How to stay unblemished and pro-development

Narendra Modi’s war on nepotism and his efforts at inspiring bureaucrats set him apart. His career shows it’s possible to walk a different path in public life
Representational image
Representational imageExpress illustrations | Sourav Roy

Indira Gandhi had famously said, “Corruption is a global phenomenon.” Sadly, whenever the vexed issue of corruption figured prominently in our national discourse, people either avoided discussing it elaborately or tried to find an alibi to hide the real reason. There are very few who might have attempted to meet this menace head-on. Narendra Modi, arguably, is one such prime minister.

In his recent address to BJP’s national office-bearers in the capital, Modi referred to his 23-year-long tenure in leadership positions—as Gujarat chief minister and then as PM—as “aarop mukt and “vikas yukt(allegation-free and development-oriented).

This can be considered a statement of fact, as almost every predecessor of this prime minister have faced allegations of indulgence in corruption. It started with Jawaharlal Nehru. The Santhanam Committee in 1962, appointed by Lal Bahadur Shastri, pointed to the fact that ministers had enriched themselves illegitimately through nepotism.

The government of India tried its best to shield its ministers. V K Krishna Menon, the high commissioner to Britain in the late 1940s, bypassed protocol to sign a deal worth `80 lakh with a foreign firm for buying army jeeps. While most of the money was paid upfront, only a part of the contracted volume was supplied. But the likes of Krishna Menon were not pulled up.

Indira Gandhi’s tenure, too, was marred by allegations of corruption. Tulmohan Ram and Rustom Sohrab Nagarwala were two prominent scams during her tenure. Tulmohan Ram, a Congress MP, was indicted in a corruption case relating to issuance of licences from the then foreign trade ministry led by Lalit Narain Mishra, a minister who also faced allegations of corruption.

Later, Rajiv Gandhi’s five-year tenure became infamous for the Bofors case. Rajiv Gandhi was among those who were accused of receiving kickbacks estimated to be running into crores. When he was PM, Morarji Desai too faced allegations of protecting his son Kanti Desai, who was allegedly involved in financial irregularities.

During his five-year tenure, P V Narasimha Rao’s son Prabhakar Rao faced allegations of involvement in a ‘urea scam’. Although the CBI’s May 1996 chargesheet did not name him, it did mention his close relatives and associates.

Manmohan Singh’s tenure of 10 years was marked by possibly the highest number of scams. Some of the leaders who are now part of INDI Alliance had at that time alleged that realty major DLF had sweetened land and financial deals for Robert Vadra, Congress chief and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law, in exchange for favours from the Congress governments in Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan.

While Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure is counted as an exception, the tenures of other prime ministers including Charan Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Deve Gowda and I K Gujraal were too brief to be assessed on the count of corruption.

It is on this setting that Prime Minister Modi’s description of his tenure as ‘aarop muktand ‘vikas yuktmerits deeper analysis. There are two important aspects of his tenure. First, it is his refusal to compromise on the count of nepotism. Second, his assiduous efforts to motivate officialdom to become stakeholders in national development. These two aspects are remarkable among his overall strategic approaches.

PM Modi’s war on nepotism is not confined to his strong criticism of family-centric political parties. His criticism comes from the courage of conviction. There is a substantial body of evidence to suggest that family-centric parties are not just often bereft of ideology, but also of any distinctive policy approach.

Dynastic parties, generally speaking, lack the ability to add value to governance when in power. And most importantly, their cadres face an acute crisis of purpose all along. History shows that from the Telugu Desam to Shiv Sena and from the Akali Dal to Nationalist Congress, most family-centric parties have faced vertical divisions, further adding to fragmentation of our polity.

Recently in the Lok Sabha, PM Modi explained that multiple members of one family in a party is alright, but he opposes tooth and nail the phenomenon of one single family in total control of a political party.

This avowed opposition remains the foundation of his war on nepotism. PM Modi’s family members too have remained away from political power. Neither has the PM’s mother abandoned her spartan lifestyle and simple house, nor are his brothers anywhere close to the seat of power in a bid to serve their self-interest. This helps PM Modi acquire a kind of moral authority, superior to his political authority.

Such moral authority—something extremely rare in today’s society and politics—makes Modi stand apart. The prime minister’s war on nepotism has added to the clean character of his almost quarter-century career, prompting him to describe it as being free from allegations.

The other notable aspect—Modi’s ability to motivate government officials—also partly comes from the strength of the first factor, the war on nepotism. PM Modi has made relentless efforts to motivate babus to perform better and give results. While in Gujarat, Modi had started a Karmayogi training campaign, earnestly appealing to bureaucrats that they must not consider themselves as just karmacharis but as karmayogis.

The prime minister is known for his continued efforts to build rapport with various officials. His unique initiatives, like Chintan Shivir and Swanta Sukhay, were remarkable in their objective to ensure that officials put their hearts and minds in their assignments, taking complete ownership of the project.

The Modi government must also be credited for establishing the Capacity Building Commission of India, an independent body to take care of motivational, functional and skill training work for government officials. On the other hand, by aggressively pursuing the concept of lateral entry into bureaucracy, the prime minister gave a message that the government has other human resource options as well.

So when PM Modi describes his tenure as ‘aarop mukt’ and ‘vikas yukt’, there is abundant evidence on the ground to substantiate it. This also negates the established impression that it is a luxury to remain spotless and unblemished in public life. Some believe that only those who do nothing and remain passive are able to afford this luxury. PM Modi has rightly established that one can be proactive all along and still continue to be unblemished.

(Views are personal)

Vinay Sahasrabuddhe

President, ICCR, senior BJP leader


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