When did the word “corruption” get entrenched in the collective psyche of Indians? Was it the electoral fraud by a sitting prime minister in the 1970s? Was it when whispers became murmurs and then anger, on Bofors? Or was it when the Commonwealth Games, 2G, coal block allocations, all suffixed with scams, rolled out in quick succession?
The old India was marked by helpless resignation to the fact that corruption is a regular occurrence. Unaccountable power in the hands of a few allowed them to agglomerate all the resources which then made their way to their cronies. The 2014 mandate was against this abuse of power and the cancer called corruption. The rallying call was to reject the rent-seeking behaviour of the Congress. The new government promised to be transparent, accountable and importantly, honest. Almost four years later, the government is living up to its promise of delivering clean, corruption-free governance. It is a transition towards a new and aspirational system, where honesty is preached, practised and promoted.
In the wake of the Nirav Modi case, there are renewed attempts at creating a false equivalence that the Modi government and the UPA have had the same record on corruption. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The Modi government has systematically put an end to corruption afflicting policy-making and implementation. The first cabinet decision of the Modi government was to form an SIT to fight black money. The Benami Transactions Act, which was enacted but never notified, was finally brought into effect. Apart from technology-aided cleaner transactions and procurements at all levels, the government has moved for reducing cash-based political funding.
The Congress, on the other hand, made its mark in transactional corruption where selected people were allowed a share of the loot, in return for favours ranging from a financial cut to political allegiance. While the Congress normalised corruption and made it a routine occurrence, the BJP is cleaning the mess left behind and putting preventive structures in place. While the Congress did not spare any opportunity to obfuscate facts behind realms of legalese, the BJP has proactively taken action whenever any financial indiscretion has been brought to its attention. While the Congress left the country burdened with NPAs, the BJP is helping banks regain their health.
The genesis of corruption lies in the ability to hold discretionary power without fear of accountability. The Modi government has worked hard to eliminate discretionary behaviour in governance and to end corruption. Jan Dhan accounts, Aadhaar linkage and DBT are aimed at achieving this. Technology has replaced intermediaries, which aids transparency in governance and allows for better monitoring. Both demonetisation and GST were disruptive reforms. The political will to push these through, without the fear of electoral consequences, only reveals the intent of the government to follow up on its promises.
The biggest roadblock in the campaign to draw a false equivalence between the UPA and the NDA government is the integrity of the prime minister. There have been incredulous accusations, improbable theories and numerous attempts at creating a false perception of the PM overseeing corruption. The unimpeachable track record of the PM and the established zero tolerance policy against corruption cannot be undone by malicious conjecture. The Nirav Modi case is a vestige of the old system. It reflects the same reckless abuse of power, disregard for accountability and dubious political ethics that dominated successive Congress governments from the early ’70s.
The fight against corruption goes beyond rhetoric for the NDA government. The attempts to draw a false equivalence at best reveals that some political ambitions are premised on the hope that public memory is short. The people will not buy into sophisticated punditry normalising the Congress’ sins.