Domino theory haunts Congress
It is embarrassing enough for the Congress when a UPA ally looks into the barrel of the anti-corruption gun. Now, one after the other, serving and erstwhile Union ministers from the Congress are turning up in the crosshairs of civil rights activists and media exposes.
Salman Khurshid and Virbhadra Singh are the latest in a series of ministers that includes Subodh Kant Sahay and Sriprakash Jaiswal accused of graft.
The political price the Congress will have to pay will at least equal, if not exceed, the relative stature or clout of the leaders in question. In case of an ally, the party could always turn around and cite coalition dharma—the pathos of a virtuous party having to suffer its not-so-ethical partners in the national interest. Now that comforting veil is gone. Tearing at it are civil rights activists like Arvind Kejriwal—he has chosen issues concerning government corruption to establish his yet-to-be-born political party. The battle for 2014 is getting murkier—with the stink raised by Robert Vadra’s purported dealings with DLF—and it will be hard for the Congress to restore its pristine image crafted during UPA I. The results of this “negativity’’ may be evident soon enough. The Himachal and Gujarat polls are around the corner and at this rate, and if Sharad Pawar is to be believed, general elections may not be too far away.
The problem for the Congress is manifold. All three ministers under a cloud are significant players in the states they represent. The suave Khurshid, while not exactly being an electrifying mass leader, is seen as the party’s most high-profile face in Uttar Pradesh. It being alleged that an NGO, the Zakir Husain Memorial Trust run by the Khurshids (Salman is the chairman and his wife the project director) is active only on “forged’’ papers. The charge against Khurshid, if its sticks, looks to be potentially the most shaming of the lot—no wonder activist-politician Arvind Kejriwal has made it a cornerstone of his campaign against corruption in big places despite the small numbers involved.
The Union Law Minister and his wife Louise allegedly availed Central funds for the disabled—to the tune of Rs 68 lakh—on the basis of forged signatures of state government officials. That too, for disabled welfare camps ostensibly held by their trust that never took place.
But where was the irregularities first detected? At the Union Social Justice Ministry headed by another Congressman, Mukul Wasnik. After the initial flurry of charges, denial and defamation case threat from Khurshid, a CAG inspection report turned up in the media. According to the report, the expenses claimed to have been incurred by the trust on items like tricycles and hearing aids were distributed to the handicapped was falsified.