Defending the indefensible
UPA has been adjudged guilty by the court of the people, says N.V.Subramanian.
Public policy like life is grey. Whereas life is mostly lived by individuals and its greyness, at its crassest, becomes a matter of personal management, that is not the case with handling public policy. Public policy always has to be about public good. But since public policy needs the mediation of the executive, and the executive is led by those in power, and power is usually about avarice and venality, public policy rarely leads to public good. The greyness of public policy, therefore, results in abuse, corruption, rent-seeking, and arrant profit-making, and this is more so the case with India, and particularly glaring in the instance of the UPA regime. The Supreme Court judgment on disposal of natural resources must be seen in that light.
The judgment emphasizes what is no more than common reason. Which is, that in the alienation of natural resources as a policy decision, every method other than an auction "cannot be struck down as ultra vires [Of] the Constitutional mandate". For example, DDA (Delhi Development Authority) has a social obligation to provide affordable housing. But at the same time, it can and should and does auction its high-end properties, as it did with the CWG flats on the Yamuna riverfront. No one found that objectionable. To be sure, there is a premium on DDA flats sold at below market prices, and corrective steps should be taken. But for that reason, DDA cannot forego its social obligations. It is when abuse of public policy counters social good that the policy must be re-examined, redrawn or abandoned, and the abusers exemplarily punished.
Kapil Sibal, the lawyer and minister, tom-toms the Supreme Court judgment as vindication of the UPA government's stand against and denial of Coalgate. That is not the case. The judgment, to reiterate, upholds a well-known principle of public policy, but does not condone Coalgate, specifically or generally. Indeed, the judgment warns of facing "the wrath of Article 14 (equality before law)" ... "when... a policy decision is not backed by a social or welfare purpose, and precious and scarce natural resources are alienated for commercial pursuits of profit maximizing private entrepreneurs...." Separate observations by Justice J.S.Khehar linked to the judgment support auctions unambiguously. Lawyers are notorious for twisting facts and spinning, which makes them such clever and untrustworthy politicians as Sibal. But truth always shines through.
The truth is that if UPA had been clean and well-intentioned, there should have been no need for the Supreme Court to restate the bottom-line for public policy. But the government was crooked on 2G, and Coalgate stinks, judgment or no Supreme Court judgment. In fact, the judgment concerned a presidential reference on the previous 2G court order mandating auction, and was not addressed specifically to Coalgate. So the sword still hangs over the coalmines' sell-out. There is nothing for UPA to crow about in the judgment.
But it does point to the trust deficit in UPA, and that will not go away. Add to 2G, Coalgate, CWG, Adarsh and Antrix-Devas the great heist of electricity distributing companies in Delhi, aided and abetted by the Shiela Dixit government, and you know exactly why nobody trusts Congress regimes. The default position of the Delhi citizenry is, "Sarkar chor hai." On a national level, people face away in disgust when they see Manmohan Singh, Kapil Sibal or Ambika Soni on TV, and they do not believe a word they say.
When trust breaks down, everything breaks down. Relations are sustained on trust, and when that goes, nothing remains; nothing can be retrieved. Congress has repeatedly stabbed its allies in the back. Congress ministers have been front-ranking cheaters. The prime minister shuts his eyes and signs away coalmines worth lakhs of crores, and to cover up his guilt, proceeds to hawk the country to foreign capitalist sharks. Does he believe the country does not know? Do ministers like Kapil Sibal seriously think they can mislead the nation with lies?
In a grey world, you can get away with a lot, even murder, until you are found out.
UPA has been found out.