Columns | Open Diary
The sheer scale of corruption has left people dumbfounded
24 Mar, 2023
THE LATEST CONTROVERSY that has muddied the waters of national politics is centred on the frenzied anti-corruption campaign being waged by the Central investigating agencies, notably the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED). The matter has suddenly acquired national importance because the local government of Delhi headed by Arvind Kejriwal has been shaken by the arrest of two ministers, including Manish Sisodia who, for all practical purposes, ran the local administration. In addition, there is a state of high excitement in Telangana following the intensive interrogation of K Kavitha, the daughter of Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, in Delhi by ED. Bihar, too, is experiencing tremors over the investigations against Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav and his ailing father Lalu Prasad.
In Delhi, Telangana, Bihar and Jharkhand—which seems next on the hit list—the state governments are run by parties that are opposed to BJP. Consequently, there are predictable charges that the Narendra Modi government is using CBI and ED as assault weapons against all those who could conceivably challenge BJP in next year’s General Election.
It is interesting that the charges of political vendetta lack gusto in the state where CBI and ED are on a frenzied overdrive and where everyday politics has been reduced to the dissection of the corrupt practices of politicians. In the pecking order of corruption, there is little doubt that West Bengal is the unquestioned Number One. The reason is interesting: in the state where Mamata Banerjee has been politically unchallenged since 2011, the investigating agencies have been whipped into urgency by the sharp interventions of the Calcutta High Court. In the absence of a powerful opposition to take on the all-powerful All India Trinamool Congress— better known as TMC—it is a handful of angry Bengali judges who have led the charge against corruption and, in effect, been responsible for the incarceration of one senior minister, two MLAs of the ruling party, the entire education department of the state, and countless big and small functionaries of the ruling party. Also behind bars are security guards of politicians who handled the cash for their bosses and at least one vivacious girlfriend of a rather rotund secretary-general of TMC. Also under the spotlight are film stars, two-bit starlets, attractive owners of beauty parlours and even a chartered accountant. In the coming days, the prison population may register a sharp increase as the scope of the inquiries extends from the illegal trade in coal and sand and the international smuggling of cows to Bangladesh to job-fixing in schools and municipalities. It is anticipated that the net will soon extend to the embezzlement of funds of schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee and the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. If that happens, the number of accused may run into the hundreds.
The clinical dissection of corruption has been an obsession in West Bengal. The local TV channels and the YouTube channels—but curiously, not the print media—have abandoned all other coverage and are focusing exclusively on the salacious activities of individuals who rose from nothing to becoming owners of properties worth `10 crore or more. The Bengali middle classes that have attached great value to education are disgusted by the details of job-fixing of teachers and examination-fixing. Nearly a thousand individuals who ‘bought’ government jobs by bribing local leaders and fixers have been sacked under court orders. As of now, there has been no outpouring of sympathy at their dismissal. There is public revulsion at the mountains of cash that have been unearthed from the apartments of ministers and their girlfriends, and the disgust is even more marked at evidence of candidates who submitted blank answer sheets being marked generously. Banks have decided that those teachers who were appointed by the TMC government will not be eligible for loans.
The sheer scale of corruption has left people dumbfounded. It is now conventional wisdom that this network of corruption could not have thrived had there not been patronage from the very top of the political pile. Indeed, there is now a growing demand that the investigators should move beyond the small fry and start interrogating and arresting the kingpins of this racket. Indeed, there seems to be an awareness that the trail to the top will lead to monumental political convulsions and will turn the world of Bengal politics upside down. The expectation is that the first family of the state will be decimated and could end up behind bars.
This may well happen but, for the moment, the investigators seem content to have lit a long, delayed fuse.
About The Author
Swapan Dasgupta is India's foremost conservative columnist. He is the author of Awakening Bharat Mata
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