Friends don’t count. In fact, their clean chits are counterproductive

DDCA Arun Jaitley must get to the bottom of this himself
Voices Opinion Wednesday, December 23, 2015 - 18:56

A strange thing is happening. Over the past week, from the BJPs Chandan Mitra to the BJDs Baijayant Panda, from noted columnist and author Tavleen Singh to former ace cricket players Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, all have come out one after the other to give a clean chit to Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley over the slew of allegations against him in the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) matter. A former CBI Director R.K. Raghavan has now written that not once did Jaitley interfere in matters relating to the organization. This is unhelpful.

Why should what these people say matter? Look at it this way. If you are famous and your famous friend is being falsely accused, what would you do?  Go out and bat against the nonsense (read pig fight where all get dirty and the pig is happy) or stay calm in the firm knowledge that your friend has nothing to hide and everything will come out in the wash? There is no denying that a thorough purge has now become necessary. Those who know the Finance Minister know that neither he nor his family can be accused of any financial impropriety. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also reposed full faith in his Finance Minister stating that he will emerge unsoiled and victorious.

The issue however, is elsewhere. The Finance Minister’s responses both in Parliament and in the media have focused on the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO). The minister has said next to nothing about safety standards at the Feroze Shah Kotla stadium in Delhi. According to documents received by RTI activist Subhash Agarwal, between October 2008 and January 2013, the DDCA organized at least nine matches without the mandatory clearances of Structural Stability Certificate (SSC) and No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Chief Fire Officer and Assistant Electrical Engineer. These documents are with The News Minute. Was Mr. Jaitley aware that such critical safety requirements were unmet? This question is not addressed to his person, but his office and its responsibility as the head of the cricket body. Read our story here.

Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal, BJP lawmaker and former cricketer Kirti Azad and the legendary spinner Bishen Singh Bedi have made their tirade against the Finance Minister personal. The Chief Minister of Delhi now finds himself in court and unless he produces irrefutable documentary evidence to back his claims, he must face the consequences as required by the law of the land.

Mr. Kejriwal’s shenanigans will most likely be dealt with swiftly. He claims during Mr. Jaitley’s tenure as head of DDCA, he allowed illegal activities ranging from granting of contracts to dummy companies to favouring contractors and their friends while building the new stadium. Some response to all these allegations can be found in the Finance Minister’s Facebook post where he says expansion of work can lead to cost escalations. “A brand new 42,000 capacity world class stadium was constructed by the EPIL, a public sector body at a total cost of around Rs. 114 crores. At the same time, the UPA Government renovated two stadiums. The Jawahar Lal Nehru stadium was renovated at a cost of over Rs. 900 crores and Dhyan Chand Stadium was renovated at a cost of over Rs. 6000 crores,” the minister has written. It is also common knowledge that Mr. Jaitley encouraged many young cricketers to enter the game and thrive.

But, beyond the allegations and denials is this question. What is the procedure to be followed when a politicians is accused of corruption and acts of commission and omission? Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was accused by the BJP for allowing massive corruption to fester and grow all around him – a lack of vigilance that resulted in him being named in the coal block FIR. George Fernandes, Defense Minister during NDA 1 had to resign from his post following allegations of corruption and returned to office after he was cleared of any wrongdoing. The hawala scam that washed up around BJP leader L.K. Advani resulted in his resignation and return to office only after he was cleared. If Kirti Azad and Bishen Singh Bedi are being economical with the truth or simply lying, disciplinary and legal action against the first and legal action against the second seems obvious. As the then head of DDCA, Jaitley is expected to be answerable and allowing this issue to fester will hurt the government.

This leads to another important issue of politicians heading sports organisations, be it Sharad Pawar or formerly Arun Jaitley. Over the years, these bodies have become cesspools of suspicion and decay. Nepotism and financial irregularities are common as we have seen with the BCCI and Mr. Srinivasan. These settings make for very unhealthy and nontransparent decisions as businesspeople, politicians and sportspeople set the agenda, often not based on talent.

The Finance Minister has many important issues to deal with. The last thing he needs is a gnawing colleague within his own party fanning suspicion and creating doubt. If Kirti Azad is wrong, he must be exposed and made to face the consequences of his words and actions. The only person who can do this once and for all is the Finance Minister.  The last thing someone of his legal stature needs is clean-chits from others.

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