Graft in India: Rotten to the crore?


SONIA GANDHI, the head of the ruling Congress party, laments that India’s “moral universe” is shrinking, as newspapers fill with ever more galling cases of political corruption. Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, says he feels like a schoolboy facing a series of agonising tests as scandals break one after another. Ratan Tata, head of the Tata Group, hints that the scourge is hurting the economy; officials’ expectations of bribes, he said, put him off launching a domestic airline.
It is tempting to hope this “season of scams” will concentrate the minds of India’s leaders. This month Congress sacked two prominent officials over graft. Suresh Kalmadi, who oversaw the Commonwealth games in Delhi in October, was sent running on November 9th as evidence of dubious contracts emerged. On the same day the party also toppled Ashok Chavan, chief minister of Maharashtra state, over a housing scam. His relatives and associates had taken flats in a new tower block that was supposedly set aside for veterans and war widows.
The fallout from the dodgy sale of 2G mobile-telephone licences nearly three years ago will be much worse. On November 14th Mr Singh at last forced a coalition ally, Andimuthu Raja, to quit as telecoms minister. Mr Raja had refused to auction the licences, preferring to dish them out in an underhand and chaotic way, awarding 120 in a single day. Favoured companies bought permits for a song. In the process, the state may have forfeited revenues worth a staggering 176,000 “crore” rupees (a crore is 10m: almost $40 billion in all), to judge by their resale value and by the sums raised by the auction of 3G airwaves.
Even Mr Singh, who is generally seen as a saintly technocrat floating above the fray, has been dragged down into the muck. Most unusually, the Supreme Court chided him last week. His sin was to act too slowly against his coalition partner. Congress, lacking a majority, relies on Mr Raja’s party, the DMK, for parliamentary support.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scents blood. It has blocked parliament to force a public inquiry into the 2G affair. More than 20 years ago a similar investigation seemed to show that a Congress government was bribed by Bofors, a Swedish artillery supplier. They lost the next general election.
Graft in India: Rotten to the crore?