The nation needs to ask serious questions about the whole business of carrying out raids and investigations when it is a foregone conclusion that nothing will come out of it. This is the extent of cynicism in the country.
ON APRIL 8, 2008, there was a lot of excitement in Mumbai and particularly in its once idyllic suburb, Powai. SMSes buzzed around. Telephones did not stop tingling. “Switch on your TV! Our developers are being raided!” was the excited refrain. There was glee in some voices and cynicism in others. Many said, “Long hands of god’s justice are finally showing up through the clouds!” or, “Nothing will happen. Money will change hands. Public memory is short and all will be forgotten!” By next morning, the walkers had got over their glee, of justice finally being done. The thought, that as usual he will get away, had sobered down everyone so much that the subject was forgotten and people started talking about the weather for want of anything more exciting.
The tolerance for contempt of law in our country is so widespread that one wonders why there are laws and courts at all, wasting the taxpayers’ money. The higher the infringement and contempt for law shown by the rich and the powerful, the more such people are respected. The more they shine on page 3! So raids may be fodder-of-the-moment for the hungry media, but the outcome is always a big zero!
Our system is designed to protect the powerful and harass the poor. Slum dwellers will be driven away only for developers to take over and build again for the rich, all in the name of slum rehabilitation authority! Let us not forget the case of famous Quatrrochi. I have met him in his office in Barakhamba Road, New Delhi, when he was a representative of Snam Progetti, an Italian government petrochemical enterprise. At that time, so many photos of families of Rajiv Gandhi and Quatrrochi holidaying in Lakshdweep Islands were published. Now everyone feigns ignorance. Even the NDA government, in spite of its full term, never bothered to bring the scam to its logical conclusion. A person as senior as the additional solicitor general of India flew first class to London to inform innocent Quatrrochi’s bankers that the government had no evidence against him and his accounts should be unfrozen. The poor man conveniently forgot that his government’s own CBI had issued to the Interpol, a still valid red alert. Next day, Quatrrochi had emptied his London bank accounts of Rs 21-crore, which was actually money of the people of India, like you and me!
Closer homes, the Ambani’s are raided but what comes out of it! Once classified documents of the central government were found in the drawers of an officer in the Ambani’s office in Mumbai. So what! Does any one know who, if at all, was given salutary punishment for stealing secret state documents? Is it such a light matter? Our local ‘respected’ developer and darling of the page3 set has been raided before, and he is proved innocent every time. “I believe we have followed the law,” is his standard reply. And the sang froid with which he strides the world and is a patron of so many colleges and even temples, only speaks volumes of his reverence for both god’s laws and manmade laws. Naturally, he is ‘untouchable’! By the way, a movie about Al Capone also is titled ‘The Untouchables’! When large scale illegal quarrying of the Powai hills, which are a part of his project’s boundary, was going on, his standard reply to the media was, “Don’t ask me. If any quarrying is going on in my compound, then ask the person who is quarrying. Why ask me?” Poor man, why do the so-called ‘concerned citizens of Powai and the media keep hounding this builder of modern India! That the district collector had issued orders declaring this activity, which among other things, was reducing the catchment area of the national lake, Powai, and causing silting of the same lake was a trifling detail.
If these do-gooder residents file Right to Information applications, concerning his projects, the very honest employees of the municipal corporation treat them with hostility. If a meeting is arranged with the municipal corporation to discuss the increasing pollution and snarling traffic jams due to illegal over-construction, his loyal employees send threatening calls to the residents to desist from spoiling their innocent boss’s peace. “You don’t have my staying power,” he told 10 of the residents, who had gone to him to discuss over-construction in their locality. There is some poetic irony in this: Now it appears that these very faithful employees are at the receiving end of their god-fearing boss’s largesse. The present high profile raids, conducted by CBI, and covered by all TV news channels of the country were about fiddling with his own employees’ provident fund! Now, provident fund is something an employee awaits at the time of his retirement. They bank on it to serve them in their retirement. But their boss had better ideas about using that money for national development! “I believe we have met the provisions of law,” was his righteous answer! The irony is that the same employees who tried to prevent and threatened the residents going to the municipal office to discuss the town planning matters of the locality are likely to have been shortchanged by their bosses for Rs 168-crore! A man, who according to the latest Forbes, is the 31st richest man in India! He may pay a bribe, here and there, but will he cheat his own employees! I am sure that over a period of time, he will be proved innocent and will again cavort with his page3 admirers. He will again win national awards and international awards for always doing the right things!
Where does all this lead to? All accusations against him or about income tax raids on his office premises in the past have quietly petered out. And why not? All those who matter in the corridors of power are beholden to him or are his partners in business. Such people in the country, and their numbers are a legion, have turned ‘public servants’ into lackeys of the builders. Money changes hand and with righteousness, he flashes to his detractors and residents, the requisite permissions! He is so law abiding! As no one has ever got around to stopping him and look at the harm, which is coming to the neighborhood due to his unbridled construction, he can rightly be called an ‘untouchable’! As days pass, everyone in the locality cynically says: “As it is a CBI enquiry, he must have rubbed some high up, on the wrong side. Or not paid him according to his expectations. As soon as that is settled, everything will be sorted out with perhaps a token fine.” Some underling in the provident fund commissioner’s office will be given some token ‘punishment’. All national issues concerning raids in the country start and stop this way. Is that the reason for which all investigations are launched? Futile activity at the expense of the poor taxpayer whom P Chidambaram and his merry men keep on devising ways to harass by finding ways to even make filing tax returns, such an odious task, needing the help of a chartered accountant!
Totally at a loss, some residents even went to the extent of using the good offices of a highly respected spiritual mentor: asking him, “How do we save our neighbourhood from becoming totally unlivable!” He himself had moved away from South Mumbai to Powai, for its salubrious environs. His reply was, “Don’t worry; his own doings will also be his undoing.” Hardly any consolation! By the time the law of ‘karma’ grinds its slow wheels, our neighbourhood would be or already is in such a state that so many are saying, “What a pity that we invested our life’s savings to come and settle here!” Perhaps, there is a glimpse of hope as in the movie about Al Capone: when the entire government machinery and the do-gooders failed to harness him, a young tenacious journalist got him arrested. His young son was threatened and about to be kidnapped, and the judge was about to declare Al Capone innocent. Just then this young man walked up to judge and gave him a slip. On that slip was written, “I have evidence, that you accepted bribe from Al Capone’. The judge’s face turned red and suddenly, he declared Al Capone ‘guilty’. Perhaps, the curse of the affected employees will still reduce the arrogance of this hubris-ridden darling of page3!
The nation needs to ask serious questions about the whole business of carrying out these raids and investigations, when it is a foregone conclusion that nothing will come out of it. The extent of cynicism in the country is such that the sudden cases of thousands of flats in forest lands in eastern suburbs of Mumbai being declared illegal and now these high profile raids are being interpreted as “Naturally, this has to happen!” Aren’t the elections just ‘round the corner’! Why should you and I pay for this national circus?