New on my other blogs

"Gandhi is dead, Who is now Mahatmaji?"
Solar scam reveals decadent polity and sociery
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen


26 February, 2013

Phantoms on terror radar

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Within an hour of the two explosions that took 16 lives in Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh, on Thursday, some news channels started scrolling headlines suggesting involvement of the elusive Indian Mujahidin. But on Monday, the state was still waiting for reliable clues, for which it has announced a reward of Rs1 million.

Going by police accounts circulated by the media, in the last six years the IM has set off more than a dozen blasts in several cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow and Varanasi — more than one in some places — killing hundreds of people.

The outfit’s name first surfaced in 2008 when two channels received emails claiming responsibility for an explosion in Jaipur. An attached video footage showed a cycle with a bag on its carrier which presumably carried explosives.

Since then investigators have treated cycle bombs and email claims as IM markers. Cycles were used in the latest Hyderabad blasts but there was no email claim.

The media has described the IM variously as a home-grown terror outfit formed by remnants of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and the Indian arm of Lashkar-e-Taiba of Pakistan which has links to the Inter-Services Intelligence.

In an article accessible at the website of the Combating Terrorism Center, set up at the US Military Academy at West Point after 9/11, journalist Praveen Swami, who has purveyed Indian intelligence data extensively, traces the origin of the IM to a gathering of young Muslims at Bhatkal on the Karnataka coast in 2004. He writes, “They swam, went for hikes in the woods, honed their archery skills, and occasionally engaged in target practice with an airgun.” The local police, he says, were unaware that these men were the “core team of the jihadist network that would soon be known as the Indian Mujahidin.”

According to another journalist fed by intelligence agencies, a dossier prepared by the Delhi police after last year’s Pune blasts and circulated to the states by the Centre, the IM’s genesis goes back to 2000; it is ubiquitous, with modules in states as far apart as Delhi and Kerala and Maharashtra and Bihar; its top leaders, Riyaz Bhatkal and his brother Iqbal Bhatkal, are in Pakistan and it has hideouts in Nepal and other places.

Vicky Nanjappa, a Bangalore-based blogger who tracks reports on IM activities, notes that each state police has a different version about its working. While there have been arrests galore, and after a couple of arrests the police claim to have cracked a particular case, the matter never seems to reach the logical end. “The conviction rate has been a zero,” he writes.

India banned the IM in June 2010. The US declared it a terrorist organisation the following year and said it had close ties with other terrorist entities like LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HUJI) and its goal was to establish a caliphate for South Asia.

While terrorism is a harsh reality, the terror hunt looks like a phantom chase. According to one report, Riyaz Bhatkal was involved in the Mumbai serial blasts of 1993 and had been on the police radar since then. According to another, the special cell of Delhi police had interrogated him after the 2010 Pune blasts and obtained from him the names of several members of IM modules. It is not clear how he got out of police custody.

At one time the investigating agencies said Riyaz Bhatkal had masterminded the blasts and Shahrukh supplied the explosives. Now they say Riyaz and Shahrukh may be different names used by the same person. Yasin Bhatkal, said to be the IM’s bomb-maker, was arrested in Kolkata in 2008 but was released a few months later as his real identity was not known.

Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju last week accused the media of dividing the people on religious lines by demonising the Muslim community by bringing up names like Indian Mujahidin after every bomb blast. He pooh-poohed reports of IM emails saying any mischief-maker can send such messages.

B. Raman, a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency, wrote on Saturday: “If there is terror, it has to be a Muslim. If he is a Muslim, he has to be from the IM. If it is the IM, it must have acted at the instance of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. That seems to be the thinking reflex of the police and the agencies.”

19 February, 2013

Caught in another scam

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The United Progressive Alliance government is in damage control mode following revelations in an Italian court that Indians were bribed to secure orders for helicopters. It has asked the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe the charge but there is little chance of the agency coming up with any concrete evidence.

Many military contracts have been mired in scandals but now, for the first time, the name of the chief of staff of a defence force has come up in a corruption case.

It was in 2010 that India placed orders with AgustaWestland, an Anglo-Italian company, for 12 helicopters for the VVIP squadron which flies the president, the prime minister and visiting dignitaries. Early last year Italian prosecutors began an inquiry into allegations that AW’s parent company, Finmeccanica, had paid kickbacks, part of which had reached Italian politicians. The Indian contract was mentioned in this connection.

Last week Finmeccanica’s chief executive, Giuseppe Orsi, was arrested for allegedly paying $670 million to secure the Indian order. According to the prosecution, Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi, who was Chief of Air Staff from December 2004 to March 2007, was paid an amount, which has not been quantified yet, through his relatives “to perform and for having performed a deed against his official duties.”

Both Orsi and the company have denied the bribery charge. Tyagi has admitted that he met certain middlemen involved in the deal in the company of some relatives, but asserts he took no money.

The deed Tyagi allegedly performed was modification of the specifications of the helicopter to favour AgustaWestland. He points out that the modification was done in 2003, before he became air force chief, and the contract with the firm was signed three years after his retirement.

The deal with AgustaWestland was signed after a decade-long quest for a suitable helicopter, which began when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance was in power. Taking into account the possibility of having to fly VVIPs to high-altitude areas like the Siachen Glacier, it was proposed that the helicopter must be capable of flying at a height of 18,000 feet.

Brajesh Mishra, then National Security Adviser, suggested modification of the specification. In a letter to the then air chief he said the height specified had created a single-window situation since Eurocopter, a Franco-German enterprise, was the only one with a helicopter that can fly at 18,000 feet. He asked that the specifications be revised in consultation with the Special Protection Group, which looks after VVIP security.

The SPG proposed that the operational height be lowered to 15,000 feet. This opened the way for AgustaWestland to participate in the tender. The SPG also wanted safety to be a prime consideration. This gave AW a distinct advantage as its helicopter had three engines, not just two.

Following the NDA’s defeat in the 2004 elections, the UPA came to power and in 2005 AK Antony was appointed defence minister. Reports at that time said Congress President and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had picked him for the post in view of his clean reputation.

Congress and BJP spokespersons are working overtime to pin responsibility for the scam on each other. The former relies on the fact that the NDA government initiated the move to modify the specification. The latter points out that the modification was approved and the contract awarded by the UPA government.

When reports of the Italian investigation appeared in the Indian media a year ago Antony asked the defence ministry to look into the matter. The Indian embassy in Rome was not able to provide any information beyond what had been published. Parliament was told an inquiry could not be undertaken merely on the basis of media reports.

Unlike in the 2G and Commonwealth Games scandals, now before the courts, the name of no politician has come up in the AW deal so far. But the BJP sees in it an opportunity to embarrass the Italian-born Congress President Sonia Gandhi. It has also called for an inquiry into the role of an aide of her son and Congress Vice-President, Rahul Gandhi.

The new scam brings to mind memories of the Bofors scandal in which the names of prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and his friends had come up. The CBI investigated it for many years without any success.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 19, 2013.

14 February, 2013

Why P.J. Kurien is under a cloud

By B.R.P. Bhaskar 


With the resurfacing of the Suryanelli sex scandal case, which has rocked Kerala off and on since 1996, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien has come under a cloud of suspicion again.

The case arose out of the abduction and serial rape of a 16-year-old schoolgirl of Suryanelli in Kerala by 42 men over 41 days in January-February 1996. One after another three police teams investigated the case and none of them named Kurien as an accused.

The government appointed a special prosecutor and set up a special court to render speedy justice. In September 2000, the fast-track sessions court sentenced 35 accused to various terms of rigorous imprisonment. One accused, Dharmarajan, an advocate, who had allegedly taken the captive girl to several places in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and presented her to others, was absconding at the time. He was arrested, tried and given a long jail term two years later.

In 2005, the high court acquitted all, including Dharmarajan, of the rape charge, holding the girl had completed 16 years, which was the age of consent, and she was not an unwilling partner. It, however, upheld Dharmarajan's conviction on a charge of sex trade and gave him a jail term of only five years.

The state's appeal against the high court verdict lay unattended in the Supreme Court for more than seven years until a women's organisation drew attention to it in the wake of the national outrage over the Delhi gang-rape.

On taking it up, the apex court expressed shock over the high court verdict, quashed it and sent the case back to it for fresh determination within six months.

All the accused in the case were traced by the investigators on the basis of information given by the girl after the abductors freed her. While the investigation was on, she saw a picture of Kurien, then a minister of state in the central government, in a newspaper and told police that he was among her tormentors. Inquiries showed that he was in Kerala for a few days and had moved about without security personnel on one day.

Kurien told the investigators he did not use the services of security personnel on that day since he had no official engagements. Witnesses cited by him said they met him at Thiruvalla and Changanacherry. That meant he could not have been at Kumali, where the girl alleged he had raped her. The investigators were satisfied with his alibi.

Since the police did not cite Kurien as an accused, the girl filed a private complaint against him in a magistrate's court. After hearing the testimony of her witnesses, the magistrate issued summons to him. He then moved the high court and, failing to get a favourable verdict, approached the Supreme Court for quashing the magistrate's order.

The apex court asked him to go to the sessions court with a prayer for discharge. The sessions court rejected the prayer. Kurien then went to the high court, which granted his prayer.

The legal path Kurien chose raises some questions. In the criminal revision petition filed in the high court, he did not cite the girl, who was the complainant, as a respondent. The high court ruled in his favour without hearing her. The only respondent in the case was the State of Kerala, which had anyway decided not to prosecute him.

The witnesses who helped Kurien to establish his alibi were not produced in the magistrate's or in the sessions court. Therefore, the complainant's counsel could not cross-examine them.

Kurien's plea for discharge came up in the high court when the main Suryanelli case was virtually lost with the acquittal of all the accused charged with rape. He relied heavily upon the high court's finding that the girl's testimony could not be trusted. With the apex court quashing that high court verdict, its decision in his case stands on questionable ground.

In his television appearances Kurien said political opponents had been raking up the Suryanelli case against him at election time. He had raised this argument in the courts too, and it had passed muster there. However, this time the matter has come up not in the context of an election but in the context of the general awakening on the issue of women's security. Also, it has been brought up by the victim, who was a minor when she was subjected to sexual assault and is fighting for justice 17 years later.

Kurien's name was cleared by investigators and prosecutors both under the Congress-led UDF government and under the CPI-M-led LDF government. However, they was no unanimity among them.

One investigator has said the team leader was keen to save Kurien and did not pursue the evidence against him. Both the girl and Dharmarajan have said police asked them not to mention his name. It has come to light that identification parades were held for the others named by the girl but not for Kurien.

The special prosecutor appointed by the CPI-M-led government wanted Kurien to be prosecuted but the Director General of Prosecution, also appointed by that government, did not. The matter was settled in Kurien's favour at a meeting presided over by Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar, which suggests the decision was essentially political.

All witnesses who reinforced Kurien's alibi except G. Sukumaran Nair, general secretary of the Nair Service Society, have gone back on their statements to police. To make things worse, Dharmarajan has told a channel he took Kurien in his car to the guest house where the girl said he assaulted her.

Their revelations having knocked the bottom out of Kurien's alibi, he is under increasing pressure to step down from the post of deputy chairman and submit to a fresh probe.

One Billion Rising: some events in India

Today is the day of One Billion Rising.

Anoushka Shankar writes:

...we will rise, dance and take a stand to end violence against women.

Below are a list of One Billion Rising events in major cities of India. If you don’t find an event in your city, you can also take action by getting more people involved in the movement. Get your friends and family to take the pledge and forward this mail to those who can attend.

Delhi: Cultural events and lighting of candles at Parliament Street from 5pm to 8 pm.

Mumbai: 5 pm to 8.30 pm at Bandra Amphitheatre - community discussions and performances along with Bollywood celebs Farhan Akhtar, Rahul Bose, Javed Akhtar and others.

Kolkata: Cultural event at Shahid Minar from 2:30pm - 4pm. Rally to College square from 4pm - 6:30 pm.

Bangalore: Painting, singing, dancing and more at Cubbon Park, Manjula Mantapa entrance (Vital Mallya Road), starting at 2:30pm.

Chennai: Rally from Marina beach, Kannagi Statue to Gandhi Statue from 10:30 am - 11:30 am; public meeting and cultural activities from 11:30 am- 2 pm. 

Hyderabad: Rally from Jalvihar near Necklace Road at 4pm. This will be followed by cultural programmes at People’s Plaza from 5.30 - 8 pm.

Lucknow: March with dupattas as message boards from Begam Hazrat Mahal park to Vidhan Sabha. 12pm - 4pm.

Cochin: Art installation by Sajitha at Durbar Hall ground. Performance by Usha Uthup and other musicians at Rajendra Maidan from 5.30 pm, Durbar Hall Ground, DH Road, Kochi.

Bhopal: Cultural performances and testimonies from women at Shah Jahani Park, 10am - 4pm. Shabana Azmi will be the chief guest and C.M. Shri Shivraj Singh Chouhan will also attend.

Shillong: Cultural evening 4pm - 6:30pm at Madan Iewrynghe.
Ahmedabad: Cultural evening with Mallika Sarabhai at Sports Ground, Gujarat Vidyapeeth. 5pm - 7pm.

Vadodra: Human chain from Fine Arts College, opposite Kamati Bagh from 5pm - 7pm.
Guwahati: Cultural events with bands, music and dance at Shradanjali Park, Zoo Road. 3pm - 6:30pm.
Mizoram: Cultural events with bands, music and dance at YMA hall, Chanmari, 11am - 2pm.

As part of One Billion Rising, on February 14th, 2013, we want one billion women and those who love them to walk out, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end violence against women. 

Attend any of these events and ask your friends and family to join you as well. Let’s rise together - to heal and transform ourselves and transform this world.

Anoushka Shankar

12 February, 2013

Hanging puts the clock back

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Whichever way one looks at it, the secret hanging of Afzal Guru, the lone convict in the parliament attack case, who was under the shadow of the gallows for more than a decade, is a sad commentary on Indian democracy.

While people swayed by right-wing groups, which have been baying for blood, applauded the action, civil society activists questioned the fairness of the trial, the timing of the hanging and the message that it sends out.

The case was a sequel to the December 1999 attack on Parliament House by five gunmen, said to be Pakistanis. All of them were killed by security personnel, who lost five men in the action. Four civilians were also killed but none of about 100 parliamentarians who were in the building was hurt. A massive military build-up on both sides of the India-Pakistan border followed, raising fears of a nuclear conflict.

According to the investigators, the attack was plotted by Jaish-e-Mohammad, a Pakistan-based Kashmiri outfit, whose founder, Maulana Masood Azhar, is among the 20 persons whose names figure in dossiers New Delhi has given to Islamabad. Pakistan says the evidence India has provided is not sufficient to prosecute them.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which habitually takes a hard line on India-Pakistan relations while in the opposition, has been particularly hawkish on the Parliament attack case. The attack had taken place when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was in power. Azhar was one of the hardcore militants its government had released from prison earlier to secure the safe return of the passengers of an Indian plane which was hijacked after it took off from Kathmandu.

Afzal Guru was a Kashmiri militant who had surrendered to the security forces. Later he moved from the valley to Delhi and was engaged in business there. The charge against him was that he had conspired with the attackers and helped them to get arms and shelter. He claimed he was framed.

He did not get a counsel of his choice to represent him in the trial court. All six lawyers whose names he had proposed refused his brief, some of them out of fear. He dispensed with the services of the court-appointed lawyer, saying he was not presenting his case fully.

While disposing of Afzal Guru’s appeal against his conviction, the Supreme Court conceded there was no direct evidence to show he belonged to any terrorist group or was a party to any criminal conspiracy. However, it held, circumstantial evidence unerringly pointed to his collaboration with the attackers. It said the collective conscience of the society would only be satisfied if capital punishment was awarded.

Presidents APJ Abdul Kalam and Pratibha Patil left office without taking any decision on the mercy petition filed by Afzal Guru’s wife Tabasum. Pranab Mukherjee, who took office six months ago, rejected the mercy plea on February 3 clearing the way for the hanging.

Afzal Guru is the second person to be hanged in three months, the first being Ajmal Kasab, the Pakistani gunman who was captured alive during the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. As in the case of Kasab, the execution procedures were completed in utter secrecy and the body buried in the jail compound.

Afzal Guru’s family and lawyer were not informed about the date of his execution. Kashmir was placed under curfew, cyber links were cut and secessionist leaders placed under restraint to check protests. Still there were protests, some of them violent, and the valley observed three-day mourning.

Congress party spokesman Rashid Alvi said the hanging sent a tough message to the world that India would not tolerate terrorism. He appeared to be oblivious of the negative message implied in the short-circuiting of established procedures.

Human rights groups in the country and abroad were sharp in their criticism. “The secret, shameful and surreptitious manner (of the hanging) is most unbecoming of a democracy,” said Yug Mohit Chaudhry, lawyer and campaigner against death penalty.

Many analysts saw Afzal Guru’s execution, rejecting calls for reprieve, as an attempt by the ruling Congress to take the wind out of the BJP’s sails ahead of parliament’s budget session beginning this month and the general election due next year. They noted that Kasab was hanged just before the last session.

“It’s extremely tragic if Indian democracy is going to survive on executing someone or the other before every parliament session,” said Vrinda Grover, a prominent lawyer and activist.

Clearly the hanging has put the clock back.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 12, 2013

05 February, 2013

Limits of sporadic protests

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Concerned citizens who came out to protest as the government dilly-dallied on critical issues during the past two years have gone back, and the political class is back at its old game.

In the last few years, across India people have staged myriad protests against the central and state governments’ policies and failings but their voices rarely went beyond their towns and villages.

Two issues, corruption and women’s security, developed into national causes and unnerved politicians as the capital was the epicentre of protests, and the tremors they set in motion reached urban centres throughout the country.

One of them was the anti-corruption movement initiated by Anna Hazare, a social activist of Maharashtra. India Against Corruption, a civil society group led by rights activist Arvind Kejriwal, lawyer Prashant Bhushan and former police officer Kiran Bedi, mobilised support for it. Large crowds turned up at the venue of the fasts Hazare undertook on the issue in New Delhi.

The movement forced the central government to rush through the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, a bill which had been in cold storage for several decades. The bill got stalled in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house, which set up a select committee to go through it and suggest changes.

Last week the government revised the bill in the light of the select committee report. While accepting several recommendations of the committee, it has rejected the proposal to vest in the Lokpal, the proposed ombudsman, the power to transfer officials of the Central Bureau of Investigation. It has also turned down the suggestion that officials facing Lokpal probe should not be heard at the preliminary stage of inquiry.

Anna Hazare has expressed disappointment with its provisions of the bill and accused the government of going back on the commitments made to him. “This government is incapable of making good laws,” he says.

However, Kiran Bedi has welcomed the measure. Whatever its faults, with its passage, at least some anti-corruption mechanism will be in place, she points out.

Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan recently broke away from Hazare to float a political party, arguing it is necessary to enter the electoral arena to make a difference to the situation.

Team Anna having split, the government does not see any threat of a new movement. However, in the absence of a clear majority for the ruling United Progressive Alliance in either house of Parliament, it is not possible to say if the bill will pass master and if so in what form.

Since the bill will emerge from the Rajya Sabha in a form different from what the Lok Sabha adopted it will have to go back to that house. If the Lok Sabha does not approve of the changes made by the Rajya Sabha, the two houses will have to hold a joint sitting to vote on it.

Women’s security emerged as a major issue after a 23-year-old paramedical student was gangraped and brutally assaulted in a Delhi bus on the night of December 16. She died a few days later in a hospital in Singapore, where she was sent at government expense for treatment.

Responding to waves of protest in Delhi and elsewhere demanding stern measures to check gender violence, the government appointed a three-member committee headed by JS Verma, a former chief justice of India, to recommend measures to deal with rising sexual offences.

The committee earned all-round praise by hearing the views of all sections of opinion and coming up with a comprehensive set of proposals within a month. Justice Verma asked the government to match the panel’s commitment by implementing its recommendations immediately. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote back: “I assure you that we will be prompt in pursuing the recommendations of the committee.”

The government acted fast but not fairly. With no protesters in the streets to put pressure, it felt free to take liberties with the panel’s report. It ignored the suggestion to make marital rape an offence. It also overlooked the recommendation to review the provisions of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which protect rapist soldiers.

The government sugarcoated the rejection of important recommendations by promulgating an ordinance, instead of going to parliament with a bill, and including in it a provision for the death penalty, which many groups had sought but was not favoured by the Verma panel.

The government’s response to the two agitations shows sporadic protests are not an adequate substitute for sustained civil society action.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, February 5, 2013.

03 February, 2013

Police swoop on Odisha village: crackdown on anti-Posco protesters

The following is a message received from Prashant Paikary, Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti:

Dear Friends,

In the wee hours today (at around 4 am) the police has entered into our villages and beaten up women and children, arrested some of our villagers (number is yet to be known).

As we have intimated you earlier that the police force has been gradually swelling in our area amidst our continuing human chain and Dharana in the Balitikira-the boarder of Govindpur and Dhinkia villages of Jagatsingpur district, the police has deceptively entered to the villages with full force at 4 a.m. today. Our people sensed their possible move at around 2 o clock night and alerted the villagers by ringing bells. Gradually women, children, male members started getting accumulated at the Dharana place. At 4 a.m. the police entered and attacked the women and children first. The male police have ruthlessly beaten our women who were lying on a human chain. Some women have been severely inured. The Police have thrown our children like flowers, some of whom are injured. Some villagers have been arrested by the police and been taken to custody. At the moment we do not have exact numbers as the situation is too tensed on the spot. The police have started breaking our betel vines and cutting the trees forcefully. More and more numbers of our villagers have come to the spot and a war like situation has arisen. Our committed villagers are facing a mighty 12 platoons of police force.

We fail to understand the decision of the state to acquire land when the National Green Tribunal has already suspended the environment clearance to the proposed POSCO project in our area. Naveen Patnaik is behaving like an agent of the POSCO company.

As the situation is too alarming, we appeal all our friends to protest against the barbarism and call/write/fax to the Prime Minister, Chief Minister of Odisha and Chief Secretary of Odisha, Home Minsitry, Odisha appealing to immediately stop the police brutality and withdrawal of the force from our area. Please call to your respective MPs and MLAs and raise your protest against them urging them to oppose the illegal move. Write to NHRC also.

We request our media friends to rush to our villages and see the situation in their own eyes and report. 

We will intimate further developments soon.

Please widely circulate this mail.

In Solidarity,
Prashant Paikary
Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti
Mobile no-09437571547
E-Mail -

The contact address of the authorities

1. Naveen Patnaik
Chief Minister, Odisha
Tel. No.(O) 011 91 674 2531100,011 91 674 2535100,
011 91 674 2531500, Epbax 2163
Tel. No.(R) 011 91 674 2590299, 011 91 674 2591099,
Fax No- (91)6742535100
E Mail:
2.  Muralidhar Chandrakanta Bhanadare, Governor of Odisha,  Fax No- (91)6742536582
3. Shri B K Patnaik, Chief Secretary, E-mail: csori@ori.nic.
Phone no -             0674 - 2536700      
            0674 - 2534300      
            0674 - 2322196      
Fax No - 0674 - 2536660 
3. S.K. Mallick , District  Collector, Jagatsinghpur, Contact number            09437038401      ,   Fax no - : (91)6724220299
4. Superintendent of Police, Debadutta Singh. Mobile no-09437094678,
5. Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India
Tel no-            +9111-23016857      
6. Sonia Gandhi: Tel Phone no -             (91)11-23014161      , (91)11-23012656, Fax- (91)112301865,,
7. Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission of India, Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg, New Delhi 110 001, Tel:             +91 11 230 74448      , Fax: +91 11 2334 0016, Email:
8. Shri. V.Kishore Chandra Deo
Minister of Tribal Affairs
Ministry of Tribal Affairs,
Room No. 400  ‘B’ Wing, Shastri Bhawan,
New Delhi- 110001
9. Smt. Jayanthi Natarajan
Minister of Environment & Forests
Ministry of Environment & Forests
Paryavaran Bhawan,
CGO Complex, Lodhi Road
New Delhi-110003

01 February, 2013

Corruption in the age of globalization


Corruption is a part of mankind’s hoary tradition. Ancient Indian works bear testimony to its existence in the distant past. Going by the Gospels, one of Christ’s disciples was an official who was corrupt. In theory, in a feudal dispensation fear of instant retribution may deter an official from accepting illegal gratification but when rulers want to amass riches for personal gratification or for financing wars they cannot act against corrupt officials who help them realize their goal. In the early phases of British rule in India, the administration was highly corrupt. Officials of the East India Company returned to England from their Indian assignment with immense wealth. Hickey, who set up India’s first newspaper, exposed corruption by Company officials but he was acting in the interests of a faction within the organization and was not a genuine anti-graft crusader. The House of Commons summoned Robert Clive and Warren Hastings, two enthusiastic empire builders, to answer charges of corruption. Under the Company’s rule there arose a class of Indians who served the cause of the colonial masters and obtained opportunities to fatten themselves at the cost of their own countrymen. Those whom the Company had employed to prepare land registers falsified the records and dispossessed people of their holdings. After the British government assumed direct responsibility for the governance of India military adventurers were replaced by officials selected through a competitive process, and they tried to provide a clean administration. 

The Indian Civil Service, which comprised educated Britons and Indians selected on the basis of a tough examination, enjoyed a high reputation for efficiency and integrity. It was, however, not entirely free from corruption. Soon after Independence, two senior Indian officers of the service, S.A. Venkataraman and S.Y. Krishnamoorthi, faced corruption charges. Under the rules, an ICS officer could only be tried by another member of the service. The British officer who tried Venkataraman was scandalized by the evidence that a contractor who had dealings with his department had picked up the bills for the Scotch whiskey which a New Delhi wine shop delivered at his house each month. Both Venkataraman and Krishnamoorthi were sentenced to jail terms. That was in the 1950s. Since then there have been few instances of officials of such seniority being prosecuted although the system continued to provide scope for corruption. Evidently, somewhere along the way it lost the ability to act against corrupt officials presumably because they were acting in concert with political elements. 

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru established a convention of ordering a judicial inquiry when a prima facie case of corruption or other impropriety was established against a Central minister or State Chief Minister.  On the appointment of an inquiry commission the minister was obliged to resign but an adverse finding did not lead to criminal prosecution or prevent return to the government at a later stage. In other words, corruption only exacted a small political price. It did
not invite a legal penalty.

Over the years corruption charges have spiralled. In the 1970s, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi famously described corruption as a global phenomenon. It is true that corruption has existed in all societies and at all times but there is nothing to indicate that in India it was as widespread at any time as it is today. The economic liberalization programme the government initiated in the 1990s has been widely represented as one involving dismantling of the licence-permit raj, which had spawned corruption in the early years of Independence. However, the era of globalization it inaugurated has seen enormous growth in the extent and volume of corruption.

At the root of the continuous expansion of corruption is the political parties’ growing need for resources to fight elections. In a five-year period, they have to face three elections – at the national, state and local levels – and even cadre parties are becoming increasingly reliant on money for the conduct of campaigns. Acceptance of contributions from corporate entities was widely seen as undesirable as it would place the parties under obligation to them, and at a very early stage Parliament passed a law prohibiting political contributions by companies. The ill-conceived legal remedy led to widespread use of black money in elections.  Many business houses found it necessary to generate black money to fund political campaigns. The law has since been changed but black money continues to oil the election machinery of the political parties.

When the Congress dominated politics at the Central and State levels it was the major beneficiary of corporate donations. Jawaharlal Nehru is known to have stayed away from fund raising, leaving the job to party leaders who maintained close contacts with the captains of industry. As other parties grew and began posing a challenge to the Congress, businessmen started patronizing them too. Over the years the fund collectors came to have much clout within the parties and some of them started siphoning off part of the donations to build private kitties. A veteran of the freedom movement observed in the 1970s, “In our time 80 per cent of the money we collected reached the AICC, the rest going into expenses. Now only 20 per cent reaches the AICC, the rest going into other channels.”  As collections dwindled, parties in power began raising money through kickbacks. There was now a direct link between favours shown to individual business houses and the money that flowed into party coffers. Still later a similar link emerged in the award of foreign contracts too. The Bofors scandal is a case of this kind that got exposed. In many States, postings and transfers of officials also became a source of political funds. When officials are drawn into fund raising in one way or another it becomes difficult for the political masters to check corruption in the bureaucracy. That explains why the system which could throw the book at members of the ICS is unable to take on members of the less glamorous successor services.

Corruption in the bureaucracy operates differently at different levels. When officials at the higher levels take bribes it is generally to show favours. Businessmen consider the payments they make as part of their investment. Ordinary people who deal with the lower levels of the administration for routine matters often find it necessary to grease palms not to receive any favour but to get what they are entitled to as a matter of right such as a birth or death certificate or a caste or income certificate.  The licence-permit raj undoubtedly offered much scope for corruption. Rahul Bajaj, a leading industrialist, has admitted that he expanded his business surreptitiously by producing more than what he was licensed to manufacture. This is how the famed Harvard Business School, of which he is a distinguished alumnus, records the story in his own words at its website: “To lower my costs while improving the price and quality of my products, I needed economies of scale," he explains. "Ignoring a government regulation, I increased my volume by more than the permitted 25 per cent of my licensed capacity. If I had to go to jail for the excess production of a commodity that most Indians needed, I didn't mind."Bajaj’s confession about breaking the rule has special significance as he is the scion of a business family which had close connections with the nationalist movement and Mahatma Gandhi. He did not go jail for his defiance of the law, which his alma mater describes as “his own form of disobedience” in a bid to pass it off as something akin to Gandhi’s civil resistance movement. It is not unreasonable to assume that the authorities, politicians and officials, were not unaware of the goings-on in the Bajaj plant and that their acquiescence was bought in a manner which neither he nor Harvard wishes to acknowledge. In a book titled “The Polyester Prince”, published in 1998, Hamish McDonald, an Australian journalist, chronicled how Dhirubhai Ambani, a self-made businessman, built a big empire in a short period. A few copies of the book reached India soon after its publication but quickly disappeared and no further consignments reached the country. The Ambanis reportedly threatened to launch legal action if the book was sold in India. At one time the book was available online but now it is not easily traceable even in cyberspace. It is not clear if the credit for blocking it belongs to the powerful state or to the resourceful business house.  Dhirubhai Ambani’s two sons figure high up in the Forbes list of Indian billionaires, and the magazine has indicated that the older of them, Mukesh, could emerge sooner or later as the richest man in the world. The names of the Ambani brothers and their mother, Kokilaben, figure in the list of Indians who had accounts in a branch of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation in Switzerland, which France had made available to India some time ago. The Indian government’s failure to act against the bank or the account holders suggests it is reluctant to pursue black money trails which may lead to corrupt politicians and officials.
Corruption of the permit raj days, enormous as it was, pales into insignificance in comparison with the scams of the era of globalization, the amounts involved running into hundreds of billions of rupees. There has been an exponential growth of graft since investors, domestic and foreign, started rushing to grab valuable resources such as land and minerals. Rapacious businessmen have shown readiness to bribe their way around obstacles such as environmental laws and opposition from local residents.  Many politicians have acquired business interests in diverse fields, including the media. Affidavits filed by candidates seeking re-election to public offices have revealed enormous growth in their assets during their earlier term. It was against this background that Anna Hazare launched a campaign to force the government to enact legislation for setting up a Lokpal with powers to prosecute corrupt politicians and officials. 

The idea of a Lokpal at the Centre and a Lokayukta in each State to deal with complaints against the administration was first mooted by a high-powered committee half a century ago. Several States have already created Lokayuktas, headed by retired Supreme Court judges or High Court Chief Justices. Their performance has generally fallen short of expectations of the public. In a few instances they have pursued cases against powerful persons relentlessly but the law does not invest them with sufficient powers to punish those found guilty. A Central law has not materialized so far. On several occasions bills were introduced in Parliament and allowed to lapse with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. Finding the pending bill drafted by the government unsatisfactory, Anna Hazare and his associates, who included some lawyers and former officials, prepared a draft of their own with strong provisions and insisted that Parliament pass it into law. The government modified some provisions of its draft to meet their criticism but the bill fell through. While the government ritually reiterates it is committed to enact a strong anti-corruption law, its lackadaisical approach leaves doubts in the public mind about its earnestness in the matter.    

An act of corruption, while benefitting some, almost invariably deprives others of justice and fair play. As such, it amounts to a violation of human rights. However, the human rights movement in the country has not involved itself seriously in the fight against corruption.  Even the moral and ethical aspects of corruption have not received adequate attention. Indeed, with elements known to be corrupt parading in public as roaring successes in their fields, there is often sneaking admiration for them and willingness to emulate them.

India is currently going through a phase of fast economic growth. Even a cursory look at the history of the developed societies will show that they witnessed large-scale corruption in the early stages of explosive growth. Britain experienced such a phase in the 18th and 19th centuries. The United States went through a similar period in late 19th and early 20th centuries. Japan and South Korea, two Asian countries which saw swift development after World War II, were dogged by scams. The biggest economic success story of recent years has been China’s, and it is grappling with the problem of corruption at high levels. Where India differs from these countries is in the inability of its system to deal effectively with corruption at high levels of the administration.  Two former Prime Ministers of Japan and a former President of South Korea were jailed on corruption charges. China executed a provincial governor after being found guilty in the early days of economic liberalization. More recently it jailed two members of the powerful Politburo of the Communist Party and a third high-ranking party official is expected to go on trial soon. The real problem that India faces is not the absence of a strong law but the incapacity of the system to move against those at the top. A change in this state of affairs cannot be expected until the political machinery is cleansed and the electoral system is freed from the influence of money. (Social Science in Perspective, Vol 4, Nos. 2 and 4, July-December 2012)