Dr Jay Dubashi
JUST when we thought we had seen the last of our old friend, Suresh Kalmadi, he is in the news again. At last, he has been formally charged with fraud and other felonies, but there are other big fishes now in the net, and nobody is taking notice of the poor man.
Kalmadi lives in my neighbourhood in Pune. I used to see him occasionally in the mornings, when we went for a walk, but that was before the police caught up with him. Now that he is busy with other things, and other things are busy with him, I do not see him anymore.
The Italian mafia from Milan is now making all the news, but they will soon be overtaken by other gangs, and they too, like Kalmadi, will recede into the background. There is apparently a long line of crooks waiting to follow Kalmadi into jails, particularly the Yeravda jail in Pune, which once housed Gandhiji and, for a while, Nehru and Sardar Patel, but for entirely different reasons.
In 1942, some of us also spent time there, and I am curious to know how far from our cells Kalmadi & Co. will be staying. I pass by the jail, a forbidding edifice, every time I go to the airport, and wonder whether it serves the same food – three or four chapatis, a thin water-like dal, an apology for vegetables with enough chilies to keep you awake all night, and on special days, a small heap of coarse rice liberally mixed with stones. We refused to eat the stuff and went on hunger strike – this was in 1942 when the war was on and the Japanese were knocking at our doors – but it had no effect on the dour Britishers who were in charge.
The district magistrate was an Englishman with a toothbrush moustache, and looked like Alec Guinness, the actor, or perhaps like EM Forster, the novelist. When I saw Forster a few years later in England, I asked him whether he had ever been to Pune.
I just wanted to tease him but he knew a few Marathi words – he had worked as a tutor to a Maharaja or Raja long before the War – and the idea that he could have been working in an Indian jail amused him no end.
But I am digressing. As I said, a lot of politicians are waiting to follow Suresh Kalmadi into jail. Among them is a man called Kripashankar Singh, whose story is even more interesting than that of Kalmadi, apart from the fact that both are Congressmen, or were Congressmen.
Kripashankar landed in Mumbai about twenty years ago from his native Uttar Pradesh, without a job, and, of course, without a ticket. Within months, maybe days, he was working as a porter in a vegetable market, and a few months after that, he had acquired a handcart and was selling vegetable himself. He put aside enough cash to rent a room and also, on the side, work for a Congressman from his district back in UP. Mumbai has a large community from UP and our friend soon found his feet and began hobnobbing with the Congress politicians. Within about ten years he fought an election to the State Assembly and a few years after that became a minister. And that is when he started minting money. The man is now worth at least a thousand crore, owns a dozen flats in and out of Mumbai, has married his son and daughter to politicians in Jharkhand and was making plans to capture the chief minister gadi when his luck ran out and he was either betrayed by his fellow Congressmen or fell out of favour with his party bosses. And now, like his friend Kalmadi, he is a marked man, and may soon join his friend in the same jail.
Then there is another crook called Chhagan Bhujbal, whose story is even more interesting than that of Kripashankar. Bhujbal is not a Congressman, but that opparently is no disqualification in a State like Maharashtra, where your colour does not matter as long it is as white as a Gandhi cap. Like our friend Kripashankar, Bhujbal was a porter in the Bycully vegetable market, but not for very long. For an ambitious man on the make, vegetable markets in Mumbai are what soccer fields are in New York.
They are the launching pads for ambitious men, and soon Bhujbal, who even now has difficulty in uttering a correct sentence, found not only his feet but also his wings and was flying in the sky. He is now a minister in the Congress-NCP government where he looks after public works, which, to a man like him, is like making him master of the mint. The Bhujbals are now said to be worth Rs 10,000 crore, which even Birlas and Tatas would not be able to make in ten generations.
The day after the news came that Suresh Kalmadi has been formally charged with fraud, not to speak of other crimes, I was visiting a school, which I do from to time, to address some of their boys. The boys are a very clever lot, as most Indian boys and girls are, and up to date in political and other gossip. They had all heard about Kalmadi and his friends, and, of course, about Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh and did not have too high an opinion of the shady goings-on in Delhi and elsewhere. One of the boys had a pertinent question: Why, he asked, do we persist with so-called ‘democracy’ if, at the end of the day, all we get is low Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth and high corruption?
Like most other critics, he had China in mind. Communist China, he said, didn’t believe in democracy, never held genuine elections, had no freedom of press, for that matter, any other kind of freedom, yet had been having high GDP growth year in and year out, also much less corruption than we have, and has been able to achieve more in one generation that we have done in two or three. They all knew that China would soon be number one economic power in the world, something the country had been able to achieve in just twenty or thirty years, and was producing more billionaires than even America, which makes such a big fuss about its constitution, elections, legislative assemblies and judicial order. China doesn’t care for any of these things. Its constitution is a farce, so are the so-called elections and assemblies, and of course, its courts. If what they do in the United States and Europe, and, he might have added, India, is democracy, and what they do in China is autocracy, what do we gain by this “democracy”.
I must confess I had no ready answer. Can our pundits try and answer the question – or questions?