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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 10 New Delhi February 23, 2019

The Subversion of Systems is More Fatal than Scams

Sunday 24 February 2019, by Badri Raina

There is a rather thoughtless middle-class view that a scam is not a scam until there is a money trail that leads to some personal account or pocket.

Take two instances from recent American political history: in the infamous Watergate case, the crime committed was not related to pecuniary transaction from which the then President, Richard Nixon, benefited. The culpability pertained to a systemic subversion: Nixon had colluded in the bugging of the Democratic Convention.

Nixon had to go.

More contemporaneously, President Trump may or may not have had his fingers in any till, but the investigation concerns the probability that his campaign colluded with some foreign powers to degrade and vitiate the American electoral system.

And who knows what might happen to him as the investigations conducted by diverse branches of the American institutional structure come to a head.

Speaking of institutional structures, we in the Republic of India seem precisely to be witness to a dominant politics that seeks to either deprave their assigned constitutional functions or render them subordinate to a centralised Executive. In the Rafale case, for example, the demand for a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee is denied, and the only supervisory power that the Legislature has is thus rendered null.

But, to the contention itself: it is nobody’s case yet that the Numero Uno received any pecuniary bonanza personally from the eventual second deal which gave a hefty contract to a corporate who, on merit, had no credentials in the matter of the product contracted. The issue is, as is now being revealed, that systemic arrangements that had sole jurisdiction in negotiating the contract were rudely and unbeknown to their protagonists sidelined after years of hard interactions with a foreign manufacturer on flimsy grounds, “weakening” their “negotiating position” and giving advantage to the opposite number. More inexplicably, the proceedings came to result in the jettisoning of an indigenous processing and productive capacity and a wholly irrational and unjustifiable bonanza to a private player whose proximity to the Executive was visible.

Likewise, affairs related to a plethora of state agencies and autonomous institutions in the recent past have come incrementally to denote a culture of subversion that hollows out the systemic verities of the Republic. Pointless here to name them, since the contentions now everyday occupy both media and public attention.

If voices are heard, however gingerly, that a danger that far exceeds mere money corruption—something that must seem endemic to any political order grounded in profit-making—the concern underscores a more far-reaching eventuality, one that relates to the constitutional arrangements of the Republic. It may thus be pusillanimous of media channels to be flogging a conventional notion of corruption in the situation in which we find ourselves. Whether or not this is being done per habit or with a view to deflecting attention from the more momentous dynamic is of course for the channels and their owners to cogitate.

The coming general elections are thus no routine democratic exercise. Issues of grave import inform both the lead-up to it and to what results it may furnish.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012. Thereafter he wrote two more books, Idea of India Hard to Beat: Republic Resilient and Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters.

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