Posted by: John Elliott | February 6, 2012

Government “in blundering retreat ” on corruption crisis

Rahul Gandhi emerges as Manmohan Singh declines

India’s endemic corruption is demolishing the credibility of its Congress-led coalition government and threatening prime minister Manmohan Singh with an inglorious end to a long career as an economist, bureaucrat and politician. This not because new corruption cases are emerging (though some are and there are plenty in the locker), nor of course that the prime minister is himself corrupt. The problem is that wide-ranging current cases are exposing how he has failed to exert his authority.

Meanwhile in Uttar Pradesh (UP), a battle is being fought not only for which party runs the massive state after current assembly elections, but for the credibility of the Gandhi dynasty whose leader-in-waiting, Rahul Gandhi, is staking his embryonic political reputation on changing the crime and corruption-wracked state.

These then are the contrasting faces of Congress and India’s political leadership – a tired crisis-ridden national government led by a prime minister who is 80 this year, and an heir-apparent to the ruling dynasty who is little more than half his age at 41. The prime minister does not seem to want to resign for having failed, and would like to hang on till he gives way to the crown prince , but the prince shows no sign of wanting to move in to the prime minister’s office.

“I have no aspirations to become prime minister,” Gandhi said (left) at a nationally-televised press conference on the UP election trail this morning – an obvious line for him to take, but it could well be true.

Gandhi did however emerge this morning as a viable political future leader, full of much more strength and self confidence than he has shown in the past – though he did not produce any detailed policies for UP. Nor did he say how he would fulfil what he described as his “mission” to the state and try to solve its problems – would he for example risk his political reputation by taking on the extremely tough job of chief minister if he were in a position to do so?

The prime minister (below) must have been tempted to respond to the country’s anti-corruption mood and resign last Thursday when the Supreme Court cancelled 122 telecom licences  that have become the subject of a far-reaching corruption scandal since they were issued in January 2008.

That must have been the worst day of his long career. He knew that he could have stopped the rot  some four years ago but had not done so because the Congress Party, led by Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi, did not want to upset its coalition partner, the DMK party, whose nominee, A.Raja, was telecom minister.

Then, on Saturday, a lower court dismissed a criminal conspiracy case brought against Palaniappan Chidambaram, the home minister, for failing when he was finance minister in 2008 to stop Raja’s business friends from making massive profits by selling shares in the licences to Telenor of Norway and other foreign telecom companies.

That judgement is likely to be appealed. If Chidambaram were eventually found legally culpable for failing to stop Raja, the prime minister would be next in line for blame, along maybe with other cabinet ministers. There was speculation last week that Chidambaram would have resigned if the court had not dismissed the case, and that would inevitably have made the prime minister vulnerable.

Meanwhile Raja has been in jail for a year – the anniversary was on February 2. That itself (along with jailing of officials involved in 2010 Commonwealth Games contracts) is a mark of progress because no politician has been jailed for corruption for so long.

Raja in jail UPA in handcuffs” ran a front page headline in yesterday’s Indian Express on a column written by Shekhar Gupta, the paper’s editor. On the handling of the 2G scam, he wrote that the government is “in blundering retreat from one indefensible position to another, much in the fashion of our army against the Chinese in 1962″ – a cruelly damning line given that the 1962 defeat is probably India’s biggest post-independence humiliation.

The government is blundering on other fronts, often with a corruption angle. It is having an almost unbelievable confrontation with the chief of army staff over the year he was born (often not clearly recorded in India). That could have been resolved a long time ago but has been running through the headlines for weeks, culminating in General V.K.Singh, who has upset some fellow generals by tackling army corruption, getting Supreme Court support last week.

The government has also mis-managed a controversy over alleged corruption on a foreign contract in India’s space agency (ISRO). The extent of corruption was further illustrated by a report that, improbable as it might seem in the current climate, an official charged with corruption is a candidate to become chairman of government-owned Coal India.

There was also a corruption allegation last week from Canada involving Praful Patel, India’s former aviation minister (now heavy industries minister) who has been widely criticised for his handling of ailing Air India. It was alleged that he was to receive a $250,000 bribe for a proposed $100m Air India contract. This was quickly denied by Patel and disowned by a Canadian journalist involved in reporting the allegations.

British aid row over jet order

The only good news last week was that India virtually decided remarkably quickly on a $10bn-$18bn contract for 126 Indian Air Force fighter jets – with it seems no major corruption. The government is to start final negotiations for Dassault of France’s Rafale fighter, which I hear has been priced 6% below its rival, a German and British-led European consortium’s Typhoon. That has triggered annoyance in the UK and sparked an argument over the value of the country’s £266m ($425m) annual aid to India if it does not help to win such orders.

There have also been suggestions that India’s pay-off will be French help on nuclear energy projects – an inducement that does not fall under the tag “corruption”.


  1. […] Gandhi had a good election campaign in terms of personal image because he developed, during some 200 meetings, into a powerful speaker (as I noted here a month ago). […]

  2. The comments below are from The Independent (UK) newspaper website where this post also appears

    Because of the widespread systemic corruption, India will always remain the “wanna be” superpower.
    Sure they have a few well established, industrialist families, but a few rich families don’t make a superpower.

    Retired English doctor with long experience on developing countries.
    The 3Cs of modern India, Caste, Corruption and Carelessness, in action once again!
    Only western liberals, who of course have never been there, assumed that any effort would be taken against corruption in India. The ‘anti-corruption’ movement, so heavily supported by the utterly corrupt BJP, actually represented a protest against prolonged absence from the public trough!
    “The good news last week was that India decided remarkably quickly on a $10bn-$18bn contract for 126 Indian Air Force fighter jets – with it seems no major corruption”
    The triumph of hope over experience and delusional!
    “The government is to start final negotiations for Dassault of France’s Rafale fighter, which I hear has been priced 6% below its rival”
    That would be 6% below rivals for the Government books, with the extra 10% being paid into those bulging accounts in Dubai!

    The CONgress party has been without credibility for a long time. It’s only that they keep trying to reinvent credibility for themselves by buying positive media coverage from India’s very rentable press media, even as they lurch from one scam to the next.

  3. And our Home Minister had the guts to say at Davos last year that FIIs were more worried about inflation than Corruption in full International media glare

  4. I thought that John has understood the politics here but article seems to be written by novice. Come on John !
    All know why manmohan is there and what for sonia is waiting ?
    In UP, the charming prince will learn his first lesson. And guess what?
    Being in news does not help in getting votes.
    with regards

  5. Congratulations! on the Elephant hitting Big. It certainly comes well deserved.
    I was pretty impressed by Rahul Gandhi’s press conference. I do not share the Express’s sentiment about the beleaguered government headed by Manmohan Singh. No one can or should wish away or condone what has happened but also not ignore how the BJP/RSS have successfully held the government to ransom for the last three years, often on specious propaganda only because it could jell around real and serious acts of omission and commission by the government. Perhaps good opposition but how responsible?
    Ever since I could think for myself ( born early 50s) outside the immediate family I have grown to be suspicious of the RSS not just as an organization but as a sub culture of the upper caste Hindu and in my case as one coming from the core of the Gangetic basin . To illustrate it may suffice to say that when I was perhaps five years old and when I could not have had any notion of what a Muslim is, and yet I ‘knew’, as the cultural environment of my birth spoke loud and clear that this was a specimen which slept with it’s eyes open and did not take bath and was dirty. Many years later when I saw the film “Mississippi Burning” I heard the exact same sentiment expressed about the African Americans by one of the members (of the Klux Klux clan) advocating white supremacy, only that it was uttered in English. To me this chance occurrence stands out as uncanny universality of sameness about the sentiment and syntax of hate and prejudice.
    This kind of explains my admiration for the Mahatma, the one and only Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who in his own disarming ways exposed layer by layer the hypocrisy inherent in the caste Hindus. GANDHI HAD TO GO.
    Today when I see some ‘worldly babas’, an uncertain Gandhian, and a wily Swamy gang up I cannot help thinking that the RSS is the conductor of this orchestra. I maybe wrong about this one but I am pretty sure that the culpability of the government will be decisively adjudicated by the common sense of the ordinary people of India which fortunately consists of so much more and diverse than what the caste Hindus would wish for.
    High time we the people stopped harping about the wisdom of India and urgently do something to arrest the systematic and even programmatic triumph of cunning and wile over wisdom. Are we prepared to liberate wisdom from its proverbial ‘Babylonian’ captivity? Symptomatic treatments will simply not work. Till that happens some of us may have the following epitaph:
    “Seeped in Hypocrisy
    Bred on perpetuation
    Educated in illusion. Living in Denial
    Thus we rest. (That of course is wishful thinking! Remember Karma?)


  6. India’s corruption is not new that only happened in Manmohan Singh’s govt. It has been going on for a long time since Mrs. Gandhi became prime minister in mid 1960’s. These cases have received huge publicity because of explosion of electronic and print media in the last 10 years. Corruption is so endemic that it takes place in every state, district, city and even village in police, govt. offices, educational institutions, religious places, sports, railways and businesses. Actually businesses are the most corrupt.

  7. Rahul is not rising because of the decline of Man Mohan Singh. He is kept in chair by Sonia for her son to prove a Prime Ministerial material. But Rahul is big a duffer as Sonia. M M Singh is an Economist Bureucrat and not a leader. This Trimurti is a burden for India who are imposed on Informed Indians (But not voting. Otherwise also it will make little difference to final outcome in election) by uninformed VOTING Indians.

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