Monday, May 28, 2012

When will Team Anna understand the difference between corruption and policy decisions….

Team Anna is at it again. It is now threatening to go on a fast unless the government institutes investigations against 16 of its ministers, including the PM. At the heart of this charge of corruption against the PM lies the basic mistake in the understanding of the difference between corruption and questionable (to some people) policy decisions. Given its political nature, I have little doubt that Team Anna is intentionally confusing the two.

The reason to include the PM in this list is ostensibly that he was responsible for the Coal Ministry and the CAG has recently alleged that the coal ministry’s policy of giving out mining rights favored private companies.The CAG’s allegations is to the extent of some Rs 2 lac crores (yet another sensationalized figure!). Firstly, this is a CAG estimate which rightly or wrongly (mostly wrongly!) is again commenting on government policy and very little on process violations. Secondly, the report needs to be discussed in the PAC and action taken there. Unfortunately, given the competitive nature of media in our country, every CAG report is brandished on the front pages of newspapers and on prime time TV. With due Parliamentary process not allowed to play itself out, the people of this country are led to premature conclusions about the veracity of these reports. But such is the nature of our democracy at this stage. Politicians are assumed corrupt until proven innocent. And even if they are proven innocent, the impact has already been made on the minds of the people.

The charge against the PM is that the policy of allocating mines was flawed and that private companies reportedly profited from this. Team Anna could have argued that this was a wrong policy and it would well have been within its rights to do so. But given its overall positioning (of being anti-Congress), it chose to attach the C word with this matter. How is this a case of corruption at all?

Certain basic elements must be for it to be a case of corruption. The one who took the decision should have personally and monetarily benefited from the decision he took. Like in the Yeddy episode (and now Jagan in AP; and Ashok Chavan in Maharashtra), there is a direct charge being made against the accused. Is it Team Anna’s point that the PM profited from the decisions of the Coal Ministry?

Either the person should have profited personally, or at the very least, his party should have been the beneficiary. Again, is it Team Anna’s charge that the private companies paid kickbacks to the Congress party? If this is their charge, do they have any prima facie evidence to at least build a preliminary case against these ministers? Or is it the mere possibility of corruption having existed which has prompted them to demand an investigation. If I feel that some Team Anna member is corrupt, can I demand an investigation and will any court allow it, or will it ask for some prima facie evidence? And what preliminary evidence is Team Anna relying on to make the accusation? That the CAG pointed out to flaws in the policy? If that’s their point, then its a political point and we should let the PAC decide. That some opposition politicians have made accusations on this matter in media? Well, politicians do this all the time, but is that enough to start an investigation? If investigations were started at every allegation made, there would be no possibility of any governance left. In any case, governance has come to a standstill thanks to the hamhanded Anna movement….

It appears Team Anna’s only motivation – and the reason why it is suspected of being a BJP front – is to bring the government to a standstill. It has succeeded to a very large extent. Most bureaucrats and politicians prefer not taking any decisions only because of the fear that a decision (right or wrong) may later be construed to be a corrupt one. Team Anna must take credit for this! Single handedly, they have done what the entire opposition couldn’t do combined. They have managed to put the government in a state of deep freeze. The BJP must be wringing its hands in glee; as the economy sputters and as inflation soars…..and as the Congress’s fortunes plummet. How can decision making happen when every decision is questioned for corruption? Is corruption the only yardstick to measure government policy with? Has anyone ever asked a question on why government projects almost always get delayed? Is there any premium ever attached to speed and quality of execution of government works?

The Coal gate scam is a non-starter. How to allocate national resources is policy preference. A particular political party may prefer not to auction national assets, but pass them on to the public and private sector for exploitation in a transparent and fair process? And another party may prefer to auction the same? In such a case, would the party that preferred auctions be declared to be non-corrupt and the other one corrupt? Take the 2G “scam” for instance. Is this a policy (and hence political) subject or one of corruption? If it is about corruption, what charges have been made so far against Raja or anyone else? Nothing except for a Rs 200 crore allegation linking Raja’s party DMK with DB Realty. There is no quid-pro-quo charges against Unitech (nothing proven yet in any case); the charges against Reliance, Loop Mobile and Essar are of violating telecom policy (owning more than 10% in another telco in a circle in which it is already present); not of bribing someone (but of course, there is an assumption that someone must have been bribed!). Again, one could argue whether spectrum should have been given free or not and that would have made for a good public discourse from which the country could have benefitted; but some people (most notably Team Anna) believe every policy matter that doesn’t agree with them is a case of corruption.

The real truth is that Team Anna is political; so one now understands why it does what it does. That’s the reason the movement died so suddenly. But the damage the movement has done to India is huge. It will take us a long time to recover from it. Nor has the Lokpal Act been passed (because of Team Anna’s political biases and inflexible and unrealistic attitude). Santosh Desai – after taking a very pro-Anna line right through the entire agitation – effectively argues in yesterday’s TOI  (“The Lokpal Deep Freeze”) that Team Anna was perhaps wrong. That change cannot come about by just activism (“change is too important to be left exclusively to activists. Without activists, no change can begin, but with only activism, lasting change might not come about”). That change comes in steps. And it needs patience. Now does that sound familiar to readers of this blog?!!

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