(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)
Catch a corrupt elected representative, every one of his ilk cry “political vendetta” and “Rule of Law in Peril” and so on.
Political leaders without exception claim to be paragons of virtue and most honorable men with moral probity and integrity of impeccable order. Had it been really true, modern India would not have been in the current mess socially, politically and economically.
For example, all the colleagues of the Congress Party are vociferously shouting “Political Vendetta” in every possible forum over P Chidambaram, former Finance Minister and Home Minister, D K Shivakumar, Former Karnataka Irrigation Minister and Energy Minister, housed in the Tihar Jail pending detailed investigations by the concerned agency.
Meanwhile, reputed battery of legal luminaries of the Congress Party – Kapil Sibbal, Ahishek Singhvi, Salman Khurshid – are bending facts and spinning conspiracy theories besides indulging in obfuscation and hypocrisy to somehow get Chidambaram out on bail and cleared of charges of corruption. And, their court room theatrics/antics hurling loud innuendoes against all investigative agencies by weaving alternative narratives and stories to distract the Judges from the real issues of culpability of crimes is quite absurd.
Even Sonia Ghandy accompanied by Manmohan Singh, former Prime Minister, has recently rushed to Tihar Jail to visit their tainted colleagues. Naturally, their visit raises more questions than providing answers as to the real purpose. Is it to appeal to Chidambaram not to “spill the beans” of where-all and whom-all the huge amounts amassed by the “Kingpin of corruption” were siphoned?
Ironically quite common it is for all political leaders without exception claiming the status of “Most Honorable Men unless proved otherwise in the Courts of Law” and “Mr. Clean”. Commonly invoked is “let law take its own course” what with leaders coming out on bail, playing the victims card and asserting their right to participate in law making in the Parliament and State Assemblies.
What is important to note is that the “Laws of the Land” permit ‘scamsters’ to delay final verdicts beyond their lifetime? For example, the final verdict of Bofors and the anti-Sikh 1984 riots accused is yet to be delivered.
In retrospect, the laws of the land and its processes are bizarre. “Justice delayed is Justice Denied” has little meaning for them. They allow the accused to appeal against lower Courts verdicts in higher courts of the land as per the so called “due processes of laws of the land” and make mockery out of the judiciary and investigative agencies.
Never too late it is to learn from the wisdom of past luminaries. Credit goes to George Bernard Shaw for his reflection: “Politics is the last resort for the scoundrels”, and “there are no morals in politics; but only expedience.” Indian political leaders have mastered the art and science of self aggrandizement at the cost of society and the nation. The question to ponder over is simple. Surely, it is unfair to expect ‘scoundrels’ to turn into angels overnight on being elected to represent people through murky electoral processes in the name of democracy. Such is the grim reality.
If nation is to realize its full potential and emerge as not only a strong regional power but also a power to reckon with on the global plane, it needs visionary and patriotic leaders but not robbers and scamsters.
Suffice to highlight that the list of accused in corruption cases is a long one. If one takes into account the number of scams at the States, Districts and even Panchayat levels, its cumulative onslaught on India’s national security will be horrendous.
Be that as it may, let me briefly recall the story of corruption and criminalization of politics in India. The foundation of corruption was laid immediately after the country gained independence in 1947.
Dumped in the dust bin of history is “Jeep Scandal” involving late V K Krishna Menon in 1948. Less known is also the story of corruption in 1949 when Industry minister Rao Shiv Bahadur Singh, father of Arjun Singh, was jailed for 3-years for taking a bribe of Rs 25,000 from gemstone trader Sachendubhai Baron for renewing his diamond mining lease.
Followed Mundhra Scandal and Cycle Import scandal in 1951, BHU funds misappropriation in 1956, Teja loan scandal in 1960, Pratap Singh Kairon scandal in 1964, Kalinga Tube scandal in 1965, Nagarwala scandal in 1971 and Maruti scandal in 1974 and so on.
Either Nehru or Indira Ghandy can claim to be paragons of ethics, morals, values and virtue having presided over laying the foundations for political corruption at the highest levels.
As per experts, “Command Economy and License Raj” heralded or set the rapid pace of corruption. And, the post-1991 era of economic liberalization only accelerated its spread exponentially.
It is common knowledge that the UPA regime after 2004 allowed corruption to explode: Oil-for-food program me; Cash for Query; MPLAD scam; Scorpene Submarine Scam, Kerala Ice Cream Parlor Scandal; Navy War Room spy scandal; Human Trafficking Forged Passport Scam; Cash for Votes Scandal; Madhu Koda mining scam; Satyam scandal; Hasan Ali Khan; Indian Black Money in Swiss Banks; Reliance Gas scam; 2G spectrum and Radia Tapes Controversy; Adarsh Housing Society; Commonwealth Games scam; Housing loans; Belekeri port; Lavasa Scandal; UP Food Grain Scam; AP Industrial Infrastructure Corporation Controversy; ISRO-Devas S band Scam; and IPL Cricket Scandals; Chopper Scam, Tatra Truck Scam, Bihar Fodder Scam; Kerala Solar Scam; Vyapam Scam Details; Food Adulteration in India; Barak Missile Scam; BSNL Telephone Line Scam; Iron Ore Mining Scam; sand mining scam; and so on.
List of scams of Vajpayee led BJP-NDA rule, list of scams include: 1999 (Kargil Coffingate; and UTI Mutual Fund scam); 2000 (Cricket Match fixing; Telgi Stamp Paper Scam – over US $40 million); 2001 (UTI Scam; Ketan Parekh securities; Barak Missile Scandal; Calcutta Stock Exchange; Tehelka Sting); 2002 (Home Trade Scam); 2003 (Telgi Stamp Paper Scam; Taj corridor scandal); and 2004 (Gegong Apang PDS Scam).
“Loot and Loot by all alike and Scoot” and “Make Hay while the Sun shines” became the norm. By 1980s, even the “paid news” afflicted media.
Look for one leader or family name for alleged involvement in corruption around the corner, one can find many of their political colleagues/crooks in the same bandwagon. For example, courts have determined and established a prima face case against Sonia and Rahul Ghandy’s culpability in the alleged criminal misappropriation in the National Herald scam.
Lalu Prasad (RJD Supremo) former Chief Minister, Suresh Kalmadi and Sheila Dikshit of CWG Scam, Vijaya Mallya, Lalit Modi of IPL scam, Sashikala, Nirav Modi, Choksi among many others.
Similarly, criminalization of politics was a known fact since early days of parliamentary form of democracy. Booth capturing and rigging was a common feature in faction ridden districts all over the country. Let me recall extracts published in my book in 1993: “There is all round recognition that our liberal democracy has politicized and criminalized every single aspect of our society. Instead of striving for academic excellence, teachers and students are totally involved in politics. Instead of maximizing production, farm labor and industrial work force are pre-occupied in playing politics.
Instead of promoting universal brotherhood, love and respect for each other, religious leaders are fanning the flames of distrust and hatred by active political involvement. Almost every single aspect has been over-politicized and criminalized. The price is proliferation of social frustrations, tensions and crises. …… Criminalization, smuggling and corruption have got consolidated through institutionalization of gangsterism.”
Kudos to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which was established in 1999 by a group of Professors from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmadabad, to compile the record of criminals in the Lok Sabha since 2004:
- In the 14th Lok Sabha, out of the 543 elected MPs, there were 128 (23.57 per cent) with 429 criminal cases including 58 (10.68 per cent) with 296 cases of serious nature.
- In the 15th Lok Sabha (2009 elections), there were 162 (29.83 per cent) MPs with 522 criminal cases including 76 (14 per cent) have 275 cases of serious nature against them.
- In the 16th Lok Sabha (2014 elections), every third MP had criminal cases against them. Of the 541 MPs, 186 (34.38 per cent) faced criminal charges. Of the 186 new members, 112 (21 per cent) have declared serious criminal cases, including those related to murder, attempt to murder, causing communal disharmony, kidnapping, crimes against women etc.
- Nearly 43% elected MPs have criminal charges against them in the 17th Lok Sabha, what with an increase of 109% in the number of MPs with declared serious criminal cases since 2009. Nearly 29% of them are facing serious criminal charges like rape, murder and kidnapping.
Once in power these self centric, power maniacs corrupt democracy, entrench themselves completely and impossible to eliminate them from inner power circles. They become virtual parasites in New Delhi and the State Capitals. The Tehelka expose showed nexus between politicians, civilian bureaucrats and senior military officers accepting substantial sums of money to influence a fictitious arms deal.
During the Congress Party regimes, the CBI was derisively called the Congress Bureau of Investigation by the BJP with tables turned now. Nowadays, the common refrain of all Opposition Parties is that the CBI, IT and the ED are “Caged Parrots” of the ruling BJP dispensation. Even the Judiciary is being blamed to toeing or falling in line with ruling regime.
If “Command Economy and License Raj” were the root cause of growth of corruption until early 1990s, the pace and level of corruption went exponential due to liberalization. With the political leaders throwing open the flood gates of corruption; everyone has joined the race of corruption from “Panchayat to Parliament”.
In contrast with the past corrupt bonanza, the Modi-led BJP regime since 2014 has carved a niche for its clean and honest record at the Apex level.
However, due to electoral compulsions of winning elections at all costs, of late even the BJP has been admitting members of other political parties with corrupt and criminal credentials.
Most disturbing is loot of scarce resources by the corrupt leaders and patrons. Even river bed sand, sea coast sand with valuable atomic minerals, human hair and animal bones are on sale on auction platforms purportedly for the lowest bidder.
In reality in most cases, whoever offers best underhand deals becomes the winner to loot scarce resources in the name of promoting development and growth with utter regard to the interests of future generations.
Pristine rain forests are virtually denuded in the Northeast Hill States, river sand bars virtually laid barren pre-empting underground water percolation and recharging of acquifiers and even crushed stone rock quarries used for concrete aggregate, road building, and, in the case of limestone, as flux in blast furnaces and for chemical applications offer high underhand pay-offs.
From the days of I K Gujral as the Prime Minister, the most invoked catchy slogan is “Zero Tolerance against Corruption”. And, it is also reaffirmed internationally “We remain committed to fighting corruption”.
No “Eureka” that the most heinous and ubiquitous internal national security threats are corruption and criminalization of politics. The nexus between drug traffickers, arms peddlers, smugglers, human trafficking and terrorists is well recognized today. Conjointly, they spiral terrorism and threaten democracy.
In sum, the time is ripe to expose all those spinning the stories of “Political Vendetta” for complicity of corruption and crimes. And, they too must be treated as abettors under the due processes of law. And, the media houses championing the cause of corrupt and criminal leaders due to their past affiliation with them need to exercise tremendous restraint lest they too lose their credibility. Lest partisan media too continues to support their past masters, their credibility too would adversely suffer!