Hopefully, the ‘aam aadmi’ in Mumbai will give the ruling alliance a resounding rap on the knuckles in the coming assembly and general elections
It is indeed an irony that just when the decks were being cleared for a government of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, the country’s commercial capital, Mumbai, is witnessing how politicians are refusing to see the writing on the wall.
If there is a lesson to learn for the Congress from the Delhi experience, it is that the people are thoroughly fed up of being taken for a ride by politicians who have crossed all limits of corruption and misuse of office. The AAP was formally launched a year ago and today, it is challenging the dominance of the established players who are flush with money and muscle power.
Here is a party that had neither the means nor candidates of great standing, but it had fired the imagination of the people who wanted to teach the arrogant Congressmen and the self-proclaimed, righteous BJP men a lesson that they would not forget. One would have expected that the AAP giant killers would have given the two principal parties a few lessons to learn. But the conduct of the Congress-NCP alliance in Maharashtra, both before and after the release of the report of the judicial commission set up by the state government in 2011 to inquire into the Adarsh housing scam, has dispelled any such notion.
It may not be too much to expect that voters in Mumbai will rap the Congress-NCP combine on the knuckles in the ensuing assembly and Lok Sabha elections, just as they did with the arrogant Sheila Dikshit government in Delhi recently.
In April last, the judicial commission headed by Justice J A Patil, a retired judge of the Mumbai High Court, along with former State Chief Secretary P Subramanian as its member, had submitted its final report to the Maharashtra government, but the latter refused to table it in the assembly. It was only after queries from the Bombay High Court that the government tabled it on the very last day of the assembly’s winter session this month. The report was tabled after the government had rejected it.
It indicted four former chief ministers–Ashok Chavan, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde and Shivajirao Nilangekar Patil, two former urban development ministers — Rajesh Tope and Sunil Tatkare and 12 top bureaucrats.
The report said Ashok Chavan and other bureaucrats gave permissions and clearances in exchange for flats in the Adarsh housing society in upscale Mumbai.
Another shocker was the refusal of Maharashtra governor K Sankaranarayanan to give the mandatory go-ahead to the CBI for prosecution of Ashok Chavan in the scam. While 12 other charged persons will now face trial, Chavan, who was jettisoned as chief minister for alleged collusion with the promoters of Adarsh Society, will be absolved of all charges against him.
In the charge-sheet, the probe agency had accused Chavan of approving additional FSI (floor space index) for Adarsh, in exchange for two flats, one for his mother-in-law and another for his sister-in-law. Besides, he was also charged with illegally approving, as revenue minister, the allotment of 40 per cent of the flats to civilians when the society was meant for Kargil war widows and defence personnel.
It will now be in the fitness of things for the BJP to pick up cudgels against both, the rejection of the Patil Commission Report and the refusal of permission by the Maharashtra Governor to the CBI to prosecute Ashok Chavan. But there are wheels within wheels and it is a moot question whether it will do so. A close aide of its own leader, Nitin Gadkari, is believed to have done some benami deals on Adarsh flats.
If the Aam Aadmi Party were to set up candidates in Mumbai in the Lok Sabha elections, the chances are that it would make a major impact considering the credentials of its leadership in fighting corruption. But before that, civil society must turn its attention to the despicable manner in which the Congress and NCP politicians are being sought to be shielded against prosecution by the bigwigs in the state government, aided and abetted by the governor.
The judicial commission’s report found 25 of the society’s 102 members ineligible for allotment of apartments in the society. The report also said Adarsh enjoyed the ‘political patronage’ of the late Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Ashok Chavan, Sunil Tatkare and Rajesh Tope.
The report revealed that 22 benami transactions took place and that Adarsh Society never sought any environmental clearances. The report mentioned that Devyani Khobragade (in the news for visa fraud allegation by the United States Goverment around the same time the report was released), was an illegal beneficiary of a flat allotted to her.
The Adarsh Society high-rise was constructed in the Colaba locality of Mumbai. This is considered a sensitive coastal area by the Indian Defence forces and is the location of various Indian defence establishments. The society is also alleged to have violated Indian environment ministry rules. The scam is notable for the fact that it was enacted over a period of ten years and required the active involvement of successive officials in many crucial posts. Rules and regulations across many departments and ministries, both at the Centre and in Maharashtra, were flouted or bent to allow for the construction of the building.
Obtaining a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Army towards construction of the building in a sensitive zone, the modification of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) development plan, and another NOC obtained for residential development in a Coastal Regulation Zone were other transgressions that the authorities were in the dock for.
Adarsh is indeed a test case for prime ministerial aspirant Rahul Gandhi. Last week, he was waxing eloquent at a FICCI convention over how corruption was bleeding the country dry. Will be establish his bona fides by ensuring action against the scamsters in his party in the Adarsh case or is his rhetoric mere empty talk? What Rahul and others of his ilk must realise is that the people are watching.