The other day Rahul Gandhi made a “lofty” speech against corruption in the Lok Sabha and solemnly declared “we cannot wish away corruption by the mere desire to see it removed from our lives .This requires a comprehensive framework of action and a concerted political program supported by all levels of the state from the highest to the lowest. Most importantly, it requires firm political will”.

We need to analyse this grand declaration in the context of the political power that the Nehru-Gandhis and the Congress Party have wielded since independence and the promises  they made and failed to keep up, vis-à-vis governance and corruption. Right from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Nehru-Gandhis have always considered it their birth right to deliver such sermons and to lecture us on what all of us need to do.

Rahul Gandhi’s speech on the Lok Pal Bill and corruption must be seen in this context.

If you dissect this verbiage, you will realize how empty these pronouncements are. It is similar to the famous garibi hatao speeches delivered day in and day out by his grandmother, Indira Gandhi during the 1970s. In 1971, she won a massive mandate in a Lok Sabha election and within a year her Congress secured the mandate to rule in a majority of the states as well. But, instead of drawing up a blueprint to alleviate poverty, she would constantly exhort the millions of poor people who attended her meetings to “banish poverty”, as if they had a magic wand to do away with their misery. At meeting after meeting, her constant refrain was “we must banish poverty”, meaning thereby that the people had to find ways to come out of their misery.

It also amounted to shrugging the responsibility of the State in this regard, even though she had won a major electoral victory on the garibi hatao plank. Meanwhile, her government squandered scarce resources on loan melas conducted across the country by her sycophants. All public-sector banks were ordered to hold such bogus melas and distribute so-called “loans”, mostly to Congress Party supporters.

Needless to say, this policy had a deleterious effect on the fiscal well-being of public sector banks,  but this was never Mrs Gandhi’s concern. Eventually, some years after her tenure ended, people realized that the population below the poverty line had only ballooned during her tenure.

After Indira Gandhi, it was the turn of Rajiv Gandhi to indulge in such vacuous prose. When he became Prime Minister, he realized that his mother had not banished poverty. She had only bandied a slogan and the number of poor had only shot up during her years. The daunting task of poverty alleviation was now on Rajiv Gandhi’s shoulders. So, it was now his turn to indulge in rhetoric. Like his mother, he too began urging the people “to consider” and “to think” how “we” can banish poverty. His speeches famously began with the words “Hame Dekhna Hai” or “Hame Sochna Hai” (we must see, we must think). (Hame Dekhna Hai ki Hum Garibi ko kaise Mitaye). In other words, his government was clueless on how to tackle poverty and although he had been given a massive mandate (412 MPs in the Lok Sabha), the people had to think and act to end poverty. Initially, he too endeared himself to the people by claiming at a Congress Party session in Mumbai that power brokers were riding on the backs of poor Congress workers. With that speech, he gave an impression that he would clean
the Augean Stables. But, far from removing brokers, his government encouraged brokers and middlemen, some of whom were Italians like Ottavio Quattrochchi. Thereafter, we saw what middlemen did to our defence purchases, his reputation and to his lofty claim of tackling corruption and poverty.

It is now the turn of Rahul Gandhi to exhort and lecture us. His grandmother had once described corruption as “a global phenomenon”, meaning thereby that it was futile to even attempt to eradicate it.

Mr Gandhi does not say it in so many words, but he tells us that tackling corruption is a daunting task. It needs a “comprehensive framework of action” and “firm political will”. Since the Congress Party has run the Union Government for 51 years since independence and for seven years since 2004; since he is a General Secretary of the ruling party; and since members of his family have held the office of Prime Minister for 38 years since independence, do we then conclude that for over 50 years, the Congress Party has failed to draw up a comprehensive framework of action to fight corruption? Further, are we to take it that Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi did not exercise “firm political will” to root out corruption, even though the people had blessed them with massive mandates in Lok Sabha elections?

Now, hoping nobody in the country will remember all this, another member of the Nehru-Gandhi family has begun indulging in empty prose. In that same speech, he further said: “I believe that the real question before us …. is whether we are prepared to take the battle of corruption head on? …..There are no easy solutions. To eradicate corruption demands a far deeper engagement and sustained commitment from each of us”.

Here again Mr Gandhi asks rhetorically whether “we” are prepared to take the battle of corruption head on? What right does he have to throw such questions at other parties or the people. Instead, he ought to tell us why his family and his party hopelessly failed to deal with problem at these years..

Secondly, instead of nudging the government to establish an effective Lok Pal, which is the principle demand of the people across the country, Mr Gandhi has resorted to dilatory tactics by suggesting that the Lok Pal should be a constitutional authority like the Election Commission. Soon after his speech, some of his admirers, including a few who certainly know better, began claiming that Mr Gandhi had said something extraordinary and “lifted” the debate to an new level by suggesting that the Lok Pal be a constitutional authority. Mr Gandhi himself included in a bit of self praise when he told media after his speech that his suggestion that Lok Pal be a constitutional authority was a “game changer”!

Lest he get carried away by his own rhetoric, we need to remind Gandhi that several others, including some jurists and administrators have in the past suggested that the Lok Pal should be a constitutional body. Only a few years ago, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission appointed by this coalition and headed by Veerappa Moily had suggested that the Constitution be amended to appoint a three-member Rashtriya Lok Pal and to bring central ministers, MPs and even chief ministers within its ambit. The very same commission recommended that Citizens’Charters should be made effective and citizens should be involved in assessment and maintenance of ethics in important government institutions and offices.

If only the Manmohan Singh, which had appointed this commission had implemented these recommendations, the Anna Hazare movement would not have gained momentum at all. Finally, if only Rahul Gandhi had read the reports of this commission, he would not be claiming a patent over an idea suggested by someone else!