On the day after Ajit Pawar and several other NCP MLAs joined the Maharashtra government, a newspaper cartoon depicted an ED officer’s desk with the usual two trays for files. The twist was that while one was marked “In”, the other was marked “Sworn In” instead of the customary “Out”. On the same day, one of the tweets that went viral said next time the person tweeting would cut out the middlemen and directly vote for ED. The cartoon and the tweet are a telling commentary on how Mr Modi is living up to his 2014 boast of “Na khaoonga, na khaane doonga”.
All kinds of scams by BJP governments have come to light during the nine years since that boast making a mockery of it. The scams have often directly involved BJP leaders themselves. In others, there is a consistent pattern of cronyism. Then there are instances of a clear quid pro quo offered to opposition leaders facing corruption charges – switch sides and these cases will disappear. Hence the cartoon and the tweet. And finally, laws have been amended to protect the corrupt and watchdog bodies have been defanged.
At the height of the Anna Hazare movement demanding a Lokpal Bill at the time of the second UPA government, the BJP had thrown its weight behind that movement. But what happened of the Lokpal once Modi came to power. No Lokpal was even appointed till March 2019, weeks before the end of the Modi government’s first tenure. Another year went by before the rules for lodging complaints with the Lokpal were notified in March 2020. That’s not all. A Parliamentary standing committee report submitted in March this year found that the Lokpal had not prosecuted a single complaint of corruption yet! Under the circumstances, here’s what the committee had to say:
“Lokpal has submitted to the Committee that it has not prosecuted even a single person accused of graft till date. The Committee is of the considered opinion that Lokpal was set up to strengthen the legal and institutional mechanism to deal with corruption in public life. However, the performance of Lokpal seems to be far from satisfactory. The Committee is of the view that Lokpal was established in an effort to promote clean and responsive governance and therefore, it should act as an enabler rather than an inhibitor.”
The Lokpal apart, the Modi government has completely destroyed the credibility of agencies like the CBI, CVC, Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax department. While they were never seen as above being misused, this government has used them almost exclusively for its political purposes – launching cases against those opposed to it and using that as coercion to persuade some to switch. How crucial it is for the BJP to use investigating agencies for its partisan ends and therefore to ensure that the right person remains at their helm is illustrated by the repeated extensions given to the current ED director. Initially appointed for a two-year tenure till November 2020, he was granted a one-year extension. This was challenged in the Supreme Court by an NGO, Common Cause. In its September 2021 judgement the court allowed the extension since the tenure would end in about two months. However, it said that no further extension should be given. Despite this ruling, the government in November 2021 amended the Central Vigilance Commission Act and the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act to allow it to extend the tenures of CBI and ED chiefs for three years beyond their two-year tenures by granting one-year extensions. These amendments were challenged in the Supreme Court and the amicus curae in the case pointed out that such extensions will make the agency chiefs beholden to the government of the day. The Supreme Court later ruled that the last extension given to the ED director was a violation of its order. But clearly, the Modi government will go to any lengths to ensure that these agencies are headed by those amenable to being used for its political ends.
The Modi government’s hypocrisy on the issue of corruption is also clearly illustrated by the amendments it bought into anti-corruption laws. The Prevention of Corruption Act, for instance, was amended to dilute it and defang it. A clause 17(a) was inserted in 2018 stipulating that any investigation or inquiry against a person who is employed or was employed by the government at the time of the alleged corrupt act could only be initiated after prior approval from the government. Similarly, the Whistle Blowers Protection Act (WBPA) was passed in 2014 to protect those who expose corruption in high office from victimization. The Modi Government brought amendments to the Act that effectively were calculated to discourage anyone from reporting corruption. The amendments were to exclude in the name of security and national interests anything which may prejudice the state’s “economic interests”, “strategic interests” etc. That effectively excludes the major areas of corruption. It also weakens the protection of whistleblowers from action under the Official Secrets Act, which can lead to imprisonment up to 14 years. What the changes meant was that only an exceedingly brave person would report corrupt deals. The government claimed the exceptions under this law were on the same lines as the exceptions under the Right to Information Act, but this is a spurious argument. While the RTI Act is for public disclosure, the WBPA only deals with disclosures made to a Competent Authority defined under the Act. Thus, no national security would be compromised by such an exposure.
Let us look now at some specific examples of corruption or of the government blatantly hoodwinking people in the name of fighting corruption. The Modi government pulled off one of the biggest hoaxes ever by declaring that it was demonetizing 86% of currency in November 2016 to flush out black money. As it turned out, the whole country was made to suffer, the economy went into a tailspin, lakhs of people lost their jobs and – 99% of cash was returned to banks! In fact, many illegal cash stockpiles were conveniently made white in the process. The farce was complete when the government withdrew the 2,000-rupee note from circulation earlier this year.
The much-publicized promise to bring back black money from tax havens in foreign countries has gone nowhere. No longer does anybody in the government talk of depositing Rs 15 lakh in every person’s account from money recovered from accounts abroad. Home minister Amit Shah had dismissed that as a “chunavi jhumla” thereby revealing the truth about this government’s alleged commitment to fighting corruption and the corrupt. In fact, the country’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s son was revealed to be running a hedge fund from the Cayman Islands, a notorious tax haven.
In short, this government, which pretended to be a champion fighter against corruption, has turned out to be as corrupt as its predecessor, if not more. It has gone a step further than any previous government by institutionalizing a means of paying money to political parties under the table. As is characteristic of its double-speak it has done so under the pretext of ushering in transparency in political funding. It has done so by bringing in electoral bonds, which can be bought by corporates and then anonymously donated to any party of their choice. The only entity that can now track these donations is the government. Thus, the public would not know which industrialist is funding a party and why, but the government of the day can keep tabs on ‘unfriendly’ corporates that dare to donate to the opposition. The net effect would be that the ruling party will get the overwhelming bulk of such donations – and that is precisely what has happened. In the first year, BJP got 95% of the amount donated through such bonds. Since then, that proportion has reduced, but it still gets more than all other parties put together through this method. Modi’s real intent is clear – sirf hum khaayenge, tumhe khaane nahin denge.
We can now turn our eye towards some specific scams during the Modi government’s tenure which betray its culture of corruption, cronyism and malfeasance.
The Modi government’s decision to scrap the nearly complete deal for acquiring 126 Rafale aircraft in favour of a direct purchase of 36 Rafale aircrafts in fly-away condition has been the biggest and most brazen defence scandal in India’s history. Instead of 126 Rafale aircrafts being negotiated by India with Dassault Aviation, Indian Air Force got only 36, leaving the country short of over 90 crucial aircrafts! Did India get these 36 aircrafts much earlier than what it was committed originally? No, the difference was only one month. Nor were these aircraft cheaper. The 36 aircraft cost India 27.01 million Euros more per aircraft than the price negotiated in the earlier deal. This was sought to be justified on the grounds that some India-specific enhancements had been made to the aircraft, but they were actually all part of the original tender specifications. But the most bizarre thing was that India waived off the anti-corruption clause, standard in all defence contracts, in the Rafale deal. If that does not smack of corruption what will?
Apart from paying higher prices and getting less aircraft, the Modi government made a major change in who will get the offset contracts. The previous deal had HAL, India’s premiere defence aeronautical company, as partner in the offset and transfer of technology deal. The new deal gifted the offset contract (worth Rs 21,000 crore of business) to Anil Ambani.
Incriminating Papers and Diaries
Papers, emails, SMSes and handwritten notes seized by the IT department during the course of raids on Birla group of companies showed entries that suggested large pay-offs to politicians as well as to officials of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence to scuttle ongoing investigations. The entries included alleged payments to ministers in the UPA government as well as several state governments. Among them was the then Gujarat CM, at that time the man who is now the chowkidar/prime minister. Similarly, raids on the Sahara group also led to the seizure of documents detailing what appeared to be payments to several political leaders from more than one party, with the same Gujarat CM being mentioned here too.
What would a government intent on investigating corruption have done with such explosive material? It would have ensured the IT department shared it with the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation and asked all three agencies to thoroughly probe the claimed pay-offs. What happened instead was that the Birla-Sahara papers, as they came to be known, were given a quiet burial on the plea that loose sheets did not merit any investigation.
Similarly, when the former Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Khaliko Pul committed suicide in August 2016, he left behind a suicide note. Pul had formed a government after breaking away from the Congress and getting outside support from the BJP. The note made serious allegations of Supreme Court judges being bribed to dismiss his government. Each page was signed by Pul, and his widow vouched for its authenticity. Once again, there was no investigation of these extremely serious charges despite the fact that one of the judges whose name figured in it had subsequently become the Chief Justice of India. Pul had alleged that this judge’s son had approached him with an offer of fixing the decision in his favour for Rs 49 crore.
Yet another diary that escaped investigation is the one allegedly written by former Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa. Like the other papers, this one too on the face of it details payments of crores to senior national BJP leaders sometime around 2009. The total sum runs into Rs 1,800 crore. Predictably, there has been no probe to determine the veracity of these entries.
Amit Shah’s Son’s Company and Other Cases
Then there is the curious case of Temple Enterprises Pvt Ltd, a company owned by Jay Shah, the son of Amit Shah. The turnover of this little-known company jumped from a mere Rs 50,000 in 2014-15 to Rs 80.5 crore – a 16,000-fold jump – in 2015-16. Interestingly, in the same period, a financial firm owned by Rajesh Khandwal, samdhi (brother-in-
Here’s another coincidence linked to Amit Shah. The Ahmedabad district cooperative bank got Rs 745.59 crores in deposits of demonetized notes within five days of the demonetization. No other district cooperative bank in India got as much in deposits of scrapped notes. Shah was a director in this bank.
Shah is not the only big BJP leader in whose life such coincidences crop up. Piyush Goyal, who was briefly finance minister in Modi Sarkar and remains a cabinet minister, sold all shares in a company owned by him and his wife to a company from the Ajay Piramal group at nearly 1,000 times the face value of the shares. The sale took place after Goyal became a minister, but neither his earlier ownership of the company, nor the sale found mention in Goyal’s declarations of assets as a minister in 2014 or 2015.
Apart from these examples of scandals involving BJP leaders directly, cronyism has been the mantra of this government. Rules in the telecom sector have been repeatedly tweaked to favour Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Industries (RIL) to the point where a former chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was compelled to comment that charges of bias against the regulator were hard to counter. Even more blatant was the human resources ministry giving a university being set up by the Reliance group the “institute of eminence” tag at a time when it existed only on paper.
The Adani group has been another major beneficiary of this government’s generosity. Its name has cropped up repeatedly in one scam after the other but to little avail. Even the Hindenburg report, which laid bare the manner in which the Adani group used front companies registered in tax havens to manipulate the share prices of its companies had had no effect. The group continues to thrive as it has ever since Modi became chief minister of Gujarat. The Adani, Essar and Anil Ambani groups are among those charged by investigating agencies with making an extra Rs 50,000 crore by over-invoicing imports of coal for their power projects and then pressing for higher tariffs on the basis of these inflated costs. Not surprisingly, nothing has come of this yet despite demands for a Supreme Court-monitored probe.
The Adanis have also been major beneficiaries as coal mining contractors for a Rajasthan PSU that has been allowed open cast mining in some of the densest forest areas in Chhattisgarh in violation of environmental norms and of the Supreme Court orders in the Coalgate scam.
Bank Fraud and Escape of Mallya, Nirav Modi, et al.
The manner in which Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and many others managed to flee abroad after fleecing public sector banks for tens of thousands of crores – through loan defaults or just plain fraud – is well known. The public outrage forced the government to go through the motions of bringing them back to justice, but the results are there for all to see. How Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS) was allowed to be milked when its biggest shareholders were all state-owned entities like LIC, SBI and Central Bank is another question begging an answer.
We are not getting into the innumerable number of scams under BJP governments in the states. That would need a full-scale book in itself. Suffice it to say that neither the PDS scam in Chhattisgarh, the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh nor the mining scam in Karnataka have led to the CMs under whose watch these scams thrived facing any CBI or ED raids. But as every corrupt politician in India knows today, if you need to get investigative agencies off your back, just join the BJP. There is no better laundry anywhere in the world.