Cicero was a Roman orator and statesman of the 1st century BC whose writings deeply influenced modern thought. He was once retained by Sicilians to prosecute the Governor of Sicily, C. Verres, who had become unbearably corrupt and cruel.
Cicero prepared the first of what was to be a six-part chargesheet against the Governor, analysing the evils of greedy administrators. That first part was so powerful in its logic that Governor Verres gave up his post and retired into exile.
That was the good news.
The bad news was that the same Sicily gave birth to a secret nationalist society called the Mafia which in the 19th century turned into a collection of hired thugs specialising in blackmail, protection rackets and murder. Marlon Brando etched it into the world’s memory with The Godfather.
So why bring it up now?
To remind us that good history does not repeat itself. There was a time when people could prosecute the head of their government for corruption. That cannot happen now.
There were heads of government who would be shamed into voluntary exile when people filed charges against them. That is unthinkable today.
Bad history alone repeats itself. People who once had the power to prosecute their political boss later fell prey to the mafia. This is happening again and again around us.
Consider Karnataka, once one of the best governed states in India and led by some of best political minds in the country. Can that history repeat itself? Far from it.
Go into ancient history and we find rajahs losing their right to rule if they violated rajneeti; Sri Rama himself chose to heed public opinion even if it meant losing his wife. How different it is today? A. B. Vajpayee did accuse Narendra Modi of violating raj dharma, but it was Vajpayee who had to swallow his words while Modi went on with his violations.
Karnataka has hit national headlines for the wrong reasons. (Typical headline: Nataka in Karnataka). The Governor donned the battle dress, the Legislature became a war zone. All because of three ministers, the Reddy brothers.
A number of facts have turned public opinion against the Troika.
Fact: In 2008 a minority BJP Government was turned amorally into a majority with money provided by the Reddys.
Fact: In late 2009, under pressure of public opinion, the Chief Minister tried to curb the Reddys’ highhandedness; he transferred out of Bellary several officers who had been acting according to the orders of the Reddys and Reddys alone.
Fact: Within a month the Chief Minister cancelled the transfer of officers and withdrew criminal cases filed against the Reddys.
Fact: Under party pressure to placate the Reddy Troika the Chief Minister dropped one of his closest colleagues from the Cabinet, removed his capable and faithful Principal Secretary and withdrew a tax he had imposed on iron-ore trucks.
Fact: In the midst of the ongoing controversy, one of the Troika spends two hours in private conference with notorious criminals in a Bangalore Jail.
What gives the Reddys the power to run a state so haughtily? The obvious answer is their limitless “purchasing power” gained from the exploitation, without heed to laws and regulations, of the natural resources of Karnataka and Andhra. Less obvious is the unstinted support they receive from the BJP top brass in Delhi.
What motivates the BJP top brass when the Reddys are (a) not BJP-wallahs in any ideological sense and (b) an obvious liability to the party?
The short answer to that one is: Sushma Swaraj.
The Reddys publicly worship SS as their mother. Sushma Swaraj ignores their sins, ignores their unpopularity and gives them full support because perhaps she sees a day when brazen Reddy money can install a BJP government in Delhi as it did in Bangalore. No prices for guessing who will be the prime minister in such a government.
Thus does private ambition carry our country from misfortune to misfortune.