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Wages of arrogance

Wages of arrogance

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: April 29, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/wages-of-arrogance/452408/0

Introduction: Congress seems to think it can get away with brazen meddling with institutions

Once again, the spectre of Bofors has risen at election time, and the Congress has none but itself to blame. The political costs are manifold, and troubling. The BJP has been handed a stick with which to beat the Congress; it can now openly say what it was muttering earlier: that only they will plug black-money leaks and recover ill-gotten gains stashed away abroad. After all, they'll say, the Congress won't want any of this done because of Bofors. Meanwhile, voters have been reminded of an ignominious period in the Congress's history over the past few weeks - the arrogant party of the '80s, which thought it could bury both the fallout of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and Bofors concerns.

And why will the Congress again pay a political price? Because it hasn't completely abandoned that arrogance. Indeed, its continued weakness seems to be an inability to reconcile itself to the fact that India is never going to be a de facto one-party state again - and that, thus, institutions must be independent, strong, and never subordinate to the party's and the leadership's demands. This government has never been able to establish before independent - or even sympathetic - observers that it is committed to maintaining the integrity of some of India's most vital and under-siege institutions. This pusillanimity means that people are losing trust in those; and that they will view the institution-breakers askance. The CBI has been a prime target; so much so, many in the public assume its moves have a political flavour, rendering its entire existence as an independent, statutory body moot. To the arrogance that assumes that such will not hurt the party must be added the arrogance that feels that timing is completely irrelevant - that Jagdish Tytler can be cleared a few weeks before his name appears on ballots, that Ottavio Quattrocchi can be removed from a watchlist a few weeks before a friendly government demits office, and that no questions are likely to be raised about these. This is brazenness - or political blundering - of the worst order.

As our columnist today points out, the Congress cannot afford to think that its disrespect for institutional autonomy is irrelevant to politics. It allows all sorts of attacks, it permits unpleasant associations, it creates space for evasion by electoral enemies. Consider Narendra Modi's glee - on the very day that the Supreme Court finally links his name to Gujarat, he gets to claim that this is thanks to UPA meddling. In the end, this is not about whether or not Tytler is guilty, or whether Quattrocchi is being unfairly hounded. It is about how, if some in the Congress believe that, they think that subverting institutions to achieve "laudable" ends is acceptable, in the party's interest. They are wrong. It is neither in their interest, nor in India's.

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