be the success against black money and vice versa. We can be sure that there would be a political spin on the data, to suit the rhetoric of the Modi Sarkar. It would also be claimed as a victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative.

No one would have the time to go through the fine print of the RBI’s data or for the real story about the currency crisis that it may reveal.

In this atmosphere it is futile to point that in the 80s, the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was literally hounded out of office by the same forces that are now ruling the centre, for an as yet unsubstantiated allegation that Rs 64 crores had been received as kickbacks in the Bofors gun deal. The growth of cynicism about morality in politics has created a situation where an allegation of corruption against the prime minister simply fails to move the nation. The people do not seem to mind if their prime minister is accused of corruption. They are prepared to wait beyond the level of allegations.

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