R K Misra on corruption and the Modi government. Forked Tongue & Flexible Factsheet

In fishing -as in politics- nothing is more ungainly than a fisherman pulled into the water by his own catch. Hurling muck from the safety of the shore and making it stick may have  brought Narendra Modi to the helm of India in 2014 but the Teflon-coated  frying pan is itself on fire today .

His government  faces the filth  of the Lalit Modi revelations, the bloodied Vyapam scam and now the Madhya Pradesh Dental and Medical Admission Test taint. Oscillating between maladministrative  misdemeanour and crass corruption charges are veteran minister Sushma Swaraj, Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhararaje Scindia, MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, and Maharashtra minister Pankaja Munde. After 'pehle’ AAP law minister Jitender Singh Tomar landed in the ‘cooler’ over his qualifications, union HRD minister Smriti Irani is next in line for a judicial scrutiny of her venerable CV.

Meanwhile, Modi’s anti-corruption plank is in tatters and the school boyish line,  one for joy is fast giving way to two for sorrow, three for pain and now four for anguish with five for agony in the pipeline. While Manmohan Singh ruled for good of ten years before shit hit the ceiling, just 435 days in the saddle, Modi now mired in similar slime, is resorting to the same golden silence that he mocked his predecessor for. Those who have a felicity with words, often find themselves hoisted  with their own petard by the very sentences they hurl with gay abandon when aiming for power.

“I neither aid nor abet corruption”,(main na khata hun na khane deta hun) went the punchline of posters  carrying large pictures of the Gujarat chief minister put up during the 2007 Gujarat Vidhan  Sabha  elections. On March 22, 2011 writing in his own blog, Modi
said, "On the one side it is being said  that the Indian government  is completely corrupt; then there are reports by America and Wikileaks which refer to the state of Gujarat where the leader is un-corruptible.” So said Modi speaking  in self- praise. That the Wikileaks reference to the Gujarat leader stands disputed is a different matter though.

In politics, personal ‘hygiene’ and public ‘sanitation’ may look  apart but are closely inter-linked. Was the over twelve year Modi rule in Gujarat a by word for probity in public life? How clean was the Modi ministry in the state?  lets see.

Purshottam Solanki,the fisheries minister  and a powerful koli leader ,indicted on crass corruption charges, enjoyed a charmed existence as long  as Modi ruled Gujarat. Indicted by the Gujarat High Court in a Rs 400 crore fishing contracts scam, he nevertheless continued in office regardless. Solanki gave away fishing contracts for 58 reservoirs in the state each spread over at least 200 hectares at rates  far below the upset price in the previous contract. The bids worth Rs 40 crores per annum were awarded for a meager Rs 2.36 crore and for ten years! You have to be blind as a bat if you can’t see the corrupt practice. In September 2008 petitioners knocked the doors of the High Court alleging corruption by the minister as well as violation of the process of tendering. 

In November 2008, a two judge bench of justice Doshit and Sharad Dave ruled that the contracts were wrongly awarded for ‘extraneous reasons’ and ordered re-tendering. As the order clearly established irregularities by the minister, the petitioner pressed for his prosecution under the Prevention of Corruption Act. After dilly-dallying for long, the Modi cabinet on June 27,2012 refused to prosecute Solanki. The Governor, meanwhile sanctioned the prosecution and the minister promptly challenged this decision in the High Court with the state government supporting the minister against  the Governor.

On September 20, 2012 ,the Gujarat High Court  dismissed  Solanki’s  petition. Solanki and the Gujarat government had  made out that in the parliamentary system ,the council of ministers is the real executive, not the Governor who” had acted contrary to the aid and advice of the council of ministers”. Rejecting this plea Justice Rajesh Shukla ruled that the power exercised by the Governor was not alien to her. In a stinging indictment of the Modi government which was, in a matter of saying, abetting corruption, the judge ruled: "If, in cases where prima facie case is clearly made out, sanction to prosecute high functionaries is refused or withheld , democracy itself will be at stake. It will lead to a situation where people in power may break the law with impunity, safe in the knowledge they will not be prosecuted as the requisite sanction will not be granted”.

.And though the court had asked the governor to decide on the minister’s prosecution, the cabinet did not sanction it  until  the petitioner moved court against the government including the chief minister for contempt of court proceedings . It was only in July when the court ordered the government to send the report of it’s cabinet meeting with regard to prosecuting Solanki to the governor’s office ,that Modi was forced to act. Subsequently , the  enquiry was handed over to the police  which dilly-dallied  and then to the Anti-corruption bureau (ACB) which had submitted it’s report to  the special ACB court in June 2014.

The second case is that of Babubhai Bokharia, water resources minister in the Modi government .In June 2013 he was sentenced to three years imprisonment in the Rs 54 crore illegal limestone mining scam of 2006 along with two others. Police had arrested Bokharia from the Porbandar airport in 2007 as he had left the country  after the complaint against him and was declared an absconder. The High Court had  later released him on bail.In 2012 he had contested the elections on a BJP ticket after defeating Congress leader Arjun Modvadia and was made cabinet minister by Modi. He continued to remain a minister in the Modi cabinet even after his conviction and sentence and does so to this day .The conviction was subsequently overturned in November 2014.

This is besides the well known case of  minister of state for Home Amit Shah who quit the government after the CBI booked him in connection with the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case and spent  an extended period in prison .Out on bail, Shah, a close confidante of Modi today presides over the destiny of the ruling party in the country while another Modi minister Mayaben Kodnani  who quit the cabinet following her arrest in the Naroda Patiya communal killings of 2002 stands  sentenced to life imprisonment.

It is this backdrop that explains the continued silence of the Prime Minister and is also indicative of the future line of action. Chief Minister Modi often railed against the CBI as the ‘Congress bureau of investigations’, but as Prime Minister has no compunctions about putting it to use as his own handmaiden. The sequence of Central investigation events over the last one year bear this out. And now the Vyapam scam investigations have also gone to the very same pliable CBI. 

A point to ponder however, is how come that only known  Modi opponents within the BJP- Sushma , Shivraj and Scindia- and those capable of emerging as challengers find themselves in the eye of the storm.  But more about it some other time. For the moment suffices to say that those who have studied the past closely, have a fair idea of the unfolding future for mental signatures always follow a familiar pattern.

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