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Corruption IS TOP OF MIND.

P. Chidambaram's push for reforms has been stymied by the taint of corruption that has besmirched both the Congress and the BJP

BAD NEWS trips not just markets, but equally sentiment on the whole. Just when the policy freeze had been mitigated with the emergence of a pushy new finance minister, P. Chidamabaram, who opened a whole new box of reformist experiences, the agenda was bushwhacked by corruption all over again.

Bad news had once again prevailed over good news. Most importantly, the central theme of bad news was the hydra- headed ogre called corruption, a taint which simply refuses to go away from the nation's discourse.

An urban voter backlash as a consequence of corruption, which is top of mind for the middle class living in urban agglomerates, is once again a given. And when the ' corruption' taint smears the very heart of the first family, it doesn't get any worse.

To think that a pink daily raised the same questions about Robert Vadra with his reactions as far back as March 2011 and they didn't fly, leaves one wondering why Arvind Kejriwal's fusillade created such a firestorm? Probably because Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan did their homework and ring- fenced themselves against awkward questions.

Their raison d'etre was very clearly backed by and substantiated with solid paper work that explained Vadra's realty holdings, tracking every piece down systematically. The facts presented by Kejriwal were based on Vadra's own filings with the Registrar of Companies, hence they were credible and believable.

Between the CAG, the activist judiciary and an aggressive media, the first phase of the anti- corruption campaign was run with great success. The result was that a conglomeration of individuals was sent to jail. They were kept in jail without trial, though the law now recognises that bail is the norm and jail an exception.

The 2G spectrum and CWG scams saw high- profile individuals being packed off to the Tihar slammer without so much as a by your leave. Corruption gave Anna Hazare and his band of merry men enough traction to dig their heels in and capture the consciousness of the Indian middle class. Anna, a man with unimpeachable integrity, never before exposed to the Capital's denizens or the telly guerrillas, became an icon, a new age hero.

By jailing him, the Congress party managers made a huge judgmental error. In terms of public perception, it cost them.

Crowds thronged and popular imagination was kindled with the anti- corruption crusader's zeal, a legend was burnished. All that though is in the past, just as corruption also took a back seat once the reformist measures were unleashed.

Sadly, the interregnum between Coalgate and Vadra / Salman Khurshid was all too brief. It was momentary and fleeting. Corruption, which has been the bane of UPA- II's existence, has returned to haunt it, much like Banquo's ghost came back to haunt Macbeth.

The Congress, which very briefly thought it had wrested back the initiative, is harried, harassed and downcast. It realises that corruption is once again the hot button, and how! Concerned at the popular unease on this sensitive issue, it fears what could turn into a tidal wave at any hustings.

Two elections are looming large on the radar -- Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Several key states go to the polls next year -- Karnataka, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan -- all with sizeable urban voter presence. Internally, the Congress reckons it can still pull back the rural vote, but there is great trepidation over urban voter backlash.

Urban voters are sensitive to the taint of corruption and since it lies in the heart of the first family, any ostensible negative can swing and sway voters to a great extent.

In an age where news is in many ways a moving target -- fast- paced, frenetic and frantic -- its sheer fluidity and dynamism leads you to wonder how long a particular event remains top of mind. One thing leads to another as it grabs premium realty in our mind space.

The CAG, an aggressive judiciary, a CBI that was allowed to function freely for the first time ever in independent India and an alert media have been replaced by guerrilla warfare led by civil society. THE in- your- face media, ruling the roost on high- def telly using porous, invasive and sometimes offensive reporting methods, tends to get under your skin. A top politico told me the other day that the media has never been as virulent and antagonistic as it is presently.

From being a mere facilitator, the media is now judge, jury and executioner par excellence.

Look at how transient the news business has become. Just as Robert Vadra was becoming the flavour of the week, he was displaced by Nitin Gadkari. From ghost firms with drivers and astrologers as directors to dubious addresses and dodgy transactions, the Gadkari story is replete with chicanery and skullduggery.

This is the BJP president whom we are talking about, one who speaks volubly from different ramparts on the ills of corruption that afflict the Congress.

Are you in any way cleaner or equally dirty, or worse, is the big question. Guilt cannot be established so easily, a probe may reveal more, but the high moral ground beneath you is slipping away even as you fulminate.

Business and politics are an incendiary mix; it has cost many a man his political career.

Almost overnight, Vadra too has been consigned to the nearest rubbish heap as Gadkari mania sweeps one and all.

Yes, corruption is the single biggest news point, it is on the front burner and will remain so, damn everything else. But now it is clear that the treasury and opposition benches are equally the villains. So, while a gleeful Congress celebrates the wonderful reprieve, Gadkari's second term looks doomed. The Sangh and the BJP leadership may be closing ranks against an interloping vigilant media, but the reality remains that a blindsided opposition has been found out.

Meanwhile, as news junkies we wait for our next fix.

Corruption is the single biggest news point and it will remain so. The Congress is celebrating Gadkari's troubles, but it may find its comfort to be shortlived

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Oct 28, 2012
Words:1046
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