Power has become only yardstick of political integrity

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By Jug Suraiya

In a political climate increasingly polluted by scams, a debate has arisen about the honesty of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Prime Minister’s supporters extol his much-vaunted personal honesty as though it were some sort of magical talisman, which will ward off the evil influence of the all-pervasive corruption, which bedevils not only the Congress-led UPA but also the BJP and other political formations. Man-mohan Singh is often proclaimed by his fans as being a singular rock of honesty in a treacherous sea of dishonesty.

The Prime Minister’s critics, on the other hand, ask how this much-lauded honesty can survive contamination by association with indicted scamsters like former Telecom Minister A. Raja. A man is known by the company he keeps. Which in this case is another way of saying how “honest” can an honest man be if he willfully turns a blind eye to the dishonesty of his associates? You might be an honest person yourself. But if you see me commit a crime and don’t report it, what good — how honest — is your honesty?

This debate needs to be enlarged so as to go beyond its limited reference to a single individual. Never mind how honest or otherwise Manmohan Singh is said to be. What exactly is honesty and what role does it play in political life today?

The prospect of an honest politician is like a tantalizing mirage in a parched desert of thirst. The taint of corruption that infects all spheres of public life, starting with the political, is seen as the single biggest internal threat to India’s success story, more than lack of infrastructure or any other bottleneck. But though they are its most visible symptoms, graft and bribery are not the only manifestations of dishonesty.

While economic dishonesty is relatively easy to spot, as our scams show, ideological dishonesty is less easy to detect but is equally, if not more, ruinous for the country. Economic dishonesty can lead to financial bankruptcy; ideological dishonesty leads to moral bankruptcy.

The graft that we see in public life today, and which is common to all political parties, reflects this ideological dishonesty. Whether it is the so-called Left in Bengal, which unleashed a reign of terror on small farmers unwilling to surrender their land and way of life to capitalist industry, or the Congress which in the name of secularism and aam admi exploits and further entrenches captive vote banks, or the BJP, which hails Narendra Modi’s resurgent Gujarat even as it seeks to sweep the carnage of the post-Godhra riots under the carpet of economic progress — all political parties and groups in India are suffering from a serious credibility deficit.

The only ideology in evidence today is the ideology common to all parties across the political spectrum: somehow, anyhow, get and retain power. In such a situation, what does political “honesty” mean? If gaining power is the first goal of politics, political honesty, or integrity, implies one’s aptitude in achieving those goals. It’s a Catch-22 situation. There is not much point having a political ideology if you do not have the power to implement it. But having got the power to implement it, you might find that its implementation could jeopardize your power, without which your ideology is useless in any case. The solution? Simple. Junk the ideology and hang on to power. Maybe one day you’ll be able to revive your ideological beliefs and implement them. Then again, maybe not.

That is the honest truth of political “honesty” in today’s India. In a situation in which honesty is the best power policy, Manmohan Singh, widely seen as the least “powerful” Prime Minister the country has ever had — should be deemed to be politically “dishonest.” If there were more such “dishonest” — read “less power hungry” — politicians around, the country might benefit as a result. Honestly.

Courtesy: The Times of India

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