Jain Hawala case rocks India

NEW DELHI, INDIA: 2-3-1996

Jain Hawala Case has so far put the career of 24 politicians in Jam.  So far India was famous for letting off the politicians who were charged with accepting bribes.  But the recent case has shown that even politicians are not spared in India.

So far, 24 politicians have been charged with being beneficiaries of 65crore in bribes and gifts from businessman and alleged influence-peddler Surendra Kumar Jain who, unfortunately for the recipients, kept a diary.

The accused include seven serving Cabinet ministers, all of whom have resigned; the president of the leading opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, who gave up his parliamentary seat; and the chief minister of the local government in New Delhi, who also quit.

The broad political gamut of the suspects -- from honored stalwarts of the ruling Congress (I) party to the conservative BJP and leftist Janata Dal -only buttresses the scornful verdict many Indians have of those who govern them: Sab chor hain.  

While corruption in India is as ancient and solidly grounded as the Taj Mahal or Qutab Minar, this sordid episode marks the first time in independent India's nearly 50-year existence that members of the government or parliament have been charged or hauled into court for alleged criminal acts.

"It is like a cyclonic storm in INDIA'S politics" says one delhi resident.  

The hawala, or illegal foreign exchange affair, has captured headlines and the public agenda as India prepares for a general election, expected in April. Most immediately, many pundits say, the scandal may have boosted Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, though he also has been implicated.

Rao's increased chances for a second term will be good news for Western investors and corporations, since it was the southern Brahmin and his finance minister Dr.Manmohan Singh who scrapped India's socialist ideology and launched free market reforms in 1991, when India was on the verge of mortgaging its gold by the previous finance minister Yashwant Sinha in the Chandrasekhar government.

In a wider sense, however, the daily diet of shocking headlines is a wake-up call that the self-sacrifice and abiding sense of dharma, or duty, that distinguished many Indian leaders during the anti-colonial struggle and post-independence politics are in danger of being smothered under a mountain of rupee notes.

"My regret," laments Atal Behari Vajpayee, the BJP's parliamentary leader, "is that politics has become more of a business than a mission."

In 1993, without offering any independent corroboration, stockbroker Harshad Mehta claimed he had handed Rao a suitcase worth 1 crore rupees at his official residence. Other scandals followed: government purchases of sugar and locomotives; bidding for state telecommunications rights, a 2 crore rupees dollar loan to Rao's youngest son; and Rao's own alleged involvement as foreign minister in a 1989 forgery designed to smear a challenger to Rajiv Gandhi.

Early this year, however, the ground unexpectedly shifted. The seeds of change were sown as long as 2-1/2 years ago, when the Supreme Court, which had been the epitome of India's politically obedient judiciary, began showing new independence. Public resentment and pressure to act against graft were also mounting, and may have tipped the scales.

"If you want to build a house, get a phone connection, ration card, driving license, electricity connection, addmision in school or colleges,  without bribery nothing moves these days in India". 

The Jain Hawala Case has shown that corruption has now taken the front seat in India.