The series of actions taken against corrupt political leaders has managed to instil a sense of unease among the corrupt, and now it is upon the government agencies to take the cases to their logical end and restore people’s faith in the system.
The recent Income Tax Department raids on properties linked to D K Shivakumar, a Karnataka state minister and a Congress strongman and on Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and his family have caused ripples in the political sphere. There has been a flurry of activity within the investigative agencies who, some would say, are finally doing what they were meant to do unhindered, under the directions of the “master’s invisible hand” or with the help of the deep connections of the politicos in question.
Even the harshest critics of the Narendra Modi government have failed to pinpoint any charge of corruption by the current ruling dispensation. The popular dictum of Prime Minister Modi, na khaunga, na khane dunga is increasingly being perceived in the promptness with which investigative agencies are going after dubious finances of political bigwigs. This is a far cry from the pervasive erstwhile impression that it is easy for the power wielding corrupt leaders to loot tax payers’ money and get away with it.
Under former director Ranjit Sinha, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) shut down at least 12 high-profile cases including the coal block allocation scam due to a lack of substantial evidence, raising suspicion if there was any quid pro quo between the ruling party and the key accused. In fact, the premier investigation agency had infamously been called a 'caged parrot’ that will only be released to threaten any political opposition that arise from allies and adversaries alike, but never to make any serious headway in cases.
In light of forced inaction or even complicity of the past, a slew of raids and visible follow-ups by the investigative agencies against regional and political satraps have shattered the implicit agreement within political parties to allow depravity to flourish in exchange for numerical exigencies.
A hornet’s nest has been stirred with many political heavyweights already staring at the prospect of jail while some others are under the radar for previous misdemeanours. Tacit pacts of “threaten but do not act” have been shattered in the recent past.
Chhagan Bhujbal, former deputy chief minister of Maharashtra and close aide of National Congress Party (NCP) supremo Sharad Pawar was evading law since a very long time. A Special Task Force to probe allegations of money laundering against him was ordered by High Court in 2012. But it was not until December 2014 that an inquiry was initiated in the major projects undertaken by the Public Works Department when Bhujbal was the minister. Following the inquiry, Enforcement Directorate (ED) filed an FIR and, subsequently, arrested him on charges of irregularities in handing government contracts to private players.
In another case, Congress politician Karti Chidambaram and former Congress minister P Chidambaram are under CBI investigation for receiving kickbacks in return for bypassing the process to obtain foreign investment clearance for a media house during the latter’s tenure as the Union finance minister. In addition, ED is also probing alleged irregularities in the Aircel-Marxis deal that Chidambaram, who was authorised to approve inflows till Rs 600 crore, gave the green light to inflow of Rs 3,500 crore of foreign funds. Additionally, Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Virbhadra Singh has already made a round of the jail in a disproportionate assets case.
However, a chief minister resigning due to mounting graft charges against his minister and alliance partner was unheard of, until the Bihar episode showed that it is no longer politically expedient to be associated with allies laden with corruption. A strong case against Lalu Prasad Yadav, his wife and children (former ministers in RJD-Janata Dal – United (JDU) government) for acquiring benami properties to the tune of hundreds of crores had emerged. In the absence of any concrete clarification or offer to step down by Tejashwi Yadav, the former deputy chief minister of Bihar and Lalu’s son, Nitish Kumar withdrew from the alliance, only to form government with support of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). No doubt the conspiracy theories on a swift patch-up by JDU and BJP cropped up, but it did not take away from the fact that a firm precedent had been set – corruption-ridden leaders would no more be allowed to flaunt their ‘power’.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been raising her pitch against Modi at every opportunity. The subtext here seems to be that potentially shady chit funds and scams are being pursued and some people said to be close to her have already been brought under the radar. In a high-profile case, Trinamool Congress (TMC) government’s Sports and Transport Minister Madan Mitrawas was arrested by CBI for his alleged involvement in the Saradha Chit Fund scam; TMC MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay was arrested for his alleged involvement in the Rose Valley Scam; TMC’s erstwhile Rajya Sabha MP Srinjoy Bose also was arrested for his alleged links to the Saradha scam.
The series of punitive actions taken was long overdue and has managed to instil unease among the corrupt. It is upon the government agencies to take the cases to their logical end and restore people’s faith in the system, setting an example for future governments to emulate. It helps the agencies that the Modi government since coming to power has constantly made corruption and black money an issue of critical urgency. Coupled with freeing the 'caged parrots’ and setting up transparent systems, the government can substantially fasten India’s growth story by instilling some fear in the morally decadent sections of the old polity.