Do as we say, not as we do, is as close to a guiding principle as politics currently has in this country. But even by those less than exacting standards, the manner in which the Congress has gone about squashing the investigation into the Adarsh Housing Society scam is unconscionable. And this at a time when Rahul Gandhi is attempting a late surge on the corruption issue, doing his best to take ownership of the Lokpal Bill and decrying political venality to India Inc. The conflicting message is a stark display of cynicism that the Congress cannot afford this close to the 2014 elections.
The Congress-NCP combine in Maharashtra has offered two justifications — such as they are — for rejecting the JA Patil Commission Report. Neither holds any water. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan would have the public believe that the rejection by the Cabinet was a decision taken “in the interest of the people”. What those interests are and how they were served by shelving an inquiry carried out over a period of nearly two years remains a mystery. He has also claimed that the report found the land on which the society was constructed to belong to the government, not the Ministry of Defence, and not to be reserved for Kargil martyrs or war veterans. His argument is both correct and irrelevant.
The question of whom exactly the land belonged to was always just one of the issues under investigation. The report also lists a serious of serious transgressions at every stage of the Adarsh Society’s procurement of clearances, construction and allotment of flats. And it indicts four former Congress Chief Ministers; most strongly, Ashok Chavan, who had to resign in 2010 as a result of the scandal breaking and now seems to be well on the way to rehabilitation. Chavan — accused by the CBI of increasing the floor space index of the society as quid pro quo for having flats allocated to three relatives — was also shielded by Maharashtra Governor K Sankaranarayanan who refused sanction to the agency to prosecute him last week. When Prithviraj Chavan now picks one facet of the report’s findings and touts it as vindication, he is doing little more than attempting a smokescreen, and a clumsy one at that.
On the surface of it, this is a measure of the Congress’s increasing desperation. After the abject defeats it suffered in the Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh assembly polls, it is scrambling to regroup in time for general elections. The Congress think tank plainly sees Ashok Chavan as an asset in that context — heir to his father’s political legacy and a candidate for a Maratha leader when the party is in sore need of them — and thus worth protecting. But this also signifies a deeper problem; an inertia of arrogance and stale political strategies that the Congress has been unable to shake off despite its recent drubbings.
When state Congress spokesman Sachin Sawant says, “If the government thinks the finding of the judicial panel appointed by it are not correct then the government is very much within its Constitutional rights to do so,” he encapsulates this problem neatly. This is precisely the kind of arrogance, dismissing the right of the voting public to hold the government to account for misgovernance and corruption, that cost the Congress those states. The political cost of now shielding Ashok Chavan and the others is likelier to be far higher than any potential benefit. Rahul Gandhi has talked a good game this past week. It’s time for him to walk the talk.