T N Ninan: Political penalties

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 02, 2012 20:40 hrs

When it comes to the law, penal sentences of varying periods are prescribed for different offences. When it comes to politics, however, there seems to be no pattern to the period that must pass before sufficient penance is considered to have been done. In the case of Narendra Modi, for whom it is a case of absolution being given without a confession having been made, he has had to wait for 10 years before the UK and US governments decided recently that they would deal with him after all (it wouldn’t do to keep him in the isolation ward if he might conceivably become the prime minister!). Jagdish Tytler was indicted in 2005 for his role in the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom, and is still in the political wilderness. In the case of Shashi Tharoor, however, he is back as a minister two-and-a-half years after he resigned, following a dust-up over his wife-to-be getting a reported Rs 70 crore worth of sweat equity from a partner in a consortium that was to get the Kochi IPL franchise (yes, the tasteless Mr Modi also got his number wrong).

Compare these with the life sentence that seems to have been given by the Bharatiya Janata Party to its former president, Bangaru Laxman, for accepting Rs 1 lakh from Tehelka staffers posing as peddlers of defence equipment. One difference may be that Mrs Tharoor-to-be quickly returned the sweat equity, while the pictures of Mr Laxman taking the money have proved indelible. Another life sentence, so to speak, was served by Madhavrao Scindia, who resigned as civil aviation minister because a chartered Uzbek plane landed upside down in a dense Delhi fog; there were no casualties other than the plane and the minister — who was blameless but never made it back into the Rao government and never became a minister again because he died in (another) 2001 plane crash, three years before the Congress returned to power. Interestingly, unlike Bangaru Laxman, George Fernandes was reinstated as defence minister not too long after he resigned following the Tehelka expose of 2001.

As for the man who said he would make “discreet” enquiries into the funding of Nitin Gadkari’s companies, most people may not remember that Veerappa Moily was once taped in a car ride offering a bribe to a Karnataka legislator in return for his support. Mr Moily was in the political wilderness till a commission of inquiry exonerated him, only to land in controversy again because he was named in the pay-offs to MPs from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha for their support when the Narasimha Rao government faced a no-confidence vote. Regardless, Mr Moily was to surface as the country’s law minister, no less, and (many seem to think) will now undo the damage done to crony capitalism by Jaipal Reddy!

Others have had to wait for the political wheel to turn before they were given unction. P Chidambaram offered to resign as commerce minister over an investment made by his wife in a firm that featured in the share scam of 1992. Rao said he would not accept the resignation, but forwarded it to the president and had it flashed on TV before Mr Chidambaram got back home, a short distance away. Like Scindia, he was never allowed back into Rao’s government but bounced back as finance minister in the United Front government of 1996. Meanwhile, L K Advani remains the only person who quit his Lok Sabha membership and did not seek to come back until the Supreme Court acquitted him in the Jain diaries relating to hawala pay-offs. As for Mr Gadkari, will he be forced to quit, and if so how long will he stay in the political wilderness? As long as poor Bangaru Laxman for his Rs 1 lakh?

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