Friday, April 29, 2011


You really have to forgive me my cynicism, but as I see the euphoria over the Jan Lokpal Bill begin to wane, I just can't help recollect that old truism – the more things change, the more they remain the same! I am utterly convinced that even if the so called drafting committee is allowed to meet and debate sincerely; and even if by some miracle people like P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Pranab Mukherjee do agree to what civil society activists want, the law that politicians and bureaucrats will finally pass will inevitably make that law an ass from day one. My cynicism is because our rotten system ensures that even the best of intentions and great and progressive looking laws become a farce.

Let me take you back to 25 years ago when a pre-Bofors Rajiv Gandhi regime was trying hard to reform our rotten system where the few always gained at the expense of the many. One of the laws passed during those days was the Consumer Protection Act. I still remember the hype and hoopla raised over the law in those days. Optimists crowed about how the law will enable ordinary consumers like you and me to punish companies peddling bad products and services. It was said that the consumer courts would be truly user friendly, would deliver speedy justice and work in a manner that lawyers won't be required at all. On paper, that tantalising promise made by the law still holds. In reality, millions of aggrieved consumers in India will tell you how that promise is a farce. Did you say no lawyers? Ask consumers who filed substantive complaints and they will tell you how companies often use batteries of expensive lawyers to browbeat them. Did you say swift and speedy disposal of cases? The sad truth is, pending cases in consumer courts have already exceeded unmanageable levels. Do you still dream about mythical David versus Goliath fights and the outcome? Well, dream on.

The same companies who would quake with fear at the power of consumer rights and punitive laws in developed markets treat Indian consumers like rubbish. Take any product or service category and – despite so called competition – companies in India get away with anything and the consumer gets nothing.

I will remind you of another progressive law passed in those heady Rajiv Gandhi days. It is the now notorious Section 498 A against dowry. You really think it has helped Indian women?


Friday, April 15, 2011


I had taken a short break and gone to a resort at Jim Corbett, where there was no TV. Since I had also switched off my mobile phone, I completely missed out the exhilaration and the hysteria that marked the fast unto death against corruption led by Gandhian activist Anna Hazare. By the time I reached home late in the evening of April 8, it did appear as if history was being created. I forced myself to watch news channels – something I detest even more than reading Arundhati Roy (!) – and was actually spellbound by the spectacle unfolding at Jantar Mantar, India Gate and across India. Powerful visuals of the elderly mingling with the young were compelling and inspiring. Even a cynic like me was moved by the whole thing. I also enjoyed – like most middle class Indians – the spectacle of a diminutive and eccentric non-entity like Anna Hazare bringing the political establishment of Delhi down on its knees. But as I kept switching channels and heard a range of earnest people excoriating the political class and the bureaucracy, I couldn't help wondering at the complete absence of even one finger being pointed towards Corporate India while apportioning blame for the cancer of corruption.

In fact, I saw businessmen joining the politician and bureaucrat bashing exercise and was dumbfounded. I mean, have all of us collectively decided to put blinkers? Does any activist or concerned citizen seriously believe that the whole of corporate India is as much a victim of corruption as the aam aadmi? Are you in your senses when you tell me that numerous rogue businessmen and industrialists are not as responsible for corruption as politicians and bureaucrats? Think again – will you blame A. Raja and his advisors alone for the 2G scam? What about the corporate entities and individuals who actually benefited more than Raja when it comes to pecuniary gains.

Let's face it. If we are serious about tackling corruption, we have to be equally vocal against corporate corruption. Simply lionising all industrialists is plain stupid. Don't forget; the global crisis of 2008 that destroyed millions of livelihoods was primarily the result of rampant corporate corruption.


Friday, April 1, 2011


This is one guy who must be inspiring awe and envy even amongst gold-plated and pedigreed billionaires like Sunil Mittal, Mukesh Ambani and Kumar Mangalam Birla. And why not? If you go by sensational media reports, this obscure stud farm owner blessed with a poker expression and fancy sunglasses, has stashed away more than $8 billion outside India. Currently in custody and being prosecuted by the Enforcement Directorate, the curious case of Hasan Ali Khan keeps getting more headlines simply because the Supreme Court has started asking uncomfortable questions to the Government. There are loud whispers, sly leaks and naughty innuendos about Hasan Ali 'managing' the black money of sundry high and mighty in the country.

But come on: if this guy was really worth $8 billion, do you really think he would be cooling his heels behind bars like a common criminal? That's not the way things happen in our beloved country. My wager is that if Hasan Ali was actually worth even a fraction of that fabulous amount, he would comfortably ensconced in a five star hospital, with a bevy of doctors with impressive credentials swearing on Hippocrates that his very life depends on his presence inside a hospital. Why, if the media (at least some parts of it) and a suddenly active and aggressive Supreme Court were not pursuing the matter so relentlessly, Hasan Ali would be watching horse races in Pune, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Let us be grateful that he is at least in the dock.

But let us also be realistic and accept the fact that nothing much will come out of this Hasan Ali case aft er the fire and brimstone has started petering out and is replaced by a new set of scandals to be lapped up by the media. Some of you will recall the notorious case of the Jain diaries back in the 1990s when sensational disclosures about the stashing away of ill-gotten wealth in foreign banks was disclosed. The matter went to Supreme Court and numerous politicians were accused – either directly or through strong rumours – about being involved in that case of money laundering. The fact is, nothing much came out of that and not a single person of any significance was convicted of any crime or forced to bring back any ill-gotten wealth from foreign banks.

But more than the long-buried Jain Hawala case, the curious case of Hasan Ali resembles yet another notorious caper that emerged from Maharashtra. [Isn't it funny how the most notorious cases of corruption and anti-national activities emerge from that State?] Yes, I am talking about Abdul Rehman Telgi and the brazen manner in which he could print fake stamp papers worth thousands and thousands of crores of Rupees and get away with it. Aft er a lot of hue and cry, Telgi was arrested and tried. There was compelling evidence that Telgi alone could not have done all that without the patronage of political Godfathers in Maharashtra. Most of us know the names of those political Godfathers.

But we actually got to read more stories about the sexual escapades of Telgi and his subsequent tryst with AIDS rather than concrete action against the real masters behind the fake stamp paper case. Of course, the evidence against Telgi was too strong to be ignored and he was convicted. It is just possible that thanks to the direct intervention of the Supreme Court, Hasan Ali too might be convicted. But the real masters behind Ali?

Forget it. This is India, aft er all.