An arsenal of political allegations

Retired IAS officer Vivek K. Agnihotri, a former secretary-general, Rajya Sabha, mulls over aspects of governance just after the Emergency and today

If Dickens were alive today and in India, he would be smiling like a Cheshire cat and muttering, under his breath, of course, ''What the Dickens! What the Dickens!'' 

Because in 2015, as we celebrate 200th anniversaries of the Battle of Waterloo and Charles Dickens' family moving to London, we are indeed living in the best of times and the worst of times.  Some consider it as a spring of hope, but others are convinced that the winter of despair is not far behind.

Allegations and counter-allegations are flying thick and fast, all around us.  While the past regime has been hopelessly cornered, the new one, after raising high hopes, has got mired in several controversies; the latest among them being the episode various described as Lalitasana / Raga Lalit / Lalitgate. 

And, this is when we thought we had woken up in the heaven of freedom, leaving the '-gated' community far behind.  One uncanny observer has described it as 'women-gate', as suddenly four prominent women politicians are allegedly involved in various - some common and others differentiated - imbroglios.

Of course, as is to be expected, skeletons are tumbling out of cupboards kept so far safely locked in the corridors of power.  There has been a spate of cases being filed against the high-and-mighty for corruption, causing wrongful loss to the state, accumulation of assets in excess of known sources of income, misuse of office, so on and so forth.

In June 2015, the Enforcement Directorate registered two 'enforcement case information reports' (ECIRs) under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) against Chhagan Bhujal, the NCP leader, suspecting illegal transactions to the tune of Rs900 crore in all.  It has been reported that the Enforcement Directorate has simultaneously conducted searches at multiple locations pertaining to the former Minister of Maharashtra.

On 17 June 2015, the CBI registered an FIR against former union textile minister Shankarsinh Vaghela, and others in connection with an irregular land transfer of prime mill land in Mumbai to a private developer that allegedly led to a loss of around Rs709.27 crore to NTC.

On 18 June 2015, the CBI registered a preliminary enquiry (PE) against Virbhadra Singh, chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, to probe disproportionate assets acquired by the former minister of steel, government of India, and his family members. 

FIRs have been filed the Lokayukta of Karnataka against two former chief ministers - B S Yeddyurappa and H D Kumaraswamy - belonging to two different parties opposed to each other, in a land scam relating to denotification of a prime plot to benefit Kumaraswamy's relative.

Amidst all these revelations, with Delphic as well as Orwellian prescience, came former NDA-1 home minister Lal Krishna Advani stating that the country's political system had still not come to terms with the Emergency of 1975. 

Since the imposition of Emergency during 1975-77, ''I don't think anything has been done that gives me the assurance that civil liberties will not be suspended or destroyed again.  Not at all,'' Advani told an English daily.

''Of course, no one can do it easily.  But that it cannot happen again - I will not say that.  It could be that fundamental liberties are curtailed again,'' he added.

A case in point, which prophetically came to light a little after  Advani's observations, is questioning the loyalty of the Rajya Sabha TV channel on the ground that it did not give adequate coverage to the Rajpath event on the World Yoga Day. 

The channel authorities, of course, responded by stating: ''We are not obliged to be the mouthpiece of the government.'' 

Earlier a BJP general secretary had questioned the absence of the vice president of India and the chairman Rajya Sabha at the same event, irrespective of the fact that he had not been invited.

Observing this amalgam of events in a kaleidoscopic whirl, my mind went back in time to the year 1977, when in a major turn of events, the ruling Congress lost control of India. 

The hurriedly put together Janata alliance of parties opposed to the ruling Congress party, for the first time in independent India, came to power winning 298 out of 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Parliament of India. 

Morarji Desai was chosen as the leader of the alliance in the newly formed Parliament and thus became India's first non-Congress prime minister on 24 March 1977. The chaotic scenario was somewhat similar to the Indian government, immediately after Independence. 

This new ruling party had no trust in the existing system and was eager to expose the misdeeds of the party which they had uprooted, for the first time in the past three decades.  It is another matter that the dream of heaven did not lost very long.  Will it happen again?

Be that as it may, the Morarji Desai government proceeded to establish inquiry commissions and tribunals to investigate allegations of corruption and human rights abuses by members of Indira Gandhi's government, the Congress party and the police forces. 

Specific inquiries were instituted on Sanjay Gandhi's management of the state-owned Maruti Udyog Ltd., the activities of the former minister of defence Bansi Lal and the 1971 Nagarwala scandal.

Both Indira and her son Sanjay were charged with allegations of corruption and briefly arrested.

Several inquiry commissions were set up under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952.  The mother of all commissions was, of course, the omnibus Shah Commission appointed by government of India to inquire into all the excesses committed during the emergency (1975-77).

Prominent among other Commissions of Inquiry were those set up to inquire into the alleged misdeeds of three chief ministers -  J R Vimadlal Commission to enquire into the charges levelled against J Vengal Rao, chief minister of Andhra Pradesh; A N Grover Commission to enquire into the allegations made against Devraj Urs, chief minister of Karnataka; and P. Jaganmohan Reddy Commission to enquire into the allegations levelled against Bansi Lal, chief minister of Haryana.  In each case a detailed memorandum had been presented to the prime minister leading to appointment of the Commission of Inquiry.

In mid-1978, when I joined the department of personnel, ministry of home affairs as deputy secretary (vigilance), various Commissions of Inquiry were firmly in the saddle. 

While the Shah Commission was being serviced by the officers of the main ministry of home affairs, I had the responsibility inter alia to provide requisite support to the others inquiring against the three chief ministers.

One day we received a request from one of the commissions to forward to it any other petitions received and pending against the concerned chief minister or relating to the terms of reference of the Commission. 

I called my under secretary to delve into the record room in order to dig out the information required.  A few days later I was presented a set of about 10 files relating to pending petitions / memoranda against various VIPs, including present and former chief ministers, former union ministers and so on. 

Upon carefully going through these files, I discovered a minefield of very well orchestrated and meticulously documented a set of allegations in each one of them. 

There was none relating to the Commission which has sought the information, but, belonging to the then Andhra Pradesh Cadre of the IAS, I distinctly remember the memorandum relating to K. Brahmananda Reddy, former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh and the preceding home minister of government of India.  He was indeed a stalwart among politicians of his times, and a maverick at that.

The memorandum was indeed of gargantuan proportions, and specificity and accuracy of the allegations made me believe that it must have been drafted by someone very close to Brahmananda Reddy, perhaps under duress.

All the petitions pertained to stalwarts and satraps of the Indian political system of those days were received during the previous regime, from time to time, and were kept in the cold storage in the best Kautilyan tradition. 

You behave and keep the secrets or else we know how to go after you.  That is another facet of the events leading up to the emergency of 1975, the 40th anniversary of which we are agonising over today.