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Against a corrupt dynasty

Publication Date : 18-10-2012


Revolutionaries have a short span of fame. They are forgotten sooner than their duration of struggle and sacrifice. Mahatma Gandhi, who ousted the British, is mostly remembered because of the Indian currency notes that carry his photograph. So is the case with the founders of Pakistan and Bangladesh--Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Sheikh Mujib-ur Rahman who beaming through the currency notes in their respective countries.

Poor Jayaprakash Narayan enjoys no such honour although he effected in 1977 a revolution to release India from the shackles of the authoritarian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. I sensed the neglect even in his home state, Bihar, when I visited Patna, where he was born.

Coincidence had it that the day of my visit happened to be October 11, the birth anniversary of Jayaprakash Narayan. No local newspaper carried any mention of him, much less a photograph.

The state government run by chief minister Nitish Kumar, one of JP’s leading followers, had taken no notice of the day. There was not even a small official function to recall his services to the state, if not the country. The airport named after him still carries the wrong spelling of his first name, Jai, instead of Jay.

Kadam Kuan, where his forlorn residence stands in a congested area, was without any crowd on that day. A few of us queued before his statute to garland him. What shocked me was that some builders were trying to occupy part of the building that has been converted into a museum--study and the bedroom of JP unchanged since he last used them.

JP was the man who had single-handedly put democracy back on track after it had been derailed. He crushed the mighty Indira Gandhi, then the prime minister, in the 1977 elections. He showed how an ordinary person (aam aadmi) can retrieve his right to speak out, to write or to live freely if he determinedly stands against despots. JP revived the Constitution that Gandhi had suspended and gave back newspapers their freedom.

It is another matter that JP failed in his lifetime even after giving people the "second Independence". He fell ill and could not keep an eye on those who took the reins of the government at the centre. There was no difference between Gandhi’s authoritarian rule and the non-performing Janata government. I complained to the then Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, that JP was unhappy about his lack of contact with ministers. Desai curtly replied that he had not even gone to meet Gandhiji. “JP is not bigger than Gandhi,” said Desai.

Back in Delhi, I saw the debasement of politics. The central government was busy defending Robert Vadra, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law. It had been found that he had submitted to the registrar of companies balancesheets that were at variance with the records of a real estate company from which he had purchased properties.

But hats off to Ashok Khemka for cancelling the land allotment to Vadra as the Haryana-cadre Indian Administrative Services officer found the allotment illegal. The poor official has been transferred--his fortieth transfer in 20 years of service. When such examples come to light, they evoke hope in an otherwise gloomy atmosphere.

I have wondered why the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has come to be entangled with corruption. No finger was pointed at Jawaharlal Nehru although he remained India’s prime minister for 17 years.

Even a charge of corruption against his ministers was rare. TT Krishnamachari, the then finance minister, was found involved in helping a company dispose of its shares to a particular insurance firm.

A commission that probed the charges held him guilty and he had to resign. Never did anyone suspect Nehru of wrongdoing. It was not that people like him belonged to an era where only sacrifices were remembered and not scams that were rare. The fact was that their methods were above board.

Everything went haywire when Indira Gandhi, Nehru’s daughter, came to power. The rule of sycophancy, illicit funds for the party and corrupt deals in public sector undertakings--all are products of Gandhi’s rule and after.

The Congress governments in the states and at the centre became suspects in the eyes of the people. They blamed individual ministers or party leaders but wondered how far Gandhi was involved.

Gandhi’s reputation was in tatters during the Emergency thanks to the exploits of her son Sanjay. His automobile venture, Maruti, to produce small cars with the assistance of the Japanese firm Suzuki came to be called Ma Ruti (mother crying). How Sanjay Gandhi got the licence to manufacture cars, how he secured land near Gurgaon for the car plant and how he managed an unsecured loan for the venture reminds one of Robert Vadra’s talent for acquiring properties worth many crores of rupees within a span of a few years.

Vadra is the first case of a son-in-law becoming a part of the dynasty. Feroze Gandhi, son-in-law of Nehru, was so upright that he did not even live at the prime minister’s house but had a separate bungalow to which he was entitled as a Member of Parliament.

It is a pity that Feroze Gandhi’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, got tainted when as the prime minister he finalised a deal to buy the Bofors guns. Bofors, a Swedish firm, gave back handers to secure the order, aided by the pressure that Rajiv Gandhi exerted on an Army selection team.

Indeed, Bofors became synonymous with corruption. Rajiv Gandhi lost the 1989 election because of that.

Corruption of the dynasty has weakened in tone and tenor. None of its members is in the government. But Vadra has raised a stench. The Congress party and some members of the Manmohan Singh Cabinet defend him. Yet the damage to the dynasty’s reputation has been done.

How all this is in sharp contrast to JP who tried to introduce values to the movement he led! There was no whisper of corruption. His agitation was to retrieve values. If they are to be restored, the first step should be to re-establish propriety in public life. It should be applicable to ministers both at the centre and in states. Today, the same challenge that JP faced is overwhelming the nation that is seething in anger over injustice. Corruption is only a part of it.

The writer is a veteran journalist and commentator


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