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Sunday, August 05, 2001

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From one scandal to another

HERE IS a story: a man goes to the police station to complain that in the dark of night a gang of robbers came to his house, entered forcibly, assaulted him and his wife, and decamped with cash and jewellery. The police officer dutifully notes his complaint and hands him a copy of the FIR. And then he orders his men to probe all the robberies in the area for the last 10 years.

The Union Finance Minister, Mr. Yashwant Sinha, did exactly this. When allegations started surfacing of ``private placements'' made by the Unit Trust of India, when whispers were heard that crores of rupees at the disposal of the UTI had been used to buy shares in worthless companies, when documentary proof became available that some of these companies no doubt had political patronage (as was the case of Cyberspace Infosys whose promoters shared a dais with the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh), Mr. Sinha was quick to act. He ordered a probe into the investment pattern of UTI over the last ten years. After all, there was no point in focussing on a specific robbery, he wanted to cleanse the system, which could only be done by ordering a probe which would take at least a few years to complete, given the large area it had to cover.

And if the ordinary citizen was to copy Mr. Sinha's tactics, the Finance Minister would not be able to collect even a single paisa as income tax. For, can Mr. Sinha ever guarantee that he will be able to net all tax evaders? And why should others pay unless he cleans up the system?

Every time a scandal was sniffed, the Vajpayee Government resorted to the same trick - it buried the present mess under the debris of past scandals. When newspapers carried reports of the Ministry of Defence paying exhorbitant prices for spares, Mr. George Fernandes, then Defence Minister, promptly ordered an inquiry into ``all defence deals'' of the last 10 years. When Kargil happened, the Government said the pattern of patrolling and monitoring was the same as over the past years. When the Kashmir situation turned from bad to worse, the country was told it was a 54-year-old problem.

As for the economy, the population explosion, the power situation, dehumanising poverty, or anything else, everyone knows that these have been given to us since time immemorial. And if there are some new problems, how can we blame the Finance Minister or even the Prime Minister when the wicked WTO agreement was signed by the bad, bad Congress?

When the present Union Home Minister, Mr. L. K. Advani, was Leader of the Opposition, he never tired of speaking about the Dinesh Goswami report recommendations on electoral reforms, and the Sarkaria Commission was the Bible quoted on Centre-State relations. But when a Fathima Beevi had to be chastised for being politically incorrect, no one cared to remember what the Sarkaria Commission had to say about Governors and how they ought to be treated.

The truth is that the NDA Government of 1999, and the one before, also led by Mr. Vajpayee, has been busy fire-fighting to contain the damage caused by in-house arsonists and outside friends, supporters and guides turned bitter critics. Mr. Jaswant Singh, Mr. Pramod Mahajan and Mr. George Fernandes were sent to pacify a Jayalalithaa or a Mamata Banerji (when they were supporters). Earlier this week, Mr. Fernandes airdashed to Mumbai to pay obeisance to the Shiv Sena chief, Mr. Balasaheb Thackeray, a task performed by the Prime Minister himself sometime last year.

Mr. Vajpayee invited RSS leaders home for dinner in a bid to soften them up and tone down their criticism of his economic policy which was described as ``anti-national'' by the Sarsanghachalak himself. The Centre bought lower grade and discoloured rice at A-grade prices from Andhra Pradesh and Punjab to appease coalition partners and supporters. And any number of times the Governments in Bihar and West Bengal were threatened with dissolution of the Assemblies to please the Samata Party or the Trinamool Congress.

Fights over Cabinet berths have taken place almost in full public view. The country has seen Kandahar, lamented the dead in Kargil, laughed at the Agra summit fiasco. And more recently, even the video footage of a Bangaru Laxman accepting money or a Jaya Jaitely saying ``saheb'' will ``ensure justice is done'' to fraudulent arms dealers did not help the Government see that the immorality of the NDA empire is now as glaring as the nudity of the emperor in the proverbial tale.

- N.V.

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