There is a well-known canon about human character: “If you want to judge a person’s character, observe what he does with his power.”
The powerful, as we know, have many options at their command: they can add to their wealth and fame, realise their dreams, marry their heartthrobs, circumvent the law to suit themselves, promote their relatives and kin, and influence their times. They can also stand up for truth and justice, champion those who are less fortunate than themselves, and expose injustice and corruption.
What is most interesting in today’s political narrative is not that a handful of India’s powerful and well-placed exploited their positions or connections, but that the scrutiny has now shifted to people like Arvind Kejriwal and his colleagues who are being questioned on how they choose to wield the enormous power that they wield today.
Ever since Digvijay Singh raised questions on national TV the day before Kejriwal had threatened to expose another big name from India’s political firmament and word had got out that it was Nitin Gadkari’s turn to be named and shamed, the game got even more interesting. “We will watch and see how sincere are his exposes tomorrow,” said Singh with his characteristic wolfish grin. “And from it we will conclude whether he has pulled his punches,” he said insinuating a collusion between IAC and BJP.
This interesting line of argument was further expanded yesterday by my college batchmate, Y P Singh, who has challenged Kejriwal’s choice of picking Gadkari’s relatively minor scam against the humungous Lavasa expose that they had both worked on a few years ago. “Instead of highlighting this mega scam, he chose to expose a damp squib based on frivolous facts,” he said.
What is pertinent to this line of argument is the fact that today not only is power being held responsible for what it does, but also what it chooses not to do, which, as far as I know, is a new direction in our political life.
When Jayaprakash Narayan raised the banner of total revolution in 1974 as he led his popular people’s movement, no one — not even his fiercest critics — questioned the fact that he did not choose to expose his Bihari compatriot, the then Railway Minister L N Mishra, for his alleged misdoings. Neither did anyone wonder why his enormous authority did not call to question the fact that the prime minister’s son, without any qualifications in car production, had been handed the contract and exclusive production licence to produce a ‘People’s Car’.
Today things are different. Activists and NGOs are challenged by what they choose to remain silent on, the media is scrutinised for holding back its punches and, of course, politicians are questioned for looking the other way when decisions are made.
Can we build a national dialogue on the sins of omission? Could Nehru have been hauled over the coals for taking on the ‘jute’ lobby and turning a blind eye to the arms dealers of his time? As for Vajpayee, for all his statesman-like prime ministership, why were some cases against the Congress leadership not pursued as enthusiastically as they could have been? As for the Congress and its silence on Vajpayee’s adoptive son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya, does the Congress’s ostrich-like approach on his business dealings suggest a collusion?
I bring this up to argue that once the floodgates of the sins of omission are opened, there will be no end to allegations, speculations and counter-allegations. Never has the Indian political scenario been murkier, more negative or more challenging. Not only are the gloves off, but the claws are also bared.
Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer