March 16, 2001


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The Rediff Special/ Indira Jaisingh

If this is what happens in fictitious deals, what could be happening in the real ones?

What is new about the exposures is not that kickbacks are being demanded in arms deals, but the fact that there has been a complete breakdown of the constitutional machinery in the government's functioning. The barriers between party, State and government have been obliterated. Just as Indira Gandhi's followers once coined the slogan 'Indira is India and India is Indira,' so it seems now, ministers of the Government of India believe the party is the government and the government is the party.

How else can one explain the fact that the now former defence minister's home was used by his party president Jaya Jaitly to collect funds for the party? So degenerated is the political system, that we have forgotten the Executive consisting of the Cabinet is the government of the nation functioning under a written Constitution, and not an extension of any one political party.

It is embarrassing to have to talk about the minister's personal relationships. While every person has a right to their personal life, the collapse of the barriers between the personal and political is surely unacceptable. Mr George Fernandes is surely accountable for allowing his ministerial home to be used by Ms Jaitly for negotiating deals for party funds. He is also accountable for her blatant offers to use her influence with him in the matter of defence deals.

One has heard of the 'son stroke' syndrome, many a politician has fallen victim to it. One has seen the 'son stroke' extend to daughters. A few years ago, this writer had raised the issue of the impropriety of a daughter of a sitting Chief Justice living in the same home with her father and carrying on her professional practice from there. What is objectionable is the opportunities it presents for abuse of the Chief Justice's position, who could hardly be heard to argue that the abuse was taking place without his knowledge.

Mr Fernandes not only set himself up for abuse, but Ms Jaitly went ahead and abused his position for personal gain. It is this that calls into question her relationship with him and its implications for Constitutional governance.

Already, there is much talk about the fact that the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act are inadequate to deal with the situation as the 'trap' was not laid in accordance with the law. Also, because an offer to accept a bribe cannot lead to prosecution as the bribe was not actually given. The point, however, is that the investigation has bypassed the law, making all discussion on the law irrelevant.

Evidence illegally obtained is never lesser evidence. The issue is not whether the Act can be invoked or not, the issue is that most people involved in the investigation have admitted to having received money from the reporters. All offers by the government to conduct investigations therefore seem meaningless, as there is nothing left to investigate.

The episode exposes the ease with which complete strangers get access to the corridors of power, to decision makers with the greatest of ease, through informal channels. The distinction between formal and informal channels has also broken down. What is the point of having procedures and protocols and rules of business in place, if they can all be set at naught with a few thousand rupees?

The truth is that official channels are also unofficial channels of communication and patronage. What is new about the episode is the ease with which government and defence officials have thrown themselves up for grabs. It is almost as if the illegitimate by constant repetition has come to be seen as the legitimate.

Our dysfunctional legal system must take a great deal of blame for the current situation. After all, the courts play a major role in determining what is legitimate and what is not. If the likes of Sukh Ram can get away from the net of the law, despite the fact that crores of rupees were found under his mattress, why can't George Fernandes get away with his significant other demanding a few lakhs of rupees from his bedroom, for party funds no doubt?

All talk about the ethics of the methods used by the journalists is irrelevant. In the public interest and to expose corruption in high places, the means used are legitimate. After all, it is not the private lives of men and women in public places that are being discussed, but their abuse of Constitutional authority.

The nation has been taken for a ride. Ministers and governments has been forced to resign for much less. This government won't, for it fears that it will lose the immunity of public office that it enjoys. Enquiries are a safe way of managing dissent without any damage to the government. Similarly, finding scapegoats among the lower ranks is another way of managing dissent.

If this is what happens in fictitious arms deals, what could be happening in the real ones? Much worse. And we are called upon to believe that the Balco deal is the most transparent of all deals. This episode only proves that transparency, if any, in the Government of India is in its methods of corruption, a transparency that has allowed an imposter to infiltrate the bastions of national security with such ease.

It is tragic that a woman of the eminence of Jaya Jaitly has fallen victim to the clutches of male political power. Did she really need a man to get ahead in politics? She has done a great disservice to the many struggling women who make their way up in a man's world on their own feet and succeed at it.

The last has obviously not been said on the episode.

Indira Jaisingh, the wellknown Supreme Court lawyer, is a frequent contributor to

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

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