One of the unintended consequences of the countrywide raids on Lalu Yadav’s burgeoning real estate empire might be that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar can now breathe easy. Prior to the income tax raids at nearly two dozen locations in NCR Delhi, Patna, Mumbai and several other places linked to the Yadav clan, the RJD component in the ruling alliance had begun to flex its muscle, threatening to return the state to the jungle-raj days when everything was on sale and no-one felt safe.
Whether Nitish is grateful for the godsend, which will now ensure that a subdued Lalu will do nothing to rock the alliance, is not the point. Nor is it important whether the Janata Dal (U) will snap the toxic Lalu link to return to the more credible and productive alliance with the old partner, BJP (though Lalu’s suspicions in this regard may not be entirely unfounded).
But what is of utmost significance is that the Narendra Modi government has had the conviction and the requisite courage to go after the perpetrators of wrongdoing regardless of their standing in the world of politics, business et al. In fact, when your are determined to clean up the Augean stables of the economy, committed to fight the menace of black money, you have to be bold enough to take on venal elements, unmindful of their high station in society.
It should be noted that the raids on Lalu’s empire were conducted around the same time the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate cracked down on various properties and places linked to Karti Chidambaram. Anyone else in government would have had second thoughts raiding near simultaneously two prominent Opposition figures. But not Modi. He is obviously made of sterner stuff. Years of unremitting abuse and condemnation seemed to have only steeled his resolve to fight the commonplace rottenness in the polity and the economy.
The reaction of senior Chidambaram and the Congress party was on expected lines, though that did not make it less amusing. How Chidambaram’s writing of a column in an English language daily, or, for that matter, Lalu’s daily abuse of Modi and the BJP as “fascist and communal forces”, excuses their alleged corruption, remains unclear. If that logic were to be heeded, only those associated with the NDA should be probed for wrongdoing. Crying vendetta in no way condones malfeasance, does it?
The fact is that all through the UPA decade, when his daddy-dear ruled the roost in the Finance Ministry and, for a shorter period, in Home Ministry, Karti constantly figured as the centrepiece. His was supposed to be a one-stop shop for getting things done in his father’s ministry. Whether it was the Malaysian telecom deal or the INX Media clearance, Karti is alleged to have acted as a facilitator for a major price.
There is so much muck floating around Karti that even if a fraction of it is proved, it should be enough to see him behind bars. Subramanian Swamy and others have listed a slew of foreign accounts illegally opened by Karti. He is said to have deployed millions to start a nationwide chain of eye-care centres, which has had to pull down its shutters once the Karti link was exposed. A whole host of shell companies at home and abroad through which he allegedly channelled the bribes have since been detected.
Post-raids, Chidambaram’s defence of post-facto clearance of money raised by INX Media is self-serving and delusory. To say that five Secretaries as members of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board could not be influenced is to try and a) shift the blame for wrong-doing, and b) to ignore the working of the system, which has perpetrated a long series of scandals only because bureaucrats are ever- eager to please their political masters for plum postings and post-retirement sinecures, if not for a small percentage of the actual loot.
Without a pliant bureaucracy, it would be hard to scam the system, a fact nobody knows better than Chidambaram, whose reputation for being a tough taskmaster made it hard even for the most upright babu to demur mildly, lest PC come down on him with a ton of bricks. Chidambaram would have sounded far more convincing had he denied that any illegality was committed by the Peter Mukerjea-owned INX Media. He does not argue an illegality was approved ex-post-facto, but seeks to wash his hands of the decision, blaming it on the secretaries. How lawyerly is that is for you to judge—in our view Chidambaram has already conceded that an illegal act was approved by the FIPB.
To return to the shenanigans of Lalu Yadav. Well, the fact that he seems to be in a hurry to transfer to his children benaami properties held by his moneybag, P.C. Gupta, whom he has made an MP five times in preference to someone like Raghuvansh Prasad, underlines the realisation about his own advancing years as well as an awareness of the common phenomenon in politics and business of a trusted fiduciary gobbling up the assets of his master. In this regard, the UP Yadav clan is reported to be not-so-privately cursing an all-knowing fixer whom it had till very recently embraced as its own.
Meanwhile, if, post-raids, Lalu and Chidambaram seem unworried, it might be they reckon that the system being what it is, they can frustrate the investigations-prosecutions till a new government is in place. That is their only hope. And it constitutes the biggest challenge for Modi. To ensure that investigation, charge-sheet and trial is completed within a reasonable span of time, say, maximum three years, would require a major attitudinal change all around, from the investigators to the courts and the bar et al.
Or else, a systemic reform by Parliament stipulating a time-frame for disposal of criminal cases ought to be considered. Even if Modi is re-elected in 2019, which appears near-certain at this point of time, PC and Lalu would hope to wait him out till after 2024, given the inherent delays in the justice system. This must change so that wrongdoers meet their just deserts.
Wanted: a numerologist for Rahul
If the owners of the IPL Pune franchise, which play the Mumbai Indians in Hyderabad on Sunday for the trophy this year, believe that their team has progressed this far—it had finished seventh last season—it was thanks to numerology, they cannot be blamed. For, Rising Pune Supergiant dropped “s” from Supergiants that they were till last year. If their fortunes have soared by such a harmless act, one wonders why Rahul Gandhi would not add an extra “a” to become Raahul or an extra “i” to make it Gandhii and hope it would make a leader out of him. Of course, it is just a thought. Given that nothing seemed to have worked for the Gandhi scion in over a decade, no harm can come if he tapped the numerologist who changed the luck of the Pune team.