A march to the past

I am shocked. In fact, I am outraged. Actually, ‘devastated’ would be apt. Summons to Manmohan? Mr Clean, corrupt? No way. If I was in New Delhi I would have hit the streets for the Cong road show, even if it entailed the unseemly idea of walking with Sonia Maino. I am sure Rahul too would have taken a stroll wherever he is holed up, in support of the former PM just as he lent ‘voice’ for Kalavathy.

Why not? The honest Sardar who stood solid still as cronies walked away with lakhs of crores under his watch deserves more than a walk of solidarity. Because, he was not just standing with his ‘do nothing’ credo but ‘did’ many other things: He kept a stiff upper lip rather than speaking up on the open improprieties; snapped his eyes shut as mounds of dirt crossed his line of sight; sat and sulked instead of standing up and sorting out; slept despite being woken up to the wrong doings as they happened; His sound snores even buried the relentless din against sleaze that rendered the rest of the nation deaf. A short walk falls way short of what’s owed to him.

It is natural for Cong netas who all ripped the treasury and reaped millions thanks to the Sardar’s sick stand-up joke on the nation to trot along. But I was touched by Sonia’s gesture, condescending to climb down from her perch, amble across in a parade and saunter up the porch of her pet puppet’s home ostensibly to console but obviously to pre-empt him from singing like Jayanthi. After all, Sonia and family are the most beholden to MSingh. Thanks to him, Sonia became a Saint without exactly sacrificing anything, exercised authority without being accountable, enjoyed pleasures of power with nary a fingerprint anywhere and above all, was able to keep the PM seat warm for her son with a reliable regent in place. Bofors went up in smoke, foreign funds remained foreign, Vadra entered Guinness as the quickest landlord … the list is endless.

Now, has MSingh become a fall guy for standing in for Sonia & Sons … Son-in-law? Yes and No. Yes, because, when push comes to shove, the walks will end abruptly, with the leader of the pack scurrying back into her opaque lair, secured by a veil of ‘Omerta’ – silence. Sonia will not even blink before making a Sitaram Kesari or PVN of MSingh. Indeed, there are legions of high-profile royal ‘loyalists’ in that party who were rendered low by the sleight of Hand of the High Command. The rest of the present solidarity pack would also vanish leaving the former PM to fend for himself.

So, is MSingh to be pitied? We say ‘no’ because he knew pretty well what he was getting into and who he was fronting for. His honesty mask came off the day he accepted the order couched as an offer from Sonia in May ‘04 when the lady ‘renounced’ after being rejected by Prez Abdul Kalam. The smoking Bofors gun was still hot and also the Family’s ways were well known. He was a willing puppet ready to dance to the pulls of the hidden Hand. He surrendered all lawful prerogatives and converted the PM post, dubbed the ‘Cornerstone of the arch of the Cabinet’, into a tombstone for democracy. Here was a PM who ‘held office at the pleasure of the President’: Yes, but the Congress President, not the Constitutional President! Are these hallmarks of an honourable man?

But worse. The ten-year tenure of the United Plunderers’ Association under Honest Singh redefined corruption. Thanks to the scams that he supervised, the nation came to know its richness … after much was lost. Giving and taking is bribe and hence corruption. Money stolen from the public kitty is also corruption. But the concept of loss to the exchequer due to dubious and deliberate decisions is a nasty novelty. Spectrum money that vanished into thin air and deals blacker than coal are mindboggling. Forget laymen, even lawmen are unable to fit these scandals into the legal system or grapple with the complexities. The criminal commissions and omissions are unparalleled.

So, is MSingh corrupt? If he took money, it is up to the law of the land to handle it. But looking beyond the realms of ‘traditional’ corruption, may we ask: Is an enabler corrupt? Is a duty-bound but negligent watchman corrupt? Is a pliable PM corrupt? Above all, is a renowned economist and a much celebrated Finance Minister who knows the nuances and nitty-gritties of the flow of every penny, but who winked at huge public fund being whisked away, that even a clerk cannot miss, corrupt?

The Cong can make this March memorable with as many marches as it wants. But Come April Fools day, the nation must walk up to MSingh, summon him and say: We trusted you, Sir!

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Jawahar T R