Friday, August 23, 2013

Coalgate files: Much ado about nothing….

I know its election time. And meaningless issues will be blown sky high for political gains. Even at the expense of the functioning of the country’s Parliament. But the issue of the Coalgate missing files, and the mudslinging that has followed, defies even minimalistic logic.

So several files related to allocations, and screening committee minutes went missing. And while that reflects the pathetic state of working in India, what was the opposition’s charge? That the Government had intentionally lost the files (silly, because the government would know it alone would be embarrassed). That the files related to allocations made to Congress leaders (opposition quoted “reports” but did the reports quote anyone?!). That since the files related to the period during which the PM was looking after coal, he was responsible (that’s why he must reply right? In which case, who must reply for files of NDA period lost?). For the opposition, the loss of files was an excellent opportunity to say something to the effect that this was proof that the government was corrupt and hiding the facts. Media was happy to amplify this and the rest of the developments followed the standard pattern – Parliament was disrupted, the Houses stalled, and most Bills remained Bills and didn’t become laws.

But nobody thought of just pausing and using that little organ that God has given all of us called the brain. For if they had done that, then they would have realized that it is virtually impossible for files to get lost in the government. There are literally tens of copies of every single document made. If an application was filed, there would be copies sent to several ministries apart from the coal ministry. If the screening committee met, the minutes would be circulated to at least a dozen attenting members, and to several more for the purpose of documentation. No government can ever attempt any such thing as accused.

And yet, the opposition accused the government of cover-up.  Had the government wanted to cover up, were they going to destroy every single copy in every single ministry? What about copies that were filed with the opposition ruled states? Were all of them simultaneously destroyed? The opposition was giving too much credit to the government; it is simply not that competent!

That aside, all the files were already available with the CAG’s office, and the CAG already said that. But was anyone interested in hearing them? No, because that would have killed the story! The story stayed on for several days, and several prime time TV shows got created, only because the files stayed missing!

Some months back, when the Maharashtra government offices caught fire, the anchor of a particular channel had similarly spun the conspiracy theory. As per him, the government had intentionally created the fire so as to destroy the Adarsh scam files! We have such creative news anchors, better even than the best guys who work for our entertainment channels! That’s probably why a friend once said: our news channels are no different from entertainment channels. Only they are in the “Horror” genre! Even in that case, the CM kept insisting that all files were available and none had been lost, but how else could the masala for several lean days be obtained if not by calling the files missing!

And then this completely bizarre demand that the PM should respond in Parliament since some of the files related to his period. But didn’t the files get misplaced now? Shouldn’t the current Coal Minister’s reply suffice, if the opposition’s interest really was in getting to the truth? And if this principle was to be followed, then shouldn’t the NDA coal minister answer questions related to files of his period?! Bizarre doesn’t even start to describe this; stupid does.

One last point. Why would the government do such a thing? Who was the loser in the entire episode? Only the government! Surely the government knew what to expect. Isn’t it possible that moles loyal to the opposition actually created all this up? Just think about it. In the world of conspiracies, this is a better one than the government losing the files!

The only question that was relevant was why the Government took so much time in turning over these files to the CBI. That of course didn’t get adequate attention. If only one could focus on that, many of our governance issues would be sorted out. For the truth is that governments (all of them, including the NDA one) work so slowly that a few months delay is hardly anything. The same CBI that sent repeated reminders to the coal ministry can also be accused of delays at its end. Infrastructure projects that roll off today were started several years/decades back. When Praful Patel ordered planes for Air India after a process than took 17 months, he was accused of “too much speed”! And our courts? They sit on cases for decades. What’s a few months in this context? In my mind, if the files reached the CBI in a few months, that’s a remarkable achievement, deserving of some national award! It indicates “sincerity” of government, not an attempt to cover up!

The real truth is that the missing coal files was just an excuse to stall Parliament. The opposition is petrified that this government has started to move. Policy paralysis is converting to policy activism. The Food Security Bill is a game changer (that’s why the BJP keeps reminding us of its own state governments having done this earlier, and better). What else can they do but stall Parliament? And did they succeed? Hugely! 88% of this session’s time has been destroyed so far (today’s TOI). As far as the country is concerned…..well, who cares????

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