S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues.
With each passing year of the United Progressive Alliance rule, scams are rising in numbers and in the sums looted. According to one compilation, there were seven scams in 2008, nine in 2009, 14 in 2010, 23 in 2011 and 22 so far in 2012. The Indian political landscape had seen scams earlier, but now the scams seem unending, their rapidity unbelievable and monies plundered unprecedented. No one disputes that the coalition headed by Sonia Gandhi, once hailed as a saint, and the government led by Manmohan Singh, once regarded as honest, are the most corrupt ever. The saint-honest duo has produced some 80 big and small scams, involving over `19 lakh-crore! Adding the amount of black money of India said to be stashed abroad, the scams equal half of nation’s GDP in 2011-’12.
An active and insistent judiciary uncovered some major scams. It has, at least temporarily, disabled the political power that was harbouring, at times even honouring, the corrupt. It forced the telecom minister to quit, and he was sent to jail. A Congress MP, caught in the CWG scam, had to spend a full summer and winter in jail. A Congress chief minister in Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan, had to resign and with his predecessor, Vilasrao Deshmukh, he is facing a CBI probe in the Adarsh housing fraud. Two former Congress chief ministers are under police lens in the Goa mining case. B S Yeddyurappa, former BJP chief minister in Karnataka, lost his office and is facing criminal charges. Bangaru Laxman, a former BJP president, has been convicted for accepting `1 lakh in a sting operation. The Marans and many more are in the queue. The hope of the corrupt now seems to rest on clever lawyers and crucial retirements in judiciary! A huge fall indeed.
A principal reason for this precipitous fall is the paradigm shift in the political, and even intellectual, class from being shy to becoming shameless. Even a decade earlier, a higher rule of public morality operated on the political class. A political leader accused of bribery or immorality would defend his honour invariably by resigning or suing or volunteering to face the probe. That political class was shy of its integrity being questioned. Today’s political class has become shameless. Now when their integrity is questioned, politicians remain silent or brazenly ask for the case to be proved against them in a court of law. However, the government, which has to probe and prove the case in court, is under their control. They refuse to sue the accuser as suing would land them in the witness box where they would be questioned. Take a telling case of this type.
Schweizer Illustrierte, a popular Swiss magazine, unrelated to politics in India, had reported in 1991 that Rajiv Gandhi had $2.5 billion in secret Swiss bank accounts. It would have now grown to over $10 billion at US treasury rates. Later, Russian journalist Yevgenia Albats, in her research book on the Russian spy agency KGB, uncovered documents that showed that the Gandhi family was receiving, with ‘gratitude’, payoffs from the KGB. These reports have been cited in news items and in columns repeatedly in 1988, 1992, 2002, 2006, 2009 (twice) 2010, and 2011 in The Hindu, Times of India, Statesman, India Today, and repeatedly in The New Indian Express. Yet, the Sonia Gandhi family and the ruling party have been maintaining an intriguing silence on these serious exposes. They did not dare sue the newspapers or the writers. A few weeks back, ‘Business Insider’, a fairly well regarded e-magazine based in US, had listed 23 world’s richest politicians. Sonia Gandhi, with her wealth estimated at between $4-19 billion, stood fourth in the honour list. Only the Saudi king, Sultan of Brunei, and Michael Bloomberg (New York mayor) were above her in the list. Again the Gandhi family and the ruling party are deafeningly silent on this report. Should they not sue them if the reports were false? Intriguing, isn’t it? The government is helpless, understandably. Why is the opposition too silent? More intriguing, isn’t it?
A minister in Rajasthan got a young woman he was close to murdered and disposed off the body. A Congress party spokesman, a senior lawyer, was caught on video in a compromising position with a woman lawyer seeking his influence to become a judge. She might well have become one had his driver, angry with him on other counts, not circulated the video. This brings us to judges. The law of contempt once prevented exposing judicial corruption but not any more. K G Balakrishnan, former chief justice of India now heading the human rights commission, stands accused of bribery. His three relatives, including son-in-law, are found to have huge amounts of black money. Justice P D Dinakaran, a chief justice of high court — accused of bribery and land grabbing — had to resign in disgrace. But, the judiciary still looks only outwards. The media, glorified as the fourth estate, stands charged with selling its news space — cash for news. Yet, it still only pontificates. The ruling party has been charged with buying votes in Parliament — cash for votes. Still it rules and loots. Rich men are increasingly and shamelessly ostentatious. A Mukesh Ambani has built a house at over a billion dollars. Still the media celebrates him. There is shamelessness all around. The ordinary people, however, still feel shy to do things wrong. So they looked beyond politics, Parliament, and court for hope towards an Anna Hazare. But with Anna too failing, where would they look for hope?
Srimad Bhagawatham, a great epic, compiled some 1,200 years ago, tellingly describes the ongoing Kali Yuga, the Age of Darkness. It says: “In Kali Yuga, wealth, not virtuous conduct, will determine a man’s worth. Might will decide what is good and bad. Thieves will lead the country. Rulers, greedy and cruel, will degenerate into brigands and plunderers. Business will be tantamount to practising fraud. Cheats will take to trade and business and introduce dishonest practices. Poverty will be regarded as sufficient proof of guilt in courts. Ostentatious show will be the hallmark of character. A master of (abusive) vocabulary will be considered a scholar. Moral values will be observed solely for popularity, not by conviction.” It goes on and on. Is it not a running commentary of the nation today? The text predicts more decline. Finally it gives hope. It says that when the decline is total, the Lord will be born as Kalki to destroy the evil and revive values. So Kalki seems to offer the ultimate hope to the hapless people.