Monday, November 16, 2009
Still waiting for Koda’s arrest!
Last Sunday (November 8) officials of the Income Tax Department and Enforcement Directorate were waiting to arrest Madhu Koda as soon as he was through with his ‘loose motion’. Newspapers and news channels breathlessly informed us that “Koda’s arrest is imminent”. Seven days later, Koda remains a free man, unrestrained by either the Income Tax Department or the Enforcement Directorate. Meanwhile, stories about how the former Chief Minister and his associates looted Jharkhand, invested the money in real estate, hotels and mines at home and abroad, and lived the high life — designer jeans, SUVs, holidays at exotic locations — have disappeared, first from the front page and prime time news bulletins, and then altogether.
It’s almost as if a decision has been taken — and such decisions can be taken only at the ‘highest level’ — not to pursue investigations into the mind-boggling cash-and-carry plunder that kept Koda busy during the two years he was Chief Minister of Jharkhand — or, at least, to go easy with the inquiry. Nothing else explains the sudden dip in the enthusiasm with which officials were raiding various premises (76 establishments in eight cities were raided in a matter of days), following up on leads and briefing mediapersons.
If there were popular expectations that Koda would be arrested (as is usually done with great fanfare in cases involving financial fraud and corruption of far lesser magnitude) they have been belied. Officials of the Enforcement Directorate have tamely handed over a ‘sealed’ brown paper envelope to Koda while repeating meaningless warnings to his two absconding associates, Binod Sinha and Sanjay Chaudhary, that they should behave like model citizens and turn up for a tete-a-tete.
A week ago we were being told how Koda and his associates had amassed anything between Rs 2,000 crore and Rs 4,000 crore in ill-gotten wealth; how nearly Rs 1,000 crore was taken out of the country through the hawala route to Dubai; how as Chief Minister he never allowed files related to granting leases for mines to accumulate in his office; and, how huge sums of money were paid to Bollywood starlets, ostensibly for the onerous task of ‘promoting’ Jharkhand. Koena Mitra probably wouldn’t be able to point out the State on the map of India. There are no more such delightful tidbits about the life and times of Madhu Koda to break the monotony of everyday news.
There are various stories doing the rounds as to why the official agencies are now dragging their feet. One story has it that the Congress, which thought exposing corruption in high places would help varnish its tattered image in Jharkhand, which goes to the polls beginning later this month to elect a new Assembly, discovered to its horror that Koda was not the only one partaking of the tainted lolly. Ranchi is awash with rumours that brakes were applied after investigators stumbled upon evidence that suggests Koda shared his riches with certain senior Congress leaders of the State. According to another story, officials had seized a diary in which Koda had made meticulous entries about whom he had paid how much and whose details, if they came to light, would embarrass the Congress leadership.
A senior journalist based in Ranchi told me that Koda, while recovering from ‘loose motion’ in the hospital where he had checked in immediately after the raids began, had called up certain Congress leaders in Delhi and told them bluntly that he would tell all if push came to shove. That did the trick and push never came to shove. Rather than risk a blowback before the coming election, the Congress appears to have decided that discretion is the better part of valour. In a country of a million scams, people would soon forget about Jharkhand’s latest plunder. Others caught with their snouts in the trough have settled their accounts by paying income tax, so too can Koda at an opportune moment.
Having sufficiently recovered from his tummy ache and ‘loose motion’, on Friday Koda left Ranchi halfway through his chat with Income Tax Department officials to participate in the election campaign. He was last spotted at Patahatu, his home base, where he shall remain for the time being. Officials of the Enforcement Directorate, who were scheduled to ‘interrogate’ him today, have rescheduled it for November 19. Seven days is a long time in politics.
Sensing that he has the Congress by the short and curly, Koda is now playing the victim of a conspiracy to harass and humiliate a tribal leader who has worked his way up the ladder and who is popular enough to be re-elected more than once as a legislator and as an honourable member of Parliament in last summer’s general election. Faced with arrest after being held guilty of committing murder, Shibu Soren, the hugely corrupt JMM leader, had tried the same trick: “I am being punished for fighting for Jharkhand and standing up for the rights of tribals.”
Koda used the same tribal card on Friday when he said, “There is a threat to my life. There is a conspiracy to annihilate me. I know who are doing all this. Whatever is published in the media is baseless. And, I am being harassed as I am a tribal belonging to a poor family.” Who is to tell him that it is he who has cheated the poor families of Jharkhand where 54 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line? That those whom he favoured with mining licences which allowed them to denude the State of its natural resources so long as they paid him a ‘fee’, that those who were given contracts to build roads and facilities which were never built, the Binod Sinhas and Sanjay Chaudharys of Jharkhand, have nothing but contempt for tribals living in gut-wrenching poverty?
Fed on relentless propaganda of the diku as the exploiter, Jharkhand’s moolvasis, the tribals whose interests Soren, Koda and their corrupt-to-the-core ilk claim to represent and protect, have become blind to the enemy within. Tribal loyalties invariably get precedence over better judgement and that explains why the tainted are elected time and again. Good governance and integrity are at a discount; if it’s caste preference in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, it’s tribal kinship in Jharkhand that plays a significant role in elections. That is the tragic reality of this wondrous land of ours.
So, we shouldn’t be surprised if the six ‘Independent’ candidates who will be contesting the Assembly election from Kolhan region with Koda’s support are elected. And if it is a fractured mandate, Koda’s MLAs, among them possibly his wife Geeta, will play an important role in Government formation. After all, that’s how he became Chief Minister. Politics, as PV Narasimha Rao was fond of repeating, is the art of the possible.
[This appeared as my regular Sunday column, Coffee Break, in The Pioneer on November 15.]