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SOMETHING ROTTEN

Corruption in high places is India’s best known secret. Everybody talks about it. Enquiry commissions are set up, the Central Bureau of Investigation is called in, the media reports and so on. These are as familiar as conviction of a powerful person is rare. Thus, it is surprising to read the news that a former chief minister of Punjab and a former union minister have been sent to jail. The concerned chief minister is Mr Prakash Singh Badal, who held Punjab’s top job three times, and the union minister is his son, Mr Sukhbir. Both have been remanded in judicial custody till Decmber 13 by Mr S.K.Goyal, a special court judge in Ropar. The Punjab vigilance board alleged that the assets of the son and the father were disproportionate to their declared income. According to the charge sheet that was filed, the total worth of the family is Rs 4,326 crores. This by any reckoning is a staggering amount in the hands of a politician. Simultaneously, the former head of Mumbai’s police force, Mr Ranjit Singh Sharma, was arrested for his role in the Rs 30,000 crore fake stamp paper scam. Obviously, at least in two cases, investigation is no longer concerned with netting the small fish while the bigger ones roam free in murky waters.

One of the reasons why corruption cases in India are seldom, if ever, resolved is the imbrication of politics with the judicial process. It needs to be underlined that Mr Badal has been nailed because the present chief minister of Punjab, Mr Amarinder Singh, made a promise, when he came to power, that he would carry out a crusade against corruption. The vigilance team and the police force needed a political will to drive them. They did not proceed to do their duty in the absence of a political push. Mr Singh could thus beam and say that his job had ended. It is not the job of the chief minister to initiate corruption cases. The relevant agencies should be doing that on their volition as a part of their assigned duties. Investigating agencies do not owe loyalty to their political masters but to their own duties and responsibilities. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Political interference has played havoc with the bureaucracy and the investigating agencies. Consequently, the latter steer clear of moving against powerful persons unless they have the backing of an equally powerful person or political party. One fallout of this situation is the fact that corruption cases against politicians often have a whiff of vendetta about them. The overall situation is by no means edifying. And in the Indian moral landscape there is no answer to the question: who guards the guards'

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