April 11, 2020
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The Real Villains

An insider's account of rampant corruption in the civil services

The Real Villains
The Plain Truth
By N.K. Singh
Konark Publishers Rs 375; Pages: 369
THE Plain Truth, as told by N.K. Singh, is going to shock and dismay many of its readers. The insider's account of events that have become an important part of India's contemporary political history makes compelling reading. The media has not stopped discussing them, but this book fills some important gaps in our knowledge about these cases.

Singh's story confirms our worst fears about the extent of politicisation of civil service and such vital investigation agencies as the CBI. Law doesn't appear to take its own course when it comes to influential and powerful persons, whatever the rhetoric.

The book unmasks a number of senior political leaders and well-known civil servants, some of whom still hold very important positions. Cases like Kissa Kursi Ka, the sugar scam, Airbus bribery and St Kitts forgery were no ordinary criminal cases investigated by the CBI. Singh describes in some detail how these important functionaries of the Indian State shamelessly subverted the system to sabotage the investigation and the judicial process. Facts are indeed stranger than fiction. The book which reads more like fiction has, alas, more than a ring of truth about it. It has come as a shock even to a reader like Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, a former Supreme Court judge. The chilling reading of the tragic story left him in shock and despair. As he aptly writes in the foreword to the book: "A creeping feeling that the Constitution and its commands are but skin-deep and cosmetic, and extra-constitutional operators can take over control, come court, come Parliament, come code, come all the hortative bombast oft repeated—Be you ever so high, the law is above you—overwhelms the readers."

Singh gives glimpses of the deep-rooted nexus that has developed between crime, criminals, politicians and civil servants. How willingly senior civil servants connived at subverting the rule of law to please their political masters. Blinded by their ambition, some of them became willing accessories to criminal acts. They told lies, committed acts of perjury, theft, and destruction of evidence, but managed to go scot free. On the contrary, they were duly rewarded for their criminal role. These are the types who manage to reach the top of the ladder more easily. The numbers of such civil servants—pliable, loyal to the powers that are, unscrupulous and ambitious—is unfortunately multiplying. They are the real villains. The criminal-politician link cannot operate without them.

Will judiciary act as the saviour of the system? Not always. One is aghast at the judge-ment of the Central Administrative Tribunal on Singh's petition when it says: "In case the minister takes a decision or gives some directions which are not to the liking of an officer who is entrusted with certain duties, the officer cannot ignore the same." The question is, as has been rightly asked by Singh: how can the Tribunal "give authority to a minister that he could direct a police officer in the investigation of a criminal case and the police officer had no right to challenge it, whatever the orders?"

The concept of a committed bureaucracy has played havoc with our political and administrative system. One hopes that the apex court will soon set this controversy at rest. Few come out with their honour intact in this book. The system has been so corrupted that it is officers like K.N. Singh who suffer, while senior civil servants and police officers who identify themselves with the ruling party or the top bosses, as the author points out, merrily go on from one higher position to another, in the process destroying the democratic fabric.

The oft-repeated phrase that the ultimate decision is in the people's court, poses another threat to the rule of law, and must be debunked. Elections, winning or losing, do not decide whether a person is guilty in a criminal case or not. That decision should be made on the basis of the evidence to be assessed by a court of law, and by no one else. Such misconceptions only distort the system.

Civil servants are, by temperament and training, cautious persons. Most try and keep out of controversies. Singh is certainly not one of them. He is known for his forthrightness. He has not disappointed his readers. He does not pull punches. He has given his version without caring for who is going to get annoyed or hurt by his exposure. He wanted to share his agony with his readers and he has done that.

There are some minor errors. For example, the general elections in 1989 were not a mid-term poll. Again, the memoirs of Singh are not the memoirs of a CBI officer, but more aptly of an IPS officer, as the book also contains quite a few pages on his service in Orissa which was outside the CBI.

It is a very readable, but a serious book. It raises some fundamental questions about our political and administrative system. These questions need to be confronted and solutions found, if our democratic system is to survive. I recommend this book to all, irrespective of the fact whether they agree with the author's version of the events or not. It is good that such books are coming out. The villains who strut around as heroes need to be exposed.

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