WILL ACCOUNTABILITY REACH SONIA & RAHUL?

Geopolitical notes from India

M D Nalapat

Friday, August 08, 2014 – In 1947,the Subcontinent finally got freed of control from afar, with the new state of Pakistan coming into existence and Burma, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Afghanistan each going their separate way. While China was unified by Mao Zedong, the Subcontinent of India became a divided entity, and in time, each segment developed its own chemistry and ethos, separate from that of the rest. These days, any visitor to a South Asian country will sense that it is different from the others in the group. In particular,Pakistan has evolved over the years into a culturally distinct entity that has less and less in common with India, no matter what the sentimental individuals who annually light candles at the Wagah border crossing.

However, while the chemistry between SAARC member-states may be evolving on different trajectories, there is a bigger reality, and that is the extent of globalisation which is taking place. These days, young people in India, Pakistan, Bangla Desh, Sri Lanka or elsewhere in the region seek to gain admission in colleges and universities across the globe, rather than simply in their own countries. The fact is that demographics in Europe and Japan will ensure that many of the positions which otherwise would remain unfilled in them because of an ageing population will get taken by educated and trained migrants from within SAARC.

In India, should the Modi government begin training its young in Portuguese, Spanish and Japanese, citizens from India may get a head start in moving to Brazil, Argentina, Japan and other countries where trained human power is essential. There are schools in Brazil without teachers, hospitals without nurses, and companies lacking engineers. This void can get filled from India, should the young in the worlds most populous democracy be given opportunities to learn Portuguese, the language in which government and much else gets conducted in Brazil.

Unfortunately for its people, successive governments in India have failed to take advantage of international opportunities for migration, and thereby ensured that the people of India lagged far behind others. An example is the UK. During the two decades when it was relatively simple to move to that country, Jawaharlal Nehru and his successor Indira Gandhi made it very difficult for citizens to even get a passport, much less travel to another country with funds sufficient to enable them tosearch for a job. As a consequence, those from Pakistan got the edge in migration to the UK, despite the fact that India has a mch bigger population. Since the 1990s, after it has become clear that countries in Europe, South America and even Africa have vast opportunities for trained human power, no effort has been made by the state to ensure that language skills designed to give citizens of India an edge in locating jobs in specific higher-wage countries get imparted. The expectation is that these decades of neglect will get reversed, now that a practical, pragmatic Prime Minister has taken office in Delhi on May 6,2014.

Narendra Modi is the first citizen of India from the “backward castes” to become the Prime Minister. While Mahatma Gandhi constantly spoke of the poor and the disadvantaged, he chose a high-born person from an affluent family as India’s first Prime Minister. The new PM and his ministers promptly moved into the palatial residences and offices vacated by the departing English, and continued the tradition of VVIP culture which had been a feature of colonial times. Since then, VVIPs in India are in effect a breed apart from the rest of their country persons. They have special privileges at every stage and every hour of their lives, and very often completely escape accountability for their misdeeds. The culture within the VVIP establishment is to protect each other, so that the monopoly of power and access to loot continue.

The most privileged has been Sonia Gandhi, who has been indulged by every Prime Minister of India since Indira Gandhi, even by those she worked hard to destroy, such as P V Narasimha Rao (1992-96). The previous National Democratic Alliance government (led by Atal Behari Vajpayee) showed extraordinary solicitude towards Sonia Gandhi, who was treated by Vajpayee as a favourite daughter and protected from accountability with fierce loyalty. In this,Vajpayee was assisted by his National Security Advisor Braesh Mishra,who ensured that the Congress President was given every protection and privilege she demanded

Which is why it came as a surprise a week ago when a magistrate ordered both Sonia Gandhi as well as her son Rahul to appear before her on a charge of cheating and breach of trust (sections 420 and 406 of the Indian Penal Code). Fortunately for the two VVIPs, the High Court has ruled that for the moment, neither needs to appear in court the way lesser citizens do.

On August 12 the next hearing in the matter will resume. Will the High Court free Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi of making an appearance in court and facing charges brought against them by a private individual, Subramanian Swamy, or will it rule that the two VVIPs will have to trod the same path that less privileged mortals routinely do? The “National Herald” matter is serious, as it involves the transfer of assets worth several hundreds of millions of dollars to a company of which 76% is owned by Sonia and Rahul. The country is waiting to see if accountability has finally reached the shores of the super powerful, or whether the principle will once again beat a retreat before the powerful, the way it has for so many decades.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

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