May 3, 2001


 Search the Internet
E-Mail this guest column to a friend

Print this page
P C Punnen

Corruption, crime & punishment

Vaidya raja namstubhayam
Yamaraja sahodara
Yamo harati pranani
Vaidyo pranani, dhanani cha.

(Pay obeisance to the physician king, brother of Yama, the lord of death. Yama robs your lives, the doctor, your lives and wealth.)

One thought of this for three reasons. One: the indictment, sometime back, of India's only corporate hospital by a government-appointed committee that probed what sort of treatment the late Union minister, P Rangarajan Kumaramangalam, received at that hospital.

Two: The comments on the sentencing of former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao, former chief minister J Jayalalitha, former Union minister Buta Singh and (comments on) Election Commission mandarins disallowing Jayalalitha to contest.

How relevant, then, is the quote on the physician king and Yama? The point is that big crimes seldom get noticed or punished, and lots of writers who write anything on just anything, seldom get punished.

Consider these. Jayalalitha is perceived to be the odds on favourite in the Tamil Nadu election. If her alliance wins, even if she cannot be an MLA, she will be the supra chief minister.

Political corruption in India did not begin with P V Narasimha Rao, Buta Singh or Jayalalitha. Nor will it end with them. One of the biggest crimes that goes unnoticed is the crime of insidious writing, of giving anything and everything a spin to suit your requirements. What sorts of stories were written in the media on the ISRO spy case, and what damage did it cause to one of India's topnotch scientists? Contrition is not a virtue journalists are famous for.

Now of the hospital. It got 15 acres of prime land allotted to it in New Delhi on a scandalously low rent. One of the conditions on which this sort of sarkari largesse was showered on it was that it would reserve a certain percentage of beds for free treatment of poor patients. With great fanfare the hospital was inaugurated.

To date the hospital has not kept its word on free treatment of patients. Comment on this should be avoided because the matter is sub judice. But what is not sub judice and also well known is that it costs the earth to get treatment there and a few cases of patients getting anything except cure for their diseases have come to light. Former table tennis star V Chandrashekhar, who went for treatment there, got his career finished. He sued the hospital and won a few lakh rupees as compensation.

BJP vice-president, former Delhi chief minister and Union minister Madan Lal Khurana and 59 MPs once issued a statement to the press, asking the central government to take over the hospital. This writer subscribes to three dailies, two, the largest circulated dailies in North India and the third, known for its practice of calling a spade a spade. None among the three carried that statement. Now who pays for the hospital not honouring its commitment?

When Buta Singh was facing trial he was made a Union minister by the BJP. The last BJP government danced to Jayalalitha's tune for quite a few months. Things had come to such a pass that she was given the authority to nominate her prosecutors in the sundry cases she got embroiled in.

The Supreme Court had, acquitting certain MPs in the JMM bribery case, ruled that their action inside Parliament could not be subjected to judicial scrutiny.

So what does all this amount to? Comeuppance come for the tribe of politicians, as some have said? The beginning of a process of sanitisation of the system as a few have hoped? No. The lesson for Rao's successors, as The Times of India then commented, is that they should do everything inside Parliament, so that they can invoke the parliamentarian's immunity principle.

So, seen in this light does not Rao appear to be more sinned against? Poor fellow did not cover his tracks well, so in this ripe old age he has been given a three-year jail term. Eager beaver wordsmiths rushed to redict the sentencing of Rao, and Buta Singh in the JMM bribery case and of Jayalalitha in the Tansi case have proved the dictum: 'the wheels of justice grind slowly, but surely.' The same folks now see the rejection of Jayalalitha's nomination papers as a triumph of Indian democracy.

It is beyond comprehension how no odium attaches to a party that allied with Jayalalitha, how seriously can it gloat over the sentence pronounced on her and on the rejection of her nomination papers. Surely, the case in which she was sentenced dates back to the time when she was not an ally of the BJP, and the charges against her had come to public notice much before she teamed up with the BJP.

Cruel jokes have been played on us in the name of fighting corruption for quite some time. The roly-poly K P Unnikrishnan and S Jaipal Reddy were in the forefront of the band which disrupted Parliament with fusillade after fusillade on Bofors. Now both are Congressmen. Jaipal Reddy is the Congress spokesperson.

Ram Jethmalani was the one who asked a dozen questions a day of Rajiv Gandhi on Bofors. When almost ever Tom, Dick and Harry and newspaper vendor got a hint that the Hindujas have lots to answer for, Jethmalani piped down.

So, much of the to-do or verbiage about crime and punishment is absolute nonsense. The other day, a learned friend told me that if Clinton and Monica had done in the state of Louisville what they did in the White House, he would have been in jail, for there this is a grave offence.

A R Antulay was unseated after a media uproar culminated in a Bombay high court judgment indicting him. But later he became a Union minister. Have not all the political parties making loud and right noises about corruption and crime fielded corrupt and criminal elements as candidates? In Uttar Pradesh and in Bihar lots of such 'history sheeters' are ministers.

Former prime minister Chandra Shekhar had a point when he, long ago, said the Bofors case was a case fit to be investigated by a police sub inspector. Was not Indira Gandhi right when she said corruption is a universal phenomenon? Does not everyone know that even for appointment as a panchayat clerk, palms have to be greased?

I asked a learned paanwallah these questions. He said two things. One: I should ask all these questions to those who come to invest in India. Two: That the biggest crime committed after Independence was the ushering in of economic reforms by Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, without getting any kind of sanction for it from the voters, or without even getting the reforms plan discussed in public fora.

Tell us what you think of this column