‘Power’ of corruption

ED On Rampage

By Poonam I Kaushish

When does money become dirt? When it begins to stick. As the Parthagate corruption saga explodes on the political firmament, it has come to haunt and taunt West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata’s TMC. Over 51 crores cash, jewellery, documents of innumerable properties tumbled out from Minister Partha Chatterjee and aide’s apartments in the school recruitment process. Big deal! In a country where political morality is non-existent, what corruption are we taking out?

Followed by Shiv Sena Sanjay Raut’s arrest by Enforcement Directorate (ED) under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in a land scam case. Next three Jharkhand Congress MLAs were caught by West Bengal police with large amounts of cash in their vehicle. Earlier, Chief Minister Soren’s lawyer and aide were arrested by ED in a mining lease case and AAP Minister Satinder Jain for laundering money through four companies. Further besmirching the sleazy waters is Congress’s prima donna Sonia and son Rahul in the National Herald case.

True these revelations are nothing new and just a tip of the iceberg of the amount of unaccounted wealth that pervades the working of our democracy. All Parties know this. Aren’t we accustomed to an immoral, corrupt and unaccountable polity who could stoop to anything for paisa. Loot, bribe and deals have become the bedrock of our system with none interested in reforming it. Wherein a ghotala of a few thousands crores is not worth feeding the chara of morality. Shrugged as one of the “unlisted” perks of their job.

With the Supreme Court giving its seal of approval to PMLA the ED which was dreaded has now been further empowered. Over 3,555 cases (65%) are registered since 2014 compared to just 112 in 2004. ED  filed charge-sheets in 888 cases resulting in just 23 convictions and attached Rs 99,356 crores under  PMLA as  crime proceeds compared to Rs 5,346 crores in 2004-05 and 2013-14 during UPA Government.

Predictably, Opposition accuses Government of painting them black. They have a point. Recall, earlier this year before elections ED raided then Punjab Congress Chief Minister Channi’s close relative and found Rs 8 crores as also Samajwadi Chief Akhilesh’s aides prior to UP Assembly elections, in 2021 ditto in West Bengal wherein 14 Mamata associates were targeted and again in Tamil Nadu when some DMK leaders were investigated pre-elections.

Asserted a senior Congress leaders, “The ED conveniently suffers from a bad bout of amnesia and is highly selective. Remember, ED and CBI interrogated TMC’s Suvendu Adhikari in Saradha scam in 2014-17 but after joining BJP in 2020 he has not been interrogated, and is now Opposition Leader in West Bengal.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Sarma was target by BJP in Guwahati’s water supply scam but after joining the Party cases were put in thanda baksa as also in Maharashtra ex-Chief Minister Narayan Rane PMLA cases once he switched to BJP and anointed MP. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chauhan was cleared in Vyapam scam 2017.  BJP’s Yediyurappa became Karnataka Chief Minister 2019 despite graft and land scams.”

Perhaps ED is acting primarily against Opposition politicians, but in whichever case it has started proceedings a lot of financial skulduggery has been unearthed. Though its conviction is under 1% does it mean we should let the corrupt go unchallenged? This raises disturbing questions: It does not strike any chord among leaders who have reduced graft to a farcical political pantomime. There is no sense of outrage or shame.

Can one compromise on corruption? Does politics force an indulgence on issues of governance and probity? Is this part of political dharma? Whereby politics has everything to do with acceptability, little with credibility and public life is all compromises, not principles dripping morality sermons but not practicing it.

In a milieu where graft and sleaze is India’s creepy-crawly Osama bin Laden which permeates the very core of daily Government functioning ensnaring the country in its vicious tentacles, the temptation to make money is always great, indeed irresistible. In the political brothel of corruption, one may not begrudge our netagan from making money, ostensibly for Party funds or feathering his own nest. That is the prevailing culture.

Either which way, Parthagate exposes our leaders hypocrisy. As long as a leader is part of the Establishment, all wink at his misdemeanors. Bringing to the fore striking immoral aspects of governance whereby, an honest person is perceived as one who does not get caught. Shockingly, 34 of 78 Central Ministers have declared corruption and criminal cases against them according to Association of Democratic Reforms, notwithstanding, Prime Minister Modi preening about ending corruption.

Besides, it underscores the inequity in our system. While a   petty thief languishes in jail for years and a junior babu caught for accepting a princely bribe of Rs.1000 is immediately suspended, a leader who ‘transacts’ crores invariably goes scot free.  On the facetious plea that there is “not sufficient evidence,” or is “innocent till proven guilty,” “law will take its own course,” or hide behind the smokescreen of “electorate’s verdict” to escape punishment by manipulating the system.

Accentuated by Supreme Court in 2018 whereby MPs and MLAs income and assets grew over 500% to 1200% between two polls 2009-2014 as reflected in their election affidavits, a sure sign of misuse of offices. That too being unemployed! Indisputably nothing costs a nation more than a cheap politician.

Not a few assert that the cost of corruption to the country might exceed Rs. 350,000 crores. Leading even Supreme Court to lament and express concern over growing corruption in Government machinery. Said an anguished Bench recently, “nothing moves without money.”

Sadly, our polity fail to realise that corruption not only perpetuates poverty but makes the poor poorer. Think. Sleaze erodes and cripples the capacity of the State to provide the aam aadmi roti, kapada aur makaan forget bijli, sadak aur paani. What worries one is political malfeasance and assiduous cultivation of low morality for a place in high political society.

As India aspires to sit at the high-table of nations, it needs assertive corrective action that goes to the depth of deep-rooted corruption followed by appropriate remedial measures like urgent reforms in electoral and political financing to prevent an encore.

Importantly, Governments are custodians of public trust and interest. The nation and people are first — way above selfish and narrow political interests. What the people ultimately want is transparency and accountability. Alas, this has so far been only preached ad nauseum but seldom practiced.

Clearly, Parthagate and Raut narrative should make our netagan do a double-take. We must  devise a political mechanism instead of replacing one corrupt Tweedledum with another corrupt Tweedledee. The challenge lies in overhauling our system of governance. There should be no scope for any lingering doubt or suspicion that politics is the last refuge of a scoundrel!  ——  INFA