Sunday, December 20, 2009

I had written this sometimes in 2000. Some of the characters are still around and some are dead and gone. But corruption is still alive....

A national consensus on corruption?

``Participation in political activities and public life as such began to be seen as a vocation soon after 1947. And hence a means to self-preservation. It is only natural then for the institutionalisation of corruption.'' - Thus spoke Mr. M. Kumaran, who gave up college education in August 1942 to join the Quit India struggle when asked what the cause for corruption across the country was.
JUSTICE JAGMOHAN LAL SINHA of the Allahabad High Court disqualified Indira Gandhi as member of the Lok Sabha because ``there is not an iota of doubt'' that the then Prime Minister had indulged in corrupt electoral practices. Besides allowing Yashpal Kapoor, a Government servant at that time, to organise her election campaign in Rae Bareli, Indira Gandhi was also found guilty of obtaining the assistance of the Executive Engineer of the Uttar Pradesh PWD and other gazetted officers to erect the rostrum from where she addressed two election meetings.
Memories of that fateful day - June 12, 1975 - when the verdict was delivered and the events during the next fortnight leading to the abrogation of democracy have been revived during the past few weeks. But then all the accounts reminding us of those dark days have said nothing about what could be described as the immediate spark that led to the Emergency: corruption.
Indeed, there were those among the middle class intelligentsia who held that ``corrupt practices'' as defined in the law and the interpretation by Justice Sinha were too trivial and even demanded that such laws be scrapped. However, the fight against corruption was already high on the nation's agenda and the youth in particular were not willing to be guided by Indira's apologists among the intelligentsia. Their determination to fight against the corrupt among the rulers, thanks to JP's call for a Total Revolution, led to a groundswell of opposition to Indira Gandhi. Twentyfive years later, during which time almost all those who played a role in the political theatre at that time had occasion to be in positions of power, the story of a Prime Minister being found guilty of corruption for getting the PWD to erect a rostrum and hence getting barred from contesting elections for six years sounds too good to be true.
After all, these are times when an official of the Enforcement Directorate (who was paid a salary and allowances to check corruption) had to be placed under suspension after it was found that he possessed enormous wealth; when wads of currency, jewellery and property title-deeds were found when the CBI raided the residence of a former Union Minister. The whole process was telecast and this worthy member of the political class did not even blink when claiming that he had earned all this wealth selling apples.
Then there have been instances of a former Chief Minister, who decided to forego even the legitimate salary she was entitled to draw from the exchequer and accepted only a token payment of Re. 1 every month, now being tried for possessing wealth running into crores; and of another former Chief Minister and his wife (now holding that post) earning Rs. 46 lakhs and acquiring immovable property worth several crores. He too drew only a token salary of Re. 1 since he became Chief Minister in 1990.
But then, why is it that the civil society - whose members found in Justice Sinha's verdict reason enough to demand that Indira Gandhi quit or whose members, the youth in particular, were willing to forego their studies for a while and even brave police bullets in the streets of Patna, Allahabad and Ahmedabad - is no longer concerned about corruption even after this monster has now grown so much? There is so much sleaze pouring out of the pores of the body politic that Indira Gandhi's corruption sounds trivial now and yet there is no ferment, not even a ripple.
The sense of helplessness as well as the insensitivity that marks the popular perception across the nation about corruption must necessarily be addressed now; and it is pertinent here to recall what JP had to say a few months before June 12, 1975: ``Collection of party funds, specially for elections is perhaps the largest source of political and other fields of corruption.... These funds are used mainly for Parliamentary and State elections, at which the dependable supporters of the leadership are favoured.'' He went on to add that ``these funds are also used for `managing' party members, buying up defectors and toppling not only Opposition Ministries but also Congress Ministries in the course of party-infighting.''
Prophetic words indeed; except that JP did not foresee that even those whom he had inspired to brave the police and the state machinery - those who could enter the political mainstream thanks to his ``demand'' before the stalwarts who forged the Janata Party that those who were part of his Nav-nirman Samithi be given importance - turned out to be willing participants in this corrupt scheme. Mr. Sharad Yadav, Mr. Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mr. Subodh Kant Sahay, to name a few, were all such young men blessed and handpicked by JP himself. It is common knowledge now where these ``illustrious'' youth of the struggle against corruption have ended up.
Despite the law banning corporate funding of political parties being in place (part of Indira Gandhi's rhetoric of 1969) few across the political spectrum, barring perhaps some of the Left- wing groups whose presence in the Parliamentary scheme of things is marginal, can claim to be free of the stranglehold of illegitimate funds, including ``commissions'' from industrial houses, public works contractors and underworld dons. JP's own creation, the Janata Party, was not free from this menace even while the Loknayak was around.
It was not just the party headquarters; local leaders of these parties too began to line their pockets a little after the dark days of the Emergency - mandated as they were to ``manage'' crowds for the various political programmes of the leaders. Political corruption of the kind JP lamented about spread horizontally, leading to the decentralisation of corruption.
And the next phase began somewhere in the early Eighties from when the party headquarters beginning to look out for funds from an entirely new source, an idea given shape by someone who gave up a ``promising'' career selling paint to ``work'' for the ``uplift'' of the masses. The Government's purchases of goods and services (defence equipment in particular) from manufacturers across the world, running into crores, were found to be a source of funds for the parties' operations, whose magnitude had gone up substantially by then. And this saved the ``managers'' at the party headquarters the bother of having to pressure the rank and file for money; after all they too were demanding a ``charge'' on the ``services'' rendered.
It is this feature of corruption - leaving the localised sources of funds to the rank and file while the headquarters could manage its affairs with large commissions on the Government's purchases from the global market - that is beginning to erode the democratic fabric. For in such a scheme, it is not just the khadi-clad politician who is involved; instead, we find the suave safari-clad bureaucrat, the industrious manager of the ``private sector'' drawn invariably from the middle classes - the bent and the beautiful - often playing the role of facilitator and making a few hundred thousands in the process for him/herself.
And as for the charges of corruption raised by political parties - the Samata party in Bihar, the Congress(I) in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan or any one of the regional parties in Tamil Nadu - the anguish seems to be more because of their not being able to lay their hands on the pie. And thus expressions within the political class against corruption in high places fail to evoke any sense of anger or moral outrage as was witnessed when Justice Sinha disqualified Indira Gandhi some 25 years ago for corrupt poll practices.
In other words, the man on the street has nowhere to go and virtually no one whom he can trust among the political classes any longer. And this indeed is the spirit of Mr. Kumaran's observation.
The 'burden' of proof
STORIES ABOUT members of the ruling elite possessing wealth enough for generations to come in their families to lead a ``happy and contented'' life are no longer a secret. The nation is well aware that these are corrupt practices without ``an iota of doubt'' to repeat Justice Sinha's observations of June 12, 1975. But despite this, no serious observer of the Indian political scene can rest assured that all these cases will end up in conviction of the accused - the multi-crore Jain hawala scam is a typical example. Justice Sinha's verdict now seems an aberration.
Take for instance Mr. Sharad Yadav, one among the several accused in the Jain Hawala scandal. He ``confessed'' before television cameras that he had taken money from one Jain on a particular day; the only point of dispute was the amount. Mr. Yadav claimed at that time that the sum was Rs. 3 lakhs, whereas the entry in the infamous Jain diaries had Rs. 5 lakhs against his name. Mr. Yadav also gave a break-up of how this money was spent; he had disbursed the Rs. 3 lakhs to a handful of his own men who were candidates of the Janata Dal in the 1989 elections.
It so happened that this Mr. Jain's kin were awarded industrial licenses by the Ministry of Textiles and Food processing during the 11 months when Mr. Yadav was presiding over it. Is there any way a quid pro quo can be established here? Unless and until the prosecution submits proof that the grant of licences was in return for the Rs. 3 lakhs, there is no case of corruption here.
This basic premise of the law on corruption led to the courts dismissing the entire Jain hawala scandal, involving crores and players from all walks of the polity - politicians, criminals, businessmen and bureacrats - on grounds that the CBI failed to establish the nexus between the launderer of funds and the taker in terms of any quid pro quo.
Much worse was to follow. Mr. Yadav was discharged from the case on the grounds that his `brave declaration' before TV cameras, which he maintained was reflective of his commitment to principles and value-based politics, did not fit into the definition of ``confessions'' as provided for in the Indian Evidence Act. The Court was right. But then, how is it that it did not occur to the CBI to get Mr. Yadav to repeat what he said before the TV cameras before a Magistrate. This would have ensured a verdict declaring Mr. Yadav, a public servant, guilty of corruption.
Is it at all possible to ``establish'' the nexus between acts of giving money to a political leader and contracts awarded?


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