India stumbles along a long corruption trail

John Elliott

anna gandhi 295 India stumbles along a long corruption trail-   A truck driver was reported to have been beaten to death by officials in north India earlier this week for not paying a Rs500 bribe………

-   A former cabinet minister for telecoms, Dayanidhi Maran, is about to be charged for corruption in an ongoing telecoms scandal. He is the second ex-telecom minister to be charged in the case – the first, Andimuthu Raja, has been held in a Delhi jail since February pending trial, along with various others………

-   A crisis has split and preoccupied the top levels of the government in the past week over whether Pranab Mukherjee, the finance minister, tried some months ago in a ministry memo to implicate Palaniappan Chidambaram, his predecessor and now home minister, in that scandal. This has been partially and unsatisfactorily resolved tonight by a joint statement from the two men denying any rift………..

- A close adviser to former prime minister Atul Bihari Vajpayee was arrested earlier this week and is being held in jail for allegedly organising bribes for votes when India’s US nuclear deal was before parliament in 2008, as was a provincial Uttar Pradesh politician earlier this month…..……..

This is modern India – a proud but often dysfunctional country that aspires to be a world super power – just a month or so after it was caught up in an anti-corruption frenzy led by Anna Hazare, a social campaigner. A Mahatma Gandhi look-alike, Hazare marched, demonstrated, fasted, and humiliated the government with demands that a new corruption ombudsman, the Lok Pal, should have wide-ranging powers. His campaign drew massive support from India’s middle classes, especially but not exclusively the young, who were protesting not just against corruption but at the way the country is run by self-serving national politicians down to police and other brutal officials on the streets and in rural areas.

The current scandal, which involves telecom licences and spectrum that were issued by Raja to selected companies in 2008 at 2001 prices, was widely known about and criticised by the end of that year – see my blog article in November 2008. But no-one in the government seriously tried to stop it. In the past week, it seemed to threaten Chidambaram’s ministerial job because of suggestions in Mukherjee’s Finance Ministry memo that, when he was finance minister in 2008, Chidambaram abetted what was being done by Raja.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh and his Congress Party political boss, Sonia Gandhi, have been working on the crisis which has threatened to spread beyond Chidambaram because so many parts of the government, including the prime minister’s office, and Manmohan Singh himself, knew what Raja was doing and did not stop him.

Now Subramanian Swamy, a campaigning lawyer and politician who triggered the Chidambaram-Mukherjee crisis, said last night that he will produce evidence implicating Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, whose business deals have received some publicity.

All this illustrates how corruption in India is now so widespread and deeply embedded that it can threaten the stability of the government. There seems little hope of stemming it – from officials’ street-level bribes and killings to national scandals – despite the Hazare movement.

Certainly nothing significant has changed yet. A total of 14 politicians, bureaucrats and company executives have been arrested and jailed in Delhi pending trial on the telecom scandal, as have others on allegations over last year’s Commonwealth Games (CWG) contracts and vote buying mentioned above. Elsewhere, politicians and businessmen involved in mining scandals have been arrested and jailed. This is not however a genuine effort to demonstrate with arrests that corruption must stop. No significant politician or prominent businessmen, nor anyone the government wants to protect, has yet been jailed.

What has also happened, according to widespread anecdotal reports, is that officials at all levels of government are becoming so scared of facing corruption accusations that they are reluctant to take decisions. That is seriously delaying policy implementation in a government that already has a reputation internationally for muddled economic and industrial policies that discourage investors.

No-one in the government has emerged with the leadership ability or stature to tackle this malaise and turn the Hazare movement into a positive campaign for curbing corruption. Manmohan Singh has neither the authority nor ability to lead. Sonia Gandhi, who has recently returned from the US after a suspected cancer operation, is not a potential public leader. Her son and heir, Rahul, has failed in recent weeks, notably while his mother was in the US, to do more than play a bit part.

That leaves the government perpetually on the back foot doing damage control, and there is no sign of that changing any time soon. Indeed, it might worsen as more linkages with the telecom and other scandals emerge.

A longer version of this article appears on John Elliott’s Riding the Elephant blog –

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  • Toti873

    I think corruption is so rampant, we can hardly believe everything we read about it. The worst was the ‘performance’ at the commonwealth games where rooms did not have toilets functioning for players, snakes seen and bridges collapsing. In another country, that would have justified  a revolution. But India being India, it carries on regardless. Good piece.

  • hunfred

    Of course India does not have a monopoly on corruption,to some degree it is endemic in all countries.Cameron has cosy chats with suspect dinner companions,he backs advisor to the hilt,then pretends he knew nothing.Ex treasury officials get jobs in banks,top cops become security advisers to companies they have investigated for offences.So it goes.All that changes is the sums and favors involved.

  • Surinderjit Singh

    Every bit TRUE, have only one line to say:
    “BRITISH INDIA was much much better than independent INDIA”.

    Apart from colossal corruptions,scams,frauds that independent india has to offer,
    November 1984 GENOCIDE = zero convicted,
    2002 Gujarat Massacre = zero convicted,
    2011 Kashmir Mass Graves = zero convicted!

    none of “existing indian political parties” have come forward to CLAIM that they are/were never involved in corruptions/scams/FRAUDS……!

    and THEY claim that   DEMOCRACY is still working!
    “BRITISH INDIA was much much better than independent INDIA”.
    Waiting for HISTORY to repeat itself!

  • SmokeyWest

    It seems that corruption is so widespread that many treat it as a normal way of running a government.  One of the damning incidents that continues to baffle me is the fate of billions of dollars worth treasure that was found hidden in a Hindu temple.  It seems that this great fortune will remain in the control of Hindu priests who will continue to hoard it, which doesn’t seem to bother the people of India.

    This wealth was created by the people of India and should be used to help millions of people by its use to build roads, establish water and sewer treatment facilites, improve health care, and provide interest free loans to India struggling farmers and small business people.  Instead, it will continue to be locked away by a religion that seems devoid of concern for people.

    Shouldn’t the people of India be able to decide the fate of this fortune?  It seems that religion and corruption go hand-in-hand.  The Catholic church has followed the same path for centuries.  The ancient Pharohs tried to take their vast wealth with them into the next life; fortunately, grave robbers were able to unlock this treasure and return it the economy where it could do the most good.

    Shame on the Hindu priests who are depriving their people of a chance for a better life.

  • Lachman Chandiramani

    Corruption exists in all countries worldwide, at least in India the judicial authorities are independent from executive authorities, whereby the corrupted politicians are processed in courts and then condemned, whereas in many other countries the judicial authorities are linked with the executive authorities and therefore in these countries the corrupted politicians go scotfree.

  • Lachman Chandiramani

    Surinderjit as an Indian, it’s the Indian public’s duty to help by protesting to root out corruption in India, corruption exists in all countries even in Britian, so I think it’s ridiculous to say that British India was better than independent India, and that you are waiting for HISTORY to repeat itself, shame on you.

  • Sriram

    Shame on the Hindu priests who are depriving their people of a chance for a better life – A complete nonsensical anti-Hindu rant. 

  • Guest

    No wonder you are living in Britain. Good riddance as far as India is concerned with all your standard Islamist and Khalistani propaganda lines. You can have your Khalistan in Britain. Maybe they will treat you better than the way they treated people in jalianwallah bagh. Dumbo Singh.

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