For those of us who were teenagers in the early to mid-1960s, the spaghetti westerns churned out by a few Italian studios around Rome provided welcome entertainment on Sunday mornings. To accommodate our pocket expenditure budgets more suited for College Street than Chowringhee, we would venture to the run-down ‘Tiger’ cinema hall that offered much more affordable ticket prices than the grandiose theatres like Metro or New Empire. On the grainy screens, we would watch the good guys take on the bad ones and finally triumph. The principal producer of these B-grade films was one Sergio Leone, long forgotten in the annals of cinema, unlike Clint Eastwood who flourishes to this day.
The spaghetti westerns had one common feature – the creation of a make-believe American wild west badland in the heart of northern Italy. Everything was fake and ersatz. Our principal law-enforcement organisation, the CBI, and its head-honcho, Shri Ranjit Sinha, seem to have taken more than a few leaves out of these miserable and execrable role models, as they undertake a massive pseudo-legal exercise in the Ishrat Jahan case. Their ultimate target, as even a mildly intelligent pre-teenager in these shores will correctly predict, is Narendra Modi whose electoral bandwagon has to be derailed, at any cost, within the next few months. Never mind whether this involves subverting the law, jurisprudence, ethics and norms.
One can almost visualise the meetings of the production and directorial team in assorted locations of Lutyens’ Delhi, where their scriptwriters are trotted out to come up with every possible variation. The CBI lot must be given an Oscar for their improvisation. Leaving out / omitting intelligence reports supplied by the Americans to the IB while submitting the charge sheet to the court – surely, this takes the cake. Really, how dumb can one get? Did this khaki lot think that the CIA / Homeland Security records can be fudged or altered at the behest of 24 Akbar Road? Transcripts of interrogation sessions with a convicted American terrorist, duly tried and convicted by an American court, made to disappear with a wave of a desi hand? The Indian legal system may be woefully inadequate in every sphere, but surely a brazen subterfuge of this nature will not pass muster. At least, that is what every self-respecting Indian would fervently wish – in any case, that is a scenario that will unfold in the days to come.
In the meanwhile, my assessment of this shabby conspiracy must not be viewed through the prism of a purported ‘Italophopia’ on my part. In my growing years, we were exposed to the glorious history of Garibaldi and Mazzini, of the Renaissance and classical Rome, whose splendid legacy the world enjoys even today. As I have said before in these columns, the backdrop I am now looking at is the current Italian model that has been a byword for sleaze and thuggery for the last ninety odd years, since the days of a certain Benito Mussolini. Although the said Signor Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, were executed by Italian anti-Fascist partisans in April 1945, and their bodies put on public display in a Milan square, the country never purged itself from the virus of Fascism and Mussolini’s legacy.
From the immediate post-war days, the Italian establishment (mainly the Catholic Church and the business classes) were haunted by the spectre of communism that was sweeping Europe. As soon as the Cold War started, the Vatican, the Right-Wing parties and the Americans forged an ironclad alliance designed to keep the communists and their allies from the seat of Government in Rome.
This was when the era of coalition politics started in the country, making a mockery of democracy and political ethics. The elaborate rituals of formation of alliances, shady deals between parties and exchange of financial consideration would have done UP and Bihar proud. Indeed, it would be a neck-and-neck race between our badlands and Italy in this dismal race. The southern European country has had no less than 46 Governments since 1945 and as many as 39 Prime Ministers. Only one Italian PM completed his entire term of office of five years.
In fact, the country’s public life reeks of scandal and intrigue. Corruption is omnipresent. Indeed, it is getting worse, just as in our country. The Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International in 2012 gives Italy an unenviable rank of 72 out of 176 countries. The country has been steadily going down in the TPI’s ranks since 2009, when it occupied the 63rd position.
In this putrid structure, there is always the shadowy presence of organised crime, the menace of the mafia and the camorra. The clout of these groups in Italy can never be accurately estimated. Even then, there is consensus among all analysts and observers that the parallel state and the underground forces control enormous swathes of national life. There are few who have the courage to confront them ; in the 1990s, a band of intrepid judicial magistrates took on the mafia and its allies and had some limited success for a few years. Many of the magistrates were just bumped off – those lucky to escape with their lives had to go undercover and lead the rest of their existence under different identities.
The Italian parallel with India is uncanny. Here, we have just seen the 2G sandal and the Coalgate scam unfold thanks to one agency, the CAG and its incorruptible and intrepid chief. In Italy, the shell of sleaze broke in February 1992 when a senior functionary was arrested while taking a pay-off. Eight former Prime Ministers and some 5,000 businessmen and politicians were charged. Some of the corruption was on a grand scale, though not by our standards — one senior Health Ministry official was found to have pocketed $130 million. However, within 10 years, the entire affair was managed and its fall-out contained by people like Berlusconi and his cronies.
The power of the country’s establishment was amply demonstrated in the case of the former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi who was charged with bribery and corruption offences. During his trial, Craxi had the effrontery to defend himself by saying that the money he had effectively stolen was “the cost of politics”. Do we hear, in the background, the resonating voices of Lalu Prasad Yadav, a host of UP politicos and the whole desi gang who share this world view? To put the icing on the cake, Craxi escaped from Italy before his trial concluded and fled to Tunisia, where his asylum had been arranged beforehand. Various reports ascribed credit for this Houdini act to the mafia, the political class or an alliance of the two.
This is the scenario that 24 Akbar Road and 10 Janpath are so desperate to avoid. That is why the wolves in various organisations have been given the carte blanche to save the sinking boat.
(The author is a senior corporate and business analyst based in Delhi).