'Respond to exposures

Indian Express 23-3-2001

WHENEVER there are media exposures on corruption, crime, malpractices or arms deals, the stereotype response from the establishment is to run down the media and dub the exposures as machinations of destabilising forces. The routine reaction of the government is whatever has appeared in the media is not gospel. But this observation too is not the last word of wisdom. History provides ample evidence of this. 

Parliamentary records of our country as well as of others is replete with examples to show that parliamentarians relying on genuine exposures made by the media bring to light aberrations and criminalities in our political life and administration, leading to serious actions. 

Mudgal's Corruption 

During the provisional Parliament of India in 1951, the media had exposed the corrupt practices of H.G. Mudgal, an MP, who used to table questions in the House to suit certain industrialists after accepting bribes from them. Relying on the exposures by the media, an MP made a further probe and raised the issue in Parliament. The matter was referred to a Parliamentary Committee. The Committee further discovered that Mudgal was taking money from businessmen to fix appointments with ministers and the worst act was on receiving payments from industrialists and businessmen, the concerned MP, who was a member of the select committee for the Forward Contracts Bill, used to move amendments to the Bill desired by his patrons. On the basis of this evidence, the Parliamentary Committee unanimously recommended Mudgal's expulsion from Parliament. Prime Minister Jawaharial Nehru moved in Lok Sabha a resolution to expel Mudgal from Parliament. Strangely enough, Mudgal participated in the debate On the resolution and after some time quietly offered his resignation from Parliment to the Speaker of Lok Sabha. 

Mundhra scandal

Based on a media exposure, Feroz Gandhi had raised a question in Lok Sabha in 1957 concerning the sale of fraudulent shares to LIC by a businessman named Haridas Mundhra. Some members of Lok Sabha had objected to Feroz Gandhi relying on press exposures. He, however, had done substantial home work on the issue he had raised. He told the House that as an evidence, he would be prepared to lay on the table of the House, the confidential correspondence on the subject between the Finance Minister and his Principal Finance Secretary. There was a prima facia case that fraudulent shares were sold to the LIC. The Prime Minister therefore set up a one-man commission headed by Justice Chagla. The Commission found Mundhia guilty of selling fictitious shares to the LIC and he was sentenced.

Import Licence Scandal, Bofors

In the 5th Lok Sabha, the work of Parliament was held up for a considerable period. The Opposition had demanded that the Minister for Foreign Trade L.N. Mishra should share with the House the jottings on the confidential file on the subject of import licence episode. However, the minister was reluctant to do so, and, the paralysis of Parliament continued.

The then Speaker Dhillon found a way out. He ruled that the concerned minister should come to the speaker's chamber and share with all the leaders of the Parliamentary parties, the jottings on the file. When that was done the culprit was found. Unfortunately, thin a few weeks after this incident, the minister was killed in a bomb explosion. But prior to that the veracity of the exposures in the media was established beyond doubt.

The Bofors gun figured for the first time in the national dailies on April 17, 1987 when a sensational Swedish Radio broadcast gave the explosive information that M/s Bofors of Sweden had given a bribe of Rs 64 crore to the middleman in the form of commission to secure the Rs 1700-crore gun contract from India. Corroborative evidence started surfacing through prominent newspapers. The breakthrough came when Chitra Subramaniam Geneva-based journalist, published sensitive documents in The Hindu giving decisive evidence about bribes paid in the deal. The Swedish Audit Bureau's report was the last straw on the camel's back. The Bofors issue led to the defeat of the then government.