Saturday, January 29, 2011

CORRUPTION IS TERRORISM – 2: The Death of Governance

A lot has already been said about the grisly murder of Yashwant Sonawane. Not the least among these is the "condemnation" of the incident by AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi.
The tragedy, unfortunately, is not that of Sonawane and his near and dear ones alone. Barely 6 years ago, S Manjunath of Indian Oil Corporation had been similarly killed by the fuel adulteration mafia and his death had sparked similar outrage.
The telling remark about the state of governance in our country came, at the time, from the then Home Minister, Shivraj Patil, who said "Whenever things of this nature happen, we get the information and analyse them and then we give the necessary directions to the state government to act." He took refuge behind the fact that law and order is a state subject to focus on a specific incident in Uttar Pradesh, seeking to divert attention from the generally widespread and well-known adulteration racket that pervades the country. Three things stood out in the remarks:
  • The government waits for things to happen, then analyses them. It does not - it would appear - analyse facts that are already known and act in advance to check the root cause of such crime - in this case, fuel adulteration.
  • The Central government gives directions to the state government. The state governments, it is implied, require such direction - they are incapable of providing the governance in the first place that prevents racketeers from indulging in anti-social activities. Certainly, that appears to be the case in Maharashtra
  • Law and order is a state subject - so the centre washes its hands off the matter. Incidentally, while the Home Ministry can arguably take this position, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is squarely responsible for creating a framework within which adulteration is prevented - or prosecuted.
This is, you would agree, a ludicrous state of affairs.
Eventually, Manjunath's killers were ostensibly brought to justice, though the prime accused had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment and others got - or got off with - varying levels of punishment.
After Sonawane's killing, there has been a frenzy of activity and in "a crackdown on the adulteration mafia" some 180-off people have been arrested.
This, regrettably, is lip service. The stench of corruption goes deeper than the 180 people arrested. Way deeper than the lucrative business of adulteration. Far deeper than either the central or state governments - or the honourable AICC General Secretary -would care to admit.
Let us just consider three questions.
- How many detections, detentions, charge-sheets and prosecutions related to fuel adulteration have taken place in the country in the 6 years between the murders of Manjunath and Sonawane?
- Of the convictions, if any, what have the sentences been like?
- What is the maximum punishment prescribed by the law for fuel adulteration?
I guarantee that the answers - whatever they may be - point to three clear failures of governance:
-The issue, extent and culprits are known, but the will to bring them to effective justice does not exist within the executive branch of our government
- The laws are framed in a way that punishments are light, and this is a small price to pay for those who might get caught - who are usually the small fry, anyway
- Amendment of the laws through parliament is difficult because many of our lawmakers might be direct or indirect beneficiaries of the systemic and continuing loot
Who was Mr Shivraj Patil kidding when he said that information had to be got and analyzed? Take a look at this article that appeared in Outlook
It was published in April 2005, SEVEN MONTHS before Manjunath was killed.
Consider another ironical piece of evidence. Oil baron Antim Totla, key accused in the multi-crore naphtha scam that appears to have been forgotten by our lawmakers, law-enforcers AND media, was granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh just a couple of days before Manjunath's murder.
Totla had alleged that several leading public figures and relatives of politicians were involved. But that was the last we ever heard of the subject. Or of the outcome.
Until now. After Sonawane's senseless death.
I maintain such corruption is a form of terrorism. It terrorizes the honest civil servant who tries, against odds, to keep his sphere of influence clean. It terrorizes the poor, hapless consumer, who has no recourse against politician-protected thugs and criminals that compel him to operate his vehicles on sub-standard fuel. It terrorizes the RTI activist - who is unprotected when he asks the right - but uncomfortable - questions, and receives stab wounds by way of rewards.
In conclusion, I would like to ask Mr Rahul Gandhi - and our honourable Prime Minister - not necessarily in that order, three questions:
- Can the ruling parties that constitute the UPA - in particular the Congress that is seen to lead the coalition - truthfully file an affidavit stating that his party has no office bearers at any level who are involved - or have been involved - in fuel adulteration?
- Is our government (and here, unequivocally, I mean central government) part of the solution that seeks to settle the issue of corruption - and the terrorism that it equates to - once and for all?
- Or (though I am loath to believe it) is it part of the problem?

Friday, January 21, 2011

CORRUPTION IS TERRORISM – 1: Black Money and the Terror Trail

There are three simple things nearly all middle class Indians can do to strike defining blows against black money, one of the primary cause-and-effect components of the vicious cycle of corruption and terrorism in which we find ourselves.

Why do I equate corruption and terrorism? Because they are two dark faces of the same coin.

Institutionalized corruption, such as we see all around us in India today, arises from one or more of three beliefs that are held by many citizens of our country.

One: That it is all right to break laws.

Two: Even if it were not all right, many others are doing it and getting away with it

Three: Even if one might get caught, the chances that one gets brought to justice are slim or non-existent, depending on whom you know or can influence in the echelons of power. The adage that power corrupts is alive and thriving in the corridors of our elected egocracy.

For every Jessica Lal, may her soul rest in peace, who received delayed but not denied justice, there are, arguably, hundreds if not thousands of unnamed victims whose tales will never be told.

Corruption leads to terrorism in three ways.

One: It creates a largely invisible, insidious pool of black money. This is deployed by those who transact in it towards the most profitable illegal businesses known: armaments, drugs and human trafficking. If in doubt, check out just a few of these news stories on the builder-underworld nexus:

Two: It deprives people of legitimate rights and alienates them from the government and from law enforcement agencies, creating a vacuum which is filled by parallel governments.

And I do not refer to just the situation in the Maoist heartland.

Sometimes, fortuitously, people find their own solutions. But if this is what has to happen, then those who are elected but do not work need to step down and make way for those who are truly building the nation, brick by brick.

But I digress. Let me return to black money. A subject on which much has been written, and some laudable efforts have been made – such as the Prevention of Money Laundering (Amendment) Act, 2009 and consequent tracking systems like Know Your Customer (KYC) and the much-awaited Unique Identification (UID) programme. But much more remains to be done. And much of this needs to be done by citizens – people like you and I – not the government alone.


Because you or I, or one of our near and dear ones, could be the next victim of a terrorist attack – in which we ourselves, albeit unwittingly, played the role of a facilitator.

And how might that be?

For example, we might buy a house and pay a substantial part of the proceeds in cash. To avoid tax. Because that’s’ the way the market operates. Because we want to sell an existing house to buy the new one, and can’t find a buyer to give us a reasonable price on “full cheque payment” basis. This cash finds its way to subversive elements via the aforementioned underworld-builder nexus.

Or consider this. You are about to travel abroad. Turns out your passport is about to expire, and you need a new one. Unfortunately, you changed jobs twice in the past 3 years; as you have not stayed at one place long enough, the police verification process is going to be very cumbersome. Someone tells you they know an agent who can get your passport done for a fee, no questions asked. What percentage of people like you would pay that fee – and how many forgo or defer that foreign trip and follow the correct but cumbersome path? Guess what – each such instance that bypasses the system exploits a loophole of corruption that a terrorist can similarly leverage for a false identity. And who knows which of your family members might be shopping there next time when a bomb goes off at Sarojini Nagar?

Among the simplest forms of petty public corruption are without-bill sales – even at respectable convenience stores, pharmacies and non-branded car repair shops in upmarket localities. The law requires you to insist on a bill and pay the appropriate sales tax or VAT, a sum usually much less than what an evening’s dinner out with friends will cost. This gentle tax evasion, multiplied several thousand times, represents that much less funds available for basics like food, shelter or education for the needy somewhere else in the country. Pushing folks less fortunate than us into desperate straits where they turn into criminals – or into cadre-constituents of insurgent movements.

Thus, there are three things we could pledge as our bit against black money:

One: No black money transactions. Insist on full cheque payments when you sell your house. Or car. Or painting. Or jewellery. Trust me, you will find buyers – and sellers. It might take some patience, and the price may – optically – look less. But there are no hidden costs in blood.

Two: No bribes. Follow the due process of law – and use RTI to the hilt if anyone gets in your way. If you don’t know how, sign up at

Three: Ask for bills whenever at a shop or establishment in an urban or commercial area. If they refuse, note the details of the incident and report it. Sites like can help you.

If you live in Delhi and want to stand up against corruption, join the March Against Corruption on 30th January, 2011. Details are available at

And even if you cannot join, please pass the word around.