Shri Nitin Gadkari, President of the BJP, and Shri Naveen Jindal, Member of the Lok Sabha belonging to the Congress, are businessmen who have entered politics and have continued to be associated with decision-making relating to their business companies even while playing their political role.
2. Mrs.Sonia Gandhi, President of the Congress, which is in power in the Government of India, is the mother-in-law of Shri Robert Vadra, who has prospered in business after marrying Ms.Priyanka Gandhi, daughter of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi.
3.Mr. Mitt Romney is a member of the US Republican Party belonging to a well-known business family of Massachusetts. He entered politics to become the Governor of his State. He is now contesting the US Presidential elections against President Barack Obama.
4. Shri Gadkari has got involved in a huge controversy because of his continued association with his business companies when he was the PWD Minister in the Maharashtra Cabinet in the 1990s and now as the President of the BJP.
5. Shri Jindal has got involved in an embarrassing controversy because of his continued association with his steel business even while serving as a Member of the Parliament belonging to the Congress. He has allegedly benefitted from a coal mining block allotted to him by the Government of India.
6. There is nothing wrong in businessmen entering politics provided they do not profit in their businesses as a result of their political position and they do not allow their political role to influence their business decision-making. How to enforce political and business rectitude when businessmen take to politics?
7.It would be useful to make a case study of Mr.Romney in the US. He was associated with some business companies of his State investing in and trading with China. One of the companies was allegedly even dealing with telecommunications which is a sensitive area from the national security point of view.
8.Before Mr.Romney decided to enter politics and contest as Governor of his State, he made a public statement of all his business interests and holdings, formed a public trust in respect of each of his companies and dissociated himself from all decision-making in respect of these companies.
9. Those who had watched the second Presidential debate between Mr.Romney and Mr.Obama, would have noticed that Mr.Obama questioned Mr.Romney’s association with business companies investing in and trading with China. Mr.Romney replied that the affairs of these companies are managed by a public trust and that he is not associated with their decision-making. Mr.Obama was satisfied with his reply and did not pursue the matter.
10.In India, huge controversies have arisen relating to the business background of Sri Gadkari and Shri Jindal because they did not dissociate themselves from decision-making relating to their business companies while functioning as political leaders holding key positions. The public perception is and will be that they have benefitted in their businesses as a result of their political role and influence.
11.Shri Gadkari was a public servant when he was the PWD Minister. He is not a public servant now as the President of the BJP. Shri Jindal is a public servant as a member of the Parliament and is subject to the jurisdiction of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Had he been a member of the US Congress and had he been allotted a coal mining block, the legal and public assumption in the US would have been that he did not get the block on merits, but by virtue of his being in the Congress. To avoid such perceptions, all public servants in the US form public trusts of their businesses and dissociate themselves from decision-making.
12. In the case of Mrs.Sonia Gandhi, the wrong-doing was of a different kind. When the Congress was elected to power in 2004, political rectitude demanded that she should inform all Government departments of the Government of India and all State Governments where the Congress is in power, that her son-in-law is a real estate businessman and he should not be shown any favours because of his being her son-in-law. She did not do so.
13. When the controversy regarding the real estate wheeling and dealing of Shri Vadra recently broke out, she should have immediately written to the Prime Minister to look into all his real estate dealings in which departments of the Government of India and State Governments were involved and satisfy himself that there was no wrong-doing.
14. She did not do that either. Instead, allegedly at her prodding, a number of senior Ministers of the Cabinet of Dr.Manmohan Singh holding sensitive portfolios embarked on a cover-up and damage control exercise to prevent any political embarrassment to her and to deny any criminal liability of Shri Vadra.
15. The controversies relating to Shri Gadkari, Shri Jindal and Mrs.Sonia Gandhi call for follow-up action at two levels. An enquiry into all allegations made to rule out civil or criminal wrong-doing and introduction of conflict of interest provisions in our laws to enforce rectitude when businessmen want to enter public life. ( 26-10-12)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @SORBONNE75)