Jag Venugopal's Blog

November 3, 2010

India’s greatest area of competence: corruption

Filed under: India — Jag @ 12:26 am

All those Indians who jingoistically proclaim that their nation is supreme have cause to rejoice. India is seeing a corruption scandal like none other — one involving the highest echelons of the military and the polity. Yes — we have China and the USA beat in our propensity for public dishonesty.

It all started when someone came up with the idea of building housing for the widows of the Kargil war. For my American readers, the Kargil war was a border conflagration where India had to chase out tens of thousands of Pakistany armymen who had seized the snow bound mountains on the Indian side of the border in an area called Kargil, in Kashmir. Now, it is not clear why widows of the Kargil war were to be allotted flats in a posh Mumbai location. Many of these Kargil war widows live in far off places, in the countryside. What good would a Mumbai apartment do them? if the country wanted to show its gratitude, would not an equivalent amount of cash have been a far better alternative?

Once the land was appropriated from either the state government or the navy (no one knows for sure), the building of the apartments started in right earnest. And was it popular ever! No less than three retired service chiefs and many serving generals fought their way to the allotment of a flat. The retired Navy chief is on record as having said that he had no idea that the flats were meant for widows of Kargil martyrs. A more obvious lie has perhaps never been uttered in the sixty-three years of Indian independence.

India’s political and bureaucratic classes got in on the act as well. The mother-in-law and daughter-in-law of the serving Chief Minister of Maharashtra state (of which Mumbai is the capital) also managed to finagle allotments of flats. Not to be outdone, at least two other past Chief Ministers are alleged to hold flats in benami names. This favorite trick of the Indian political class has the politician owing the flats in someone else’s name to provide a legal fig leaf. The other individual, though the owner for legal purposes, is merely a front for the putative owner.

It is shameful how the ruling classes (and now the military bosses) sold their souls in exchange for a condominium. They took what was meant to be given to widows of martyrs who laid down their lives for the country, underprepared and ill-equipped, in some of the coldest areas in the Himalayas. It is because of the sacrifices of these unsung, unknown, and uncared-for heros that India returned from the Kargil incident with her head held high and her prestige intact. The right way to make amends would perhaps be to build the three avaricious generals the flats that they so covet… but in the Kargil area, and that too without any heat. And once they have entered their flats, perhaps we could get a war veteran to lock them up and toss the keys from the heights of Kargil’s Tiger Hill.

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