Rise of banana republicans

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/284953/rise-banana-republicans.html

Ramakrishna Upadhya, October 12, 2012

Unfortunately, in this vitiated ‘atmosphere’, the economic reforms which the govt has proposed may become a casualty.

Congress party’s ‘daamaad’ Robert Vadra’s business dealings over the years were a ticking time bomb waiting to explode and it has done so at the most inopportune moment for the UPA government.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh’s attempt to take the nation’s attention away from the series of scams that has tarnished his government’s image with a string of ‘feel good’ reforms (for whom, remains a question), has been torpedoed by disclosures about Vadra’s shenanigans which are getting more embarrassing for the Congress by the day.

The Congress party spokespersons including ministers, have flip-flopped from ‘Vadra is a private businessman,’ to ‘it is a matter between Vadra and DLF,’ to ‘where’s the quid pro quo,’ to ‘the attack is a conspiracy not against an individual, but against the Congress and its leadership.’

If Vadra was only a private citizen doing legitimate business, which he has a right to, where was the need for the country’s finance minister, law minister, agriculture minister, energy minister and environment minister among others, to come to his defence, giving him a virtual clean chit even without looking into the allegations?

Since Chidambaram made the observation that he could not initiate investigation into private transactions of an individual “unless” there was a specific allegation of quid pro quo or corruption, more evidence has tumbled out about how and why DLF went out of the way to favour Vadra’s companies. But since then the finance minister has suddenly gone into the silent mode.

A cocky Vadra, who initially derided ‘the mango people’ (Aam admi) in ‘the banana republic’ – what a low opinion he has of the UPA government – has shut down his facebook account and quietly gone underground. Vadra is obviously having a ball in the banana republic presided over by his mother-in-law and appears to be confident that ‘republicans’ like him will not be touched, let alone being investigated.

When initial reports suggested that Vadra had only been given an unsecured, interest-free loan of Rs 65 crore by the DLF and the realty major had also given him some flats at concessional rates, the Congress apologists contended that they were private business deals which did not involve any ‘illegality’ or ‘impropriety.’

But subsequently it has emerged that the Congress-ruled Haryana government has allotted 350 acres of land meant for a hospital project to the DLF after disqualifying other bidders, and in the Magnolia housing project coming up on the same piece of land, Vadra has been allotted seven apartments worth crores of rupees. Is that not quid pro quo, Arvind Kejriwal and Co have asked.

In another instance, a probe has been ordered into the Corporation Bank extending an overdraft of Rs 7.94 crore to Robert Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality in 2007-08 when the company had a total worth of only Rs 1 lakh. The bank has been unable to explain how such a risk was taken by a public sector bank.

Breaking immunity

Vadra is clearly becoming an albatross around the Congress’ neck, as unlike the 2G scam which could be blamed on an ally and the Coalgate scam which could be attributed to government’s bungling, Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law has brought the scandal right into 10, Janpath and broken its ‘immunity.’

As the allegations have swirled, the usually unflappable Manmohan Singh, has flared up in disgust. While expressing homilies about tightening the provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act and giving more ‘teeth’ to laws dealing with corrupt practices by the corporates – at a conference of the senior officials of CBI and anti-corruption bureaus in States – he could not stop himself from taking a swipe at his government’s detractors. He said, “A mindless atmosphere of negativity and pessimism over the issue of corruption is damaging the nation’s image and the morale of the executive.” His doublespeak clearly exposes his lack of sincerity in dealing with the burgeoning cases of corruption.

It is unfortunate that in this vitiated ‘atmosphere’, the long pending reforms of the insurance, pensions and civil aviation sectors which the government has proposed belatedly, may become a casualty as they need amendments to existing laws and the principal opposition, the BJP, may not be willing to cooperate. The Congress had opposed the reforms in insurance when the NDA was in power and in this tit-for-tat reaction, the country will be the loser.

The Opposition, particularly, the BJP’s muted response to the unfolding Vadra saga is not surprising. For one thing, a political upstart like Kejriwal has not only stolen a march over them in attacking the UPA government, but his campaign has also effectively sidetracked their own campaign against FDI in retail, fuel price hike and cut in cooking gas subsidies.

The Bharat bandh they organised against these issues just a fortnight ago, already seems a distant memory.

But even after taking so many knocks, the UPA government is in no immediate danger of falling off the cliff, thanks to a combination of circumstances. Soon after Mamata Banerjee withdrew the support of her 19 MPs to the UPA government, protesting against the FDI decision, both Mulayam Singh Yadav’s SP and Mayawati’s BSP have rushed to UPA’s support without even asking for ministerial berths. It’s not that they are going through a period of renunciation. Facing the disproportionate assets’ cases, which have been dangling for years without resolution, both of them are more interested in keeping the CBI at bay than putting their hands in the honey pot and getting stung by the ‘bees.’

Similarly, in Andhra Pradesh and in Karnataka, the Congress is ‘using’ the CBI to keep Jaganmohan Reddy and B S Yeddyurappa on a leash, quietly letting them know that the ruling party can increase the ‘heat’ if they don’t behave. But with its own reputation in tatters, whether such manipulations will help the Congress to return to power post-2014 remains to be seen.

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