Monday, October 20, 2008

Power & Politics / Mail Today, October 20, 2008

POLITICIANS beware. There is one amongst you who is on the prowl. The numbers game may not have added up last July for Bhairon Singh Shekhawat to make the short hop from Maulana Azad Road to Raisina Hill but you’d be mistaken if you think that after losing the presidential elections, he is sitting back and biding his time. For one who is all of 88 and fighting debilitating illnesses, he has been remarkably active and, if reports are to be believed, his pet project now is a campaign to fight, what else, corruption in public life. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a more suitable candidate to lead such a campaign.

Shekhawat has been in active politics for nearly six- and- a- half decades, is the senior- most leader in the BJP after Atal Bihari Vajpayee and commands cross- party respect for his unblemished record in public office, during his three terms as chief minister of Rajasthan and as the country’s Vice President. Gruelling as it must have been for him, Shekhawat recently undertook a tour of 13 of Rajasthan’s 33 districts where he addressed well- attended public meetings.

The gravamen of his speeches at all fora was: yes, the economy is bad, internal security situation in worse, but corruption is the biggest evil facing the country. Of late, Shekhawat’s Aurangazeb Road residence has been a hub of activity with civil servants, both serving and retired, senior members of the judiciary, retired police and intelligence officers dropping by armed with files relating to corruption in high places. A group of retired Revenue Department and Intelligence Bureau officials who have worked with him during his stints in Jaipur and Delhi and share his passion to fight corruption assist him in going through the voluminous documents. Their job is to use their expertise to prepare foolproof chargesheets which could effectively be the launching pads for target- specific campaigns.

At least a dozen chief ministers, including some from his own party, union ministers, heads of public sector undertakings, corporate honchos as well as some of the senior- most leaders of several parties, including the BJP, are under the scanner. The man is so unbiased I understand among his targets is a minister in a northern state who happens to be a close relative. If and when he launches his “ crusade”, Shekhawat could damage the prospects of many high profile wannabes not to speak of at least two chief ministers, one from the Congress and other from the BJP. The files against the two are said to be so damaging that the best of The in winter Shekhawat: Ready lawyers may squirm at a quick perusal. And therein lies his dilemma, which he recently shared with the few remaining in his dwindling peer group: Should he go ahead and do something that could damage the party that he has served for decades or should he opt for the larger good of the country? Whenever at the crossroads in the past, Shekhawat has chosen the right path, even when it was the more difficult one. I have no doubt he will do the same again. Are we about to see another JP?

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