Archive for the ‘Corruption’ Category

Was Rajat Gupta the fall guy? The right man in the wrong place whose inherent, helpful nature got him into trouble? Or was he a (not-so) smart operator who thought he could get away with it? If you went by the manner in which the American justice system has treated him, it would seem he was the latter.

I’ve been following the case with interest, much for the same reasons as everyone else – the rags-to-riches-to-jail tale of an Indian who made it big in the US. It’s the stuff of Bollywood potboilers – orphaned child who came to the US on a scholarship and went on to make a name for himself – family man, business icon, philanthropist etc etc. From hero to zero.

I’ve also been reading about the reaction of people to his conviction for insider trading. Some Indians (both here and in the USA) believe that there’s more to it than meets the eye. That he didn’t deserve the punishment – he only helped a friend who unfortunately misused that friendship. That he was just being Indian. After all, Indians love to ‘help’ a friend in need with a few tips on the business, don’t they? Unfortunately in the US and elsewhere, such things go under the term ‘insider trading’ and instead of being invited home for dinner and drinks, you could end up spending a decade or more behind bars – and it’s not the kind you can drink in.

A report in the Washington Post quotes one of the jurors Ronnie Sesso saying: “What did Mr. Gupta get out of this by giving Mr. Rajaratnam the information? Was it the future, was it cash?” Ultimately, she pointed to Gupta’s “need for greed: ‘I could get away with it once and I’ll do it again.’”

He had lived in the US long enough to know the meaning of insider trading so didn’t he know that what he was doing could invite a jail term? He must have been privy to info on Raj Rajaratnam who has been referred to as a “snake in the grass” so why did he get onboard with someone like that? If he had no clue about Rajaratnam’s antecedents I can understand, but one finds it hard to believe that a person like him didn’t know.

It’s like when we break a traffic signal, get caught by a cop and then try to bluster our way through by justifying our actions, looking reasonably hurt by the cop’s accusations! Only this is not a traffic offence which involves a few measly hundred rupees but millions of dollars worth of fraudulent deals. And, one presumes, one can’t get away by greasing a few palms, at least not that easily!

Compare that to our legal system. After over 25 years we still haven’t convicted one person for bribes paid in a gun deal! That’s why I admire the US justice system and the way they have nailed people like Rajat Gupta and others. Sure they let people like Madoff get away till the shit hit the fan and a lot of people lost their savings. But then people who invested their savings with Madoff did so at their own risk because the guy was a crook. When the law caught up with him it sent him away for a long time. When did you last hear of a politician or businessman in India getting a life term for cheating the tax-payer?

Messers Kalmadi, Kanimozhi and Raja, were taken in a procession and garlanded after having served some time in jail! Just the other day there was a report about a politician who had 190 companies in his son’s name and thousands of acres of land. Doesn’t the income tax department notice a guy’s changing lifestyle? I am sure they would notice mine or yours and send us a notice. So how come they don’t notice a politician, who didn’t own a two-wheeler a decade ago, now has a fleet of cars and a dozen homes?

If I feel really sorry for anyone, it’s for Gupta’s wife and daughters. They were probably completely in the dark and may not have even known what he was up to. I mean if someone became a millionaire in a space of a few years his family was bound to ask questions about the source of his wealth. In Gupta’s case, he already had an affluent lifestyle. What is worse is that they have to live with the humiliation for the rest of their lives. To discover that their father was being labelled a crook must have been a bigger shock. However much they defend him publicly, they also probably realise that their ‘daddy’ was caught with his hands in the cookie jar.

I guess the weirdest thing about the whole issue is that while Gupta may get 10-20 years in jail, Goldman Sachs and Proctor & Gamble will pick up most of the tab which is around $30 million. Here’s some more dirt, according to a newspaper.


(A truncated version of this piece appeared on the editorial page of the Sakal Times today)
Around six months ago, the people were disillusioned. There seemed to be a ‘disconnect’ between the government and the citizens; corruption cases were popping out of the woodwork and politicians of all hues stood accused in various scams. Names of everyone from the prime minister to the lowest-ranked bureaucrat were being muddied, and just no one seemed to be in control at the helm.

Into this mess came Anna Hazare with his simple call, “Let’s end the corruption around us”. His simplicity and his earnestness struck a chord. After all, why would a retired army driver/villager-turned-social activist step into stem the rot of something that, for all practical purposes, seemed beyond any redemption? Wasn’t he better off in his village, Ralegan Siddhi, which he had reformed and transformed?

So when Hazare launched his anti-corruption movement the people suddenly found the outlet to voice their angst. His small bunch of supporters became a crowd and then a movement. People believed that someone finally had the guts to grasp the bull by the horns. And the politicians were worried. Proceedings in both Houses of Parliament that week mirrored the disgust of the people. There was excitement and hope in the air. People believed that the government was finally listening to them.

The government began in earnest to go after Team Anna. Their PR machinery went into overdrive digging up all the dirt they could find. The financial dealings of the NGOs run by members of Hazare’s core group were being questioned; Arvind Kejriwal was slapped with notices by the IT department; But the dirt just wasn’t sticking. Team Anna was in control.

Now six months later, the script seems to have gone awry. The first rumblings began when Team Anna talked about campaigning against the government in the various by-polls. A lot of people thought it was the wrong move. He was deviating from his focus on corruption, it was felt. Some members of his core group distanced themselves from the movement, others quit. Soon after, Kejriwal paid back the Rs 9 lakh, that he owed the government with the explanation that he was doing so under duress. Not everyone was convinced.

Then Kiran Bedi was accused of making full cash claims on air tickets she was entitled to at a concession. She admitted she had, and offered to pay back, but the damage was done. Soon fingers were again being pointed at the Trusts being run by some members of Team Anna. Prashant Bhushan put his foot in his mouth when he spoke of the need for a referendum on Kashmir, which angered many. Recently Hazare’s blogger, who quit the team, claimed that people close to the activist were using him to further their own interests. It seemed to a lot of us that Team Anna was exceeding its brief – that of tackling corruption.

The latest scandal to hit them has been one, again involving Ms. Bedi. This time she has been accused of receiving huge donations to impart free computer training to children and families of BSF, CISF, ITBP, CRPF and police personnel under the banner of her trust ‘India Vision Foundation’, which, it is alleged, she never did. She has denied the allegations. Unfortunately, now the dirt is beginning to stick.

People know Hazare is an honest man, but they are beginning to questioning the honesty of some of his team. Secondly, is personal honesty and integrity enough to tackle issues of national importance? It’s also obvious that the government machinery is in overdrive to ensure that anything and everything unpleasant about Hazare and his team is made public. With their backs already pinned to the wall, can Team Anna take the fight to the government on the issue of corruption and the lok pal bill, when they themselves now stand sullied? Let’s hope for the sake of the lakhs who believe in Anna Hazare, they can.

According to Wikipedia “A protest is an expression of objection, by words or by actions, to particular events, policies or situations. Protests can take numerous forms, from individual statements to mass demonstrations.
Where protests are part of a systematic and peaceful campaign to achieve a particular objective, and involve the use of pressure as well as persuasion, they go beyond mere protest and may be better described as cases of civil resistance or nonviolent resistance.”

So which one of the definitions would best fit what happened in Delhi and other parts of the country today? And why did the UPA Government react in the only way it knows – with brute force? Because someone, in this case, a septuagenarian, had the guts to stand up and ask the government some very uncomfortable questions and demand accountability? What did he do wrong?

The UPA’s rabid reaction didn’t surprise me at all. Right from the time of the dictatorial India Gandhi, the Congress has never been known to tolerate dissent, be it from their party or from the people. And what happened today in Delhi and the rest of the country have only confirmed this view.

What I’ve also been hearing lately is that while Anna Hazare’s demands are justified, his methods are wrong. I beg to differ. If a worker doesn’t like his job he has two options – swallow the crap and continue to work, or protest. Which of these is the wrong method and which the right one and at which point of time do we decide which form of protest to adopt?

So, since Hazare or his fellow protestors aren’t employed by the government of India, they chose the last option of peaceful protest, which is their fundamental right, according to the Constitution. And then they never threatened violence nor did they ask people to resort to it. So what was the government worried about? I guess Messrs Singh, Chidambaram and the rest believed they could do to Hazare, what they did to Ramdev. Unfortunately for them, Hazare is not Ramdev. He doesn’t have an ashram built with dubious wealth and he wasn’t going to flee the place dressed in a salwar kameez!

I’ve also heard quite a few people say that he should contest an election, be a part of the system and then usher in change. I beg to differ, again.

Since 1947, elected representatives have always taken a solemn oath to serve the people, the country and the flag. Till around 1960 that is what they did. After that things went steadily downhill. Now the 542-odd MPs are doing everything to subvert the very process, they have sworn to protect. So let’s forget about being a part of the so called system. It hasn’t worked in decades and even two dozen Anna Hazares will fail to bring about an improvement in a system that is rotten to the core.

And then, it wasn’t as if Hazare and his group just got up on August 16 morning and decided to launch an agitation. They had gone through all the due democratic processes, like discussions, meetings etc and only after the government threw out their recommendations that they decided on this form of protest. All they wanted from the government were answers and a commitment. Answers to why it was unable to control corruption; Whether the people who were being accused of corruption were questioned about the source of the ill-gotten wealth; to explain who were the Indians with foreign bank accounts; how much was the figure supposedly stashed away in foreign banks; demand accountability with regard to the Jan Lokpal Bill.

For all these questions, they got no answers. On the contrary, the defiant government built a protective wall of silence, and selectively released information that did not, in any way incriminate itself – till the courts stepped in and asked the government to clean up its act. Even then the government refused to cooperate – till the courts again stepped in. Only then did they get moving and put people like A Raja and Suresh Kalmadi behind bars.

One may agree or disagree with Hazare and his ways. But one cannot disagree that it was brought on by the attitude of this government, which has been one of total condescension against any form of criticism. As if they believe they are answerable to no one – not even the courts. What is shocking is the sanctimonious blabbering of Chidambaram, Tewari, Sibal and Co. about disturbing the peace, breaking the law etc. Could they tell us how they allowed Mamata to sit in protest against the Singur land acquisition? Wasn’t that against the law?

This agitation and the government’s ham-handed response has proved to the people of this country that it’s time for this ineffectual government led by an ineffectual prime minister to pack its bags and look for alternate employment.

It’s clear that the Committee has agreed that your new policy is really an excellent plan. But in view of some of the doubts being expressed, may I propose that I recall that after careful consideration, the considered view of the Committee was that, while they considered that the proposal met with broad approval in principle, that some of the principles were sufficiently fundamental in principle, and some of the considerations so complex and finely balanced in practice that in principle it was proposed that the sensible and prudent practice would be to submit the proposal for more detailed consideration, laying stress on the essential continuity of the new proposal with existing principles, the principle of the principal arguments which the proposal proposes and propounds for their approval. In principle.”
– Humphrey Appleby in Yes Prime Minister

This is exactly the kind of mumbo jumbo one has come to expect from whichever government is at the Centre, when it comes to taking a decision that adversely affects their political career and livelihood. The unanimity the members of parliament have displayed in the case of the Lokpal Bill is astounding. They might abstain from parliament, throw cushions at each other in the Central hall of Parliament, call each other names inside and outside the august house, but there are two things on which they always stand united – the hike in their salaries and the Lokpal Bill! I can understand why no member of parliament wants the bill passed. Can you fathom how an MP would survive if he was caught and banished from political life? Telling an MP to stop making money through illegal means is like asking Sachin Tendulkar to stop playing cricket! Sorry for the odious comparison but I couldn’t think of anything more apt! It would mean a virtual death sentence to the khadi clad criminal.

Briefly, the jurisdiction of the Lokpal under Section 10 apparently covers the prime minister, ministers and MPs, MLAs, chief ministers etc. But at the same time it nullifies the same by stating that the Lokpal cannot enquire into any allegations of corruption against any member of either House of Parliament unless recommended by the Speaker or Chairman of Council of States as the case may be. So who’s going to squeal against his own?

According to what I’ve read up, “even when Lokpal finds that any of the charges have been proved, against the members of Parliament, all he can do is to send a report of his finding to the Speaker and Chairman, of the council of States, and they alone will determine what action to be taken – obviously it may include rejecting the report of Lokpal. Of course the presiding officers have to place the report before both the houses of parliament. A formal courtesy is to be done by informing the Lokpal as to what action is taken or proposed to be taken which includes the rejection of findings of guilt by Lokpal.”

So you can take a good guess why the issue has been put on the back-burner since 1968! The UPA government should stop talking through their hats (There’s another and more apt four-letter word I could use here, but I won’t) on the entire Lokpal Bill issue. They’ve been deliberating for the past 43 years on the clauses of the Bill and every time it comes up in Parliament, it is deferred for one silly reason or another. For a Bill that should have become an Act over 40 years ago, for the Congress government to say that ‘important’ decisions cannot be taken overnight and “need deliberations” (according to Ms Jayanthi Natarajan) is classic Humphrey Appleby mumbo jumbo! And instead of accepting that it’s their fault the government is trying to bully their way through. All through from 1968 to 2011, they’ve been delaying the Bill, and it took someone like social activist Anna Hazare to say enough is enough.

No better day than this for a few thoughts on the state of the nation and where we are headed. Sixty-one years after India became a Republic it’s on the brink of disarray. There is no government worth its name. Politicians, hoodlums and so-called Maoists are generally running crooked parallel governments everywhere in the country. We have a prime minister who seems to suffer from a form of paralysis and who no one listens to anyway. Are we on our way to becoming, what some industry captains have referred to as a banana republic?

The finance minister says it would be ‘difficult’ to reveal the names of corrupt Indians who have Swiss bank accounts. Why, are they friends of his, or is he protecting someone? We also hear the Prime Minister saying that it’s next to impossible to check the influx of black money. Is that because politicians and ministers in his cabinet are the biggest culprits? A journalist friend tells me about a well-known and extremely corrupt cabinet minister who has done the next best thing – he’s bought a bank somewhere abroad, so he can stash away his loot!

Here’s an interesting nugget I picked up off a site about Indian black money in Swiss banks.

India—- $1456 billion
Russia—$ 470 billion
UK——$390 billion
Ukraine–$100 billion
China—-$ 96 billion

Mind-boggling? According to this website, the amount is enough to put Rs 50,000 in the hand of every Indian and still have enough left to pay off all foreign debt and account for the annual budget!

So the gap is widening and the anger and frustration building between the have and have not. When you drive past any of the crowded intersections in the city have you noticed a huge group of people milling around or standing in a queue? This is India’s daily wage worker waiting for his employer of the day. He gets paid a paltry 20 or 30 rupees (or is that too much?) for putting in twelve hours of work in a day, so he can feed his wife and kids.

Why does he have a wife and kids when he can’t even afford to feed himself? Because he got married in the village at a young age and then suddenly the village is too poor to support even his meagre needs. So he migrates to the city with the hope that it will rescue him from the poverty he faces. Only here, he is still leading a hand-to-mouth existence because the 30-odd bucks he makes won’t even buy him a kg of onions. And while the nameless daily wager struggles to make ends meet, there are people making money through illegal means like there’s no tomorrow.

Is this what our leaders have conditioned us to do these past 61 years? I once asked a few youngsters from a small town in UP this question: Why do you want to become an IAS officer? The answers: ‘I want to make money‘ and ‘I’ll get a huge amount of dowry‘. Do you wonder who they are emulating and can you blame them?

I am supposed to get a substantial refund on my Tax Returns for the past two years from the income tax department. My tax consultant advises me to pay the 10 per cent in cash to the I-T officer, if I want my refund. And don’t bother complaining. According to the rule, if any Income-tax officer is found to have delayed submission of refund cheques it can be deducted from his annual increment. But does it bother too many of them? Incidentally, the status of tax returns can now be checked online and once online, the I-T dept must submit the cheque to the bank. So I go online to check the status which says, “Your assessing officer has not sent the refund cheque to the banker.” Why hasn’t my cheque been sent to my banker when it is ready and they have my account number? Take a good guess.

Yesterday, an honest assistant collector was set ablaze in Manmad because he tried to take on the oil mafia. Will the culprits be punished? Who controls the oil mafia? Your guess is as good as mine. This is the India we live in after 61 years. Happy Republic Day, is it?

(With due apologies to the sage Confucius)….We live in depressing times. You might smile as you read that Saina Nehwal has won another badminton tournament or India has beaten New Zealand in cricket or that Bhupathi and Paes have reunited. But the story next to these is all about a certain Raja and the 2G scam. And the one next to that one is a point-by-point rebuttal by one industry captain to accusations by another. Below that is a story on the hillside project that is suddenly in rocky terrain. And somewhere on the inside pages there are reports of generals who’ve been caught with their hands in the cookie jar and journalists being accused of being fixers and lobbyists.

The smile has by now vanished. Even the most die-hard optimist must feel a little cynical about the state of the nation. Is there even a semblance of a government in place? Rule of law seems to have disappeared. It’s almost as if the country is floundering like a rudderless ship in stormy waters. No one is in control and no one really seems to care. That Parliament hasn’t functioned these past three weeks is of little or no consequence. It’s not governance that is the priority. It’s who blinks first, that is. It’s not about nailing the guilty. It’s about deflecting the blame away from oneself.

No one cares how many crores of the tax-payers’ money goes up in smoke. No one cares how many farmers commit suicide because unseasonal rains destroyed crops; No one cares how many died in terrorist violence. No one cares that industry captains with their own agendas, backed surreptitiously by their political benefactors, are indulging in a public slanging match. No one cares that people have died in bomb blasts and instead they blame each other. No one cares that the country is being sold to the highest bidder for thirty pieces of silver by pimps and charlatans in white pyjama, kurta, dhoti or business suits. And the ones who care have no voice.

Politics is being played out over a hillside project and a multi-storey building. Crores of rupees have already been paid by bankers and private investors into the projects. Suddenly everything about the project is illegal – so says the ministry. Tax-payers have put in their life’s savings to own a piece of prime property at this hillside haven, in the hope that they can spend their retirement away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Suddenly they can see their savings disappearing downhill. It’s the same story with a multi-storey building and land deals across the country.

Everyone’s asking the ministers why they and the governments before theirs approved the project if they knew it was illegal. Surely they knew that. After all, the projects weren’t conceived or executed with the wave of a magic wand. Can someone just run a bulldozer over multi-crore housing projects, without a thought for the investors and residents? Anyone who is anyone is on the take – from ministers, local goons, to politicians, to so-called environmental activists to NGOs – all with their own agenda. Does anyone care? Is it an ethical, moral, legal or political issue?

Parliamentarians, who are supposed to be squatting on the benches inside the august house, have been squatting outside raising slogans. And, for what? Just a little one-upmanship and a few hundred crores wasted in public money. It’s been three weeks since they last met to discuss the problems plaguing the country and its people. They’ve been extremely busy doing nothing. When they aren’t protesting, they are spending crores chartering private planes to attend weddings of politician’s kids. How do they manage to get the money to indulge in such pleasures? No one’s asking.

To add to the gloom are reports of Indian army officers involved in cases of corruption, nepotism and sexual harassment. This is the one institution you believed was above all that. Not anymore. I remember a colonel, whose flat I had taken on rent in 1994, because we didn’t have a place of our own. When I met him for the first time he laughed derisively when I told him that so far only the army was ‘clean’. “They make money even on spectacle frames.” That was in 1994.

In the midst of all this mayhem, the government has quietly increased the price of fuel. It’s a good way to make up for the losses they have forced on us. Who says they aren’t working?

Should I feel sorry for a couple of our former defence chiefs? They led one of the largest armies in the world, and yet were clueless about things happening under their very noses. No one told them anything, they claim, when it came to putting money into a housing project. The poor dears!

Do you believe that? I don’t. Of course, it’s another matter that I take most anything I’m told with large doses of salt. I mean, these are the ex-chiefs of the army and navy – intelligent, highly trained, decorated and very senior defence officers – not some unsuspecting villagers from an obscure place who are told to sign off their properties on a blank paper. That is why I find difficult to swallow when they say they were not aware. As bad as the Maharashtra Chief Minister saying that he didn’t know his relatives were buying flats in Adarsh Housing Society, especially when he sanctioned it!

Just think, they invested lakhs of rupees (they couldn’t have got it at market price or it would have been in crores) in the multi-storeyed building in Mumbai’s posh Colaba area and no one told them that the land was originally purchased for war widows and ex-servicemen; which was also originally supposed to be six floors but suddenly shot up by another 25! Heck, even ordinary folks like you and me, go through the documents with a fine toothcomb to ensure we’re not being taken for a ride by the developers at the signing and registration stage. And these defence chiefs didn’t ask and didn’t check? Do these guys come from Pluto?

That’s a bit like Sharad Pawar saying he had no clue what Lalit Modi was up to with regard to the IPL. Now that the pious humbugs (and I am referring to the gentlemen from the armed forces) have been caught with their pants down, they are desperately trying to wash their hands off the sordid affair by offering to return the property. I can expect scumbag politicians to cheat their own mothers, because we don’t expect any better. But when it’s done by very senior and highly decorated defence chiefs, it makes my bile rise. I’m sure, you feel the same way.

Years ago, in 1984, when Indira Gandhi asked the Indian Army to invade the Golden Temple to end the siege by Bhindranwale, I was on a train returning to Pune. When the Sikh gentleman next to me read the story, his eyes brimmed with tears, and I thought he would say a few uncomplimentary things about the PM. But what he said surprised me: “Yeh sardaron ne hamari naak katwa di. Ab hum kaise sar utha kar jiyenge” I am sure a lot of armed forces personnel who were and are still up there in Kargil fighting the enemy must be feeling the same way, after reading about the scam.

Will the revered St. Anthony (supposedly the ONLY honest minister in the Manmohan Singh Cabinet, apart from the PM himself), nail his former defence chiefs and ensure that they don’t get a single paisa refunded for the flats? After all, if an ordinary citizen, even unknowingly, invests his hard earned money in an illegal construction, he loses not only the home but also his money. Why should the army officers be treated any different? They’ve already lost that right.

A few weeks ago I read a report in the Pune edition of the Times of India about a contrite burglar who came back to the house he had burgled, and pleaded with the owner to turn him over to the cops, because he couldn’t stand the guilt anymore of having committed a crime.

Some six months ago, the burglar had cleaned out a citizen’s bungalow and fled the city. He settled somewhere, spent the loot and then wracked with guilt decided to return to the scene of his crime to confess. The house owner, initially, refused to believe the burglar’s story, but when the crook disclosed what all he had stolen, the man called the cops. There’s a strange but nauseating parallel between the burglar and the highly decorated officers.
Are Tarun Tejpal and Aniruddha Bahal having a quiet chuckle and raising a toast to the whistleblower?