Few gentlemen and too many petty little crooks!
By Dr Jay Dubashi
A couple of days after Anna Hazare ended his fast, I accompanied a friend to the passport office to make an application for a new passport. Actually, he had his old passport with him but it had expired and he wanted a new one.
Formalities over, we were leaving the office, when a man just outside the door asked us for 500 rupees. He said the money was meant for the coming Ganesh festival, although I could see no such preparations anywhere. My friend said he did not have the money.
“Then you may not get your passport,” said the man.
We were obviously being asked for a bribe and decided to lodge a complaint. But complaint to whom? Nobody would take down our complaint, and some were distinctly rude. A man said that this was a standard “price” for a passport and everybody paid it.
If you go to the RTO office to get your driving licence, you are accosted at the gate by “agents” and asked for anything between Rs 2000 and Rs 5000 for the licence, depending on the cut of your suit and the model of your car. A friend who runs an old Mercedes was once asked for Rs. 25,000, the same amount he had paid for the car.
Nobody helps you, the police the least. Everybody seems to have a finger in the pie. And the pie gets bigger and bigger, the more car there are.
I have tremendous respect for Anna Hazare and wish him well. But will things change with the appointment of a Janalokayukt? Will this Lokayukt have offices at every RTO and passport office? Will he and his officials take down your complaint and start proceedings within hours or days of receiving the complaint? Will the official go to jail, and how soon? And what happens to him in the meantime? Does he continue in the office, and do his bribe-seeking men blatantly ask for bribes while the inquiry goes on? You might say these are minor things and what matters is that the process is on and one day the man – or the woman – will get their punishment.
I am not sure this is what the common man wants. He wants justice. He wants prompt action. He wants the government man to be punished, and punished swiftly. In China, officials who are found guilty of corruption are often executed, yes, asked to stand before a wall and shot. Between five and ten officials ranging from state party chiefs to bosses of public sector undertakings are regularly executed every week, after, of course, proper trials. How many corrupt ministers have been jailed in India, let alone executed?
Those who have recently been sent to Tihar jail are having a wonderful time. Suresh Kalmadi, who is involved in a multi-crore scam right under the nose of the Union Cabinet in Delhi, is seen having tea and biscuits with the jailor, and may be a slap-up meal in the evening. There is a Union Minister, or ex-minister, who too is having a gay time, and, for all you know, spends half this time outside the jail. Is this the way the people suspected of looting the treasury, that is, people’s hard-earned money, should be treated?
It is self-evident that the minister from the south did what he did at the express command of his political boss from the state where his party was in power until recently, before it was booted out by the people. Yet nothing has happened to the man. He continues to run his political and business empire, visits Delhi regularly and sheds tears of his daughter’s plight before press photographers. Why are the authorities silent? Because the man is their comrade-in-arms and can undo their common political and business empire in Delhi?
Take Maharashtra, perhaps, after Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the most corrupt state in India. The state has been the monopoly of certain politicians – of a certain caste – for years who have robbed it right and left before the very eyes of a patient public. These politicians have a run of the best land in the state, best plots and hotels, best real estate, and probably a cut in the most profitable businesses. There is not a single case against them. They have robbed every ministry, at the Centre as well as in the state they have managed to control, and are hand in glove with local thugs, many of whom operate from outside the state. How is it they operate so blatantly and under whose protection?
We have small crooks and we have big crooks, and it is the big crooks who protect the small crooks. It is not the passport offices and collectorates that you have to keep your eyes on, but the ministers and the secretaries in Delhi who are the main source of corruption in this country. Nothing happens unless ministers want it to happen. And the only way to curb corruption is to curb the politicians, some of whom become ministers.
The political class in India has acquired so much power that it has become self-absorbed and totally indifferent to what is happening around them. Thousands of farmers have committed suicide but they could not care less. Billions of rupees have been stashed away, that is, looted, but not a single finance minister, Manmohan Singh included, has taken any action. Billions of dollars have been stolen, and are regularly being stolen from public contracts, but not a single politician has gone to prison. The political class has become not only arrogant – one food minister said that farmers’ suicides were not his problem – but incestuous, taking care of themselves and their kith and kin, even if they belong to other parties. All political parties look alike, which explains why the politicians change parties so easily. They all protect each other, instead of protecting those whom they are supposed to protect.
This explains the tremendous rage against the government, against politicians as a class, against bureaucrats, in fact, anybody connected with political power. For twelve days, while Anna Hazare fasted in public, a frail figure lying on a bed right in the heart of Delhi, not a single minister of the government visited him. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lives only a few miles away from the old man, and the world would not have collapsed if he had paid him a visit and enquired after him, but the fast was an unnecessary nuisance and who is Hazare anyway?
Now Congressmen know who Anna Hazare is. The man who did not ring a bell even in his own state, came all the way to Delhi and shook up the ruling party, perhaps the most corrupt party this side of Suez, and showed people that the emperor had no clothes. This is how the British used to treat Gandhi, but the Mahatma, like Anna Hazare, was made of sterner stuff and he survived them all. It is our good luck that Hazare too survived the petty little men – the Sibals, the Singhs and the Chidambarams – who treated him so shabbily. Next time, we may not be so lucky.a