The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- Let the BJP or the Congress boast with its own money

Our prime minister thinks in single sentences; some of them are highly quotable. Once he thought: let there be roads running from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Porbandar to Poorvanchal. They have sharp ears, these BJP guys, especially when it comes to the prime minister’s aphorisms. So they decided to build these roads leading nowhere. But then they realized that no one wanted to travel from K1 to K2 or P1 to P2, and that two-thirds of the traffic moved between the four metros. So they drew up a quadrilateral in gold and started building the roads along its sides. Now they are boasting that they built more roads in five years than the Congress did in five. But the fact is, the golden quadrilateral already existed, and the roads along it were probably built by the British in the 19th century. The Bharatiya Janata Party only repaved, straightened and widened them. Not a bad thing to do, but the boast was based on fiction. But who cares for truth in politics'

Then he thought, let there be peace with Pakistan. The joint secretary (Pakistan) picked up the phone and talked to the joint secretary (India) in Islamabad. The secretary (external affairs) talked to the secretary (enemy affairs) in Islamabad. The minister (external affairs) talked to the minister (foreign affairs) in Islamabad. The prime minister was taken to Wagah in a gleaming bus, where a helicopter was waiting to take him to the prime minister (Pakistan). They made up an eight-point programme of talks.

Before they knew, the commander-in-chief (Pakistan armed forces) dressed up some of his soldiers in mufti and sent them to occupy Kargil. The prime minister ordered the commander-in-chief to expel them, which he did at the loss of a good many jawans. The commander-in-chief (Pakistan armed forces) too got into an expelling mood, and sent off the prime minister (Pakistan) to Saudi Arabia.

But some thoughts are obsessive. Again the prime minister had the same thought. Again the various worthies on both sides got working, and the commander-in-chief (Pakistan), who now called himself chief executive, came to Agra. Again they worked on an eight-point programme. But the slick chief executive called all Indian editors for breakfast and gave them a brilliant peroration, which Pakistan Television broadcast live. The BJP brass were livid, and sent the chief executive packing.

But still the thought would not go away. It recurred to the prime minister while he was visiting Kashmir. Again the wheels started turning. Again the prime minister met the chief executive, who had meanwhile turned into president. Again joint secretaries met and began working on the eight-point programme. At which point the prime minister decided that India was shining and called general elections.

In elections, some people do vote for whomever they consider the best party.

Most vote for the party they last voted for. A few vote against the governing party. And many vote for the party that they think is going to win. And where do they get their idea of who is going to win' From the press.

Our press is, of course, independent; it would never think of boosting a party simply because it is likely to win. It is but a mirror of our society.

So the BJP ministers asked their bureaucrats to get hold of the finest designers in our advertising agencies, to pay them to make up brilliant, colourful, cheerful advertisements; and they got their ministries and public enterprises to give them out to our independent media. The effect was electric: whoever looked at the media — at some of the media — thought India was shining. But the media had never said that. They had just printed or shown the advertisements lovingly made up by well-paid advertising agencies, and had been paid well for them. Were they bribed' Never. But one would be hard put to find any criticism of the government in those media any more.

And what is wrong with that' The Congress did it in its time, as Pramod Mahajan would say. He does not even have to think; if any immorality of the BJP is pointed out, he says automatically that the Congress did it first.

Did it' Of course it did; everyone remembers the big pictures of Sonia and Jogi in page-length advertisements just three months ago. One does not even have to tax one’s memory; right now Sonia is being featured with Narayan Dutt Tiwari in full-page advertisements. They all do it.

But whoever does it, however often, it is misuse of public money. The function of government is to supply public services to the people. It may inform them about the services it provides, about how to avail themselves of these services, whom to complain to if they are dissatisfied. But it has no business to tell the people that India is shining, make the best of it. It has no business to boast of its achievements, real and fictitious, and to use the taxpayer’s money to do so. If the BJP, or the Congress, or Chautala Dal thinks that it has run a good government, let it boast about it with its own money. It is wrong for politicians to dip into the till when they are in power — especially when they are in power. That one of them does it is no excuse for another’s misbehaviour.

What is the remedy' Our British rulers had anticipated the problem. They believed that under democracy, India would soon slide into its pre-British ways of universal corruption and patronage. They tried to prevent this by means of an independent bureaucracy. They had framed strict rules for themselves; they expected their Indian successors to enforce the rules. And so that they may do so fearlessly, the 1935 Act made the civil service permanent and independent of the political rulers; the Constitution confirmed this. Rule-based democracy, with civil servants to make sure that the rules were followed, endured for a couple of decades. When, for instance, T. Krishnamachari was finance minister, he asked to see the income-tax files of someone. H.N. Ray, the finance secretary, told him that he was not entitled to see them.

But then came Mrs Indira Gandhi. She appointed and protected corrupt ministers, and she broke the bureaucrats by means of transfers and promotions. She trod rules underfoot; and thereby she set a precedent which Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ministers have gleefully followed.

That is why Rudy is surprised when the press questions the holiday he had in Goa at the Airport Authority’s expense. Everybody of his status does it, he thinks. He would not say it, but he must be wondering who paid for the prime minister’s musing sojourn in Goa, and the one in Kumarakom, and the many in Manali.

Ministers who lightheartedly use public money for private pleasure will see nothing wrong in using public resources to favour private enterprise; in fact, they will be very tempted to do so because private enterprise yields money for elections — and pleasure. Between the prime minister’s junkets and Dilip Singh Judeo’s lucrative drink in the Taj, there is a chain of logical connection. I hope, therefore, that if — when — Vajpayee returns to power, he will impose normal rules of probity upon himself, and then upon his followers.

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