Public anger against corrupt governance has never been as intense as it is today. However, there is also public jubilation as never before. Political VIPs going to jail is an unprecedented spectacle and it fills citizens with unprecedented joy. This is not sadism. This is recognising the sign that there is hope for our country after all.
When A. Raja went to jail, the general feeling was that the arrogance of his party had invited the punishment. From T. R. Baalu's days DMK ministers in Delhi had behaved as though they were viceroys of the Almighty. People have their own ways of reaching conclusions. The general feeling in this case was that, be it A. Raja or Dayanidhi Maran or Azhagiri, they were all using their power for their own and their group's interests.
That same feeling made the public rejoice when Suresh Kalmadi and some of his gang found themselves behind bars. Their misdeeds had brought international shame to our country with videos of filthy bathrooms in the Games Village going round the world and some athletes boycotting the Games. The costs to the country are still mounting, the Sports Ministry having discovered that some of the stadia have become dumping grounds and that several crores would be needed to make them useful in some way.
The jailing that got maximum applause from the public was undoubtedly that of Janardhana Reddy and B. S. Yeddyurappa himself in Karnataka. Reddy was literally above the law, both civil and criminal. No businessman, IAS officer, police chief, or ordinary farmer could survive in Bellary without his permission. His mansion was surrounded by three rings of security and CCTV cameras on approach roads. He had gold plates to eat from, gold water taps to wash his hands, a monogrammed gold throne to sit on and 1200 gold rings to wear. Now he eats kichdi from steel plates. What's it if not justice?
Yeddyurappa was second only to Narendra Modi in flaunting chief ministerial sovereignty, arms swinging like a pahelwan's. He even brought the BJP High Command under his control by using the stick of threats and the carrot of monetary contributions. Now he is “deeply pained” that the public thinks his hospital hopping was to avoid jail. It might be of some consolation to him that the public also was deeply pained by his generosity to sons, son-in-law and sundry relations and cronies. His cabinet has contributed more than any other cabinet in the country to jail population – five of them in one go, another distinction for the “BJP's first government in the South”.
For breaking the myth of ministerial invincibility and re-affirming the limits to power, the credit must go to the judiciary. The tendency of the political establishment was to protect the guilty; look at the way they put off action to curb people like Raja and Kalmadi. It was left to the judges, with some help from newly aroused public opinion, to re-establish the principle that transgressions must lead to punishment. May their tribe increase.
Jail-going was once a badge of patriotism in our country. A man with first-hand knowledge of that phase of history, P. V. Narasimha Rao, told us how that badge was misused. In his novel, The Insider, there is a father who recalls the imprisonment of the great nationalist leaders and says: “My business instinct tells me that some profit must come out of jail-going sometime, somehow. I see my son's jail-going as good business”. During the Emergency jail-going took on another character, best described by one of the victims, Maharani Gayatri Devi. “All the jails were full at the time”, she wrote, “like hotels in peak season”.
It is peak season of yet another kind now. There are ministerial-bureaucratic transgressions awaiting correction elsewhere – in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab. Rapes, kidnappings and disappearances have happened with politicians in power figuring in the suspect list. The call for justice is loud.