The answer could determine whether you will be caught for corruption
I was surprised that for a Rs 1 lakh bribe, former BJP president Bangaru Laxman was sentenced to the maximum punishment. The judge made a ringing speech. It was as if with this one punishment, corruption itself would be brought to an end. According to our law, both the bribe giver and the bribe taker are guilty. But in the outrage over Bangaru, no mention was made of the bribe giver.
When the BJP distanced itself quickly from Bangaru Laxman, I felt sad. For the first time, the BJP had made a Dalit its president. Look at former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa. Or former Union minister Dilip Singh Judeo, who was caught on camera accepting bundles of notes. The BJP took Judeo back into its fold, it also fielded him for an election.
Which defence deal did Bangaru influence? What was Bangaru's capacity to be corrupt? In the JMM bribery case, JMM MPs deposited the money in their bank accounts — they did not even know how to hide the money, to make the distinction between black money and white.
It's a pattern: those framed in sting operations and pilloried for corruption mostly belong to the backward castes. And hospitals and parks are built in the name of those who are really corrupt.
Similarly, in the case of former Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan, the first Dalit CJI, we don't exonerate what he allegedly did. But when senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan said that of 16 CJIs, as many as eight are corrupt, why did no one probe the allegation? It's the same hypocrisy — in the judiciary, media and public life.
Balakrishnan had to change his religion and call himself a Christian to get a college admission. His father was a lawyer's clerk in a lower court. Balakrishnan was patronised by then president K.R. Narayanan, also a Dalit. Political theorist Harold Laski had written to Jawaharlal Nehru about Narayanan and that's how he entered the foreign service.
In Patna University, in my student days, students were made to top, or had their marks cut, on caste lines. And I am talking of a time when the university was still seen as prestigious. Even today, look at the 27 per cent reservation mandated by Mandal in government jobs, and you will find that on an average, including the safai karamcharis, there are only about 7 per cent OBCs in government service. Our structure is still tilted against OBCs and Dalits, our elites still look down on backward groups.
In a 2005 study, French sociologist Christophe Jaffrelot interviewed 18 Dalit students from different states in JNU. All of them said, democracy has given us our rights, we are grateful for it. It is the upper castes, who are being displaced from positions of power by the OBCs and Dalits, and who are now mostly in positions of control in the NGOs and the media, especially the English language media, who are increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of democracy.
That's why OBCs and Dalits fear the Lokpal. They are apprehensive that it will represent those same elite classes that are biased against them. Team Anna's tone is against democracy. It mirrors the elite's feeling that its spaces are being invaded, taken over by the cowherds.
Earlier, the upper castes were the keepers of the vote, the thekedars. Now we the politicians must knock on the doors of Musahars to ask for their vote. Backward groups may berate their political representatives, because they haven't got economic justice, but they fiercely guard their right to vote. While the elite thinks democracy stands in the way of development, Dalits and backward castes depend on democracy to give them a voice.
So by all means, stop corruption. But any anti-corruption body must be representative of all sections — OBCs, minorities, SCs, STs. Also, first catch those who rave and rant against corruption and who have benefited the most.
Corruption has been a reality since times immemorial but the state was expected to stop the rot. Yet, those who took charge of the state, connived and colluded in its corruption. When backwards and Dalits started coming into positions of power in the 1970s, they looked to them as role models. It was the so-called great men who laid the foundations of a corrupt polity. Those who came to power later thought that power equals corruption.
The jeep scandal in 1948 was the first major corruption case in independent India. V.K. Krishna Menon, then Indian high commissioner to Britain, bypassed protocol and signed a contract for the purchase of army jeeps with a foreign firm.
When the scandal broke out, I remember Nehru asked the Public Accounts Committee to reconsider its report. The PAC stuck to its report. And the report disappeared. I got it searched for in the Parliament library in 1948, it couldn't be found. When a written question was asked about it in Parliament, the question also disappeared. Nehru tolerated corruption.
In the Mundhra scandal of the 1950s, then finance minister T.T. Krishnamachari had to resign. Feroze Gandhi made a stirring speech in Parliament — there was hardly any opposition at that time, so Congressmen also played the role of the opposition. The M.C. Chagla commission was set up, it submitted its report in 23 days, and raised the issue of accountability. It was the Chagla report that first laid down the principle that as a minister, you cannot shirk responsibility for decisions taken in your department, you cannot say you didn't know.
But Nehru said that honourable members of Parliament must not be agitated by "a little corruption". An opposition member shot back, "a little corruption is like a little pregnancy" — both grow with time.
When C.D. Deshmukh, the finance minister in the 1952 government, first suggested having an ombudsman and Rajendra Babu wrote to Nehru that it should be instituted, Nehru's response was that it would cause demoralisation among ministers and officers. Nehru was a great man but his many small mistakes have harmed the country to this day.
In 1946, there was a terrible riot in Calcutta. Lohia asked Gandhiji, what should I do. Gandhiji said talk to your Muslim friends. Lohia sent out messages, but he couldn't find anyone. Then Lohia went to Calcutta. He found that the Hindu and Muslim mohallas were like separate nations, divided by a "border". Lohia said, we should smile at all those we meet, to lessen the tension.
But when the country won independence, in those same mohallas, Hindus and Muslims came together to celebrate. Unfortunately, that excitement was not used to build a new India.
Even after India won independence from the British, it was the same collector, and the same thanedar. The bureaucracy and the state structure were still used to suppress the people. The people's excitement went cold, their initiative subsided.
Today, Sanjay Gandhi's samadhi is next to Gandhiji's at Rajghat and V.K. Krishna Menon's statue stands in Parliament. As politicians we are invited to mark the anniversaries of those who were known to have been corrupt. We garland their statues. And Bangaru Laxman is sent to jail for four years.
The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP and JD(U) national spokesperson.
[Courtesy: Indian Express, May 7, 2012]