Forget corruption. Brazenness just acquired a new high-water mark


The idea of public scandal is crucial for the health of any society. For political parties, it ought to be a survival instinct. The most shocking aspect of the missing coal files, therefore, is not just that they are missing, but that the Congress government feels it can breeze through the storm of being caught out. Corruption may be a common political malaise. But brazenness just acquired a new high-water mark.

These missing coal files, in fact, sum up everything that is wrong with the UPA leadership in one word: it’s missing. A year ago, TEHELKA had published a comprehensive investigation on the contours of the coal scam: how Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had presided over a colossal mismanagement of one of the country’s most precious natural resources — delaying the introduction of auctions, and allowing vested interests a free hand, against his own better judgement. Perhaps the incentive was kickbacks for the party; perhaps it was to retain power at any cost; perhaps it was to keep some key businessmen and co-Parliamentarians in good humour. Certainly, the scam seemed very secular: it involved businessmen and political parties of every hue.

But since that original damning accommodativeness, the track has kept getting worse. PM Singh seems to be doing everything in his power to cover up his failures, not just of corruption, but misgovernance. Earlier this year, there was the scandal of former law minister Ashwini Kumar tampering with the CBI report submitted to the Supreme Court. And now there is this: 200 files missing from the coal ministry. It’s almost tempting to say, the CBI need investigate no further: The cover-up is the exposé.

What’s significant though is that the cover-up does not seem to be driven only by specific cases, but an urge to hide the fact that the whole process was arbitrary and infected by cronyism. This seems to be a peculiar Manmohan Singh characteristic: the prime minister does not mind his government covering itself in muck, but he abhors looking dirty himself. And so, despite Parliament being stalled again and again — despite almost no legislation being passed over the past two years — the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy does not deign to speak to the House.

Unfortunately for the country, however, the coal scam is not an aberration. This absence of process, of cohesive vision — of sheer leadership — seems to infect every aspect of the government. Do a story on the Right to Education: it’s a mess. Do a story on water management: it’s a mess. Do a story on nuclear energy: it’s a mess. On 2G spectrum: a mess. Public access to health: a mess. Agriculture: a mess. Defence procurements: a mess. Economy: a mess. Infrastructure: a mess. Private-public partnerships: a mess. Land acquisition: a mess. Environment: a mess. Public distribution: a mess. Foreign policy: a mess. The litany could go on much longer.

Even in its core DNA — its supposed allegiance to a liberal, secular politics — the Congress is suffering from a crisis. Speaking at a function recently, the PM urged the country to oppose “communal forces in elections” as also in “day-to-day life”. But his government scores a red on that as well. Communal forces — both from the Hindu Right and the Muslim Right — flourish in Maharashtra, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, all of which are run by Congress governments. Neither the prime minister nor his chief ministers have done anything to curb that. On the flipside, as many innocent Muslims languish in jails in Congress-ruled states as otherwise. And, there is little to distinguish their social indices in different states.

The dramatic face-off between the speeches of the incumbent prime minister and the self-appointed contender, this Independence Day, therefore, encapsulated a peculiar dilemma India is faced with today. There is very little to choose from. On the one hand, we have a prime minister who is a cipher. On the other, an aspirant who fills every television screen. He is decisive and is capable of muscular oratory. But he has absolutely no qualms about public scandal either. A thousand Muslims died on his watch, but he will not regret it; talk of corruption swirls around his state but he refuses to appoint a Lokayukta. He grants arbitrary largesse to corporate cronies and cooks up figures at will for his speeches. His officers conspire and kill. He lives by one mantra: power is his birthright and he will have it. And then, there is a third player. But he could well be a chimera. Elections are round the corner, and he is yet to condescend to even make his debut.

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Shoma Chaudhury is Managing Editor, Tehelka, a weekly newsmagazine widely respected for its investigative and public interest journalism. Earlier she had worked with The Pioneer, India Today, and Outlook. In 2000, she left Outlook to join Tarun Tejpal, and was among the team that started When Tehelka was forced to close down by the government after its seminal story on defence corruption, she was one of four people who stayed on to fight and articulate Tehelka‘s vision and relaunch it as a national weekly.

Shoma has written extensively on several areas of conflict in India – people vs State; the Maoist insurgency, the Muslim question, and issues of capitalist development and land grab. She has won several awards, including the Ramnath Goenka Award and the Chameli Devi Award for the most outstanding woman journalist in 2009. In 2011, Newsweek (USA) picked her as one of 150 power women who “shake the world”. In May 2012, she also won the Mumbai Press Club Award for best political reporting. She lives in Delhi and has two sons.


  1. a wonderful accurate estimation. in addition soldiers heads are beheaded by pok and only bodies r returned. a compensation of 10 or 25 laks is presented to bereaved and hands are washed. likewise 5 soldiers are killed on the poc border but consultations with pok, chin r continued evenafter the daylight violations of boders and halting by chinese at tomar , so in arunachalapradesh. so again the issues r covered up as such instances occur as we saw in 1960-62 ohm shanti’ panch sheel, panch shheel and in 1962 the chinese ripped our panch sheel. so also no concrete steps, strengthening the forces with proper budget allotments, a simple analysis sudden sinking of rakshak submarine just oneday before independence day. on the srilan front, we have mortgaged the mulla thievu to srilanka and indian tamil fisheman are harassed day one day two.
    on the polkitical misrule, just to come to power 2014, states are experimented for trifurcation on the advise of saturn mandarin from m.p against thr financial, emotion viobility, besides the impact on the investors on hyderabad, an unsafe city from 1956 to 1982 , later on kept silent but starting disturbances from 2009, just after the encouragement announcement of bifurcation merely for 19 smp victory votes ignoring the emotonal bond tie-up. but no uniform rule or rhyme is adapted in the case of west bengal, another redapple state, where the goorkhaland nepalies r struggling for a seperate state demand dating back to century old.
    equally, the bodoland tribals of assam are demandinf for a seperate state for which the pau-iicongi boasts it is interested on the solution of problems of scs/sts., all stunt politrics.
    one more election vote mobilisation is well noticeable in the case of bifurcation proposal of maha into vidharbha and maha but there pau-ii says its contituents ncp is not interested much to the astonishment of marathwada people.
    amusingly, tamil nadu is trated differently becausae it is not supporting the pau-ii policies and even kerosene allotment is paltry for bpl needs but there where bifurcation is essential for the welfare of southern tamilians of kongunadu, it is not necessary at the advice of suitcase master.
    but the saturn and neptunes one from mp and one from indraprastha cursed in the dice the draupadi of andhrapradesh, can be shared by mahas,gujas, telenganites, hydbad karnatics but only people from seema andhra needs spercial visa permits to live for only ten years more and then get away, amusing passport and visa rules of self styled khanglikhangresssrt combine leaders from odissa immigrants.
    in an independent india, parochialism,regionalism, casteism,, reservationism, negativemerit tratment are the orders of the day and favours of the splendour pau-ii, its political stunts for pau-iii post-2014 in the garb of flood reservation, trifurcation of a.p body, bifurcation of wb, bifurcation of assam, trifurcation of u.p.,and tamilnadu.
    let us see how it fares in 2014.

  2. And who is the third player?? I see no one, atleast at the national level, time to revoke what Gandhi did to British, else we’re stuck with such mess.

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