Will the Robert Vadra expose help end corruption? Or will it be just another rib-tickler that titillates the middle class for a few weeks and is then forgotten? Will politics remain India\’s biggest business by far?
I am not optimistic. Politicians of every party love slinging mud at rivals: as good businessmen, they hope this will improve their market share. But will they cooperate in closing down the business altogether and moving to a less lucrative one? I doubt it.
Remember Anna Hazare\’s anti-corruption movement last year. He captured the imagination of citizens, and massive public pressure obliged political parties to take up the Lokpal Bill, aimed at creating a new institution that would speedily prosecute crooked politicians. All parties assured Hazare that the Bill would be passed in the winter session of Parliament. But then they used theatrical devices to stall it. They promised action as soon as the next Parliament session began.
But by that time the fickle middle class had lost interest, and Hazare could no longer attract huge crowds. The Bill was referred to a parliamentary committee, where it will moulder for a long time, and probably lapse. An unwritten understanding between parties ensures that no anti-corruption legislation has real teeth. This has been the fate of all Lokayukta legislation in sundry states: no Lokayukta has made any significant difference to state-level corruption.
Arvind Kejriwal deserves kudos for exposing how Robert Vadra, one-time scrap dealer and husband of Priyanka Gandhi, has become rich. Convenient loans from public sector banks, clearances from the Haryana government, and advances from DLF helped him convert a few lakhs of equity capital in unknown companies into hundreds of crores. The Vadra affair has produced a million chortles and left Congress spokesmen looking comic as they try to defend the indefensible. Everybody knows this is just the tip of the iceberg: the deals in question are in white money, while political business is mostly black.
If Kejriwal now exposes shady deals of sundry opposition figures, what will happen? Will all politics change? No, politicians of all parties will gang up against him, and try to reduce his credibility. Instead of being feted as a scam-buster, he will find himself investigated for minor or imaginary transgressions, and hauled up on technicalities. This happened last year to members of Team Hazare, and will happen again.
Worse, Kejriwal will probably find middle-class interest waning if he makes mass exposures of politicians of all parties. The public is cynical and fickle, and has a limited attention span. It likes a scam with a star celebrity, one that can be spun out in installments, with new revelations providing fresh titillation day after day. This was true of Bofors, 2G and coal allotments. It is also true of Vadragate.
But if different allegations are leveled at a dozen politicians, TV anchors and the middle class will suffer from data overload, and their eyes will glaze. This happened earlier when Team Hazare demanded an immediate probe into charges against 15 ministers (including the Prime Minister), plus the fast-tracking of 150 criminal cases against sundry MPs. The public could not digest so much information, and failed to get excited about it. Hopefully, Kejriwal has learned from this, and will space out accusations against others.
But even if he exposes goons in all parties, will this end corruption? No, because that is possible only with major reforms of the police, judiciary and prosecutors. As of now, cases take so long that the accused is likely to die of old age before being convicted beyond appeals. The LN Mishra murder case has meandered on for 37 years through 30 different judges, most of the witnesses have died, and yet the Supreme Court recently held that the system could not be blamed for the delay!
Cases against Lalu Yadav in the fodder scam, and against Mayawati in the Taj Corridor case continue forever without end. A 2006 raid on Om Prakash Chautala, former chief minister of Haryana, unearthed a whopping Rs 1,400 crore of shady assets, far exceeding the Vadra deals. Yet Chautala\’s case meanders on at snail\’s pace. The public has lost interest, so Chautala looks likely to become the next chief minister, not the next jailed crook.
Outrageous? Yes, but when the judicial system cannot convict crooks, then crooks will flourish in politics and much else. Systemic change is possible only through radical reform of the police and judiciary to ensure rapid investigation and conviction. But this does not make for popular TV, so neither Kejriwal nor TV anchors focus on this. Instead they focus on the latest titillation.