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BJP, Congress in suicide pact

By T V R Shenoy
December 02, 2005 21:42 IST
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I used to believe that Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code holds that suicide is a criminal act. Would some kind soul please pass on this information to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress? The sight of India's two largest -- and only truly 'national' -- parties performing a lemming leap over Mount Scandal and into the Sea of Decline is not a particularly heartening sight.

Take a look at the events of the past month or so. November began with the release of the United Nations Committee's report into the scandalous Oil-for-Food Programme, which, among other things, cited the name of the then external affairs minister K Natwar Singh. This was followed by the results of the Bihar assembly election, a slap in the face for the United Progressive Alliance if ever there was one!

One might have thought that the National Democratic Alliance, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party, would have seized the chance to put the Manmohan Singh ministry on the mat. Instead, we had the spectacle of the near-rioting in Bhopal and of an angry Uma Bharti hurling invective at party colleagues as she set off for Ayodhya. As if that were not enough, the BJP's oldest colleague, the Shiv Sena, chose precisely the same moment to wage a Kurukshetra on the streets of Mumbai. Yes, but did the Congress take the opportunity to turn its guns on the National Democratic Alliance?

No, one must remember that this is a mutual suicide pact! The echoes of Uma Bharti's furious insults were yet to die out when Aneil Mathrani, former Congress apparatchik turned India's ambassador to Croatia, came out with damaging revelation about Natwar Singh's role in the Oil-for-Food Programme. But it was the reaction of the Congress that left me gasping.

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Science & Technology Minister Kapil Sibal, glibly told the cameras that there was nothing new in the Mathrani revelations, and that 'we' -- meaning the ministers -- had known about it for quite a while. I could scarcely believe my ears, and watched it twice more just to make sure that I hadn't misheard. Kapil Sibal is a renowned lawyer, a senior member of the bar in the Supreme Court. Surely he knows that he has just openly admitted to something close to a breach of privilege?

Please remember that the prime minister himself had assured Parliament that the Pathak Commission was being set up to investigate the claims put forward in the United Nations report. But here comes Kapil Sibal telling the world that they had actually known about Aneil Mathrani's revelations all along. This means that Dr Manmohan Singh had, to put it very politely, made a misleading statement. It also raises a huge question mark on the prime cinister's commitment to honesty in governance. If he did indeed known about Aneil Mathrani's statements, how on earth could he possibly have kept Natwar Singh on as minister without portfolio?

The question remains how much of all this the Congress party itself knew. I am willing to believe that Sonia Gandhi herself did not profit from any under-the-table deals in Baghdad, something that all her acolytes have been reiterating. That, however, is not the issue. The actual point she needs to answer is how much she knew about the companions who accompanied Natwar Singh on his trips.

Jagat Singh, Natwar Singh's son and currently a Congress MLA in the Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha, claims that he went in his capacity as a Youth Congress delegate. Is this true? The Youth Congress has offered a remarkably incoherent statement, and one honestly doesn't know what to make of it.

Aneil Mathrani, as noted earlier, was a Congress functionary not too long ago. Sonia Gandhi must have met him on occasion. (I think he appeared in television footage of Sonia Gandhi meeting foreign visitors back when she was Leader of the Opposition.) Did Sonia Gandhi talk to him about the scandal? Don't forget that Mathrani was in Delhi when the news broke about Natwar Singh's name appearing in the United Nations report's appendices. If Sonia Gandhi did speak to Mathrani, and he did tell her what he is now saying, how could she, as chairman of the United Progressive Alliance, permit Natwar Singh's continuance as a Cabinet minister?

But the largest question of all remains something else. When will we get both India's ruling party and the leading Opposition party to focus on issues of governance, rather than welter in muddy ponds of self-created recrimination?

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T V R Shenoy