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The Congress quartet's political morality

The Congress quartet's political morality

Author: Sudheendra Kulkarni
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: April 26, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/the-congress-quartets-political-morality/451230/

The kid-glove treatment that much of the media reserves for the Nehru dynasty and its nominated Prime Minister is one of the many troubling lessons in what is wrong with our democracy. First, for almost the entire stretch of the UPA government's five years, the press was rarely given an opportunity to question Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi or Dr Manmohan Singh on relevant issues. Did you read or watch a single probing, hard-hitting interview with any of them?

But has the situation really changed even after compulsions of the election campaign have forced the trio to be more accessible to the media? I should say 'quartet' instead of 'trio', because another scion of the dynasty, Priyanka Vadra, has suddenly become the Congress party's star campaigner. Her campaign is confined to only two constituencies. Yet, a fawning section of the media has elevated her to the status of a national campaigner, giving her more time on TV and more space in print than veterans in her own party. The moot question is: Has the Congress quartet been asked a single uncomfortable question so far? For example, has Sonia Gandhi been asked to explain what is undoubtedly the most outrageous statement in the current election campaign-namely, her assertion that "some people inside our country calling themselves desh premis" (an indirect reference to the BJP) are more dangerous than "foreign terrorists entering India"? Since all four in the quartet have raised the Kandahar issue, has the media questioned any of them what the UPA government would have done if it had faced a Kandahar-like crisis?

India's self-styled First Family believes in the Orwellian adage that although all families are equal, some families are more equal than others. Its attitude towards mediapersons is: "Don't forget that we are doing you a favour by letting you talk to us." No wonder, most journalists are happy doing feel-good interviews, designed to protect the carefully cultivated super-celebrity status of Sonia Gandhi and her children. To these journalists, I can only commend the exhortation, in a celebrated poem, by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, one of the greatest poets to have sung the virtues of freedom, democracy and equality:

Bol, ki lab aazad hain tere/Bol, zaban ab tak teri hai... /Bol, ki sach zinda hai ab tak/Bol, jo kuch kehna hai kehle.

(Speak, your lips are free. Speak, it is your own tongue... Speak, because the truth is not dead yet. Speak, speak, whatever you must speak.)

The one question the media was duty-bound to ask, and the Congress leadership was duty-bound to answer, was about the shocker of a statement last week by Dr. M. Karunanidhi, the DMK chief and a key Congress ally. In a TV interview, he called V Prabhakaran "my friend" and said he did not see the LTTE chief as a terrorist. His partial backtracking the next day ("No one can forget the gruesome killing of Rajiv Gandhi") did nothing to hide his pro-LTTE sympathies. Yet, the Congress party did not dare criticize the Tamil Nadu chief minister, much less severe its ties with his party. Its spokesman's lame response was: "These are Karunanidhi's personal views."

Contrast this with the way the Congress had trained its guns on the DMK in 1997, when it pulled down the seven-month-old I.K. Gujral's United Front government. The Justice Milap Chand Jain Commission, appointed by the Narasimha Rao government in August 1991 to probe the "larger conspiracy" behind Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, submitted its interim report in August 1997. It indicted the DMK for having patronised the LTTE in Tamil Nadu, where the party was in power at the time of the crime in May 1991. The Congress hastily withdrew its support to the UF government, when Gujral refused to sack three DMK ministers in his cabinet on the plea that the Jain commission had only submitted its interim report and that the final report was yet to come.

Ironically, the same Congress party that destabilised Gujral's government on the ground that its demand for sacking DMK ministers was not met, had no qualms about including DMK ministers in Dr Manmohan Singh's government! Its record of political immorality does not end here. In February 2004, when the Congress entered into a poll alliance with the DMK, a courageous journalist asked Sonia Gandhi about her party's withdrawal of support to Gujral's government on the DMK issue. Her reply: "There were no negative comments in the final report. Since the final Jain report had exonerated him (Karunanidhi), how could the interim report stand?"

True, the Jain Commission's final report did not indict the DMK. But till date Sonia Gandhi has not been asked why her party withdrew support to Gujral's government on the basis of only an interim report.

Her silence on another related development is also eloquent. The NDA government tabled the Jain Commission's final report in Parliament in July 1998, along with an Action Taken Report (ATR) on its findings. The Congress MPs created a furore saying the final report and the ATR were not acceptable to them. Accordingly, the NDA government agreed to set up a Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA) under the CBI to continue the probe into the "wider conspiracy" and also bring the accused, including Prabhakaran, to trial.

Three weeks later, the Congress party further upped the ante on the DMK. On August 19, 1998, a delegation of Congress leaders, including Dr Manmohan Singh, Arjun Singh and Pranab Mukherjee, met the then Home Minister L.K. Advani and complained that they were not happy with the Jain Commission's final report, "especially as regards the probe into the role of Dr Karunanidhi". In a detailed seven-page letter, they demanded: "The Congress insists that the agency (MDMA) be directed by the government to investigate all matters relating to Mr M. Karunanidhi as adverted by the Commission and proceed against him in a court of law, if warranted by the evidence which will be uncovered."

Two conclusions flow from the above facts. Firstly, the Congress party could not have submitted this memorandum without a green signal from Sonia Gandhi, just as Gujral's government could not have been pulled down on the DMK issue without her approval. Secondly, and more importantly, the Congress leadership continued to suspect the DMK's role in the plot behind Rajiv Gandhi's assassination even after the final report of the Jain panel had cleared Karunanidhi and his party.

The Congress leadership suspended its suspicion as soon as it smelled an electoral opportunity in allying with the DMK in 2004. Five years later, its political immorality over the Rajiv assassination issue is even more glaring. But so is the fact that the Congress quartet is under no pressure to answer uncomfortable questions from the media.

- sudheenkulkarni@gmail.com

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