Monday, May 13, 2013

The politics of resignations….one who resigns is presumed guilty….

Ashwani Kumar and Pawan Bansal resigned last week. But they did so reluctantly. Why? Earlier, it took the UPA a long time to sack Raja. Or Kalmadi. Why? It took the BJP forever to sack Yeddy even though the man had been indicted by the Lok Ayukta, no less. It took the party even longer to sack Pokhriyal, the former CM of Uttarakhand. It’s not as if only the politicians refuse to resign. Even activist Prashant Bhushan and his father refused to resign from Anna’s core committee when charges of “land grab” were levied against them. Why is it that no one in public life ever wants to resign? Is it that these people are just so thick skinned that they don’t care? Or is it that we all – opposition leaders, media, and most of all, the people – have created an environment in which the one who resigns is pronounced guilty?

Just look at what happened after Ashwani Kumar resigned. The BJP issued statements that sounded like “See, he has accepted his guilt”. And followed it up with “Everyone in the UPA is guilty of corruption” or some such thing. The resignation provided the party the fuel it needed to sustain its campaign against the government. The BJP is now back to demanding the PM’s resignation, probably for the 40th time!

The media went hammer and tongs after the government, again presuming and pronouncing that Ashwani Kumar was guilty. They played up the “CBI is a caged parrot” comment of the SC, thus making Ashwani Kumar look really bad. They played up the “changed the heart of the report” comment, without even questioning whether this was true or not. The SC provided the masala for the media to play up. Ashwani Kumar’s goose was cooked!

The public also most likely thinks “He must have been corrupt. Why would he resign otherwise?”. This “must have been” attitude, even in the absence of any evidence is what is typical of Indian politics. Most people don’t even know what Ashwani Kumar did or did not do. And yet, they must believe that he did something, and hence he must be corrupt. Worse, by resigning, he has created the impression that even the PM is guilty. Someone posted this on Facebook “Pak's PM --- Nawaz Sharif. India's PM --- Na-Awaaz Na-Sharif….”. Crazy!

Just for the records, the SC has not even heard the matter about the coal scam yet. In my mind, the PM is the hero, not the villain in this scam. The PM as coal minister was the one who initiated reforms and changed the opaque “administered allocations” system to auctions. If there were any goof ups in the screening committee’s working (and there have been some), that is exactly what the PM was trying to remove. Besides, there was nothing “unique” about the screening committee’s working during his tenure as coal minister – the same flawed system existed since 1993 including during the 6 years of NDA rule. And amongst the screening committee’s goof ups are cases that cover BJP politicians/symphathizers as well!

Take Pawan Bansal’s case. He resigned because an investigation is going on against him. Nothing – I repeat nothing – has been proven against him yet. It could well be a case of a loud-mouth nephew using his uncle’s political status to further his own business. I have personally seen such loud mouths and in my experience, Delhi is full of such people (remember the general belief that “everyone in Delhi knows someone”?!). Such people find ways to cozy up to their powerful friends or relatives, even if in the process, they destroy their careers. It’s hardly surprising that this nephew was often seen at Bansal’s official residence in Delhi, or made phone calls from his home. That hardly proves Bansal’s guilt. But in the eyes of the BJP, the media and even the public, the fact that he resigned proves that he is guilty. This is worse than Taliban justice!

A special word for our media as always! This habit it has of judging people before they have even been tried. The “proved guilty” moment in Bansal’s case was when the phone recordings came out into the public domain. Phone recordings in which the nephew claims that his “mamu” would fix the postings. But was Bansal himself caught demanding a bribe? No. Was his voice even there on the tapes? Nada! In fact, the nephew has since changed his tune and is now telling the CBI that his uncle isn’t involved! And here’s the other “minor detail” that the media failed to bring up: That there is no money trail to the minister. Further, the charge that some company of Bansal’s family, which had taken loans from Canara Bank, gave him a Rs 15 lacs loan was proven to be wrong. Apparently, it was Bansal who gave the company the loan of the same amount! Such is the state of our media! It has declared Pawan Bansal guilty? Why? Because he resigned!

When a minister resigns, people ask “Why did he resign” and preface it with “If he was innocent”. This perception is the fall-out of the resignation. If he hadn’t resigned, those who leaned towards the Congress politically would have thought he was not guilty and all this was a political conspiracy, and those who leaned against the party would have continued to think everyone in the Congress was guilty. By resigning, he has made even the Congress sympathizers think he’s guilty. Resigning didn’t help him. Resigning didn’t help his party!

In a society – and media – as immature as ours, a resignation is seen as an admittance of guilt. Are the suspicions about Bansal correct? Of course they are. Should he be investigated? Of course he should be. Should he also be interrogated? Of course he should be. Isnt it possible that he is indeed corrupt? Of course it is. But “has he been proven guilty”? The answer in a mature society would be “no”; in India, the answer would be “most likely yes” and the day he resigned, it would have become “surely yes”!

The real truth is that if we want probity in government, we have to have a far more mature opposition, society and media. A man who resigns is not necessarily guilty. He may or may not be. A system that is flawed doesn’t mean that the people who are part of that system are corrupt. They may or they may not be. We need to know how to remove the wheat from the chaff. If we don’t, we cannot expect people to resign under suspicion….

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