Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Natwar Shame

So, finally Natwar Singh is gone, but only partially, as India's foreign minister -- he remains as a minister without portfolio. More than a week after The Hindu broke the story about his name and that of the ruling party, the Congress, figuring in the report of Paul Volcker, who was asked by the United Nations to go into the scandal surrounding the allegations of bribery in UN's food-for-oil project for Iraq.
There is a saying to the effect that in politics the best confirmation is the denial. The more vehemently someone denies, the deeper he is in the mess. Or so that's the premise. And, ever since the news broke, Singh has been protesting his innocence louder and louder.
In politics it is often what's perceived that matters. Because, politics is more about popularity than anything else. You may not be guilty but if people perceive that you are, then you are as good as guilty. It's a price a politician pays for being in the game. We have heard of numerous scandals in India and abroad. To be fair to those whose names have figured, many of them may not been involved at all. And, there may not be any way to prove conclusively that the person was directly involved in the scandal.
Smart guys know that on such occasions it pays to take a few steps back rather than stand one's ground and scream. Since the dirt has been splashed and it has fallen on you (may be just because you happened to be around), the immediate concern should be to get out of the way so that more dirt doesn't fall on you. It's a pity that Natwar Singh, a career diplomat-turned politician, couldn't get it right but messed it up.
India's foreign minister selling oil is not the crime. He is said to have paid (indirectly through a front man) bribes to get Iraqi oil sold at international rates in contravention of the guidelines for oil-for-food programme. (UN rates for oil were much lower than the international rates.) May be he could argue that it was a political choice so that people of Iraq (who were suffering from the West's sanctions) could be benefited because of more money flowing in. The excuse of charity for committing a crime, neither sounds nor looks good, and worse, when the Foreign Minister of a country does that. Even though I have my sympathies for Iraqis, if my country's foreign minister did what is said to have done, I am ashamed.
Natwar Singh, who has a left-of-centre stand in international politics, was one of the diplomats who was roped into politics by Rajiv Gandhi. He is one person whose thoughts on international diplomacy I have been closely following, and I have been impressed by most of his views, especially on how international geopolitics must evolve post-Cold War.
How graceful it would have been if he had stepped down the very day the scandal broke. All his protestations of innocence would have had a much different meaning then. As it is said, "Power corrupts, and corrupts absolutely". How true!

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