Wake Up Singh: An Open Letter To A Sleepy Statesman

It takes more than two to tango?

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

If you are not as big a culprit as you are made out to be, then would you enlighten us as to how small you are? What exactly was the reason that prompted you to meet with this huddled group of television channel editors to clear the air when some of the scams have to do with the media’s tacit involvement?

You need to address the nation and for that you could have chosen a proper location, held a public meeting and then let the newspapers and TV channels cover it and we would have the right to choose where we get our news. This was a PR exercise, not a genuine attempt to help Indian citizens know the truth. I understand that it was all fixed; the questions were stage-managed. As the head of government you are not answerable to the media and by doing so both you and our news sources have lost further credibility.

Now let us discuss one of the most important points you made and that was regarding coalition politics – you blamed it for the compromises your government has made: “You have to put up with a lot if you are running a coalition. Otherwise, you will have to hold elections every six months, which will not be a very happy situation either.”

This is a pathetic comment coming from the prime minister. A coalition gets together not because all the parties agree on every issue, but because there is a need to add up the figures and reach the holy grail of running the government. There is a barter system and portfolios are handed out according to demand and expediency. You know a party’s strong points, its important contenders and accordingly they are given the ministries. There is compromise inbuilt in this sort of horse-trading. But, there is no choice because the days of one-party rule are over. Seeing this as some kind of political dynamism, the leadership ought to use the strengths of the parties rather than hold them responsible for the crimes that are committed.

You are the head of this coalition and are supposed to know who is doing what, at least at the top level. This chickening out is a terrible letdown and reeks of opportunism on your part, something no one will ever accuse you of because you are a master of the cloak-and-dagger game.

How conveniently you blame the finance ministry and the departments of telecom and space for the spectrum/S-Band deals. You don’t even need to work it out because it appears self-evident. Then, what exactly is your role? It is only when the issues have gone beyond what is considered normal public memory have you come out in the open. How open is it really? The mammoth nature of corruption is just a “mistake” on your part? All these scams involve people in major positions, they involve bureaucrats, they involve industrial houses, and they involve what might also be security forces at some level. And what solution do you have? You said that after the Budget session you will reshuffle the cabinet.

The Budget session will involve the finance ministry that you have just blamed for impropriety. So, who will manage that? The same culprits? What will the reshuffle entail? This is the sneakiest thing governments do when they want to hush up the matter – just make those culpable invisible, let them cool their heels somewhere or go underground, bring in ‘fresh blood’, or a few from the old order that are ostensibly untainted, and make sure the carpet is thick enough not to let any dust escape.

However, what will you do about the constraints of coalition politics? Surely, you cannot dump some prime players because they prop up the Congress. How will you perform the balancing act? If they are forced to quit, then the coalition becomes weak, instead of weak-kneed as it now is. It is convenient to blame your partners on the choice of ministers, but how can you even suggest that you did not imagine a “serious wrong had been done”?

May we know what according to you a serious wrong is? Weren’t the Commonwealth Games a Congress show? Why was no action taken against the apathy and avarice? Regarding Devas, how can you say that letters were exchanged but there were no assurances given? Why were letters exchanged without a thorough examination? Can any such correspondence infiltrate the major ministries without any motive?

It does not make anyone in the country proud that the prime minister has to defend such deeds. If the coalition is to blame, then why did you not invite those under the radar to join you in this meeting? As we say in Hindi, “Doodh ka doodh aur paani ka paani ho jaata” (We’d be able to tell milk from water and the level of adulteration). Now you are using the way out with the acceptance of ‘responsibility’. This will make you seem like a statesman, even a martyr. Let us cut it out. You are not accepting responsibility for the acts committed but for not knowing about these “aberrations”. It is this bad.

I hope you know that most of India is in India and not for foreign consumption and our global image you are so concerned about. You want to sell some hollow dreams of how we can be seen as an economic power; interestingly, all the major scams have to do with such visible sectors. You say, “We have not lost the will for reform. Reforms will be visible in the Budget. We will also bring more legislation.”

What is more legislation? What about social reform and answerability? You are only giving more teeth to the ones who bite, not the ones who are bitten.

You want to stay the course despite ethical and governance deficit. You will camouflage this as a means of retaining stability. The UPA is unstable not because it is a coalition but despite it. You, Gulliver, are roaming free by reassuring the Lilliputians. It’s been a while since you were washed ashore unconscious. Isn’t it time to wake up?

(c) Farzana Versey

Published in Countercurrents