It’s wake-up time for BJP
The PNB scam amply reveals that, however dedicated the chowkidar is, it will be well-nigh impossible to arrest the deep rot in the functioning of corrupt system.
It was not nothing new when the CBI arrested Karti Chidambaram, a businessman and son of the former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram. The Investigation agency is claiming to be having valid documents in the alleged bribe that Kartik had made to the INX Media owners Indranil Mukherjee and Peter Mukherjee, with the approval of Foreign Exchange Promotion Board, allegedly approved by his father during his tenure in the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government led by Manmohan Singh. Most importantly, the CBI has traced some Benami documents from the personal computer of Chidambaram’s son, where Karti had a Willed Deed over three of his benami holders. Interestingly, the politicians normally do not keep their benami transactions on record and almost all the political parties are careful in not washing their dirty-linen in public. The corporate sector and the educational institutions are also not exceptions in this regard, as it is an open secret that many of the schools and colleges are run with the blessings of many
industrialists and political personalities in various parts of the nation.
Being a businessman, Karti should have been aware of the adverse implications that will cause him discomfort, if he exposes his benami transactions openly to the CBI authorities. But, in the accused case, he was not inclined to believe his benami holders without any written document. Even though the general presumption is that the CBI is always expected to perform, as per the whims and fancies of any ruling party at the Centre, the wrong-doers are careful in not providing adequate footage to them with valid and proven-documents that expose their corruption. In most of the cases, the CBI ends up with little clue about the benami transactions, in spite of vigorous searches for hours together.
In Karti’s case, either he had taken his father’s political popularity for granted, considering Chidambaram’s personal rapport with the present Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and some other BJP leaders, or was under the impression that it was always safe to accuse the ruling party as “acting with political vendetta.” It is exactly the latter, which both the father and son chose, to create an impression that the 47-yearold Karti had been harassed by the present government at the Centre to settle their political score with the former Union Finance Minister. No wonder, Karti has reportedly stopped cooperating with the CBI officials in discharging their duties with clinical efficiency.
It is not unusual for any Opposition leader to play such a gimmick and to the gallery, though the suspicion gains ground that the Centre need not have delayed the proceedings inordinately. However, the renowned economist, political commentator and media writer S. Gurumurthy says that he has been exposing the murky deals of Karti for a long time and has even published some in-depth write-ups in the ‘New Indian Express’ about the benami transactions of the accused, with Karti holding not less than 90 companies. Importantly, Gurumurthy even wrote an article in 2005 in the New Indian Express, titled, “Mr Chidambaram, will you sue me now”. According to Gurumurthy, Chidambaram did not dare to challenge him in the court, as that would have exposed him and his son in the atrocious deal. He also defended the government led by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, stating that the BJP government at the Centre cannot be blamed for the undue delay in initiating action against Karti, as it is the Court that gave the offender enough time, keeping his requests on flimsy grounds and delayed the action of the CBI.
Sources in the political circle ask, even if one agrees Gurumurthy’s defence of the Modi government and the CBI and for squarely blaming the judiciary for the considerable delay in initiating action against
Karti, is it not time for the
In Karti’s case, either he had taken his father’s political popularity for granted, considering Chidambaram’s personal rapport with the present Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and some other BJP leaders, or was under the impression that it was always safe to accuse the ruling party as “acting with political vendetta.”
government to create a situation for the CBI to remain independent in its investigations, as knowingly or unknowingly, a lurking suspicion has been created that the investigation agency is expected to wilt under pressure when it comes to the crunch, in spite of the officials concerned performing to their best in nabbing the bullies? They are perhaps right, as during the UPA governance, the then Opposition BJP had accused the CBI of its partisan attitude and the present government at the Centre appears to be doing viceversa. This problem has been confronting the nation right from the tenure of Indira Gandhi, when she became the Prime Minister in 1966.
The intention here is not to defend both Chidambaram and Karti in the misdeeds that occurred during the previous Congress regime. The moot point however is, how come renowned business magnets like Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya could escape from the wrath of the present government, even though the Modi government is not sick and tired of claiming that the assets of the duo will be attached, if they fail to cooperate with the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI. Though, due credit should be given to the government for taking steps to nab the defaulters, the time has come for the Prime Minister and his team to bring them to India on extradition ground. Some political commentators also took exception to the
temerity of Nirav Modi in commenting that he is not answerable to the CBI or any other Indian agency, as the deal that the government probe is entirely his money. Mallya, too, adopted a similar strategy, albeit diplomatically, by dodging the government and killing the time with some or other excuses.
The government is aware that the time and tide waits for none and justice delayed is justice denied. However, the million dollar question, according to opposition parties and the government critics, how long will it postpone such sensitive issues, considering the gravity of the situation? The delay in the government action also creates suspicion among a section of people, as on the one hand, it is stern in dealing with the misdemeanor of Kartik, but, on the other hand, it is creating a room for doubt that the progress that it has made in the case of Nirav Modi and Mallya has been lackluster so far. Gurumurthy would, however, hasten to add that Kartik case is more complicated and it cannot be compared with the misdeeds of Nirav Modi.
The Union Government claims that it has introduced stringent amendments to the Benami Property Act. For instance, it introduced Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code to book the bullies. But, will the government be bold enough to implement the tough laws that it proposes, as its drastic action would render the administrators and institutions redundant during the course of time? Some banking officials, known for their honesty and integrity ask, what prevented the government from instituting ‘Lokpal Act’ during their ongoing tenure? They are quite right, as their opinion imply that CBI, termed as a “caged parrot” during the UPA regime, is yet to emerge as a free bird. For example, the present government strongly recommended the appointment of a Gujarat IPS officer as special director, despite the mounting complaints of irregularities against him, proves beyond doubt that our current political system is not expected to create an independent federal police, known for its impartiality.
The informed sources aver that election funding, without an iota of doubt, is the root-cause of political corruption, and unfortunately, there is no ceiling for making donation to political parties. This ideally suits the captains of industries and educational institutions, as a large number of them take advantage of this lucrative offer to favour the parties of their choice. Little wonder, they remain in the good books of both the ruling and opposition parties. Though the government has been lauded by a section of industrialists for its implementation of demonetisation and GST
Act, apart from its decision to corner the tax-evaders, the corporate sector was also immensely pleased by the government’s decision to provide tax-exemption to the people, who donate for political parties, ranging from Rs 2,000 to the maximum extent possible. An individual can be rest assured that his or her name will not be disclosed by the government at any cost. It is perplexing to note that after the introduction of demonetisation, not less than 100 political parties had been formed, and funnily, most of them, without affiliations. The Government, in a way, has provided easy ammunition for the wealthy people to avoid paying their income tax, as long as they do not fail to please the political masters. Adding salt to the wound, the government’s
The moot point however is, how come renowned business magnets like Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya could escape from the wrath of the present government, even though the Modi government is not sick and tired of claiming that the assets of the duo will be attached, if they fail to cooperate with the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI.
decision to introduce electoral bonds has backfired now, as it is being challenged in court. Moreover, it has failed to address the core issue of promoting transparency in funding.
Like an old wine in the new bottle, the new law would not provide an opportunity for the public to know about the exact funding details of the business people and resource-oriented individuals.
The Union government propagates that demonetization was meant to curb corruption. True, there is no denying the fact that a checkmate was made to hound the hoarders, profiteers and blackmarketers initially by the Income Tax Department, but they realized, much to their chagrin and discomfiture, after one-and-a-half year, that the entire money, black money notwithstanding, is back in banks with the Rs 2,000 note replacing lower denominations. Sources in the banking sector inform that the banks have received back Rs 15.28 trillion or 99 per cent of the invalidated currency within a short-span of time. In spite of all the happenings, the government continues to shout from rooftop that it will streamline the system in a phased-manner by eradicating corruption to protect the honest depositors. Though the government need to be applauded for recapitalisation of banks, as Non-performing assets menace started crippling the nationalised banks, with an assurance that it will leave no stone unturned to put an end to the NPA imbroglio, but with constant assembly polls in various states and the general election that takes place next year, or earlier, the government is not expected to incur the wrath of the vested interests at this point of time. After all, the harsh reality of power, if not absolute power, tempts any leader and his party. Hence, Modi and his BJP would not remain immune to it. Bearing this in mind, the government is also keeping mum on the issue of proposed merger of profitmaking and loss-making banks like Bank of India and Union Bank.
Some insiders in the banking sector assert that if pertinent questions had been addressed by the banking system a few years ago, a scam like the one that we witnessed in the Punjab National Bank could have been averted. Moreover, when the Prime Minister introduced demonetisation in November 2016, citing that it was a step in the right direction, to clean up the society riddled with only 13 per cent of purchase money, efforts should have been taken by the banks to remain answerable to their functioning aspects. It may be recalled that only last year, especially after the demonetisation period, Nirav Modi obtained a fresh series of LOUs to produce it before the PNB. Even then it was considered as a usual business transaction of VIPs, to which category industrialists like Nirav Modi and Mallya belonged to. It was still business as usual for VIPs.
Interestingly enough, Arun Jaitley recently stated, albeit sarcastically, that politicians are accountable in the absence of Regulators, thereby, indirectly apportioning the blame on the banking regulator RBI for the sordid state of affairs, although, it was beyond doubt that RBI was tardy in its progress. However, Jaitley was not averse to giving a clean chit to politicians at the expense of RBI, which is grossly unfair. For instance, the
PNB was even presented with awards by the Central Vigilance Commission, is an ideal example of how the misuse of system, if not power, paved way for militating against constant regulatory monitoring of the bank that was clearly exposed in the corruption scandal, in due course.
However, the fact of the matter is it not the duty of the government to appoint independent and autonomous institutions that will have ample power at their disposal to demand an explanation from their erring clients, including the VIPs, who are close to the political corridor.
It is being felt that the Right to Information Act is virtually paling into insignificance. For instance, Several RTI to the Prime Minister’s office goes in vain. The situation was similar to what the people witnessed during the UPA government. It is not unusual to notice that details sought over the nature of CVC appointment, were unanswered by the officials concerned. The government also did not find it essential to reply to RTIs asking for names of loan defaulters. For example, two years ago, after alleged “encounter deaths” of eight SIMI activists in West Bengal, the minister Kiren Rijiju, while addressing a press conference, said in his own inimitable style that the people must stop the habit of indulging in doubts and posing questions, as according to the minister concerned, this does not augur well for our culture. During the tenure of the UPA, the Nationalist Congress Party president and the then Union Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, put his foot down, when another cabinet minister, Lalit Makhan wanted to introduce RTI in Board of Control for Cricket in India. The then Congress government did not interfere, as that would have amounted to antagonising Pawar and risking the stability of the government.
There is no second thought that India’s interests are best served, if the government bothers to ensure that institutions like CVC and RTI are allowed to be functioned independently and manned by employees with honesty, and integrity, apart from perseverance. It is these institutions that the people would address as chowkidars, (security guards) and not the one claimed by Modi before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections that he would function as a “chowkidar”, similar to his subsequent utterances of “minimum government and maximum governance”, after he took the mantle on his shoulder. As the PNB scam unfolds, the Prime Minister’s ardent supporters would defend him by stating that it would not be fair to blame him for a multi-crore scam in one branch of a nationalised bank, as the adage reminds us that ‘one swallow does not make a summer’.
The PNB scam amply reveals that, however dedicated the chowkidar is, it will be well-nigh-impossible for him to arrest the deep rot in the functioning of the banking system. To cite an example, all 20 nationalised banks, including PNB, do not have a workman or an officer-director to facilitate the process. Importantly, this mandatory watchdog post has been lying vacant for quite some time. For instance, a chowkidar alone in Mumbai PNB office cannot oversee the happenings in the offices of Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai. The time has come to strengthen the anticorruption institutions at every level in a systematic and orchestrated manner, as the public cynicism about corruption percolating deep down the corridor, is growing, as the day progresses.
All said and done, it is high time for the Modi government to wake-up before assessing the prosand-cons of the situation.
It is being felt that the Right to Information Act is virtually paling into insignificance. For instance, Several RTI to the Prime Minister’s office goes in vain. The situation was similar to what the people witnessed during the UPA government.
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