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?