April 25, 2010

The Altar of Hypocrisy and Expediency

Modi, Pawar and Tharoor

The fallout from the fight between Shashi Tharoor, the ex-Minister of State for External Affairs and Lalit Modi, virtual boss of IPL, the biggest sports-related Brand that he has created, has highlighted the sway of hypocrisy and expediency in our polity.

It all began when a disparate entrepreneur group, the Kochi consortium ‘mentored’ by Shashi Tharoor decided to gate crash into IPL, which has become a closed group with only the chosen few allowed to own a team. The “bouncer” standing at the gate is Lalit Modi who practically manages how the favored ones get in and others are kept out.

In the latest round of auctions, two groups were to be the favored ones, Videocon and Adani Group. Although some pressure might possibly have been put on Modi from people in BJP in respect of Adani, those familiar with the IPL-BCCI scene know that the man who really calls the shots is the big daddy Sharad Pawar, the unofficial boss of BCCI, the parent body of IPL. Lalit Modi is the IPL boss as far as execution is concerned. He was apparently asked to ensure that the auction was conducted to secure winning of the favored ones.

IPL Stadia
Cheerleaders to Tearleaders?

A Dirty Game - for the sake of the Game of Cricket
The first hurdle devised by him to eliminate small bidders, i.e. new entry norms of $ 1 bn. in net worth and a huge bank guarantee, was soon removed after the participants protested to Manohar who in turn objected to Pawar. Modi then made friendly suggestions to the bidders to bid specific amounts such that the bids of the favored two would come out at the top. His prompting went unheeded. Sahara and Kochi bid high based on their own calculations and won the bids. While Sahara for Pune was obviously no pushover, a possibility was seen that the relatively unknown Kochi Consortium could be persuaded or intimidated and made to withdraw. A back out option for $ 50 m. was offered by Modi to them obviously at the instance of those who wanted the favored one to be brought back in the picture. Even more sinister and desperate measures taken by others have also come to light. (see here) As the Kochi group was unmoved, Modi started using dilatory and harassment tactics before awarding the bid. When nothing worked, in a totally mala fide action Modi placed the details of ownership of the Kochi Consortium on his Twitter time line, tipping the media about it to give it widespread attention.

Media Prepares the Case
As Modi had intended, the media did blow up the information particularly when pointedly told that one of the shareholders Rendevous had a 25% free equity in the Consortium and that a lady friend of Tharoor was in turn given a part of that part. It was further disclosed that she had the share as sweat equity. The print and television media vied with each other to twist and turn facts and intertwined them with imagination, speculation and half-baked knowledge to present a story to a gullible audience. The “news” story created a strong impression amongst the credulous public that by helping a bidder group, Tharoor was guilty of serious wrongdoing the like of which had not been seen before. To give more credence to the media’s summary conclusions, his friendship with the lady was played up with snide and scurrilous remarks in bad taste.

Enter the political class
BJP, the main opposition party, which has otherwise been quite ineffective in making any worthwhile impact on issues of real national importance where the Government has failed miserably, then seized upon the opportunity to score some political points from the story. It came out quite aggressively as Ravi Shankar Prasad its spokesman, beside himself with rage, fumed in the press conference at Tharoor’s grave sin almost as if he had given away the nuclear secrets of the country and demanded that he be sacked. The hypocrisy of the party was quite evident considering that it supports or tolerates persons like Yeddy, Reddys and Raje within its own fold and Badal and Soren as allies in the States to stay in power. Regardless, it mounted an attack on the junior minister and other political parties too found it expedient to join them in a deafening chorus baying for blood.

And Tharoor
Smarting from the accusations, the man who wants to provide an example of an honest politician wanting to make a difference tried to defend himself in public and in the Lok Sabha as best as he could. He asserted that he was only trying to offer his informal guidance to an intending bidder group being particularly interested in helping the Consortium which chose Kochi in Kerala in which State he has a legitimate interest as an elected MP from the State. If successful, it would bring benefits to the people of Kerala. He further said that the fact that a friend of his had been given sweat equity was neither an unusual arrangement in such commercial ventures nor was he going to benefit from the same. Further, he said his help did not involve misuse of his Ministry and most importantly, that he was not in a position to affect the eventual outcome of the bidding. His formal statements in Lok Sabha before and after he was forced to resign are given (see here and here). A later interview by the lady who willy nilly faced the spotlight, gives her own perspective. (see here)

Congress Party
As the controversy spread like wildfire, the Congress party scrambled to find a solution to douse it. The party with a history of dubious ethics and indulgence towards corruption was at its hypocritical best - or worst - and suddenly found the need to be seen as clean as ultra pure RO treated bacteria free water of the Ganges. As the Prime Minister was abroad for some work which few seem to care about, other senior Congress ministers pondered over the crisis and sought explanations from Tharoor. He stood his ground and claimed that no impropriety was involved. When the PM came back and was briefed, Tharoor gave his explanation to him too. But no sooner a signal was received from the party chief that Tharoor had to go, than everyone found that his explanation was not satisfactory. The party’s decision was also dictated partly by expediency and inconvenient timing as a lot of important business had still to be transacted in the Parliament. Tharoor was asked to resign which he did. A relatively weak goat was sacrificed at the altar of hypocrisy and expediency.

The party’s hypocrisy is evident from the fact that apart from an overall public sense of corruption having grown manifold in the last over five years, even at this time, it is tolerating persons regarded in public perception as highly corrupt or ‘history-sheeters’ of wrongdoing – from within itself as well as its allies. So great is the Party’s propensity to tolerate wrongdoing that even the Prime Minister had said of one his Ministers that “he is a valuable colleague”, forgetting that the high valuations they place on their colleagues have to be paid for in one way or the other by the people.

After the Resignation
Under the shadow of ignominy at having had to sacrifice one of their own and scalded by accusations of inaction against alleged scandals in the IPL the Government has galvanized the revenue and other authorities into hyperactive mode to take action against all those who may be involved in wrongdoing relating to IPL. As events are unfolding, once again the media has been working overtime to give its interpretations of the events and once again jumping to conclusions that they feel their audiences are willing to lap up. After Tharoor, the next goat – though not weak in any way – Lalit Modi, the IPL boss is about to be sacrificed in a similar way.

And the People…
We, the People, are the ultimate and real protectors of Democracy and have to clearly demonstrate our own maturity after over 60 years of democracy. While the people have every right to vehemently protest against wrongdoing, equally, there is also a responsibility to maintain fairness and objectivity and uphold the sound principles on which democracy thrives.

Consider for example, the case of Tharoor. From the prisms of those prejudiced or those against his party or those who simply believe whatever is said, surely he is guilty based on whatever is in the public domain. But from another perspective, things may appear differently. People in authority, MPs and Ministers are requested by others to help in umpteen matters. Any MP or Minister worth his salt does oblige by rendering his help where possible. Such help is rendered routinely, sometimes even using their own authority, without being considered impropriety. It is also reasonable to assume that those who are helped may derive at least some benefit through such help. Is it fair to assume that if a person getting such help has some benefit, the Minister/MP also necessarily partakes in that benefit? Also, MPs and Ministers are constantly trying to help their constituencies in ways that bring benefits to the constituencies. What Tharoor did and much more than what he did, is done openly or obliquely day in and day out by those with some authority without necessarily misusing their office.

On the other hand, the media, the politicians and the people know full well the massive wrongdoing that is not only being done but is regularly coming within public knowledge. No eyebrows are raised over such cases. Instead, the eyes are just shut. When a minister of a junior partner in a coalition government is found indulging in wrongdoing, such cases are shrugged off. Instead of protesting, people show indulgence on the ground that these are compulsions of coalition politics forgetting that the people’s expectations of a clean government cannot be constrained by such compulsions and they may be of concern only to the parties that form the Government not the people.

In the present case, the media and mass frenzy appear to be creating a new principle that a man is guilty unless proved otherwise. If Tharoor is guilty by our standards of political morality, surely he deserved to go. Fair play also requires a similar fate for those within the Government accused of similar or graver improprieties. Thoroughly swayed by the media onslaught, the people seem to have been carried away and joined in the ritual dance to hasten the slaughter of the sacrificial goat. The media and politicians have damned, condemned and all but lynched a person. While a goat was sacrificed, the vultures and the hyenas of the Carpe Omnia club in the government roam free, waiting for prey including goats in human form. ( see here)

The Cheer-dealers, sharing sweet smell of success

IPL and Modi
IPL is well and truly caught in an unenviable position where the tremendous Brand value it has gained over the last three seasons is in danger of being eroded. As for Modi, he may well rue the spark he provided on the Twitter which started the wildfire that is now engulfing him. A failed bid to dislodge those who had won the bid has landed him on the same altar from where Tharoor was sacrificed. Only, he is not by any means a weak goat. He will certainly need to pay for whatever wrong he might have committed. If BCCI and IPL are shown to be involved in so many dark deeds, all those who are part of the set-up should be made to share the blame and made to pay, including Sharad Pawar, the man with the ScaMidas touch, who has been very much working behind the scenes all along in spite of assertions to the contrary. There is no doubt that Modi has created a legendary brand and in that sense has served the country. He would be doing a much greater service if he took down with him some of those who encouraged or allowed him to commit any wrongs.

At the end of the day, if only the two minor ones are sacrificed, an old proverb may have to be re-phrased:
Caesar’s wife must be above reproach, but what about Caesar ?

सारे जहाँ से अच्छा, हिंदोस्ताँ हमारा