Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wikileaks and the 'cash for votes' scam: three simple reasons for the UPA to resign

The other day, The Hindu printed excerpts from leaked US diplomatic cables which report 'aide to Congress leader Satish Sharma showed a U.S. Embassy employee “two chests containing cash” he said was part of a bigger fund of Rs. 50 crore to Rs. 60 crore that the party had assembled to purchase the support of MPs.' The US is also implicated in this, but let's leave this for another day.


Congress's initial response was to point out that 'the Government elected is accountable to the 15th Lok Sabha and not the 14th Lok Sabha,' which is technically true but obviously ignores the point that the elections would certainly had been different had Congress gone into them after losing a no-confidence vote. Voters like winners. Then, when the first response didn't work, Manmohan Singh, our 'clean' PM, came out and said, all this was simply untrue.


Sorry, it's not working. Sure, maybe this would not stand up in court. Who cares? Politicians are accountable first to voters, not to judges. And no voter in his or her right mind doubts that there is something rotten very rotten in the current government. Not after all we've seen with the CWG, 2-G scams. Here are three simple reasons our PM needs to do the needful and step down--for our good and his.


1. Trust: The PM is claiming the charges are based on, " “speculative, unverified and unverifiable" communication. Maybe so. But does anyone doubt they are true, given the behavior of this government over the past few years? Nobody! The US government may lie in public, but why would they lie in private communications? By the way, the US ambassador at the time is not denying these reports.


2. Their own future: If the UPA holds on in the face of these allegations--given what we already have seen in the 2G and CWG scandals--how will they ever hold any other government accountable for corruption? This argument works for friends who fear the alternative to a UPA government. Yes, a BJP government would raise many problems. But if the UPA resigns now on principal and cleans house, it might be in a better position to win. And in the long run, do you really want to give a green light for corruption to any future governments? Letting the UPA II continue at this point really amounts to throwing up our hands and saying, 'we'll live with corruption.' 


3. Democracy--not oligarchy: It should be abundantly clear that the UPA got the go-ahead on the civil nuclear deal  only by directly subverting democracy, a terrifying thought given what we are seeing in Japan this week. We cannot forget: politicians are accountable first to voters, not to foreign countries or huge corporations.


When the UPA 'got away' with the initial 'cash for votes' scandal after the 2008  'nuclear no-confidence vote', it seems they learned the wrong lesson; it seems they learned corruption pays. Once they understood that, the 2G scam, the CWG fiasco, must have been just too tempting. 


It's time this government learned some new lessons: corruption may pay, but it pays the wrong people. And in the end, it's a risky business.

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