Here comes Saint Antony
Defence Minister A K Antony made some rare interventions in Parliament over the last two days after the Army Chief Gen V K Singh spoke of a bribe offered to him and a letter written by Gen Singh to the PM suddenly popped up.
Some call him Saint Antony. He does not give interviews. When you meet him, he restricts himself to pleasantries and does not allow you to fish for information. But make no mistake about this. Defence Minister A K Antony is among the most astute politicians. It is not for nothing that he is seen as the man who could become the next Prime Minister of the country if Congress comes back to power and Rahul Gandhi does not take the mantle.
In politics, you can be powerful even without seeking or trying "too hard". Antony believes and practices that. In 1977 he took over from the powerful K Karunakaran as chief minister. Karunakaran had to resign on charges of emergency excesses in the Rajan case. Decades of a bitter group war in the Kerala unit of the Congress followed which still lingers even after Karunakaran's death. Antony isn't quite how he is perceived by many in Delhi. He is a political street fighter. But he does that on his own terms and with some grace.
In his replies to Parliament, Antony has shown how astute a political person he is - more than many of his colleagues and the Prime Minister himself. He rode on his reputation for brutal honesty and his penchant for playing it safe. He got the opposition members in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to listen to him patiently. His image as a person with integrity helped him put across the message that he will never compromise on corruption and it is indeed General Singh who is not interested in cleaning up. He told the opposition benches how important their suggestions are and that they will be considered. Antony has charmed them with his tact, as opposed to the attitude of many of his senior colleagues who are snide when opposed.
Antony also put the focus back into the central issue of corruption in the defence forces and the need to make procurement systems transparent, leading some opposition leaders to demand the resignation of Gen Singh. Antony has defused the bribe bomb.
Sometimes a saintly image works. I think today it did.
More about R Radhakrishnan Nair
Executive Editor, CNN-IBN