This year must be an exception. The annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, CAG, on the accounts of the Central government has rocked the country so hard that it has already caused a Union minister’s head to roll. For years, the CAG’s annual report, both of the Central government accounts as well as those of the states, have had been reduced to a dreary and indeed oppressive official formality, with no action worth the name ever taken on its findings. We hope what is happening in New Delhi now, where telecom minister, A Raja was dropped from the ministry over the charge of an unimaginable scale of corruption in distributing licenses for 2G telecommunication spectrum, involving an estimated astronomical sum of Rs. 1.76 lakh crore, will set the right precedent in the fight against corruption everywhere, including in obscure peripheral states like Manipur. We also hope that the CAG, which is in the midst of a celebration of its 150th year in service, is taken seriously henceforth. Power needs to be checked and balanced, for it is an acknowledged truism that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
One other thing is obvious. The CAG report this year too probably would have come and gone without seeing any tangible action had it not been for the media which went for the jugular of those the report indicted. So vehement have the media attacks been that there are some who think, and with a measure of justification too, that the Indian media today has become a kangaroo court of sorts. Whatever the drawbacks, this time at least, the hammer has hit the nail right on the head, and the CAG’s report has virtually been a bombshell, unsettling deeply ensconced corruption within the Indian establishment. What we hope now is that the same report of the Manipur government will be taken equally seriously and corrective action taken to the extent that we saw in the case of the Centre, and in the years ahead, the institution would become an effective corruption inhibitor in the corridors of power. Nothing has been able to check corruption in the state so far for every institution meant to do this which were set up by the government ultimately ended up appropriated, and more often with enthusiastic willingness, into the corrupt system. Only an autonomous institution like the CAG is capable of making the difference, and we hope it is beginning to do just this.
But the telecom scandal exposed by the CAG has much deeper implications than the mere fact of corruption. Already much is beginning to be made of the fact that Raja is a scheduled caste, and a Hindustan Times editorial today even went ahead and remarked on the need to return to meritocracy, thus also making a disguised jab at the reservation system, among others. While this would amount to throwing the baby with the bathwater, what is pertinent is the manner in which a powerful dalit like Raja abandoned the cause of social justice and instead made personal aggrandisement his sole objective once in power. This is not just a question of lost opportunity for the downtrodden scheduled caste communities in India, but worse than this is the extremely unfavourable impression created of the entire noble project of positive discrimination followed in the country. Raja has handed over very potent ammunition to opponents of these measures. He has made it appear dalit elites are as much the perpetrators of social injustice and oppression, absolving in the process much of the guilt that should rightly be shouldered by the very structure of Indian social constitution which is essentially discriminatory against dalits. Social discrimination by this logic would be reduced to a simplistic and universal economic statement where rich and power oppress the poor and weak, and little to do with a caste system which makes racial discriminations against people not for any economic reason but by the fact of belonging to communities graded low on a caste hierarchy. Raja’s crime in this sense is not just of corruption, but of derailing and debunking to a great extent the case for the continued pursuit of policies aimed at bringing social justice to those discriminated and literally dehumanised for aeons under an oppressive system.