Recent events have left a huge scar on the body politic of our democracy. The strength of an evolved and mature democracy depends on how strong its institutions are, how responsive its judicial system is and how accountable the government is to the people. All over the world, governments face challenges. It is by meeting it that a challenge is answered, not through circumvention. It is by facing it that a problem is solved, not by escaping it. The events of the last few weeks have shown the government in poor light — be it the so-called Lalitgate, involving External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, or the issue of Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis or the MoS for home, Kiren Rijiju, delaying Air India flights, or the offloading of legitimate passengers to accommodate VIPs.
The government has shown its arrogance by not addressing the issues because of which its credibility is at stake. As the proverb says, if you lose money, not much is lost, if you lose health, something is lost, but if you lose credibility and trust, then everything is lost. Democracy thrives on the trust of the people. That is why it is defined as “of the people, by the people, for the people”.
In many ways, “Lalitgate” reminds me of the Bofors scandal. The exposés have a lot of similarities. Like Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power with a million hopes. Like Rajiv, Modi has been gifted a majority in the Lok Sabha. Rajiv came with the tag of “Mr Clean”. Modi, too, has come with the same promise: “Na khaunga, na khane dunga”. Both enjoyed the complete trust of voters. A little after two years of Rajiv’s tenure, the Bofors scandal surfaced on foreign soil, via Swedish Radio. A year after Modi came to power, “Lalitgate” surfaced, again on foreign soil — this time in The Sunday Times of London. Bofors was smaller compared to the IPL scam, but Rajiv’s huge majority in the Lok Sabha could not save him, even though there was not an iota of proof against him. His own colleagues, V.P. Singh and others, used Bofors to pin Rajiv down. One has to wait and see if there is a V.P. Singh in this government.
From “Lalitgate” to Vyapam, events are moving so fast it seems one is watching a TV series, and that too in fast-forward mode. Events are moving so rapidly that one tends to forget the previous episodes. So it seems the Swaraj and Raje episodes are forgotten. The present situation is best described as chaotic. The Emergency of 1975 was declared by the Indira Gandhi government, duly passed by the cabinet. A special provision in the Constitution, introduced to deal with exceptional situations, was sought to be misused to perpetuate the rule of an individual and democratic institutions were undermined. Today, emergency has been institutionalised. Democratic institutions are crumbling under the weight of the political masters. Parliament and legislative assemblies have been reduced to a game of numbers. Important bills take the shape of ordinances, even before they are discussed in Parliament, bypassing the democratic process, which can be termed as a fraud on the Constitution. If people lose faith in the institutions of Parliament, judiciary and executive, the only hope left is the media, which certainly has emerged much stronger and fearless. Recent scams would not have surfaced if there wasn’t such a vibrant media. But then, the media cannot replace the executive or judiciary.
Citizens have also become sceptical about so-called people’s movements. The people’s movements of JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) or VP (Vishwanath Pratap Singh), or the recent Anna Hazare/ Arvind Kejriwal movement, got governments changed but not the ways of governance. As such, the Janata government of 1977 and the VP government of 1989 did not last long, as the lust for power and money destroyed the very purpose of change. I remember V.P. Singh used to say “satta parivartan is not difficult, but vyavastha parivartan is (change of government is easy, but not the ways of governance)”. Once again, we have had a satta (power) parivartan at the Centre, but the vyavastha seems to remain the same.
The PM has a moral obligation to clear the air. If we talk about Swami Vivekananda, Sardar Patel, Mahatma Gandhi or Lal Bahadur Shastri, we should also live up to their ideals of facing the truth and keeping morality above everything — including the position of power, as power without morality is vulgar. How can we forget that Shastri resigned over a train accident? He certainly was not responsible for it. If the PM does not act now, sooner or later the people will. The only advantage for this government is that there are no tall leaders with credibility around. There is no JP or VP. But then, people always throw up a leader. Let the matters in question be inquired into by completely independent bodies. But alas! Do we really have any such left?
The writer, a former Union railway minister, is a TMC MP in the Lok Sabha