‘There is no truth that, in passing through consciousness, does not lie’, the French theorist Jacques Lacan famously said. There could scarcely be a better description of India’s politics, not least of the party currently in power.
Barely a week ago, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was gloating over the Congress party’s embarrassment in the National Herald case. Today, he has to contend with his own sagging image as the man who presided over the ‘cesspool of corruption’ that the Delhi & District Cricket Association has become over the past decade. Double standards are rife in Indian politics but never more so than with the present regime. The BJP and news channels close to them had a field day reminding Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal that Transparency International (India) had his principal secretary Rajendra Kumar on their watch list and had told him so in May. But when Kirti Azad announces he’ll be having a press conference on the rot in the DDCA, Amit Shah summons him twice in one day basically to say, the less said the better; we can do without transparency. And when the man continues to insist on blowing the whistle, he is peremptorily suspended from the party.
In the AAP press conference on December 17, a web of fraudulent DDCA transactions was exposed to public gaze by Raghav Chadha. In response, Jaitley said, ‘This is all quite vague. If you come up with something specific I can respond’. Of course, one couldn’t have had a more evasive response than that, and his sole recourse now is to file a defamation suit. Jaitley’s main line of defence has been to appeal to the clean chit supposedly given to him by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office in this matter. The SFIO report is said to have exonerated Jaitley by suggesting that he was simply the president of DDCA and was ‘presiding over the meetings of the executive committee (Board of Directors) like a non-executive chairman without involvement in day to day affairs of the company’. Now you can’t be “like” a non-executive chairman; you either are one or you aren’t. Where are the provisions in the articles of association of the DDCA for the appointment of a non-executive chairman? Failing that, all members of the DDCA executive committee share executive responsibility. As a former Indian cricketer points out, Jaitley was signing off on accounts he knew to be ‘fudged’. Smriti Irani may think Jaitley is God (hence her bizarre reference to “blasphemy”), but in the eyes of the Indian Companies Act he is, alas, just a director with full liability for the way a Section 8 (non-profit) company is managed or dreadfully mismanaged.
As an aside, even if one grants that Jaitley was simply a non-executive chairman, the fact is that, post-Cadbury, ‘few dispute the potentially significant personal liability that non-executive directors assume by virtue of their position. Personal liability may arise under a number of heads: common law fiduciary obligations and the duty of care and skill; the publication of inaccurate information in listing particulars; over 200 potential grounds under the Companies Acts; wrongful trading under the Insolvency Act (etc.)’. This was said with reference to the UK but applies equally to India. Here it is the duty of care and skill and the publication of ‘inaccurate information’ that turns Jaitley’s lack of oversight into a glaring instance of the abandonment of fiduciary duties. This is surely no less damning than any personal peculation of the sort he robustly insists he was not engaged in.
There’s no end to the mountain of hypocrisy government spokespersons keep throwing at us. The BJP which held India’s parliament to ransom with unrelenting rage throughout 2012 and 2013 and refused even to discuss the GST at the time because it ‘wasn’t in the mood’ now cries itself hoarse about ‘democracy’ and the proper functioning of parliament. And that erstwhile companion of India’s biggest industrialists who doled out lavish amounts of land to friend Gautam Adani, complains that ‘pro-poor’ legislation is being stalled by the agitation in parliament. This reminds me of the response Modi gave to a question Wockhardt CEO Habil Khorakiwala asked in a famous CII meet which featured the Gujarat chief minister as its chief guest back in early 2003. Khorakiwala asked, ‘What are you going to do to ensure that Gujarat is free of industrial strife?’, to which Modi cleverly responded, ‘A government is never anti-labour. It is always pro-labour’. Indeed!
The PM is known to be like the Delphic oracle for the silences he studiously maintains even as violence and hate politics rage around him. So what was he saying about his predecessor in September 2012 when campaigning in the Gujarat assembly elections? ‘The prime minister [Manmohan Singh] is either not saying anything or he does not want to speak or nothing is left for him to speak. Our country is like a boat sailing in the sea without a captain.’ ‘Not saying anything’? That sounds familiar, but the point to carry away is the sheer duplicity of our political leaders, not least those who govern us in the name of ‘saving democracy’ when they had no qualms deranging the functioning of parliament for a sustained two years.
Anyway, here’s a point worth reflecting on: ‘The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity’, wrote Andre Gide. Oh well, better the false hypocrite than the true one or we’re done for.
(Jairus Banaji is a historian and Research Professor at SOAS, Universty of London)