The Italian threat

Roopinder Singh

Gone are the days of politician who were hardly aware of what happened beyond the borders of their constituency. These days the people’s representatives are cosmopolitan. They are at home in international capitals, be it Zurich (where the Swiss banks are) or Paris (where the night life is).

Italy was not quite on the minds of these politicians, but now it is the stuff nightmares are conjured up from. During a recent trip to Delhi, I was briefed about the latest antics of our political creatures, as discussed by their aides:

“I hear that our people,” said the political aide of a top Chief Minister who is in the ‘Z’ security category, “are now exposed to an insidious propaganda beamed into the country these days. The BBC is corrupting our society with Western odes and images. Is there really no way to counter this?

“What are you talking about? I just got back from Geneva,” said the chartered accountant (CA) whose firm handles international investments of certain important and politically sensitive ‘benami‘ accounts worth crores of rupees.

“This coverage of the Italian anti-corruption campaign. Have you seen how much time they are devoting to this minor event? Putting ideas into the people’s minds, I tell you,” muttered the CM’s aide by way of explanation.

“The Italian magistrates have arrested Bettino Craxi’s secretary and have even served six notices to the former Prime Minister for investigations of allegedly corrupt practices. They are undermining democracy, as we know it. Their moves will destabilise the country we saw as a role model,” said the former Foreign Minister’s aide who is now a prolific writer on causes all and sundry.

“As I said when the FM had asked me 10 years ago,” he continued, “we must build an electronic wall to insulate our thousands of years old culture from the electronic invasion of Western ideas.”

The CM’s aide, well versed in ‘kautalyaniti’, replied: “True enough. Corruption is a decadent Western concept. In our culture, we have always had the public pay ‘nazaranas’ and ‘tributes’ to the officials and the rulers. That is the way things are and were in the good old days—coming to the present, what should we do now?”

“Simple, really”, said the CA. “We are not in the same boat as Italians are, speaking metaphorically as well as practically, because Indian Magistrates do not have the prosecuting authority.”

“But”, interrupted the CM’s aide.

“We need a Machiavellian stratagem to counter the Italian threat,” the CA continued ignoring the interruption. “If you want to be sure, all you have to do is tell you respective bosses to announce that the government is to carry out a campaign to eliminate corruption, etc. Naturally, the focus of such a drive would be among those officials with whom the public has the most dealings with—starting with the magistrates.

“Splendid: Let’s do it, exclaimed the CM’s aide.

April 9, 1993