By Sanjay Jha
At the peak of the IPL scam in May earlier this year I was frequently asked by many;” Just why don’t you guys leave Lalit Modi alone ? If he is made money, so what ? At least he has given us a great summer entertainment .You guys are just party-poopers”. They would then proceed to book their tables at Wasabi, Taj Mahal hotel.
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……..”
My monologue would be rudely interrupted: “ Oh come on, there are so may 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, Suresh Kalmadi’s demeanor manifests that it is his birthright to indulge in some frivolous expenditures of a few double digit crores . There is an imperceptible but oppressive presence nonetheless 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 2400 crores allocated compared to the overall still-ballooning budget outlay of Rs 40,000 crores ? Such a dismal, low percentage; is it even worth the salt calling for such 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 Rs 60,000 crores as effortlessly as fried noodles in a Chinese oven , 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 this endless questioning. I thought Kalmadi looked genuinely 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 available 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-man , the Sports Minister MS Gill when the latter was correctly limiting tenures of politicians heading sports federations.
In a cricket –obsessed country, the CWG provides a global platform for our athletes and sportspeople to display their talent, grab limelight, and achieve national and world-wide glory. Besides, they could get better jobs and even commercial endorsements. Kalmadi has done, at least temporarily, an incalculable damage to their morale. He owes them a huge moral responsibility for the unpalatable mess that he has created. .
While the whole world appeared to be somewhat markedly stunned by Indian Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s failed Pune IPL franchise bid, one conspicuous fact was surprisingly missed by the otherwise discerning media sleuths, or was it conveniently overlooked? . Just why and how is Pawar holding equity stocks in a real estate company? While it may be a genuine investment, politicians in land deals are legendary sources of corruption in our country. One should read Raghuram Rajan’s excellent assessment on the same. Incidentally, Pawar 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 such as 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 strict performance-based fee structures. The only role that the OC should have played was of effective facilitation, and overall coordination with multiple agencies.
In the early days of the CWG scam, a noteworthy development went unnoticed. An 82 year old woman 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 of rationalizing our failure. The CWG is symptomatic of the deeper decay, decadence, and debilitation of our moral and ethical standards. It is not just about Mr 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 or Blackberry. Or Bangkok and Bali. As long as the shopping festival is open, and a multiplex is around he is “ essentially” satisfied. Has middle-class India lost its moral fiber amidst the glittering charades of towering malls?
During our post-grad days in the mid-1980s TV actress Priya Tendulkar shone incandescent in an DD-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 has it? 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 actually begins to have a self-righteous belief that he is only an unfortunate pawn if caught stealing ? Seriously, can you really blame the poorly paid traffic constable for pocketing a measly 50 bucks when he gets a daily installment of Kalmadi & Co’s accumulating reserves? In matters of corruption, there is no such thing as the 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 PM 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 national boundaries like the Chief of Army Staff General VK Singh are accused of financial impropriety by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, we have a grave crisis beating the drums outside our door on four legs . And facts do not cease to exist 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% of GDP? Is it because corruption has seeped to such unfathomable depths that it is now in our DNA , our infallible pillar of daily existence? A Raja, Reddy Brothers, Lalit Modi, Amit Shah, Madhusudan Koda, Suresh Kalmadi, Ramalingam Raju, VK Singh — it is an impressive list covering a diversified occupational base. India 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 be holding a mammoth and difficult World Cup football event in 2014. India needs to move on determined to make a difference. Sorry Mani Shankar Aiyer, but despite the CWG shame, maybe we should still bid for the Asian Games in 2019. I think we should. Even a country after all is entitled to redemption.