Of Gates & Corruption

Karl Kraus, the Austrian Journalist, had once said Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual; the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country”. That corruption has found deep roots in nearly all walks of Indian life is hardly debateable. The greater worry is that those responsible to fight and check corruption are possibly the most corrupt.

Of Gates & Corruption

The period from 2004 to 2014 was perhaps the worst period where corruption ruled supreme and scams became bigger and bigger. Starting with Bofors Gate, The Congress’ top leadership has been linked with many others gates in the recent past that include the Vadra Gate, 2G Gate, 3G Gate, Coal Gate, Rail Gate, Adarsh Housing Gate, Tatra Truck Gate, Westland Chopper Gate and last but not the least National Herald Gate. Some of its allies were no less and flourished equally in their individual strongholds in different parts of the country. The party and its leadership do deny all allegations of corruption as is the norm today. However it will be difficult to assume that no one was involved in any of these scams that have rocked the nation during the United Progressive alliance (UPA) rule. Equally it will be naive to dismiss that no credible evidence is available in any of the gates to zero down on the defaulters. The fact that graft and money laundering did take place in all cases is beyond doubt. The question that is engaging most informed citizens is why the new government has not been able to close any of these gates and take a final call on who is guilty and who is not. Unfortunately the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government that came to power in June 2014 has not been able to close any of these gates till date which is resulting in a loss of credibility for the new government.

In light of the above it does speak volumes for the systems that we have in place in our government and the capabilities of our agencies responsible for investigating such cases. It is no secret that billions of rupees have been spent on these investigations and yet nothing concrete has emerged so far. Bofors Gate is a prime example of how our investigative and administrative machineries spent over Rs 2,500 million and yet failed to arrive at any final conclusion. Last one year has seen government spokesmen coming out with small bits of new evidences on some case or the other from time to time to keep the high decibel debates alive on national television. Some media houses seem to have raised investigative arms to come out with ‘breaking news’ related to some scam or the other at regular frequencies. How they access all the classified and sensitive documents is a mystery. This mystery deepens further if one asks why some of the crucial information leaked by the media could not be unearthed by nation’s premier investigation agencies (like CBI and ED) despite their overwhelming powers and reach. One does hear a lot of talk in the media, particularly from the political parties opposed to the current government, as to why the government is not taking some of these cases to their conclusion to pin the guilty. It is indeed a very valid question since it is no secret that the NDA government has made more than necessary noise on each of these cases but has very little to show in terms of final results. What are the possible reasons for this failure on part of the government despite the fact that on face value they do seem to be committed to bring out the truth in each case?

First and foremost one has to understand that the new government is less than two years old and it has a lot on its platter considering that they inherited a government machinery that was in comatose under the UPA 2 government. In all fairness this time period is far from sufficient to take full control of the government, clear the mess and to simultaneously take all the pending scams to their logical conclusion. However much the new government may desire, it certainly would have many more high priority tasks in hand to first establish itself in the seat of power before it ventures out to pursue the scam related investigations to bring the culprits to the book. This is not to say that all the investigations would be put on hold. The point to understand here is the relative priority of various tasks in hand and the time and other resources to be allocated to handle them. Now that the government is completing nearly two years of being in power and has established itself firmly in different corridors of power, one can certainly hope that the pace of the investigations will gather speed. It will add drastically to the credibility of the government if one or two of these cases are brought to their logical conclusion in the near future. If this happens the government will vindicate itself and prove that all the noise it made was not just beating of hollow drums.

In any government, irrespective of the political party in power, continuity is provided by the administration since political leadership will come and go but the administrative systems and machinery remains in place to carry on the work in an uninterrupted manner. It is no brainer to understand that while the nation has a huge administrative set up spread across many ministries, departments and other government bodies; their capability and will for an efficient delivery has always been a big question mark. This is not to say that the entire set up is inefficient or incapable. Without a doubt there are a few bright spots here and there but by and large our administrators are unworthy of the positions they hold and fail to deliver in more ways than one. Judiciary, police, and other investigative agencies who are responsible for unearthing evidence and details of the scams move at a snail’s pace, sometimes deliberately and at times due to lack of expertise, motivation and the will to succeed. Lethargy, inefficiency and unaccountability are the hallmarks of Indian administrative system and it will take a lot to overcome these hurdles to make the system pro-active, efficient and accountable to the nation. Without a doubt the new government has already made a difference in this direction but there is a long way to go still. In view of this it is only wishful thinking to expect that the new government in power should have resolved all the scam cases and closed all the gates during the short period it has been in power.

Another major reason for the slow pace of investigation is the complexity of the cases which is further compounded by the fact that most are many years old where lot information and records are unlikely to be available. In some cases these may have been deliberately destroyed or made to disappear. British Hawk Advance Jet Trainer purchase, Coal Gate, 2G Spectrum sale and Ishrat Jahan investigation cases are prime examples where valuable information and files have been found to be missing. There is no doubt that many in the last government would like to cover the tracks of their misdeeds. Most of the ongoing cases being investigated involve foreign entities and organisations which make investigations even more complex. But then in today’s times governments have to be geared up to resolve such problems and still come out on top since not only is the loss in revenues a matter of concern at the national level, the credibility of the nation too is at stake. This is where diplomatic channels and mutual cooperation assume great significance. The new government’s diplomatic initiatives do appear to be in place and hopefully it will reap the rewards from the same which will include any assistance required in investigations related to the scams in question.

There is another very important aspect to such investigations and relates to the credibility of the intent of the government of the day to take such investigations to their ultimate end. This perhaps is the most important factor for any such investigation to succeed. The credibility of the government’s intent cannot be judged purely from the rhetoric in public domain – such rhetoric is invariably more for political brownie points than for any sincere administrative action for the case in hand. In the final analysis any persecution in such high profile cases is more a political decision rather than an administrative decision. Who can forget the way UPA government went about the cases against Ms Mayawati and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh or Jaylalitha and Karuanidhi in Tamil Nadu. Whenever pressure was required to be exerted on these leaders the UPA government would bring up the cases and then suddenly the same would were consigned to the cold storage for months or even years. The moot question to be asked here is whether the NDA government has the political will to expedite and force an early closure of these cases. As on date it will be difficult to answer this question in the affirmative with total conviction since the government is yet to produce any concrete results. May be it could have fast tracked the Vadra Gate and National Herald Gate to establish its credibility since these two are perhaps the least complicated out of the long list of all scams. Unfortunately even these seem to be moving at a snail’s pace. That does put a big question mark on whether the NDA government has the political will to take all these cases to their logical end and close most of the gates for good. Next 6 to 8 months will be very crucial for the government to prove its commitment in this regard failing which it may see a major shift in public opinion.

It is no secret that political bonhomie among leaders of different political parties in India has flourished in the capital for many decades. Indian politicians have always believed in the age old adage of ‘you scratch my back and I will scratch yours’.  There are many pointers in this regard if one tries to look for the same. The nation has seen many politicians of dubious credentials occupy a nearly permanent place in the Lutyens zone with a life style that smacks of wealth and power at every step. If they cannot get elected to the Lok Sabha which is a more difficult route, they somehow manage to come through the back door to Rajya Sabha – which incidentally is a very good indicator of one’s political bonhomie. Living in Lutyens area ensures that they rub shoulders with those in power on a daily basis, get an automatic entry to the political glitterati club of the capital and enjoy a life style that most citizens cannot even dream of? Last but not the least if one is part of the power club, money and other perquisites flow in without much fuss. It may be a different matter that those in government command a greater premium while others a relatively smaller premium when it comes to sharing the spoils. Is it any wonder then that politicians of all hues and colours can boast of assets amounting to millions of rupees in a matter of few years once they become part of the power circles in the Lutyens zone? This is political bonhomie at its best for mutual gains and Indian politicians have mastered this art despite their dubious educational, moral and professional standards. Does this political bonhomie also come in the way of serious investigations with respect to the various gates? During the UPA rule it certainly did and one sincerely hopes that the government under Mr Modi is different and will not fall in the same trap.

It may do the government a lot of good to understand what the common citizen in India thinks of its political leadership today. One can summarise it in the words of the famous American musician Ray Davies who said Money and corruption are ruining the land, crooked politicians betray the working man, pocketing the profits and treating us like sheep, and we’re tired of hearing promises that we know they’ll never keep”. This perception must change if India wants to play an important part at the world stage. The Modi government is firmly in the saddle now. This is evident from the way many past and present bureaucrats and other senior functionaries in various positions have started to sing in different tunes. Skeletons are tumbling out of the dusty cupboards of the ministries and departments on a regular basis. Will all this lead to some concrete results? Is a political storm brewing somewhere that may impact the hitherto untouchable politicians in a manner unheard of before in our country? Will it help to cleanse the system of the evils that have taken deep roots in the power corridors of the nation? The question facing us today is about the future of the nation and not about the fate of a few individuals. Therefore what needs to be done must be done is the only way forward without worrying about who will get stung on the way.  In the march towards a ‘Corruption Free India’ it is inevitable that some current edifices will fall while some lesser known ones will rise to take their place.

Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.

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