The Congress, which has in the recent period been in denial on the issue of corruption and has been loathe to act on it unless forced by the courts, is demonstrating an election-eve resolve to do the right thing, on being prodded by the leader. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has forced the Maharashtra government to reconsider its decision to reject a judicial enquiry report into the Adarsh housing society scam. From the time he held an impromptu press conference to advise the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government against going ahead with a controversial ordinance to nullify the Supreme Court verdict on automatic disqualification of convicted legislators, Mr. Gandhi has sought to create for himself what seems to be the only available space for public morality within the party, even on matters concerning governments run by it. Before the Lokpal Bill was passed inParliament, he held forth on the need to display seriousness in fighting corruption, and he has now administered a rebuke to the Congress-led Maharashtra government over its controversial decision. There was a time in the earlier phase of the UPA regime at the Centre — the appointment of P.J. Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner and the 2G spectrum allocation process are telling examples — when the government would unmistakably choose the wrong course of action and brazen it out until the superior judiciary intervened. The pattern has slightly changed now, with Mr. Gandhi casting himself in the role of the party’s conscience-keeper.
When the party leadership goads its governments to observe higher standards of conduct, the outcome — the dropping of the Ordinance to protect convicted MPs, for instance — is certainly to be welcomed. Yet, the truth is that the Congress does not seem to have many who would choose to act against corruption, when the alternatives of denial and cover-up are available. Mr. Gandhi by himself does not seem to have had any salutary effect on governance and is able to intervene only belatedly. As the opposition has pointed out, he had little to say in the past on the Commonwealth Games or coal block allocation scams. And the Ordinance amending the Prevention of Corruption Act had been sent to the President for approval before he dismissed it as ‘nonsense’. Mr. Gandhi’s intervention, laudable though it may be, will not be enough to rid the Congress of its image as a party prone to denying or covering up wrongdoing. The party needs to internalise the message of the recent electoral outcomes that speak of the need for an alternative political culture. Its leaders need moral fibre of their own and should not expect correctives to be handed down through its leader’s selective and sporadic interventions.