Scams, Scandals Are Symptoms Not The Disease
Scandals—be it Adarsh Co-operative Housing Society, Lavasa Township, Aamby Valley, SEZ(s) or fulmination of mining and industrial townships in the hinterlands and interiors of India—all of them have one thing in common.
It is being built on the ashes of the dreams and blood and bones of the masses of India. Call them scandals, call them Scam (acronym for somebody carted away money,) or call them by any other acronym Scaa or Scaf. They all are the symptoms of a deeper malaise killing the country from within and without.
Jaundice is not a disease by itself. It is a symptom of a disease. The land or space grabbing scandals and scams are nothing but manifestation of a disease that has its roots in the economic policies being injected into the veins of this nation.
Trying to scuttle or contain the symptom is as futile as trying to contain coughing through sedatives, of a tuberculosis patient without administering medicine for the disease and providing clean air, sunshine and food.
The Colaba Tower scandal is an indicator of the things to come. Not that the land grabbing scandals were uncommon earlier in urban areas or in rural landscape. But then the difference lay in a crystal-clear demarcation of the usurpers and the usurped.
After the infiltration of Reaganomics and Thatcherism into the Indian polity, the veneer of so-called socialistic policies were ripped away and supporters of monopolistic capitalism came out in open.
Thatcheristic policies, which snaked in through mid-seventies and eighties finally managed to complete its entire make-up in early nineties. And early nineties saw the boom of consumerism and a world of simulation and artificial living.
The period also ushered in the dictatorship of corporate companies, which also got themselves deified. The corporate companies had always been eyeing the vast-rolling mineral-rich greenlands of India. It had also been eyeing the vast farmlands of country.
The problem lay in the thriving existence of Adivasi and rural populace. Come Manmohan Singh and et.al the corporates did not have much problem. The destruction of rural landscape and Adivasi hamlets from hills under the façade of ‘development,’ became a part of the government policies.
The so-called rural-urban divide which was popularised by the Indian film pot-boilers, started blurring. Internal diaspora became an in-thing and the encouragement for the urban growth led to a mad scramble for the confined and limited land space in the so-called metropolitan regions.
Even as slums started proliferating in urban areas concomitant with the destruction of rural lands, large-scale silent genocide by dis-housing the poor masses also began in earnest. No doubt, slum-lords cropped up but so did the land mafia. And so did the various housing schemes; a cover to usurp the land in the name of housing, the weak and victims of calamities—be it through man-made destruction of forests and land or be it through battles carried out in the rarified air of Himalayan ranges purely because politicians and war hawks—do not want internecine conflict to die.
WHEN THIEVES FALL APART, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM BEGINS
Nov 7, 2009 (New Delhi): The Congress High Command soothed the ruffled and frayed tempers of Vilasrao Deshmukh and Narayan Rane intra-party supporters. “Give him one year… if he does not improve then we will see,” the Congress High Command said. The man in the eye of the storm was Ashok Chavan.
They waited for one year. Timing was important. Days before the completion of one year, detractors of Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan moved for the kill and Maharashtra witnessed a political turbulence rarely seen in recent times.
Nov 9, 2010 (New Delhi): Ashok Chavan, son of late Shankarrao Chavan, a fierce loyalist and trouble-shooter of Indira Gandhi, resignation, was accepted and he joined the ever-growing legion of politicians ousted from public representative chair on grounds of misuse of power and corruption.
The roiling anger and bitterness in the Ashok Chavan-led government pulsating behind the plastic smiles for the public cameras, erupted in the Cabinet meeting, in August this year. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) ally of Congress-led by Chhagan Bhujbal, RR Patil and Ajit Pawar attacked Chavan. Strangely, there was a tacit support from Congressmen also. The Cabinet meeting became a verbal mud-slinging ground. Chavan refused to see the graffiti of his doom etched on the mud wall.
Of course to reduce any natural, social, economic or political phenomenon to one single-causative factor is erroneous; but it is also true that even as several factors converge to produce a phenomenon, some of them act as a pivotal force leveraging the effect to a desired end.
One such primary-causative factor was ironically Ashok Chavan’s father Shankarrao Chavan’s protégé Vilasrao Deshmukh. For the past two years, one important sector of political battlefield was witnessing the duel between the lineage and protégé. Ashok Chavan had the lineage and the protégé—Vilasrao Deshmukh, the experience of being battle—scarred.
The fight, which hitherto had been in the shadows of political curtains was gradually revealing its face to the public. The other players on the stage were also throwing their gauntlets. But Ashok Chavan, handpicked by another Congress lineage-degree holder, Rahul Gandhi, was unperturbed; reposing full faith in the Nehru-Gandhi’s heir fire-fighting ability; to scoop him out of the cauldron simmering and bubbling with the spit-fire of all his opponents.
The timing had to be right and a scandal common in Mumbai as a wart on one’s nose was flashed. This was Adarsh Housing Society scandal. Mumbai populace was neither shocked nor stunned by the revelations that politicians and men in power under the façade of allegedly providing housing to either relatives of Kargil war casualties or for poor had usurped a plot of land.
It is an everyday scandal. And somewhere deep in the recesses of the mind the populace knows, even though not clearly,the so-called corruption is nothing but an extension and a symptom of the economic policies being imposed on the country. This has been going since the enacting of Urban Land Ceiling Act 1976 and thereafter the amendment of Development Control Rules in 1993. The builders lobby never had it so good.
The Adarsh Hsg Soc scandal was just one of such scandals. It had just one minor role to play; to ignite the already pulsating explosive powder packed at strategic points by Ashok Chavan’s opponents as well as CM aspirants.
Projecting Adarsh Hsg scandal as playing the key role in bringing about a change in the guard and leadership in Maharashtra is just plain befuddling the public. The battle land-mines were laid soon after Ashok Chavan took over the reins of the state from Vilasrao Deshmukh, on December 8, 2008, following Nov 26 killings.
Ashok Chavan, who never craved for carving out a holier-than-thou image, during his tenure as Industries Minister had already created an animosity with foreign industrialists and investors. Allegations of various kinds surfaced, and Deshmukh was forced to admit even though tacitly that the so-called Rs 70,000 crore MoU deals signed with various foreign companies never fructified because of ‘particular not-so-holy stance taken by his minister’.
However, despite criticism about harbouring indifferent and ‘not-so-holy,’ attitude, Ashok Chavan refused to budge from his nonchalant behavior and continued trampling over the toes in a world, where everyone and everybody has a stake in a pie. Corporations brimming with money were being kept headless. Five-cabinet level portfolios, even at the time of ouster were not filled, despite requests and instructions from the Congress High Command itself.
After the take-over, Ashok Chavan knew that not only was his fuming predecessor Deshmukh, but even Narayan Rane, who had always been in running for CM’s post was also cleaning the gun barrels to fire at an appropriate time.
He also knew that the NCP leaders, especially, Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal was also fidgeting and fuming over his indifference towards their interests. Bhujbal just before October 2009 elections had put up a Rs 6,000 crore, Mantralaya-renovation proposal.
Ashok Chavan, like he did for every proposal, sat on it and refused to take any cognizance or action. The elections came and he was re-elected for the second tenure. The behavior continued. Files pending decision—be it from Revenue Ministry or be it from Industries Department or from any other department—kept on piling up.
When Tatas wanted to shift out Nano project from West Bengal, Ashok Chavan for “some strange reasons” reacted in a belated manner. And Nano project was just one of the small flecks of the industrial diaspora that had started in the state. The state which was known in the country for being a highly-industrialised region began witnessing a migration of industries from Maharashtra to other states.
Monies and funds were flowing only to Nanded, Ashok Chavan’s hometown while other towns were left parched. In fact, during the celebrations of 125 years of Congress, at Wardha, the conversation between two Congress leaders Manikrao Thakre and Satish Chaturvedi, recorded inadvertently by a cameraman during a tea-break at a press meet revealed the image of CM in the eyes of Congressmen.
Even though it raked up a furore in political circles, the point everybody missed was Satish Chaturvedi’s statement: Ab aaya CM line pe and Manikrao Thakre’s reply: Niyat nahi uski paise dene ki. The two were discussing the funding for Congress celebrations.
While most of the political parties were raking up the issue of funding political party celebrations, the paid news scandal also broke out.
Of course, all political parties shied away from this scandal as everybody had dipped their hands in this tub, including the media, which had constructed the tub in the first place. But Ashok Chavan again fell into the vortex of the storm. He had funded a special supplement “Ashok Parv” in all the newspapers and was unable to justify the expenses in the election accounts.
Amidst this intra-party squabbling juxtaposed with NCP, who was facing the wrath for Lavasa scam, the bells had started knelling his ouster. Adarsh Hsg Society scandal, which Deshmukh was well aware of as he had held the urban portfolio during his tenure as chief minister, knew the emotive power that the scam straw wielded in the bitter winds which were blowing.
Thus the expose of Adarsh Hsg scandal. And later to put a nail into the coffin of Narayan Rane’s aspirations for the coveted chair, another scam involving a land grab in Mahabaleshwar hills also came to fore.
NCP got what it wanted. The burial of Adivasi-land Lavasa land grabbing scam and propping up Sharad Pawar’s nephew—Ajit Pawar as Deputy Chief Minister. For Vilasrao Deshmukh, the ouster means he can still stage a come-back at some point of time. The same goes for Narayan Rane’s aspirations. And for foreign builder lobby—the new chief minister designate Prithviraj Chavan—means an entry into the highly-entrenched fortress of Mumbai builders. (PS)
And Adarsh Hsg Soc is just one of the innumerable schemes launched to appease the masses and gloss over the injustices meted out to the millions of Indians living in hovels after being thrown out from their ancestral land.
The only reason why Adarsh Hsg Soc continues to grab headlines, while land being grabbed for SEZ or hills being converted to carve out Aamby Valley or Lavasa Resort rarely find space lies in the simulated world created by the corporate world.
The corporate world thrives on hyperreal images and simulated world of values. And the hyper-inflated prices in the real estate world, is a case in point. No doubt that there is a massive internal diaspora towards urban areas. And with land being in short supply, the prices are bound to go up but like in any advertisement, where an artificial value is subtly blended with the product to hike its saleability, the real estate conmen also employ similar strategies.
Certain areas are deliberately pumped up through media as swanky, posh, luxurious and elite even though the houses in the area are no different from the ones located in the so-called non-elite area.
Colaba, which houses old-dusty gutter-choked streets also has a naval area, which like any defence cantonment area is kept green and clean. However, a façade of Colaba being a posh and elite place in South Mumbai, which incidentally is more traffic-smoke choked and dirty than many of the suburbs and also houses lower-middle class as well as slums is deliberately propped up as “the elite place”. With most of the state and central government offices shifting their base to Navi Mumbai, the investors, hoteliers and builders including several newspaper barons who own skyscrapers in this reclaimed land do not want their profits to dip down. And, so the superlatives.
Colaba’s Adarsh Co-operative Hsg Society existence being, in one such hyped-up simulated ‘elite,’ region, controversy over it with jacked up artificial real estate prices in the area—mentioned after every line—helps everybody in the area.
National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM) had raked up the Adarsh Co-operative Hsg Soc issue mentioning not only the flocking and grabbing of space by unauthorised people in the building but also of environmental violations.
The corporate establishment media, however, did not pick up or bothered to raise it. It is only when real estate prices started tumbling with foreign builders (read world class), who on finding their home shores loss-making, evincing interest in Indian soil especially the rolling greens in defence cantonment areas, the corporate establishment media under the cover of showing sympathy towards Kargil war victim relatives, picked up the issue. Of course, the next step like in the cricket betting wherein the corporate establishment media suggested that betting be legalised, it would not be surprising to see editorials, surveys and reports seeking the de-reservation of cantonment areas and scrapping of Costal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Act for providing spaces and ‘development and increase in GDP and FDI flow’.
By Prabhat Sharan from Mumbai