Fighting corruption by embracing it

#1. The 1995 winter session of Parliament was among the least productive on record (constant disruptions resulted in only 36% of the total time being productive, according to Parliamentary records).

The constant stoppage of play was led by the BJP, which was protesting the continued presence in the PV Narasimha Rao cabinet of Telecom Minister Sukh Ram, against whom charges of taking a bribe and favoring HTL in the awarding of cable supply contracts had begun to surface.

The BJP kept the pressure up — until, in 1997, he broke from the Congress and founded the Himachal Vikas Congress — at which point the BJP sought and obtained his support for the Prem Kumar Dhumal-led BJP government in Himachal Pradesh. Ram joined the government — and was persuaded to quit in March 1998 when charges were finally framed against him. The story of how he finally relented is a classic case study of realpolitik.

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Death of a thousand cuts

Public sector banks will stop lending money to the Punjab government, says this report.

More than 30 bankers, led by State Bank of India, also decided to ask the central government to make good any losses the lenders may suffer because of the mismatch between the value of foodgrain in Punjab granaries and the loans provided to buy them.

This action relates to the uncovering of a rice procurement scam involving Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat, that ET had reported earlier.
To my considerable surprise — yeah, colour me naive — there wasn’t a yip out of the mainstream press when this story first appeared; not even those sections of the press that gets its kicks out of ranting about corruption. Nor has there been any response — not even the mandatory sound bytes — from the government, either at the Center or in the concerned states.
When I made a tangential mention of this scam in a post a few days ago, a friend who leans right wrote in to say that my ‘insinuation’ was unfair. Turned out that what he had taken away from this post was my “sly finger-pointing” at the prime minister. “Can you reasonably expect that the PM is responsible for every scam in every state?”, he chastised me then.

I am damned if I can make out how he deduced that from my post. The thing is, like large sections of the country, I too had momentarily yielded to hope. The hope that “na khaoonga, na khaane doonga” was more than an empty slogan. That a government elected by a populace fed up with the corruption of the previous regime would move heaven and earth to root it out, wherever it was found. That after UPA 2, we had finally gotten a government that would take responsibility, rather than pass the buck.

Like I said, naivete is my besetting sin.

The only official response thus far has been Sir Humphrey Appleby-level obfuscation from MoS for Finance Jayant Sinha. I defy you to parse this sentence and tell me what it means:

“That is precisely why we need a systemic solution to ensure whatever needs to be resolved across the various agencies can be done in a structured and systemic way.”

Meanwhile, the ET report says that the banks’ move could throw Punjab’s economy into a spin. And that, therefore, the chief minister met the prime minister to “discuss the issue”.

Which issue would that be? The issue of his own large-scale corruption, and that of his cohorts? Or the issue that banks, aware of the corruption, are now refusing to play ball and allow the malfeasance to continue?

The French have a way of putting these things perfectly.

In passing, and since the subject came up, find the time to go through this in-depth series by M Rajshekhar for Scroll — excellent feet on the ground reportage.

We are like that only

The news in brief: Pathankot is attacked. The central government sends troops. And shortly after, sends Punjab a bill. No chance, says Punjab, we are not paying this, it’s your problem.

The BJP shares power in Punjab and rules the Center — so this unseemly squabble over who foots the bill for “our brave soldiers” battling terrorism is strictly a domestic matter, and no concern of ours. Or is it?