By Nantoo Banerjee
The arrest of Delhi’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia last month by a federal agency, CBI, for alleged financial corruption connected with the change in the state’s liquor policy, has understandably upset a large section of opposition parties across the country. Last year, Delhi’s health minister Satyendra Jain was arrested by another federal agency, ED, on charges of money laundering. Both of them resigned from their respective ministerial posts while being in jail.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is naturally upset as his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came to power over a decade ago on the plank of a major movement against corruption. Several of Kejriwal’s party men are now facing corruption charges. The fight against corruption was also AAP’s 2022 poll plank in Punjab. The party recorded a massive victory winning 92 out of 117 assembly seats bringing an end to the electoral dominance of Congress and Akali Dal in Punjab politics. Now, one after another corruption cases against AAP satraps in Punjab are turning into a nightmare for the party. Punjab AAP MLA and former health minister Vijya Singla was arrested, last year, by the state’s own anti-corruption agency. In January, Punjab Horticulture Minister Fauja Singh Sarari had to resign from the state cabinet months after his name came up in a case of allegedly devising an extortion plan. More recently, Amit Rattan, AAP MLA from Bathinda (Rural), was arrested over graft charges.
The recent actions by ED and CBI in a number of states have angered at least 10 top leaders of nine political parties. They wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing the BJP-led Centre of misusing federal investigative agencies and Raj Bhavans to launch a witch-hunt against Opposition leaders. Among those to take up the issue with the prime minister were four opposition state chief ministers — Telangana’s Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal, West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee and Tamil Nadu’s Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin. They have expressed their concerns over the deteriorating image of central investigative agencies. Of India’s 31 states, including Jammu & Kashmir (now under the President’s Rule), as many as 14 are governed by political parties other than BJP. Interestingly, Indian National Congress and Biju Janata Dal are among other major political parties to stay away from the nine-party opposition campaign against the alleged misuse of central investigative agencies to harass non-BJP politicians.
However, it should be noted that BJP leaders and party workers have also been complaining of being systematically harassed by non-BJP administration in several states. The states use their police and criminal investigation agency (CID) to do the job. Lately, a head-on political collision between TMC and BJP in West Bengal led to an unprecedented exposition of corruption in the state involving several TMC leaders and party strongmen. In fact, 2022 was a year of scams in West Bengal — from a massive multi-tier school recruitment racket to cattle smuggling, illegal coal and sand mining, money laundering, rigging the national government-funded rural housing scheme for the poor, cut-money deals, extortions and controversial arrests. West Bengal’s political arena is being fraught with strife. Until recently, West Bengal was placed lowly in the country’s corruption ladder.
According to an independent India Corruption Survey 2019, providing a state-wise indicator of corruption levels, the most corrupt states were: Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Punjab, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The survey sought around 190,000 responses and revealed that 51 percent of Indian citizens pay bribes to get things done. Property registration, police and municipality being top departments where bribes are allegedly demanded. These states are ruled by both BJP and non-BJP governments. Last month, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said during his election campaign that Meghalaya is one of the country’s most corrupt states. BJP is a coalition partner in the Meghalaya government. Corruption seems to be inbuilt in the country’s democratic system. Even the so-called anti-corruption apparatus of state governments and the centre comprising the police, CID and federal investigative agencies are not above corruption and political interference.
The 2009 Global Corruption Barometer, an international public opinion survey released by Transparency International, said political parties are perceived to be the most corrupt institution in India. It found that 58 percent of Indian respondents identify politicians to be the single most corrupt individuals. Corruption undermines governments’ ability to protect people and erodes public trust. On the other hand, political conflicts create more opportunities for corruption and subvert governments’ efforts to stop it. Power tends to corrupt. A person’s sense of morality lessens as his or her power increases. People in positions of power often abuse their power to do wrong things and become corrupted or morally compromised. Parties in power use unfair means such as giving doles and gifts to the poor and using cadres or musclemen to stay in power. In a good democracy, political power must change periodically to keep ruling political parties under constant public watch and control. The police and the government-controlled investigative agencies will become more careful about dancing to the tune of their short-lived political masters. They are expected to be hauled up for wrong doing by the next government.
Corruption is more rampant in states where political parties stay in power for long. While the people in India trust the higher judiciary, the justice comes at a cost which the common man can hardly afford. Normally, the legal fees in the Supreme Court varies from Rs.10 lakh to Rs.20 Lakh for an appearance. The fees vary from client to client according to the paying capacity of the clients. On November 21, last year, the Supreme Court was informed that as many as 5,097 criminal cases against MPs and MLAs were pending before various courts in the country, despite the top court being seized of the matter. How would the opposition political leaders at the states and the centre like to describe these cases — substantially genuine or simply political witch-hunts? Most of the accused politicians, irrespective of their party affiliations and educational background, were involved in highly disproportionate asset building cases. They all represented ruling parties in the centre or in their respective states, mostly for good periods. Political power may have helped them amass illegal assets. But for the action of designated investigative agencies, such assets and their holders will remain undetected making India a politically and economically unstable banana republic. (IPA Service)