To begin on a lighter note I present a sample of Indian judicial English. It explains why Indian judges write judgments so lengthy they can take a year or two to write them. This is not the only reason why our justice system works so slowly but it could be a factor. Indian judges are famous for taking a thousand words to say what can be said in ten, but in the judgment that sent Sasikala to jail last week they surpassed their own high standards. I quote a passage put on Twitter by Tunku Varadarajan whose column used to appear next door to mine on this page. “A growing impression in contemporary existence seems to acknowledge, the all pervading pestilent presence of corruption almost in every walk of life, as if to rest reconciled to the octopoid (sic) stranglehold of this malaise with helpless awe. The common day experiences indeed do introduce one with unfailing regularity, the variegated cancerous concoctions of corruption with fearless impunity gnawing into the frame and fabric of the nation’s essentia (sic).” Many, many more words continue in this vein to make the point that corruption in public life has become a cancer.
It has. And so the sight of the woman who would be chief minister of Tamil Nadu being packed off to jail instead was a happy one. Sasikala went only after trying to portray herself as a martyr. She plans to spend the next four years thinking about the party, she said between tears, and will always uphold ‘Amma’s legacy.’ What is this legacy? Sasikala? Before going to prison Jayalalithaa’s friend visited her flower bedecked memorial and smashed her hand down upon it three times as she muttered some kind of vow. Then off she went to jail but only after making sure she would control Tamil Nadu from her cell through a carefully vetted chief minister and a carefully placed nephew. The precedent for this form of governance was set in Bihar when Lalu Prasad made his wife chief minister in his place before being jailed for allegedly stealing fodder meant for Bihari cows.
What we learn from both cases is that when political parties cease to be political parties and become family firms, then governance becomes less important than wealth management. It is bad luck for Sasikala that she was convicted and jailed because her crime is now so normal in Indian politics that us political pundits prefer to ignore even blatant corruption. At about the time Sasikala set off for prison, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s younger son appeared on our television screens seated in a blue Lamborghini. He was completely unembarrassed when a reporter asked how he could afford a car worth Rs 5 crore. He was a businessman, he said smilingly, and paid his taxes regularly so why should anyone complain about his cars? The reporter saw no point in asking how the son of a village schoolteacher (and part time wrestler) acquired the money to invest in such a lucrative business in the first place.
Since the Prime Minister is so passionate about making ‘black’ money vanish from the Indian economy, he could start by investigating how so many people sitting beside him in the Lok Sabha wander about in clothes, jewels, shoes and handbags that are way above their known sources of income. While watching a lady MP give an interview on television recently, I calculated that her diamonds were worth more than Rs 50 lakh, her handbag at least Rs 3 lakh, her shoes at least Rs 50,000. This is without counting what her shawl and clothes cost. She is no exception. Male MPs are not far behind when it comes to conspicuous consumption. The most socialist of them these days sport Rolex watches worth more than the Rs 3 lakh limit imposed on what ordinary Indians are allowed to spend without scrutiny. And in the pockets of their khadi kurtas often gleam the white stars of Mont Blanc pens.
Personally I like it when our countrymen can afford to live and eat well. This usually indicates that a country is starting to move from crony socialism towards prosperity. What I find repugnant is the shameless hypocrisy of our political class and our officials. Sasikala has never stood for elected office or worked in government and yet she and her family managed to acquire wealth beyond their known sources of income. How? Notice that the people of Tamil Nadu have not taken to the streets to protest her imprisonment. Could it be because Indians are sick of people in public life who are there only to make money and more money? If the Prime Minister is serious about curbing the greed of our public servants he must begin his search for black money by investigating the mysterious wealth of those who sit in Parliament.