New Delhi: Why is the Congress party so immune from corruption allegations? Is it because it is very clean and all the allegations are untrue. Or is it the case that the party establishment is so dirty that nothing sticks and nothing shows? The second explanation has something to it. And there is a third. The dynastic structure of the Congress unites the party in the face of charges such as the most recent one against Rajiv Gandhi, that he was the middleman for the Swedish defence major, Saab, for an Indian fighter deal in the mid-1970s.

All the world knows that political corruption started big time in India with Mrs Indira Gandhi’s license-permit-quota raj. Her son, Rajiv Gandhi, made a show of breaking away from her corrupt legacy by his famous power brokers’ speech soon after inauguration. He tried to play the insider-outsider at one and the same time as his son, Rahul, bumbles about now but was consumed by the false image he set for himself. The Bofors kickbacks’ scandal devoured his government and scarred him and his family for life. The Congress party has never made cleanliness in public life an issue since.

After Rajiv Gandhi’s early death, his family obliquely communicated its disinclination to accept office, which didn’t prevent his widow from making a run for prime minister or to push her son for it. Not being in government had its advantages. None of the corruption allegations facing the Manmohan Singh government, including 2G, CWG, Antrix-Devas, Coalgate, Choppergate, etc, have directly implicated the Nehru-Gandhis, although allegations linking their close aides have surfaced. Vadragate and Bofors and the latest Saab scandal are different, but the dynastic grid of the Congress establishment still keeps the family remarkably insulated.

The Congress will crumble without the Nehru-Gandhis. So any attack against them becomes a life-and-death matter for the party and its leaders, and they all jump to the defence of the family. This could be an issue like Rahul Gandhi’s CII speech, or it may concern corruption. If the Congress party cannot save the Nehru-Gandhis, it constitutes an existential threat to it. The dynastic structure of the Congress, together with the fact that the Nehru-Gandhis do not hold office, comes to their protection.

But the dynastic impulses of the Congress party are a two-way process. For exalting the Nehru-Gandhis, saving and insulating them from harm, the Congress leaders get to enjoy power and the forbidden fruits it brings, especially in the form of corruption. The nine years of Manmohan Singh have been the most corrupt in India’s history. How did that happen? Manmohan Singh’s reputation for personal honesty gave cover to the corrupt. And the Nehru-Gandhis used their name to get the corrupt to power twice. So why would the corrupt Congress have it differently?

There is another layer to this corruption. It is not just politicians who are corrupt. Bureaucratic corruption is rampant. According to one estimate, only 10 to 20 percent of Indian Administrative Service and a lesser proportion of Indian Revenue Service officers are honest. Indian Police Service officers are not only equally or more corrupt but 90 per cent of them are criminal as well. Who has blessed this wholesale corruption and criminality, indeed made them institutions? The United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre. It has drafted allies on a corrupt basis with clear guidelines about the cut to be shared. It is the lot of you and me to be scammed every day, whilst the rest are ecstatic about systemic loot. When a system becomes corrupt, it takes a hard man to clean it.

A corrupt system is the Congress party’s conclusive immunity from allegations. When an allegation is made, everyone comes to the defence of the targeted party, and if this be the Nehru-Gandhis, it becomes a question of survival for the Congress, and its reaction is therefore vehement and extreme. To be sure, the Nehru-Gandhis are more vulnerable to corruption allegations after Bofors, but so long they stay away from office, they are secure. Off and on, the have-nots in the party like Digvijay Singh will quarrel with the haves invoking the name of the Nehru-Gandhis (Arjun Singh did it before), but the common aim is to keep the family in the background and plunder the country. With so many stakes built into corruption, is it any wonder that allegations against the Gandhis make no headway? The Congress has grown a hide so thick it is impervious to standard political ammunition.