A chief minister allegedly undervalues precious state land and
sells it cheap to his sons. Another's mother-in-law gets a
seafront flat meant for families of dead soldiers. A cabinet
minister disposes spectrum to companies violating rules, causing
whopping losses to the exchequer... India's political leaders are
in the dock following accusations of outrageous corruption that
has stunned a country where sleaze in public life is an accepted
In tune with the kaleidoscope of Indian politics, the disgraced
politicians belong to different shades: the Congress and the
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - the country's two main national
parties-and the DMK, a regional outfit which is now a Congress
The hunger to make easy money runs deeper, through virtually every
party, making one politician who still believes in austere living
to say that India faces "a moral crisis". Some are questioning the
very system of governance which allows wrongdoing and cronyism,
often letting the guilty to get away.
And for the first time, besides bureaucrats who help politicians
run the world's seventh largest country, even retired military
officers - a breed that until now stood apart - are in the dock.
Popular anger has led to the resignation of two of four guilty
politicians: Maharashtra's Congress chief minister Ashok Chavan,
who took charge only two years ago, as well as central
communications and IT minister A. Raja of the DMK, whose meteoric
rise in politics has been the subject of much speculation.
"It is an extremely serious situation," political analyst Mahesh
Rangarajan told IANS. "The situation can be compared to what
prevailed in Italy in the early 1990s before there was an
upheaval. What form it will take here, we will have to see."
The recent cases of corruption began with Congress leader Suresh
Kalmadi, who fell into disgrace over the shoddy preparations to
the Commonwealth Games here. After some countries threatened to
boycott the October event, a worried Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
had to intervene.
Kalmadi's wings have since been clipped in the Congress and two of
his closest aides have been arrested for alleged corruption. Like
everyone else, Kalmadi also pleads innocence.
Karnataka's BJP Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa - who seems to be
married to troubles -is under pressure to quit after allegations
that he 'denotified' valuable state land and sold it cheap to
people he knew, his sons included.
Chavan had to go after reports that flats in a high-rise building
in Mumbai meant for families of soldiers killed in the 1999 Kargil
war with Pakistan were taken over by a clutch of politicians,
officials and retired military officers - and others.
But the man who gets the cake is DMK's Raja, whose allocation of
2G spectrum two years ago in brazen violation of established norms
has caused a massive loss to the government on a scale
unprecedented in India. The parliament has been crippled for days
as a result.
Now, in another first, the Supreme Court has asked the prime
minister himself to explain why he remained silent to earlier
requests from concerned citizens to take action against Raja.
Communist politician Doraiswamy Raja spoke of "a moral crisis".
"The corruption we see now is mind boggling," Raja told IANS. "We
have a situation where easy money is making more and more people
billionaires while a very large number struggle to survive. What a
"There is a moral crisis in the country. This is a dangerous
Political analyst G.V.L. Narasimha Rao said the country's
neo-liberal economic policies were also to blame.
"People who said that the abolition of the License Raj will end
corruption have been proved wrong," Rao said. "In fact the present
system offers many new ways to make illegal money. "
Rao, who is close to the BJP, admitted that the number of honest
people among the leading figures in Indian politics could "be
counted on finger tips, perhaps less than 10."
A Congress leader admitted they were embarrassed.
"In this television era, it is not easy to escape scrutiny," he
said on the condition of anonymity. "It is very difficult to
defend tainted colleagues. And with so many 24-hour news channels,
there is no escaping the reality."
Even as India was grappling the actions of the tainted
politicians, veteran industrialist Ratan Tata threw a bombshell
when he accused an unnamed Indian minister of demanding some years
ago Rs.15 crore ($3.3 million) as a bribe to allow the Tatas to
form an airline in association with Singapore Airlines.
Tata declared he refused to pay - and his airline never became a
So, where does Indian politics go from here?
Analyst Rangarajan says he is optimistic about the future. "No
doubt these are issue of governance touching the lives of
millions. But what Raja and others have done doesn't mean the
entire political class is bad.
"Remember there are three million Indians who hold public office,
from the panchayats (village councils) and above. The politician
here is still notionally accountable. What of the corrupt
bureaucrats? They are not even notionally accountable."
(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)