We are all criminals!

Editorial: September
Hardnews Bureau

The most standout feature of the sleazy scams about the organisation of Delhi's Commonwealth Games is the sheer scale of corruption involving public money and the 'legitimate' criminality that surrounds it. Expenses incurred in organising the games vary from Rs 40,000 crore to a mind-boggling Rs 80,000 crore. Back of the envelope calculations would suggest leakage of funds to the tune of 30 per cent. This is facilitated by gross overestimation of costs and overruns. Preliminary enquiry by the CAG showed vulgar padding in the costing of each of the items. Paper napkins were priced at the rate of Armani suits; rent of sporting equipments was shown multiple times higher than its costs. Even the Rs 38 crore (Rs 50 crore total costs?) fancy balloon seems to be 'busting' out! And all this in a country where official figures tell us that more than 70 per cent people live on Rs 20 a day! The litany of financial crimes and its bloated beneficiaries is endless. Perhaps the only people who look sapped are the poor labourers who have been short-changed by contractors and the government, and forced to work and live in ghoulish, sub-human conditions. 

It seems there is no fear of law anymore. There is a collective consensus on the legitimacy of organised crime. The fear of penalty and punishment, accompanied by shame, guilt and infamy in perpetrating crimes, gets devalued when too many people are involved in it, and that too, across the powerful spectrum of the elite and political establishment. The greatest protection for law-breakers, thus, comes when more people are transgressing the law. In the last days of Sodom, Bible says, even angels, who came to earth to fight evil, feared molestation. Indeed, India's stunning growth story faces the most severe challenge from the 'legitimacy crisis' of entrenched crime and corruption, which, if allowed to go unchecked, would ravage the country. This is because both the message and the medium flow from the top.

The magnitude or scale of crime has acquired gargantuan proportions in a post-liberalised India. The growth in crime and corruption has coincided with the devaluation of the government as an entity. This change in the character of our society and polity has manifested itself at various levels. Nexus of criminal gangs, mining lords and multi-millionaire politicians are controlling vast areas/resources of the country. Economic liberalisation has opened new vistas in crime. Too much wealth and conspicuous affluence breeds insatiable greed and perversions, as much as mass deprivation and longing. New imaginative ways are being used to subvert the law by the rich and powerful. Absence of regulation is helping the cause of the rough, ready and the criminal-minded. There are new crimes that involve rigging the stock market, credit card frauds, Nigerian email scams, etc. The crime industry has become so sophisticated that most of our enforcement agencies appear pathetic. Like in clichéd Hindi movies, they wake up only when the horse has bolted the door. 

This is bound to have serious implications. Thousands of crores disappeared into nothingness in the securities scam. The money lost was never discovered. Similar heists have been committed by fly by night operators. Many criminal gangs, after making their first million through crime, have moved to legitimate businesses. Some have made their millions during times of calamities. Indeed, during the recent economic meltdown, criminal proceeds from drugs and narcotics sustained the international banking systems. 

This is a worrisome time for democracies as they stand against the might of criminal money. Hardnews devotes this issue to the new challenge and sociology of crime and corruption in contemporary India, and the pulp fiction which drives the criminal libido in popular consciousness.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: SEPTEMBER 2010