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Corruption: Where is our outrage?

By Sanjay Jha
August 09, 2010 17:44 IST
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The Commonwealth Games is symptomatic of the deeper decay, decadence, and debilitation of our moral and ethical standards. It is not just about Suresh Kalmadi. It is about much more, notes Sanjay Jha.

At the peak of the Indian Premier League scam in May this year, I was frequently asked by many; 'Just why don't you guys leave Lalit Modi alone? If he has made money, so what? At least he has given us great summer entertainment. You guys are just party-poopers.' They would then proceed to book their tables at the tony Wasabi restaurant, Taj Mahal hotel, Mumbai.

I often replied thus: 'What about franchise bid rigging, blatant conflict of interest, offshore kickback deals, private profiteering in vendor contracts, Enforcement Directorate and income tax violations, betting, match-fixing, slush money...?'

But my monologue would be rudely interrupted: 'Oh come on, there are so many who are corrupt. I am sure he is not the only one. Catch the big fish in the sea.'

As the 2010 Commonwealth Games scam unfolds, Organising Committee head Suresh Kalmadi's demeanour indicates that it is his birthright to indulge in frivolous expenditure of a few double digit crores.

There is an imperceptible, nonetheless oppressive, presence of casual nonchalance: What's the big deal if there have been some surreptitious crooked contracts?

After all, the now-celebrated Organising Committee has only a measly Rs 2,400 crores (Rs 24 billion) allocated, compared to the overall still-ballooning budget outlay of Rs 40,000 crores (Rs 400 billion)?

Such a dismal, low percentage; is it even worth its salt to call for an incisive investigation?

Kalmadi's mind-set is a personification of what affects India; it is the magnitude of corruption that matters nowadays, not the act itself. Thus, our new-found tolerance for 'minor' shenanigans.

In the age of A Raja and Reddy brothers, when we are tossing about Rs 60,000 crores (Rs 600 billion) as effortlessly as fried noodles in a wok, Kalmadi and ilk believe their criticism is grossly exaggerated.

In their opinion, a few crores is as insignificant as used toilet paper which needs to be disdainfully dispatched. Hence, his palpable outrage for the endless questioning. I thought Kalmadi really looked sympathetically at his inquisitors as he unleashed a damage control exercise.

I also feel we Indians are yet to emerge out of the personality trap, the hero-worshipping paradigm. Despite boasting of our new managerial-entrepreneurial culture, there is this preposterous perception that the Commonwealth Games cannot be held in the absence of Kalmadi & Co. It is utter rubbish!

India is not short on talent, and since when did we believe that self-promoting over-rated characters are indispensable? The CWG scam reflects why Kalmadi fought against his own party colleague, Sports Minister M S Gill, when the latter correctly tried to limit the tenure of politicians heading sports federations.

In a cricket–obsessed country, the CWG provides a global platform for our athletes and sportspersons to display their talent, grab the limelight, and achieve national and worldwide glory. Besides, they could get better jobs and even commercial endorsements.

Kalmadi has, at least temporarily, done incalculable damage to their morale. He has to own up moral responsibility for the unpalatable mess that he has created for them.

While the whole world appeared to be somewhat markedly stunned by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's involvement with City Corporation, the firm that made a failed bid for the Pune IPL franchise bid, one conspicuous fact was surprisingly missed by the otherwise discerning media, or was it conveniently overlooked?

Just why and how was Pawar holding equity stock in a real estate company? While it may be a genuine investment, politicians in land deals are a legendary source of corruption in our country.

Pawar's is far from an isolated case. In fact, he is in distinguished company.

The Government of India should keep out of mega global commercial events like the CWG as they are beyond its mental grasp, logistical capabilities and professional expertise. These need to be outsourced to experienced international sports and event management firms on a strict performance-based fee structure.

The only role the Organising Committee should have played was of effective facilitator, doing overall coordination with multiple agencies.

In the early days of the CWG scam, a noteworthy development went unnoticed. An 82-year- old woman, Vidya Stokes, was elected to head Indian hockey. We sure are a sporting nation, folks. A sporting country reflects its national character, its confidence, spirit, self-belief and zest for success and life.

In India, instead of preparing for victory speeches, we do dry-runs for rationalising our failure.

The CWG is symptomatic of the deeper decay, decadence, and debilitation of our moral and ethical standards.

It is not just about Kalmadi. It is about much more.

Amitabh Bachchan was our Angry Young Man of the 1970s, rebelling against corrupt cops, shady bootleggers, unscrupulous factory-owners and sundry extortionists. I watched his Zanjeer and Deewaar several times. The modern-day avatar is too busy choosing between the iPhone and Blackberry. Or Bangkok and Bali.

As long as the shopping festival is on, and a multiplex is around, he is 'essentially' satisfied. Has middle-class India lost its moral fibre amidst the glittering facades of towering malls?

During our post-grad days in the mid-1980s, Priya Tendulkar shone incandescent in a Doordarshan serial, and as Rajni charmed Sunday households with her audacious challenges to gas dealers, employment exchange officers, postmen, builders, politicians, doctors and bad bosses. But today Rajni does not exist; maybe some things have genuinely improved; or have they?

I see no anger, no sense of revulsion, or a desire to protest anymore. We just do not seem to care. The rage is missing.

In India corruption is now deemed a function of size with a unanimous agreement on 'Yes, we are all corrupt, but he is a bigger racketeer than me, blah blah.' Thus, the small-time crook if caught stealing actually begins to have a self-righteous belief that he is only an unfortunate pawn.

Seriously, can you really blame the poorly paid traffic constable for pocketing a measly 50 bucks when he gets a daily installment of Kamadi & Co's accumulating reserves?

In matters of corruption, there is no such thing as theory of relativity, no niggling nebulous grey areas. In public life, the margin of error is and should be zero.

Like Lalit Modi, Kalmadi does not deserve any sympathy whatsoever.

The state of decomposition runs deeper, and this is why Prime Minister Manmohan Singh needs to not just smell the coffee, but even take a sip of the caffeine. If even the men who are supposed to defend our boundaries are accused of financial impropriety by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, we have a grave crisis outside our door. And facts do not cease to exist merely because we ignore them.

The annual rate of growth of corruption has exceeded the rate of inflation by a whopping margin. Despite lowering personal and corporate tax rates, why has India's parallel economy held fort at a staggering 40 per cent of the GDP? Is it because corruption has seeped to such unfathomable depths that it is now in our DNA, become our infallible pillar of daily existence?

A Raja, the Reddy Brothers, Lalit Modi, Amit Shah, Madhusudan Koda, Suresh Kalmadi, Ramalinga Raju -- it is an impressive list covering a diversified occupational base. India sure needs to worry.

We are the cynosure of global capital and perceived as a political heavyweight, a future G-3 member and UN Security Council player. But reputation matters. Another BRIC country, Brazil, will hold a mammoth and difficult event, the football World Cup, in 2014.

India needs to move on determined to make a difference. Sorry Mani Shankar Aiyar, but despite the CWG shame, we should still bid for the Asian Games in 2019. After all, even a country is entitled to redemption.

Sanjay Jha is author, consultant, and co-runs a political blog, The views expressed are his own


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Sanjay Jha