A flunkey’s talehttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/a-flunkeys-tale/

A flunkey’s tale

Since I write this week from Naypyidaw,my only way to read Indian newspapers is online

Since I write this week from Naypyidaw,my only way to read Indian newspapers is online. So I do not know if any newspaper,besides this one,reported the Vincent George story on its front page. If they did not,they should have because in the story of Mr George lies the story of so much that has gone wrong with India’s political class. For me,there was a special poignancy reading it in Naypyidaw because it was the day after I heard Aung San Suu Kyi speak in real life. Daw Suu,as she is called here,is a real political leader. Something India has been unable to produce in a long time because of a political class that is so venal,cynical and shameless that the flunkeys of political leaders become billionaires without any questions being asked. More about this in a minute,first a few words about Naypyidaw.

Myanmar’s new capital was built in less than ten years because its military rulers decided,possibly on a whim,that they wanted a new city. It has an international airport that is better than most Indian airports,it has roads that are wider than in any Indian city and the convention centre at which the World Economic Forum’s East Asia summit is being held makes Vigyan Bhawan look like a hovel. The only flaw in this grand design is that this capital city is eerily devoid of people so its magnificent avenues,lined with flowering trees,and its brand new hotels could become ruins from disuse. But,the lesson for India is that even little Myanmar can build a city in the time that it usually takes our government to plan a single highway. Our only hope is for our political leaders,and their flunkeys,to learn quickly that there is as much illicit money to be made from allowing development as there is from blocking it.

Now let me tell you the story of Vincent George. It was when Rajiv Gandhi was a mere Congress general secretary that I first met Mr George at the bungalow in Motilal Nehru Marg that Rajiv had converted into his office. He was just George then and his role was that of a sort of office boy-cum-gofer. He was polite,humble and definitely not rich.

There was not the smallest indication that he would,one day,have so much money that he could afford houses and shops in South Delhi,a plot in Chennai,land in Kerala and foreign friends who would ‘gift’ him crores of rupees. It was while investigating one of these ‘gifts’ that the CBI discovered that George’s fortunes had seen an ‘exponential’ increase after 1990. But,despite this,it took them twelve years to decide that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to make a case against him for owning assets that were well beyond his income. Could this be because George continues to be a powerful aide of India’s de facto prime minister?

After his inexplicable wealth became the subject of investigation,George stopped being the public figure he once used to be. So it surprised me to discover that he was still working for Sonia Gandhi,albeit more secretively. And,it reminded me of his earlier role as her most powerful gatekeeper. He was so powerful that Delhi’s political circles buzzed with stories of how many saris his wife owned.

If the CBI had hired a junior reporter,or even a student from the Indian Express journalism school,they would have had all the information they needed. So it is beyond disgraceful that they should use ‘insufficient evidence’ as an excuse. The ugly truth is that there are many men like George who work in the home offices of our political leaders. Some are high born and explain away their new riches by pretending that they come from business families or landed aristocracy. Those who cannot get away with this pretence explain their new money by attributing it to the business skills of one of their children. And where do they learn these tricks? From their bosses,of course.

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I cannot think of a single political leader of my acquaintance who does not acquire inexplicable assets within a few years of becoming a public servant. If only they would make their ill-gotten wealth out of allowing development instead of blocking it,I personally could not care less if they ended up living in a house as immense as the presidential palace in Naypyidaw. India needs at least 500 new cities if we are to prevent the whole country being turned into a vast urban slum. If they get built,who cares if a million Georges creep out of the woodwork?

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh