India, while emerging as a global power with its economy spurting ahead is also being severely rocked by corruption scandals. Yet there is still hope. Law and order still remains intact unlike in many South Asian nations.
Last week the Chief Organiser of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, Suresh Kalmadi was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation and is to be charged with corruption relating to contracts in the purchase of equipment for the games.
Earlier two other officials of the Olympic Committee were arrested over the Commonwealth Games scam and are to be charged. The Indian government spent over US$ 6 billion dollars for the New Delhi games — much above the original estimates.
Another scam under investigation is the diversion of houses meant for war widows to civil servants.
The biggest of all scams
On Thursday last week , Kanimozhi, Rajya Sabha (Upper House) member and daughter of the legendary M. Karunanidhi, Chief Minister was charged under Sections 7 and 11 of the Prevention of Corruption Act. These sections deal with acceptance of alleged gratification. Kanimozhi is being charged along with four others in what has been described as ‘by far the biggest Indian scam’ — the 2G Telecommunications Scam on licensing of Spectrum 2G (Second Generation) Services in 2008.
This scam is reported to have cost the Indian government US$ 40 billion. The Minister of Telecommunications who was also a member of the DMK at that time, Andimuttu Raja, was asked to resign and is now under arrest and has been charged with cheating, forgery, abuse of his official position.
The Dravida Munnetran Khazagam (DMK) a partner of the United People’s Alliance (UPA) government of Sonia Gandhi being connected to the scandal is causing much embarrassment to the Indian Congress Party which does not have a comfortable majority in the Indian Lower House (Lok Sabha) but there is no threat of the DMK pulling out because its leader Karunanidhi needs the Congress more than the Congress needs him. A few months ago the Congress threatened to pull out of the alliance over share of seats in the Tamil Nadu State Assembly in the parliamentary elections that were concluded recently (results have not been declared as yet) but that issue was settled in favour of the Congress.
Karunanidhi’s daughter being charged and even his aged wife Dayaluammal being named (in a supplementary charge sheet) is a blow against the image of Tamil Nadu’s strong man and godfather but he has stomached it all, probably because he has no other alternative. On Thursday he defended his daughter saying that this was a political conspiracy against the DMK and media hype. His daughter had been dragged in to mire the name of this party. He vowed that the DMK would stage a legal fight back.
The Telecom minister
The scandal has its roots in the Minister of Telecommunications Andimuttu Raja deciding on the sale of telecommunications licenses on a first-come-first-served basis which benefited a few selected bidders whereas the auctions mechanism, it has been pointed out, would have enabled licensing to be done with transparency and more equity. Earlier there had been reports in the Indian media about the alleged scam but it did not make much of an impact but reports of the Government Comptroller and Auditor General pointing out that the Minister’s exercise has yielded only Rs. 12, 645 crores (US$ 2.8 billion) whereas according to his estimates using several benchmarks its peak valuation would have been Rs. 176, 645 crores (US$ 40 billion) blew the lid off the scandal.
The scandal even enmeshed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh whose financial rectitude is considered to be impeccable. The Supreme Court has asked him for an explanation for the 11 month delay by him over a petition by Subramaniam Swamy, President of the Janata Party, seeking permission to sue Raja, the minister concerned. This resulted in the Opposition BJP seizing the opportunity to hurl mud at the Prime Minister and Congress, demanding an inquiry while paralysing the last sessions of parliament in its entirety.
The fallout of the 2G scam was felt once again in parliament last week when the Public Accounts Committee report of parliament was taken up. Congress and DMK charged that the committee chairman, a respected and senior politician, M.M. Joshi, had shown mala fide and mischievous intentions by giving completely false information on witnesses that had deposed before the committee. The report was rejected on Thursday with Congress and DMK along with members of two other parties voting against it.
Rs. 30.9 crore conspiracy
The CBI in its first charge sheet said that that the former Telecommunications Minister Raja conspired with top bureaucrats including an IAS officer and corporate ‘honchos’ to cause a loss of Rs. 30,984 crore to the government in allocation of 2G Spectrum licences. Eight others and three telecommunication companies were named. It was alleged that they entered into a conspiracy for manipulating the procedure for allocation of spectrum licences with the aim of favouring specific companies like Swan Telecom and Unitech.
The charge sheet said that money from some of these companies had travelled ‘circuitously’ to Kalainagar TV in which Kanimozhi had shares amounting to 20 per cent while Karunanidhi’s wife had 60 per cent and Shared Kumar, the managing director had 20 per cent.
Scams and Gandhi
The 2G Scam is by itself grim irony in this land which still reveres the sage Mahatma Gandhi, the frail old man who led an entire sub continent to independence after being a colony of the mightiest empire at that time. Honesty and simplicity and ahimsa were some of the virtues he propounded and they stand in stark contrast today in the stench of the 2G scandal.
Corruption was there in Gandhi’s time too but that was on a minor scale, the corruption of the poor. Corruption was attributed to the poverty that prevailed at that time. Today the cause for corruption is affluence.
Yearning for Gandhian times
Indians appear to be having a yearning for Gandhian simplicity. The demand made by a 71-year-old activist, Anna Hazare for the appointment of a Lok Pal — an institute to investigate and prosecute corrupt public officials — was conceded to by the government of Manmohan Singh within three days of launching a ‘fast unto death.’ The demand for the creation of such an independent body had been made way back in the sixties but been successfully stalled by the bureaucracy and politicians on nine occasions. This time too here had been objections to inclusion of ‘outsiders’ in a body overseeing the conduct of officials and politicians — people who were not a part of government.
Harare’s response to this has been that bureaucrats and politicians are servants of the ‘outsiders’ and not vice versa rang bells throughout the continent and branches of an organisation India Against Corruption (IAC) sprang up throughout the sub-continent. Some Indian commentators have said that the government’s unusual response to a citizens’ organisation such as Harare’s was the fear of its rapid spread.
Despite prevalent widespread corruption there is hope for India. Law and order prevails still, unlike in many South Asian countries. Its basic governing infrastructures still remain intact. The Indian police despite the severe influence and intimidation by political parties are still functional. A police force can move against the interests of the ruling party as seen in the mother of all scams — the 2G scam. The Supreme Court still retains its independence and is not subservient to the ruling party and the media is vibrant, independent and powerful — not a lickspittle of the powers that be.
Successes in exposing the 2G Scandal and the Lok Pal taking off were possible mainly because of the fearless, independent media. The Indian media could play a significant role pulling this country out of the mire corrupt politicians and crooks have dragged it into.