Chowkidars and Chors

By Ashwin Tombat
24 March 2019 20:03 IST

Congress President Rahul Gandhi has coined a sharp election slogan. “Chowkidar Chor Hai,” is a phrase he has used in public meetings all over the country since September last year. The reference is obvious. Narendra Modi, during his 2014 election campaign, had said he wanted to be the country’s ‘Chowkidar’.

Rahul’s slogan is not new. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) previous avatar, the Jana Sangh, used it against Mrs Indira Gandhi when she was the Prime Minister, in the 1970s. The BJP itself repeated it when the late Rajiv Gandhi sought re-election in 1989.

Now, the BJP is getting a taste of its own medicine.

In 2014, the Indian people were promised ‘Achhe Din’. The people’s anger at blatant corruption in the Congress-led UPA government brought in a BJP-led government with a clear majority. Unfortunately, since then, people’s perception is that corruption has not reduced.  

Chor’ he may not be, but the fact is that Mr Modi’s ‘chowkidari’ has been found wanting. High-profile corruption cases being pursued by central investigation agencies are, quite openly, political weapons. It has to do with timing.

Take the latest controversy in Kolkata, where Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sat on a dramatic dharna. The CBI’s Saradha Chit Fund investigation was ordered by the Supreme Court in 2014. For four years, the investigation remained in a coma. Big names linked to the scam, like the Trinamool Congress’s Mukul Roy, and the Congress’s Hemanta Biswa Sarma, crossed over to the BJP and were instantly absolved of all corruption allegations. But come election season, the case files were dusted, opened, and 40 CBI officers were despatched to ‘question’ Kolkata’s Police Commissioner…

Robert Vadra, Priyanka Gandhi’s businessman-husband — the ‘Damaad-ji’ of Narendra Modi’s 2014 election campaign — has been involved in some very questionable land deals. Haryana and Rajasthan, the states where Vadra made these contentious deals, had BJP governments for years. But neither state brought any clinching case against the ‘damaad’. The present allegations of links with arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari and benami property in London are from 2016. What were the investigation agencies doing for over two years? The timing of the Vadra interrogation is clearly linked to the entry of Priyanka Gandhi into electoral politics.

On 25 January 2019, just days before a prestigious by-election in Jind, the CBI booked former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda for alleged cheating and corruption in land acquisition from farmers in Gurgaon when he was CM. Once again, the agency showed impeccable election-oriented timing!

This year, Uttar Pradesh arch-rivals Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) declared an alliance for the Lok Sabha elections. Just a week before the tie-up was announced, the CBI launched raids across UP over allegations of illegal mining of minor minerals in Hamirpur between 2012 and 2016, when the SP was in government. It was on a 2016 order of the Allahabad High Court that the CBI had launched a probe into alleged illegal mining in UP.

In January 2019, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raided seven locations in Lucknow in connection with the alleged ‘memorial scam’; alleged money laundering by the Mayawati-led BSP government in its mad rush to build memorials. The ED had registered the case in January 2014…

In August 2018, during the lead-up to crucial assembly elections in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh, the name of Congress Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat, Ahmed Patel, was linked to the Sterling Biotech loan default and money-laundering case for a second time. Earlier, Patel’s name had cropped up after an ED raid against the Sterling Group in August 2017. This was just a week after the Gujarat Congress flew 42 of its MLAs to Karnataka amid fears of horse-trading ahead of a tightly contested Rajya Sabha election in the Gujarat Legislative Assembly, which Ahmed Patel ultimately won on a technicality.  

Chowkidari can’t be part-time. Fighting corruption should not be a pure election-time publicity exercise. Regrettably, that is what it has become under the present central government.

(Originally published on Sunday 17 February 2019, in 'Lokmat')

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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