When a Balwa orchestrates a scam, you don’t know how much money was made. Even the Comptroller & Auditor General’s (CAG) accountants are confused about how to value the loss to the exchequer. The payoff is legally offered in the form of a Rs 200 crore loan to the Karunanidhi family. Is it a bribe? Tough to say. The Balwas are from the Gujarati mercantile caste, mostly Muslim, called Cheliyas. They are superb businessmen and the equal of Hindu merchant castes in running hotels and managing retail.
When a Vadra commits a scam, one isn’t even sure whether it was actually a scam, though the numbers are clear on the balancesheet. People are not advanced money without security to get into the construction business. What was the payoff for? Nobody really knows. Vadras, or Vadheras, are Khatris, the great Punjabi trading caste which dominates business in Delhi.
When an Adani (a Jain Baniya) is arrested in a scam, the motive is not to be found. The unbelievable allegation is that he evaded Rs 80 lakh worth of customs duty for a company worth Rs 26,000 crore. When an Ambani (a Modh Vaniya) does a scam, even the victim is not to be found. Was the state duped of billions of dollars in natural resources? Apparently not.
When a Jindal (Baniya) does a scam, he isn’t accused of impropriety, though his own party has allotted to him, without auction, thousands of crores in mineral deposits. When a Goel (Aggarwal Baniya) asks for Rs 100 crore as blackmail, he can coolly deflect it though the evidence is on tape. Even his employees, caught red-handed, keep their jobs.
If scams by SC/STs or OBCs tend to stand out, it’s because the transactions are pretty simple, the exchange open.
When a Dalit Mayawati does a scam, she hands over land to developers near the Taj Mahal and is caught. When a tribal Koda does a scam, he hands over land to miners and is caught. He loses his chief ministership and goes to jail. When a peasant Lingayat does a scam, he gives over land to his sons and is caught. He loses his chief ministership and goes to jail. When a peasant Reddy does a scam, he hands over land and his son goes to jail. When a peasant Yadav does a scam, he dips into money for cattle fodder and is caught. He loses chief ministership and goes to jail.
There is absolutely nothing wrong in Ashis Nandy’s observation about caste and corruption. It is accurate and obvious, unless one is blind to what is around. Nandy said, “...the fact is that most of the corrupt come from the OBC, the Scheduled Castes and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes, and as long as it was the case, the Indian Republic would survive”. He gave this example. “The state of least corruption is West Bengal. In the last 100 years, nobody from the backward classes and the SC and ST groups have come anywhere near power in West Bengal. It is an absolutely clean state.”
What he meant is obvious enough, but subtlely is not our strong suit. We are all corrupt, and this is the true meaning of Nandy’s remarks, but some castes are seen as more corrupt. Why is this so? The fact is that SC/ST and OBC scams tend to stand out as scams to us because of the nature of the transaction.
Upper-caste scams are different from lower-caste scams. The former tend to be complex, less likely to provoke anger, and therefore, more easily forgotten. Scams involving the lower castes tend to be straightforward. No fancy paperwork and an uncomplicated payoff. Cash is to be delivered in India, not Switzerland.
There is a reason for this. Those who are familiar with the process of democracy in India will tell you that over 50 per cent of the money a politician spends on elections is given to the voter. Salman Rushdie accurately defined Indian democracy as “one man, one bribe”. My speculation is that SC/ST corruption is actually more democratic, though it is seen by the middle-class with more revulsion.
What angers middle-class Indians—they will be surprised to know this—is not corruption. It is actually bribery, which is the exchange of money for favour. The correct word for this is rishwatkhori, not bhrashtachar. What is corrupted (made ‘bhrasht’) by this act of bribery is the office. It is the office, and the edifice of the state, that is corrupted. But this isn’t something that we are particularly upset by. If we were, the corruption by the upper caste’s scams would anger us more than the bribery of the lower caste scams.
But it doesn’t. What offends us is the making of money. And what really upsets us is that “those people”, and not we, are the ones making it.
Aakar Patel is a writer and columnist