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Sunday, October 24, 2010

How to punish powerful people

Make the punishment fit the crime
                                                                                                By : CHETAN BHAGAT
       Before i jump into the ugly side of the CWG investigations, a big hug and congratulations to all the athletes who won medals for our country. Kudos also to those who couldn’t win a medal, but participated and gave their best anyway. You guys were the only silver lining in the cesspool of negative human traits -- greed, incompetence, manipulation and dishonesty -- that have come to symbolize the Commonwealth Games. These need to be cured, and hence some journalists have taken on the dirty, but also necessary and honorable, job of screaming until the filth is cleaned. This doesn’t mean that these journalists don’t love India, Indian sport or Indian players. It only means that they care about fixing the root cause and don’t want to let the wrongdoers get away.
    Some of us think why is CWG corruption such a big deal? Corruption is a part of daily life in India, practised by millions of government servants. What is the point of punishing a dozen-odd people connected to the CWG? There are two main reasons. One, that the amount of money involved is extraordinary. To give you an idea, the Games budget is Rs 70,000 crore. Compare this to the annual higher education budget for the entire country, which is around Rs 9,000 crore. Yes, the 11-day Games cost more than eight times what it costs to run colleges in the entire country the whole year. If the Rs 70,000 crore were invested in relatively safe government instruments, the interest alone could pay to double college seats in the country. You might think that the Games don’t concern you, but the next time someone in your family doesn’t get a college seat, you would know one of the reasons. This money did not belong to the ruling party or government officials – this money belonged to Indians. Would you have spent so much on these Games when you could have transformed higher education in the country with the interest alone that the money earned? And should the people who indirectly played with the future of millions of Indian students be punished or not?
    The second reason punishment is essential is the high visibility of this scandal. Deep down, corrupt people are scared and if they see big-fish counterparts behind bars they will think twice before stealing public money again. Punishing the guilty in the CWG could have far-reaching positive effects for the culture of corruption prevailing in the country.
    While we may agree punishment is necessary, skeptics may also feel that nothing is going to happen and that journalists staying with the issue are wasting their time. This, because the powerful never get punished in India. Well, this time it’s different. If a major corruption scam comes into the public domain and becomes well known, it has the power to bring down the government. From Watergate in 1970s America to Bofors in 1980s India, scandals have led to the fall of otherwise secure governments.

    The Congress party is under no illusion that CWG is a real threat to it staying in power. For this reason alone (not morality or doing the right thing, c’mon, it’s politics), Congress will be eager to punish some wrongdoers. It has already announced investigations and isolated OC members before the final kill. This could be a genuine intention to clean up, or mere posturing. If it isn’t genuine, the media and the people will smell a rat, bringing doom to the party rather than just the culprits. Sitting in opposition is no fun and I’d urge Congress to really focus on cleaning this up. Even their good-looking young leader’s charm may not be enough if the entire party’s image is tarnished. Here are a few suggestions that could help the investigation.

    One, hire a big accounting firm to do an independent investigation into the scam. These firms are not government bodies and thus are less subject to political influence, follow world practices on fraud and malpractice investigation and frankly, carry a lot more credibility internationally than Indian vigilance agencies.
    Second, focus not just on the investigation, but also on the punishment. Will people go to jail for this? Or, is it merely a transfer or demotion for the guilty? Stealing crores is a big crime and the punishment must be fitting. - The stolen money must be recovered.
    Finally, the Gandhi family has to be more vocal about this – keeping away from the CWG is not going to keep their image clean forever. They are Congress. The Congress did the CWG, and everybody knows it. So what does Rahul Gandhi feel about the CWG mess? Do Indian people have the right to know?
    It is a tough time for Congress, but real leaders (and they do have some good, honest ones) turn tough times into opportunities. The CWG trial could be used to exemplify cleaning up corruption in the country. If they do this, and I hope and pray they do, the ruling party could win a few medals of its own. Otherwise, well, wait for the people’s verdict. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Courtesy: The Times of India, Bhubaneswar, Date: Oct 24, 2010

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