Friday 29 April 2011

India’s corrupt “gang of four” (PO)

M D Nalapat

Although society in Europe and in the US has evolved significantly since the period when that continent enslaved much of the world, so that today Europeans are among the most liberal and enlightened of global citizens, yet because of the grip of elites over the media, several times they fail to appreciate ground reality. An example was the widespread belief in the US that Saddam Hussein was the chief of Al-Qaeda, when in fact that terror outfit spent many years trying to assassinate him. The demonization of the secular Saddam by US and EU media helped George W Bush and Tony Blair finish off the Iraq strongman. These days, a similar smear campaign has been launched against Colonel Kahafi, which is so extreme in its characterization that many in Europe and the US probably believe that the Libyan strongman - for whom NATO has prepared the same fate as befell Saddam - has horns and hooves. In reality, Libya is a country where women and religious minorities are given equal treatment, and whose life expectancy matches that of many parts of Europe.

The monopoly of the popular narrative by the economic elite has led to the uncontrolled explosion of greed that caused the 2008 collapse and which is leading to a fresh disaster by 20 12. Already, the same small group of speculators who cheated international investors of more than$6 trillion are once again up to their old tricks, sending up the price of commodities and spreading hunger and misery across the globe. The use of force in Libya is a warning by the NATO elites to the Arab elites not to go the Kadhafi way and seek to diversify their investments into non-NATO countries. Fear of NATO action will, it is expected, ensure that fresh trillions of dollars will be entrusted by the Arab elites to the same banks and financial institutions that cheated Arabs of more than $1.3 trillion in 2008. This fusion of criminal greed (of course, legalised and encouraged in the US and in much of the EU during and since the Thatcher-Reagan era) and a 19th century propensity to use military force to keep the natives cowed has meant that several countries face the danger of subversion of their own interests at the altar of seeking to rescue the NATO economies from the pit dug by its own elite.

It is in such a context that the War on Corruption that is being waged by the people of India against their own governmental system assumes importance. So compromised has this system become that it has succumbed to alien powers, in the process sacrificing the future of the people of India. Although the Vajpayee-led government too was complicit in such a sellout, its own dismal record has been eclipsed by the Sonia Gandhi-led UPA, which has made India a meek camp follower of the NATO powers. As a result, the price of items such as pharmaceuticals and insurance has skyrocketed, because of the entry of the same criminal financial entities that caused the 2008 crash. When he was Union Finance Miniister, Palanipappan Chidambaram initiated an Open Door policy towards these dodgy enterprises, in the process making him their favourite for the post of Prime Minister, should the present open conspiracy against Manmohan Singh succeed in throwing out of office India’s honest ( if ineffective) PM. As Union Home Minister, Chidambaram has silently constructed a web of regulations and laws so comprehensive that almost any citizen can now get arrested for some technical infringement.

An example is the internet. Although both print and electronic media in India remain submissive to the dictates of UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, not daring to challenge her role in the deterioration of administration caused by the misfeasance and worse of her nominees, the internet has remained a point of irritation for her. Chidambaram has sought ceaselessly to sanitize the worldwide web of negative references to Sonia,but is falling back because of the sheer volume of postings. His new internet law makes punishable by long years imprison any internet user who dares to say more than “Our Leader Sonia Gandhi”. The wording is so vague and general that almost any critical comment can be seized upon as an infringment, besides such hazards as accidentally opening porn spam. Through such laws, Chidambaram is helping to ensure that India loses its edge in the Knowledge Industry, for whose benefit is not clear. However, unlike in the past, these days more and more officials in crucial ministries are opening out in private about the misdeeds of their masters, and some of this is becoming public knowledge.

Given the reality that several politicians in India are dollar billionaires (and one even has wealth estimated by banking sources at $30 billion), there is disquiet at the top about the way the anger of the public is fanning the anti-corruption campaign. Unlike Germany or the US under Barack Obama, both of which took effective steps to check tax evasion through the use of external shelters, the Union Finance Ministry under Pranab Mukherjee ( who was a minister when Indira Gandhi raised the income-tax rate to 97.25% of income) has adopted an ostrich policy of refusing to even acknowledge the fact that more than $1 trillion has been stashed in Swiss banks by Indian citizens acting through their relatives or directly. Some Corruption Fighters are busy preparing a Public Interest Litigation that would target Mukherjee and his key officers for - in effect - sabotaging efforts at getting back such cash though the minister is not worried, certain as he is that he has the blessings of Sonia Gandhi in all that he does (or more to the point, does not do). The agencies working under him are giving the impression of going after graft, while in reality ensuring the escape of the financial scamsters who have looted India far more comprehensively than the British ever did. Small wonder, as agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and others are carefully manned with pliable officials who will leap to the bidding of VVIPs (of course, after taking a cut of the loot).

On record, Letters Rogatory have been sent by the CBI and the ED to a number of countries in order to uncover details of Indian citizens (though not yet their foreign relatives) having bank accounts and property there. However, officers say privately that such activity is an eyewash, and that word has gone to the higher levels of Mauritius, Seychelles and other tax havens not to take such Letters Rogatory seriously, but to ignore them or reply in a way that conceals far more than it reveals. This, they say, is the reason why India is having zero success in getting back illegal funds, unlike Germany and the US. Some even claim that the leadership of the ruling coalition has constituted an informal group of four Cabinet Ministers to “ensure that the drive against corruption gets sabotaged”, and that those parking funds abroad escape. The names on this list comprise four of the most senior members of the Manmohan Singh cabinet, and the whistleblowers say that this “Ganfg of FouR” has been meeting regularly with a ruling party power-broker to steer the investigation into safe channels. Does such a Gang of Four operate in India? Only the future will tell. In case the official effort at accountability fizzles out, it will become clear that this is the consequence of deliberate sabotage at the highest levels of the Sonia Gandhi-led ruling coalition.

In 1993, the led was blown off a scam that involved 115 top politicians and civil servants. This was the Jain Havala Case, in which records showed that several VIPs and VVIPs used the Jain brothers to funnel cash to overseas destinations. Instead of any of them being punished, the individual who took up the scam — Vineet Narain — was arrested, humiliated, financially ruined and driven out of the country. Top officials colluded to ensure that the guilty escaped,while the whistleblowers were taught a lesson. The failure of then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao to ensure accountability at the top meant that he had to face prosecution, calumny and criminal charges almost till the end of his life. A similar fate awaits Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in case he allows the Gang of Four ( assuming these reports are correct) to sabotage his efforts at ensuring that those responsible for corruption get punished, no matter how powerful they be. Of course, the record is not encouraging. During the Vajpayee years, two intrepid journalists (Tarun Tejpal and Aniruddha Bahal) exposed widespread corruption in the party and in the government. The Tehelka expose only resulted in both of them facing financial ruin, and in the case of Aniruddha Bahal, criminal cases that drag on to this day. So much for justice!

However, there is a change, and this is the fact that these days, millions in India have become so alarmed at VVIP corruption that they are refusing to be quiet while a Gang of Four once again sabotages investigations. They are collecting documents to target erring politicians and officials, and they hope to use the judicial system to enforce accountability on a government riddled with graft. In a cabinet where - in the estimation of this columnist - only two individuals are honest, it is laughable that so far only one Cabinet minister has gone to jail. Several others need to follow him, and will, once public anger translates into political change.

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