Who is honest and who the thief?



In the eyes of most people, it is opportunity that makes the thief – you leave your diamonds lying on your dining table every morning and one day your otherwise honest maid might be tempted to pinch just that teeniest-weeniest bit of trinket she thinks you might not miss.

Similarly, most politicians are honest only till they do not get caught out. And, in my time, I have come across many squeaky-clean characters who have had many skeletons securely locked up in their cupboards. Some have even tried for the highest offices in the land but there are others who have had to hold no office, high or low, to have been able to make it good in this world.

So corruption and honesty are relative terms and, over the years, I have learnt there are many ways of being corrupt without quite soiling one’s hands. And there are many ways of defining honesty, too. Years ago, when the newspapers were speculating who should be a particular chief minister of Maharashtra after the incumbent was moved to Delhi, a bureaucrat called me over and gave me a big piece of his mind. He pointed to the name of the man who was said to be leading the race and asked if I really thought he would make a good chief minister for the state.

“Admittedly, he is intelligent, a good administrator and an excellent minister. But chief minister?”

I wondered why the bureaucrat was so riled. After all, it was just some, well, ‘honest’ and innocent speculation. When I asked, he said, `”Its no fault of the man. But your newspapers were full of stories that he is the frontrunner. I must say that he did nothing to promote himself nor did he ask any one for anything. But just based on the presumption that he might soon be the chief minister, a whole load of honchos came across to Mantralaya yesterday with brief cases full of just some petty cash from their respective companies.”

I was really blown to learn that when they counted the “petty” cash at closing hours, it ran into an astronomical seven-figure sum. “He didn’t demand it. But he did not turn it down either. He raked in millions just for nothing.”

Now this minister could certainly not have been called greedy or corrupt. But who, after all, had the guts to turn Goddess Lakshmi away when she came knocking at his doors? That’s how he put it to the stunned bureaucrats who could say nothing in return.

But the other way is to ask for some favours instead of instant hard cash: the usual practice, I discovered, was to place your wives, children or other relatives on the boards of various companies who came seeking licenses, et al. Without quite being ‘corrupt’ in the fashion we know, this ends up earning them enormous amounts of money for the rest of their lives — and I noticed that businessmen hate this practice the most. One businessman who, at one time in the late 1990s, had to constantly approach the government, told me he preferred to hand over some hard cash for favours sought and delivered. “That way its just a one-time payment, no lifelong burden. Usually, the cash, in earlier years, used to be returned untouched if the work was not done. These days we have to keep handing over again and again until their enormous appetites are filled to the brim and they are burping with the intake. But that is still better than having to place their family members on our boards – that means we have to keep taking care of them forever and we can never be rid of them, even if the people get rid of their government.”

The names he gave me stunned me out of my wits, because some of them had holier than thou images and others had made such a virtue of their own non-existent honesty. Even then the businessman had told me that as journalists were not doing our jobs adequately. Those were the days before the Right to Information Act had come into being but it was still possible to dig out that kind of information by simply checking out the lists of directors or members of various boards already in the public domain – if someone had no business to be on that company, that was a sure sign that something fishy had been afoot.

Now I am startled afresh to discover that the BJP’s former MP Kirit Somaiya has done just that. In his campaign against Sunil Tatkare, who is under the scanner for disproportionate assets, Somaiya has released a list of companies promoted by Tatkare, who belongs to the NCP and is Minister for Water Resources (he was earlier Finance Minister) in the Maharashtra government.

Somaiya was being deliberately mischievous for a reason but it was interesting to discover how such activities cut across the board (pardon the pun!) and across party lines: for, many companies on Somaiya’s list has names of various members of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s family, including a daughter-in-law and a grandson. Somaiya, of course, had particular reason to expose that: the Shiv Sena is voting for Pranab Mukherjee at the presidential elections and it is some deserved (from the BJP point of view) tit-for-tat for that betrayal.

But, then, apart from some bars and restaurants owned by BJP politicians (as from all other parties) which has led these politicians to come down heavily on Vasant Dhoble, Bombay’s ultimate moral police(man) who is busting hem up every day, Somaiya’s own party has a top functionary whose interests in diamond mines in his state has brought about some unique kind of manipulation. That particular state government, I am told, has itself sought and brought about a High Court stay on the mining of those diamonds, despite the fact that that could benefit both his state enormously as well as the country substantially. For so rich is that stream that it could contribute to a major fall in diamond prices across the world. But it could impoverish diamond merchants across the board (oops – there’s that pun again!). So those diamond merchants keep that state government amply sated to keep extending the stay. Corruption in a way, ain’t it?

I recall an old-time bureaucrat whom I had run into at a bus stop years ago. He had been in the Indian Civil Service under the British and he told me that at Independence we had had better and more conscientious politicians. “They did make use of the licence-permit-quota raj. But every time a businessman wanted something from the government, he was asked to build in return either a school or a hospital or a tube well, somewhere in a far-off remote village so that those facilities would better the lives of their constituents. Now they seek returns only for themselves. And that is why he country is going to the dogs.” Then he added under his breath, “These politicians today are dogs!”

I have always thought that was insulting — to the dogs.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_URSXATBEMZ7HUAB3OH36PLYWDM Ashok

    Our columnist may not have run into the present lot of mandarins at the bus stop.

    [Reply]

  • The Shaft

    India is a golden bird – the only change is that its eggs are being eaten by snakes who do not allow the benefits reach the common man.

    [Reply]

  • Droll Troll

    A woman is a chick,

    to that I shall always stick.

    [Reply]

    Kushal Reply:

    A synonym for ‘man’ is dimwit,

    With that I don’t argue a whit.

    [Reply]

    Droll Troll Reply:

    :)

    [Reply]

  • Kushal

    Okay Parmanu, so one author bio per page, equals 100 pages, equals I’ll be done with this in a week. Can I expect the crores by Feb 7, 2013?

    [Reply]

  • sanjay vikram

    You can not fight war against by being defensive…its has to be attack and eliminate the roots of terrorism….we should learn from Israel….no one can dare to even think having an attack on them….as they all know consequences will be massive and Israel will ensure that last relative of the terrorist will be eliminated….

    [Reply]

    Mohammad Azeemullah Reply:

    Sir, please define the steps how to control terrorism in India. Simply following Israel is too much a generalized statement!

    [Reply]

  • v

    totally agree with you, people in the name of being good and sitting in thr homes forget what they are dealing with and how serious things can get.

    [Reply]

  • http://twitter.com/Hindustani_Sher Indian

    The same can be said abt the Hindu Aryans who invaded and destroyed the Dravidian culture. And I think you have no idea of middle east. Well let me tell you Palestinians applauded Hamas for every rocket they fired into Israel.

    [Reply]

  • Sohail

    Keep taking the tablets,

    [Reply]

  • aks_USA

    VIR SHaghvi 1d0ts like u are problem —u were crying of hanging of Afzal Guru and now you are linking this blast to so called Saffron terror ……r u sure that statement of those so called involved in Saffron terror are not taken by force ……Well u guys are nothing else but terrorists supporters —or so called secular forces …..for u Modi is still the biggest terrorists and ur love for terrorists like Afzal guru is incomparable — Please stop this paid news and think from your brain —if you got any

    [Reply]

  • mathur

    mathur…

    Who is honest and who the thief? : Singly Political…

  • Viren

    I think the author is opposed to Modi’s view on corruption. If corruption is stopped, how authors like Vir will make money by writing paid articles.

    Vir – BTW, what is your rate these days?

    [Reply]

  • Viren

    I think the author is opposed to Modi’s view on corruption. If corruption is stopped, how authors like Vir will make money by writing paid articles.

    Vir – BTW, what is your rate these days?

    [Reply]

  • Sunita Wadiyar

    The number of people estimated to have killed during 2002 riots is 2000….and it comprises of Hindus also and not just Muslims.

    [Reply]

  • Sunita Wadiyar

    There were protests against Bush when he addressed in IISc. But he was not stopped in name of free speech.

    [Reply]

  • Javed

    so go home. dont force others with you. common-sense. got it?

    [Reply]

  • Javed

    Modi gains legitimacy by using Wharton’s name. How? Modi gains legitimacy through his voters.
    Wharton does not count in the bargain

    [Reply]

  • Niranjan Desai

    All are criminals, crooks and corrupts. period.

    [Reply]

  • Surinder Kade

    How about Amb.Hardeep S.Puri,what a great job he did to advance India’s agenda.Surinder S.Kade ,New York

    [Reply]

    Hallam Reply:

    Yes, you are right. They are both good. The current Ambassdor to Germany (tipped to be the next Foreign Secretary) is quite useless -have seen her in operation in Austrlia earlier.

    [Reply]

  • Surinder Kade

    How about Amb.Hardeep S.Puri,what a great job he did to advance India’s agenda.Surinder S.Kade ,New York

    [Reply]

  • Shantonu Bhadury

    The diplomats in Singapore are extremely useless. My family member was deported last month from Singapore and when I approached the high commission for help, the response from them was that they will try to get an answer from the immigration dept but cant promise anything. I feel like a second tier citizen.

    [Reply]

  • Shantonu Bhadury

    The diplomats in Singapore are extremely useless. My family member was deported last month from Singapore and when I approached the high commission for help, the response from them was that they will try to get an answer from the immigration dept but cant promise anything. I feel like a second tier citizen.

    [Reply]

  • Roger

    I concur that Indian diplomacy is an unknown and is run with an ‘elite’ mentality. However, let us not forget that the IFS is open to all – and that many individuals with meager backgrounds get into the cadre merely based on their performance in the competitive exams.

    Secondly, I think it is better to keep this cadre under-exposed because, we as Indians, do not know how to keep our hands off of things that we understand very little about. All of us are ‘experts’ in anything that we think we know how to spell. IMHO, unfortunate but true.

    [Reply]