attitude of Corruption: T.V.R.Shenoy
|Between 1991 and
1996 there was a determined effort to paint Narasimha Rao as the patron
saint of liberalisation, a man who blazed a new trail for the economy.
This was bunk—the new policy was forced upon India by the international
lending agencies. But yes, there was an area in which Rao was a
trendsetter. The Narasimha Rao Raj ushered in a new attitude to
That cancer had always existed. But up to the point when Rao took over
even its practitioners didn't flaunt the fact. It fell to Rao to change
all that. It was one of Rao's ministers who decided that the best defence
was to be offensive. "I brought hundreds of crores worth of
investments to India," said Sukh Ram, "why is everyone so
bothered about a few crores here and there?"
But Sukh Ram is a mere amateur compared to his brazen ex-boss. Narasimha
Rao has taken shamelessness to another level by arguing that it was his
duty to be corrupt! That, believe it or not, was the gist of his defence
in the JMM bribery case. His lawyer, R.K. Anand, stated to a stunned court
that Article 75(2) of the Constitution mandates that a ministry should
take any measures necessary for its survival, up to and including bribery.
Quite frankly, that is one of the scariest arguments I have ever heard. If
bribery is permissible, why not kidnapping? Or even outright murder of
anyone who opposes you? The principle is the same—a warped reading of the
Constitution justifying any crime. The judge, however, wasn't swayed by
R.K. Anand's eloquent plea. So Rao will stand trial after all. And,
hopefully, justice will be done somewhere down the line.
But there is another aspect of the episode that has gone unremarked. This
is the utter silence of the Congress, the party once led by Rao. Not one
Congressman has cared to remark on their former president's novel
interpretation of the Constitution. Sitaram Kesri, perhaps predictably,
has nothing to say. But what of the conscience-keepers of the party, A.K.
Antony and Manmohan Singh? When Chacha Kesri nominated them to the
Congress Working Committee he made great play on their clean image.
Shouldn't both men at least try to live up to that perception?
But there isn't a word from either. Is it because both gentlemen were
participants in the Rao ministry that survived on lavish bribes and
unprincipled defections? If so, one can understand their shame at such a
connection. But it doesn't excuse their silence today.
Come to that, the Congress as a whole is in a hurry to pretend that
Narasimha Rao never existed. But they do make half-hearted attempts to
discuss, say, the Ayodhya issue. Why is there such a numbing silence on
the JMM bribery case? Could it be that the probe holds the potential to
severely embarrass not just the past Supreme Leader, but the current one
too? The judge in the case has already wondered why the CBI investigators
didn't include Kesri's name in the chargesheet. As the then Congress
treasurer, there is a distinct possibility that he was involved in the
disbursement of funds.
Common sense dictates that the CBI should have made at least a cursory
probe of this aspect. Why did it fall to the presiding judge to remind the
agency of the basics of criminal investigation? I am perfectly willing to
accept that Sitaram Kesri wasn't around when money was paid out to save
the Congress regime in which he was a cabinet minister. But shouldn't that
Some months ago, as Rao was tottering to his fall, Manmohan Singh quoted
the maxim about Caesar's wife—not just innocent, but beyond suspicion.
Would the erudite Dr Singh care to remind his current boss too?