When it comes to corruption, some are more equal than others

    By Faraz Ahmad

    The day a CBI court in Ranchi convicted Lalu Prasad of fodder scam (September 30), the Supreme Court set aside the decision of the Karnataka government to replace its public prosecutor G Bhawani Singh in the Disproportionate Assets case against Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha, an Iyengar Brahmin, which when read with the recent judgments of the apex court and its subordinate courts, singularly targeting OBC leader Lalu Prasad and a Muslim politician Rasheed Masood, widely known for his financial integrity, forces us to reiterate that justice should not just be done but seen to have been done as well.

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    The Congress government in Karnataka through its notification of August 26 withdrew the appointment of G Bhavani Singh as the Public prosecutor, whom the outgoing BJP government in Karnataka had appointed evidently in a gesture of reciprocity for Jayalalitha’s softness towards not just the BJP but its PM candidate Narendra Modi, though at the time of Bhawani Singh’s appointment Modi had note bared fully his PM ambition. But Jaya has enjoyed a comfort level with Modi for long.

    The Supreme Court described the notification as “malafide” even while acknowledging that, “Though there is an undoubted power with the government to withdraw or revoke the appointment…but that exercise of power appears to be vitiated in the present case by malafides in law inasmuch as it is apparent on record that the switch over of the government in between has resulted in a sudden change of opinion…,” held the bench of Justices B S Chauhan and S A Bobde.

    The Karnataka government pointed out to the learned judges that this appointment was tainted since his name was not among the list of lawyers deemed suitable for prosecuting the 1996 Disproportionate Assets case against Jayalalitha relating to assets worth Rs 66.65 crores over and above her accountable sources of income. The state government also pointed out that Bhawani Singh was appointed without proper consultations by the previous government. The trial is currently underway in Bangalore, where it was shifted from Chennai by the Supreme Court in 2003 after apprehending that as the chief minister of the state (2001-6) she could influence its proceedings, following the fears expressed by the prosecuting agencies. Significantly the previous BJP government appointed Bhawani Singh in February, 2013 days before the Karnataka assembly elections were announced when the BJP’s ouster from power looked near certain.

    Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi greets Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha during his oath taking ceremony at Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad on Wednesday, December 26, 2012.[Photo courtsey: India Today

    And yet the Bench closed its eyes to the quid pro quo. Instead it found the reason put forth by the Government of Karnataka for removing Singh as SPP rather “unusual.” The bench agreed that “It might be true that his name was not in the list of four names submitted by the government to the then Acting Chief Justice of the High Court and the name originated from the Acting Chief Justice, prior to making of appointment of SPP by the Government of Karnataka; But it was equally true that the appointment was made by the government without questioning the ability or suitability of the incumbent, nor the government raised any issue in respect of the manner/issue of consultation. Apart from this, the appointment continued un-objected for almost seven months.” So if a wrong has persisted, even in Supreme Court’s eyes, the government has no business to set it right and any attempt to do that will be quashed by the learned judges by a sleight of hand. Is that just?

    Anyway now the apex court has given the Tamil Nadu chief minister a sham of prosecutor of her choice, who will hopefully make a hash of the 17 year old DA case against her. It won’t be long, perhaps before the next general elections will be over, that the collusion between the BJP and the prosecution agencies will see Jayalalitha acquitted of all corruption charges ready to support a BJP-led government at the Centre.

    For all you know after this she may even join the NDA alliance before the 2014 elections. That will really boost Modi’s morale. It is worth recalling that in 1998 Jayalalitha had supported the government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the unstated condition of withdrawing corruption cases against her like the TANSI case, in which she was even convicted and consequently disqualified, though she managed to get the lower court order overturned by Madras High Court.

    Jayalalitha extracted from Vajpayee the Revenue portfolio for her chosen Chartered Accountant political factotum R K Kumar to control the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), banking on Kumar to weaken the pending prosecution against her and fix P Chidambaram then a leader of the Tamil Maanila Congress, whose names figured in the ‘Indian Bank scam’. Such is Jayalalitha to whose rescue the Supreme Court rushed yesterday.

    Contrast this with Lalu Yadav, who was forced into Birsa Munda jail in Ranchi by CBI judge Pravas Kumar Singh. Singh is related to JD-U leader and Bihar Education Minister P K Shahi, a direct political rival of Lalu and his party the RJD. Lalu appealed first in the Jharkhand High Court and then when he got no relief there, in the Supreme Court that he feared the political rivalry may vitiate the judgment against him. The apex court too dismissed his plea without commenting whether the facts produced by Lalu about the judge were correct or cooked up. This was an open and shut case because on June 26 P K Shahi admitted to ‘The Telegraph’ that Pravas Kumar Singh was “distantly” related to him. Yet Lalu was convicted in the court’s own phraseology on “umbrella charges,” implying that though there may not be any direct evidence of Lalu having shared the loot committed by Animal Husbandry Department officials of Rs 37.7 crore from the Chaibasa treasury in the name of buying fodder for the cattle during the annual flood season. This loot had been going on for years and presumably is still in practice, because no one can possibly keep a count, but Lalu is “chara chor.” And of the Rs 900 crore fodder scam, the CBI after years of painstaking investigations by a whole lot of pro-BJP fellows like Joginder Singh and U N Biswas finally charge-sheeted him during the NDA government in the year 2000 for disproportionate assets worth Rs 42 lakhs. But Lalu is chara chor and deserves to go to jail, he is to be disenfranchised.

    There is another gentleman a well known Muslim leader from Saharanpur whom Chaudhry Charan Singh groomed and patronized, Rasheed Masood. A day later he too was sent to Tihar jail by CBI judge J P S Malik for seven years and his Rajya Sabha membership forfeited for allegedly nominating undeserving candidates to MBBS seats in 1990-91. Masood, widely known for his financial integrity was briefly the Health Minister in V P Singh’s National Front government.

    The story goes that the then Resident Commissioner of Tripura Gurdial Singh, a former IPS officer, and a retired IAS official Amal Kumar Roy, the then secretary of Tripura Chief Minister Sudhir Ranjan Majumdar nominated nine students from UP in the Central quota to MBBS seats in 1990-91 and one of them also happened to be Rasheed’s nephew. Rasheed claims he had neither signed nor recommended his nephew’s name. Yet if Gurdial Singh and Amal Kumar Roy committed some misdeamenour, then surely Rasheed has to pay the price. Whatever be the case Rasheed’s nephew got nominated to the Tripura Medical College in Central quota. What about Kiran Bedi? The first lady IPS officer and current crusader against corruption was then serving in Arunchal Pradesh. There used to be (I dont know if it still is) one seat in Maulana Azad Medical College here in Delhi for students of North-East and in that quota, just because she was serving a temporary posting in North East, she got her daughter a bona fide citizen of Delhi, admitted here. That year no child from North East got admission in Maulana Azad Medical College, for Kiran Bedi’s daughter usurped the seat. But Kiran Bedi is the crusader against corruption and Rasheed Masood is corrupt. That’s what our system and judiciary have pronounced, reminding me again of an Urdu couplet: “Wo qatl bhi karte hain to charcha nahin hota; hum aah bhi karte hain to ho jate hain badnam.”

    Faraz Ahmad is a Freelance journalist with past association with several national dailies.