Dr Jay Dubashi
The princely states may have disappeared from the map, but the maharajahs are still very much there, though in different form. The new maharajahs do not strut about festooned with necklesses of gold and pearls, but they have more money power than the old satraps, though they do not flaunt their wealth as the old maharajahs used to do. There are business maharajahs and there are political maharajahs and between them they own and control more wealth than the Reserve Bank.
Take the business maharajahs first. Last month we saw one of them nearly come to grief when his airplanes were grounded one after another because he could not pay the bills. Since the planes cannot fly without fuel, and you cannot manage fuel unless you pay for it, the poor fellow had to go around begging for cash, but, for some reason, his friends, the political maharajahs, could not help him. He then tried for a bail-out, but that too came to nothing. One or two banks were willing but the necessary signals did not come through, and, at the moment of writing, his planes still remain grounded.
The man is a liquor tycoon, running a business inherited from his father, but being a maharajah, he did not stick only to liquor. He seems to have his bejewelled fingers in all sorts of pies, from cricket to motor racing, almost all of them totally unrelated to liquor. It is obvious that the political maharajahs have apparently decided to teach him a lesson, for reasons of their own, and have decided to leave him twisting in the wind, until he starts grovelling before them, as they all do when their money – or other people’s money they are playing with – is at stake.
The political maharajahs play a different type of game, but not all succeed at it. A small-time politician, who hailed from Bihar, and later settled down in Mumbai, the city of gold, was recently hauled before the courts for making too much money, so much that he himself did not know, or pretended, not to know, how much money he had-amassed. The man came to Mumbai as a hawker, with nothing more on his back than a towel, acquired a thela and started selling bananas from door to door. This was way back in the seventies.
Within years he had joined the Congress, a favourite nattering hole for such people, and gone up one rung after another, until, over the years, he rose to become the president of the city Congress committee, a position of vantage for people who are fed up with bananas and have other more substantive things on their mind. Soon, he was a proud owner of five big flats in Mumbai, half a dozen posh limousines, a 25,000-acre mango orchard, not in Bihar but in Ratnagiri, and dozens of bank accounts stuffed with cash. The man is semi-literate and can barely utter a sentence but he became an MLA and also a minister. And there are photographs of him with the big-wigs of Delhi, including those in Janpath, a sign that he had eyes on Delhi too, and would have succeeded but for a slightly inconvenient encounter with the police in Mumbai.
The court has asked all his properties to be attached and disposed of, and a case filed against him on the usual charges. It is not clear what will happen to him. He may end up in jail, like his friend, a former Chief Minister of Jharkhand, who is cooling his heels in a Jharkhand jail. Or the political maharajahs may come to his aid, as they always do, or the man may be again looking for a thela and, of course, some bananas, and resume his old trade on the streets of his favourite city. Incidentally, his name is Kripashankar Singh, and he is still out waiting for the guardians of justice to pick him up, if they do pick him up. They have still not totted up his fortune which, it is said, is anything between Rs 400 and Rs 500 crore.
Let us now come to the point. The liquor baron went under or may go under because he got no help from his friends, the political maharajahs. The banana king was allowed to amass his fortune and almost got away with it. But could he have made his fortune without the help of the political maharajahs sitting in Delhi? In fact, one could go further and ask whether he was not doing what he did for the political maharajahs, and was not in fact a small fry in a vast mafia empire being run from the nation’s capital by what appears to be a political gang running a political party, not for political purposes, but for doing what mafias do in other countries, viz., using politics to make money, and then using money to do politics?
It is a system that has made New Delhi the corruption capital of India. it is not clear how long this profitable system has been in operation. It must be since the Italians – whose knowledge of the mafia is matchless – came to power in Delhi some years ago. It has now apparently spread to other capitals, beginning with Mumbai, where there is more money than a hundred Delhis. If you don’t believe me, go and ask our friend, Sharad Pawar, who first perfected it in the state and has been picking its fruits ever since.
Kripashankar Singh is a small fry in the system but the fact that a semi-literate man could come to Mumbai from nowhere and amass a vast fortune in less than twenty years speaks volumes for the system. There were, of course, others elsewhere playing the same game. It is not an accident that corruption has been mounting from Delhi to Chennai – ask M Karunanidhi and his family – and from Gurgaon to Kolkata, and all in the last 20-odd years. Suresh Kalmadi and D Raja flourished and piled up their fortunes during the same period. In fact, it is my hunch that the larger the number of big projects the government goes in for, the greater is the corruption, and vice-versa. The Commonwealth Games have served no purpose at all except to spread money around to middlemen like Suresh Kalmadi, and through them, to the Mafiosi. Kalmadi actually behaves as if he had nothing to do with the Games and was only a go-between. When he returned home after a few months in Tihar jail, he was welcomed as a hero, and not a small-time pickpocket which he was. He was only collecting money for others, and he was not working alone. He tells his intimates that he has no idea why he had to spend time in jail, while others have gone scot-free.
First D Raja, then Suresh Kalmadi, and now Kripashankar Singh – the system keeps grinding on, filling the coffers of the Delhi mafia, while the government goes on with silly enquiries now and then, which add up to nothing. The Rajas, the Kalmadis and the Singhs may spend a few days in jail, but they are good soldiers and the mafia will fight for them-in one way or another, as it does in Italy!