Archive for category Corruption in India

The Politics, Populism and Downsides of Surgical Strikes Against Cash Transactions

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There’s no doubt that there is a good deal of anger at the ground level, against tax evaders and people who are making merry and enjoying the luxuries of life based on unaccounted funds. This anger & resentment is particularly strong among the salaried classes, wage earners and even the ‘have-not’ sections of society. Given that this anger has built up over many years, it is easy to tap into this and exploit it, using a mixture of tall promises, popular fables built up over the years ( ‘ will bring back all the unaccounted funds parked in Swiss banks & distribute it among the people’), jingoism and hyper-nationalism.

I find that the support for this has been coming from sections of NRIs, the salaried classes and wage-earners and of course the bhakts across all sections of society. Some of them, like the NRIs are of course not affected at all. The salaried classes, particularly the urban middle classes are among the least affected immediately as they have recourse to privileged treatments in banks (relationship banking is still active ) and a variety of electronic transfer of funds and transactions which is what I gather the dusted-out and much-hyped term, ‘cashless economy’, refers to .

You lost the war, the battle and me

Prof. Prabhat Patnaik on Demonetisation

Some of the support is based on brainwashing, deluded thinking and sheer hypocrisy even. For example, I find several folks I definitely know to be dealing in substantial ‘unaccounted funds’ and ‘tax evasions’ routinely as an integral part of their businesses extolling this ‘courageous and radical’ step taken by Modi-ji. They are possibly doing so because a) it is the right thing to say during these times b)they owe their allegiance to the right-wing, conservative, Hindutva proponents who are in power and have taken this step, soon after surgical strikes of a different kind against public enemy no.1, Pakistan.
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I have little doubt that they have found a way to convert their ‘unaccounted cash funds’ already, using mules who have been apparently costing around 10% and hosts of ‘convertors’ who have seized on this business opportunity and who started doing business initially for 30 – 40% of the amounts put up for conversion and are now operating even at 20% – 25%, owing to heightened competition among their ranks. Shaking up the stocks of ‘unaccounted cash funds’ one-time, which as per every informed estimate is a relatively small percentage of the total ‘black money’ in circulation, achieves little other than mindless populism. The pain, by all informed estimates, far outweighs the gain.

Why Demonetisation Won’t Help to Minimise either Black Money or Corruption

Modi’s Money Mess

India’s Strange Cash Problem – NYT

Demonetisation is a Large Shock to the Indian Economy with Little Impact on ‘Black Money’ Generation

Economics is a nuanced and rather complex subject and many experts & analysts have weighed in on the pros & cons of this move and the way it has been implemented so far and the net impacts, almost invariably, are quite negative according to almost all of them. Besides the shock-and-awe to farmers, traders, small businessmen, retailers, daily wage earners and the poorer sections of society is real and very visible even now. If some folks are blinded by ‘bhakti’ and choose not to take cognizance of these realities which does not tie in with their beliefs and ‘bhakti’ that is their problem, and not ours.

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I am not sure about the political gains & losses of this move either. Leaving aside all other sentiments & political angles, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in recent times make little or no sense economically, among other things. Yet the proponents of Brexit, Trump and Erdogan have managed to tap into some deep-seated resentments, fear, anger and below-the-surface prejudices and biases even for stunning electoral gains in the short-term at least. Modi’s politics & promises are pretty much in the same vein.

Narendra Modi Takes A Great Leap Backwards – Mao Would Approve

Apna Paisa Funny Money

Demonetisation Has Turned India into the World’s Fastest Slowing Economy

Modi Has Brought Havoc to the Indian Economy – The Guardian

Cash is King (Facebook Post)

Why Demonetisation Will Not Eliminate Black Money or Corruption

There’s heightened consciousness & debate now, particularly after the victory of Donald Trump against all odds, about ‘fake news’ and the need to flag them off as such and curb them. While Facebook, Google and some others are trying to come up with a technology and AI based solution to the problem, no safeguards are possible I suppose against fake promises and lemons sold by ambitious politicians to their base and to large sections of the unsuspecting masses, for votes and for grabbing the levers of power, of course.

P. Chidambaram on the Demonization of Cash

Raja Mitra

 

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Is There More To L’Affaire Khobragade Than Meets The Eye?

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One would think that the country’s finest should represent India overseas, particularly when it comes to dealing with the lone superpower, U.S.A., with whom India is endeavouring to build up a special relationship, arguably more beneficial to India than to the U.S.

Consider now, some of the information which has come out in the public domain about Devyani Khobragade, the mid-ranking Indian consular staff in the New York office who was recently arrested on multiple charges, which led to a furore and considerable outrage back in India.

Now, check some of these facts out:

Adarsh was a co-operative housing society formed supposedly for Kargil war widows and Indian war veterans, but considering it stood on some of Mumbai’s most expensive real estate, politicians and bureaucrats made a beeline to grab flats by making a mockery of the law. When many read about Devyani and Adarsh, and given middle-class India’s utter frustration with India’s endemic corruption, many gleefully said the US arrest was payback time and karma had worked. Whether karma works or not, things have just gotten worse for Devyani and new revelations may mean that the Indian government’s vociferous defence of Devyani and actively fanning flames to bring things to a boil may actually be something that may come back to burn India.

First up, while earlier Devyani’s involvement in the Adarsh scam was just a serious allegation, a respected commission set up to investigate Adarsh has now said in its detailed 670-page report that Devyani furnished false information to own a flat in the Adarsh Co-operative housing society. She had falsely claimed that she did not own a flat anywhere else at the time of her application for Adarsh membership, the commission has said, according to The Indian Express. “Devyani told the Commission that she owned the Jogeshwari flat only in 2005. This statement is false since the 2004 application MEM-392-A mentions her to be a member of the society (Meera), which she said she would resign from when she gets the Adarsh allotment,” the report says, according to the newspaper. Worse, she also sold her earlier government-allocated flat at Jogeshwari for Rs 1.9 crore and possibly at a fat profit. To be exact, the Adarsh Commission report was rejected by the Maharashtra cabinet considering it also raised serious questions on the murky doings of past Maharashtra Chief Ministers, one of whom is India’s current home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.

On Sunday, the Times of India carried another story that brought another skeleton tumbling out. India’s Supreme Court had noted that the rules for allotment of foreign language to Indian Foreign Service officers on the basis of their rank in the select list was changed only for Devyani’s batch in 1999 to ensure she got her chosen language. According to the ToI, the Supreme Court noted this in a judgment while reinstating a dismissed IFS officer Mahaveer V Singhvi in Devyani’s batch, and imposing a fine of Rs 25,000 on the Union government for wrongfully terminating his services. The article quotes the SC bench of then Justices Altamas Kabir, J M Panchal and Cyriac Joseph as saying, “The Union government and ministry of external affairs have not been able to satisfactorily explain why the rules/norms for allotment of languages were departed from only for the year 1999 so that the Singhvi was denied his right of option for German and such choice was given to Khobragade who was at two stages below Singhvi in the gradation list…The mode of allotment was amended for the 1999 Batch in such a calculated fashion that Ms Khobragade, who was at Serial No.7, was given her choice of German over and above Singhvi, who was graded at two stages above her.” Singhvi’s lawyer Jayant Bhushan has alleged that the unwarranted change in rules for which the Union government received a slap on the wrist from the Supreme Court was done thanks of Devyani’s father Uttam Khobragade’s IAS and political connections.

Read more at: This article in Firstpost

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Regarding the outrage in India this is what a recent article had to say:

In fact, a lot of rubbish has been written—and spoken on national television—about diplomatic immunity in this case. First of all, Khobragade was not a diplomat—she was part of consular staff. (Now, of course, with the Indian government coming to her rescue by assigning her to India’s permanent mission to the United Nations, she’s acquired full diplomatic immunity). The relevant diplomatic provision that applied to her was not the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations but the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. It is only the 1961 Convention that grants absolute immunity to a diplomat from the jurisdiction of the host country. The 1963 Convention grants immunity only in respect of official acts, not personal ones.
The US’s legal case against Khobragade is to do with her personal act, not something she did in her official capacity as the deputy consul general for political, economic, commercial and women’s affairs at the consulate general of India in New York. So the focus needs to be on the case itself, and unlike what prime time pseudo-nationalists would have you believe, it is not one between the US and India, but between two women, neither of whom is more Indian than the other.
Khobragade is a millionaire. She owns a flat in Mumbai’s Adarsh housing society, 30 acres of farmland in Maharashtra, a 5,000 sq. ft plot in Alibaug, and another plot in Noida. And she works in the Indian foreign service. Her salary might appear modest compared with the US minimum wage, but she was no more entitled to an Indian nanny in America than the nanny in question, Sangeeta Richard, was entitled to American wages in America—which, incidentally, she legally was entitled to. If Khobragade did not want to pay her the minimum wages as per the law of the land, she had multiple options.
One, she could have chosen not to go for a posting that did not allow her to maintain a lifestyle of her choice. Two, if she wanted the New York posting so badly, she could have opted to do all the domestic work herself. Three, she could have chosen not to take Richard along with her to US, and instead hired a part-time nanny in the US in keeping with her budgetary constraints.
But she chose none of these perfectly legal options. Instead, she pursued a course of action that involved, according to the chargesheet framed against her, visa fraud, perjury, falsification of documents, and exploitation of another Indian woman in a foreign land, which is pathetic considering that her official duties in the US also involved being an upholder of women’s rights.
Anybody who cares to read the full text of the complaint against Khobragade can only wonder how she hoped to get away with her actions, which amounts to a felony under US law. Does diplomatic immunity mean diplomatic impunity?
 Here are some more facts which don’t quite seem to add up. For a full backgrounder on l’affaire Khobragade, check out this entry from Wikipedia.

As per the reports she is all of 39 years old, which would mean that she was born in 1974. Assuming a 3 year pre-school, 2 year kindergarten, and 10 year schooling, she would have finished her schooling in 1989. Then after two years of junior college, she would have been eligible for admission to medical school, which takes one to 1991. The medical undergraduate course is a four and a half year course which needs to be followed up with a one year mandatory internship, which would take one up right up to the year-end of 1996 at least, considering the typical start times for the undergraduate course during the 2nd half of the year.

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Since she is said to have graduated with the 1999 IFS batch, she would have then joined the IFS batch in 1996. Now, if she finished her internship right during the end of 1996, she couldn’t have started her course for IFS much earlier in the year during 1996.

Alternately, she either never  completed her internship by the end of 1996 at the earliest or, if she did, she may not quite be someone who completed her IFS with the 1999 batch.

She apparently paid Rs.11.8 million for an apartment in Adarsh which she wasn’t even entitled to buy in the first place. The father, Uttam Khobragade has been involved in every possible scam on earth from BEST Land Scams, the Cadbury ban because of worms (likely an extortion racket), the Adarsh Land scam, the King Long Bus scam and the diversion of Rs 340 million in Tribal Welfare to name a few. This is possibly just a little peep into how illustrious the Khobragade family is. Some of these details can be read in detail in this Moneylife piece.

In her Linkedin profile, Devyani lists her job function as ‘law enforcement’. Yet, at the time of her arrest she was the Deputy General Consul for Political, Economic, Commercial and Women’s Affairs. From law enforcement to Economic & Commercial affairs is quite a jump isn’t it? One wonders whether that was the only slot available in the New York consulate?

Has anyone ever wondered why the govt. of India, together with the IFS officials, are so hell-bent on kicking up a ruckus about someone who should have been normally suspended from service for some of the irregularities and untruths she has been involved in so far?

What may also puzzle many is why Devyani’s husband, Dr. Aakash Singh Rathore, a U.S. citizen currently based in New York, has hardly made any statements regarding this whole issue and seems to be keeping a very low profile deliberately. He has apparently done stints in Germany and Delhi in the past. According to some other reports, Devyani herself has done two stints in Pakistan, one in 2005 and the other in 2008. A brief profile of the two can be read in this report from the Washington Post.

Is there a lot more to this than meets the eye? Why are some publications hinting at intelligence alliances betweeen five nations, NSA links and linkages with some of the UIDAI implementation partners. Read this article in Moneylife for the full details.

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Ten Reasons Why I Went to The Ramlila Grounds To Attend The Anna Show Currently On

Anna Hazare - Delhi

Anna Hazare

X.  I don’t like Manish Tiwari of Congress. I thought that Anna, being an ex-army driver, can drive Manish Tiwari into the ground.

IX.  I heard that this year there were going to be two Dussehras and in the first of these, which would be a live event, the new Rama, Anna that is, would be taking care of the new Ravana, Kasab that is.

VIII.  I was told that from now onwards there would be this new supreme being for the country known as Lokpal whose word would be law. I went to have a look at this new supreme Lokpal, Kisan Baburao, whom people lovingly call Anna.

VII.  I was told that there is this new belly-dancer in town, Anna Kejriwal, who will be giving free shows at the Ramlila grounds for two weeks, four times daily. Since I have never seen a belly dancer perform, I was curious.

A Belly Dancer in Marrakech (Morocco)

Belly Dancer

VI.  I heard that someone named Anna was conducting walk-in interviews at the Ramlila grounds for two weeks, starting on the 19th of August,  for a variety of positions like truck drivers, cooks, driver’s assistant and flogger (a newly created position). I wanted to be considered for ‘flogger’, I think I’ll be good at it.

V.  I seem to have read a poster somewhere which said ‘feast’. Now, you don’t want to pass up a ‘feast’ specially if it is one on the house. Only after I landed up I realized that the interim ‘e’ was a figment of my imagination and what was on here was actually a tele-evangelized ‘fast’.

IV. I saw some posters & banners proclaiming, ‘India is Anna, Anna is India’. I went to see how India actually looks like.

III.  Some of my friends were going there to spend the better part of the day and it would have seemed quite boorish if I refused to go along, so I went.

II. My company’s HR was only granting ‘fasting leave’ to those who promised to furnish subsequently a certificate obtained from the Ramlila grounds, stating that they had attended & fasted also to force Mannu Sardarji to adopt the Jan Lokpal bill, no questions asked.

A Ramlila actor wears the traditional attire o...

Ramlila

I. We heard from our associates that they had great ‘pickings’ working the crowds outside Tihar jail while Anna was inside. Given that Ramlila grounds is a much bigger venue and Anna is now outside, we thought we would have a real bonanza working the crowds and ‘picking pockets’ there.

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The Corruption Brouhaha – A Reality Check

This is a conversation on the issue of graft in the country at various levels, between Q and A. Q is a middle-aged, mid-level executive based in Delhi who works for a Telecom firm whose business ethics are questionable. As part of his official duties, Q has no hesitation in corrupting people to get the job done when it is warranted and when asked to do so by his bosses to expedite matters. A is a worldly-wise budding entrepreneur who claims to have ‘been there and done that’. He is quite opposed to corruption in all its forms but realizes that there are times when one reaches a dead-end without ‘greasing’ individuals who help to keep the wheels turning. He also has a good enough understanding of structures, systems, and processes.

Q. This corruption in high places is really ‘killing’ the country. It has never ever been so bad before, has it?

A. If stunted development of educational facilities, poor infrastructure, lack of minimum standards in healthcare, slowdown in economic growth, gross inequities in income levels, runaway inflation & inadequate employment generation are not killing you, why is corruption alone killing you?

Q. Its just not fair, these guys making so much money on the sides, stealing our money actually? They should be brought to book & severe punishment should be meted out to them.

A. Aah, so you are primarily worried about big-ticket corruption? What about small-ticket corruption, harassment bribery? Doesn’t that bother you?

A representation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka...

The Lion Capital of Ashoka

Q. All kinds & types of corruption bother me, big or small. The small guys should not be left alone either.

A. Can you put your hand on  your heart, look your colleagues in the eye & honestly state that you have never ever either indulged in or encouraged, either tacitly or overtly, small-ticket corruption?

Q. I didn’t want to, but I had no recourse. I was stuck and without paying there was no way out. Everybody pays up in these situations you know.

A. Ok, let’s get to big-ticket corruption. How does that affect you directly or indirectly?

Q. It’s my money that they are stealing, isn’t it? Makes me mad.

A. Not really. Big-ticket corruption is usually between two individuals or institutions, one of whom has the power to provide a certain service or grant a favour and the other feels a need for that service or craves that favour for certain anticipated gains. Supposing we reclassify it as a fee being paid for a certain service or favour, would it still bother you so much?

Q. But it’s wrong, it’s dishonest and it’s hurting the country, isn’t it?

A. In some cases it may be speeding up a product or a service which, in the normal course, wouldn’t have been available for a while. Don’t you therefore think that sometimes it may have a salutary effect?

Corrupt Legislation. Mural by Elihu Vedder. Lo...

Corrupt Legislation : A mural by Elihu Vedder

While China may be somewhat better than India as far as corruption is concerned, it still remains quite low down in the ‘corruption rankings’. Most corruption in China is ‘institutionalized’ and of the big-ticket variety. Do you think corruption has impeded in any way the dazzling progress the country has made, virtually in all spheres, over the last two decades?

Q. My blood boils when I think about how corrupt our leaders are!

A. Look, corruption has always been a fact of life in India, particularly during the days of the license-permit Raj. The nexus between big business & politics has always been a reality. With accelerated economic growth & a quantum jump in the size of the projects executed, naturally the total amounts changing hands have increased significantly.

It is also a fact that the media has opened up a lot more than earlier and while certain sections of  the mainstream media

Pranab Mukherjee, Finance Minister

may be aligned with certain political parties there are enough other players in the arena who are always sniffing around for news of this kind and are not either afraid of or inhibited about putting it out. In fact both the 2G Telecom scam as well as the CWG mess were first brought to the notice of the public by smaller media players before the mainstream media picked up the refrain after some months.

Kapil Sibal - Union Minister for HRD & Telecom

The RTI Act which came into being in 2005 is also a pretty powerful tool which can be used both by the citizens and the media to get at certain facts & uncover them. And the growing popularity of social media has ensured that information dissemination and exchange of facts, thoughts & views can take place very, very quickly over cyberspace. It has also given rise to a degree of ‘citizen journalism’ even though this may be in its fledgling stages currently in India.

Q. Thank god that people like Anna Hazare & his group of ‘activists’ brought this issue centre stage!

A. If you carefully check out the facts, big-ticket corruption issues like the 2G Telecom scam & the CWG scam have been very much in the public domain almost for a couple of years before Anna Hazare & his people first emerged on the scene. The media kept on relentlessly highlighting it, it was a hot topic of discussion on social media & the opposition picked up the gauntlet as well, forcing the govt. to appoint a JPC to look into the 2G Telecom scam issue. The Supreme Court also kept up their relentless vigil on the whole issue and did not allow the various government agencies to brush the investigations under the carpet. In an unprecedented move a sitting Cabinet Minister was sacked, investigated and sent to jail along with various other players, including a M.P. who belongs to one of the constituent parties of the UPA and is the daughter of the party’s founder and the erstwhile C.M. of Tamil Nadu.  Several owners & CEOs of Telecom organizations who were the beneficiaries of the Telecom Minister’s benevolence have also been jailed. Suresh Kalmadi, a sitting M.P. of the Congress and a key member of its Parliamentary party who has also been the long-time & undisputed chief of several powerful sports bodies including the Indian Olympic Association has been jailed for the CWG scam together with several of his top officials. Actions of this kind against such powerful politicians, officials & prominent businesspersons has never before been seen in independent India. Bapat (Anna) Hazare and his group leapt into the fray after all this had taken place and thus can be suspected to be possibly crassly opportunistic.

Q. But Anna Hazare is a true Gandhian and is committed to Gandhi’s methods of fast & non-violence to pressurize this corrupt government.

Anna Hazare - Delhi

Bapat Baburao Hazare aka Anna

A. This government is one elected through a true democratic process. However flawed Indian democracy might be, the media is free, citizens can check out vital information through the RTI, contrary views & opinions can be voiced through the media or through many other forums set up for the purpose. There may be good and bad elements who are a part of the government. One may also agree or not agree with what the government does. If one does not agree with most of the govt’s actions & decisions one always has the option to vote out the govt. after 5 years, provided a majority feel the same way. Hence tarring the entire govt. with a black brush is in a way akin to blackening your own face.

Q. Who is going to wait five years every time. Besides all politicians are corrupt and need to be taught a lesson. India badly needs an ‘Arab Spring’ kind of revolutionary change. Jantar Mantar could soon become the new ‘Tahrir Square’.

A. What are your alternatives?  You could dismantle the present democratic structure of course, but then what do you plan to replace it with? Invite the Maoists for a shot at ruling the country? And if you think all politicians are venal, why don’t you actively help in getting a better person elected from your constituency the next time elections are held. Maybe you could stand yourself.

Also have you taken stock of what the ‘Arab Spring’ has achieved so far, if at all. Changes have happened in only two countries, one of which, Tunisia is an inconsequential state even within the Mid-East’s pecking order of nations. The other, Egypt, is in a state of transition with the army in charge currently. While Mubarak’s regime has been dismantled, already Egyptians are divided over whether he should be tried in a court of law and punished for his alleged misdemeanours or left strictly alone as a senior leader who also did a number of good things for the country. When elections will take place and what kind of government will come to power eventually is still anybody’s guess.

Q. Are you trying to say this government has provided good governance and done the right things as far as issues like

Baba Ramdev

corruption are concerned?

A. Not at all. They have had major issues concerning governance. There are many intrinsic problems, including an ‘appointed’ Prime Minister who is a classical wimp and is apparently answerable only to the party chief, Sonia Gandhi. The party chief and her son, Rahul Gandhi, who is one of the General Secretaries of the party, seem to be involved in making all the major decisions behind-the-scenes but they are really accountable to no one in particular. In addition to that there must be major internecine battles going on within the Congress party. All this adds up to a chaotic situation where no one is really in control firmly. This leads to an environment where governance aberrations start becoming more the norm rather than the exception and things just don’t get done.

Q. That is why Anna and the ‘civil society’ took up the cause of eliminating corruption strongly.

A. If you analyze objectively, they have actually made things worse. They ‘pushed’ their way into a government committee, comprising senior cabinet ministers, and got caught between the devil and the deep sea.  The team, including Bapat Baburao Hazare, doesn’t inspire confidence, consisting as it does of a sitting Lok Ayukta from Karnataka whose track record till date is quite poor, two activist lawyers with dubious antecedents who also happen to be a father-son duo and an activist who was till sometime back a civil servant and now runs an NGO.

After a few meetings they restarted the circus and started mud-slinging publicly and going on well-publicized single-day fasts even. Can you ever imagine two sets of people abusing & denigrating each other publicly and then sitting in a meeting and achieving anything substantive at all?

Q. But they have been demanding that the Lok Pal should have jurisdiction over all ministers, including the Prime Minister. Is that an unfair demand?

A. Provided there are enough checks & balances it is not. But then have you given a thought to the process of selection of the Lok Pal and his office? An ‘independent’ ombudsman who may turn into a rogue can be a serious threat to the administration and to an elected government. Such a ‘rogue’ ombudsman may bring decision-making and executive action about any issue to a virtual standstill. A well thought-out system of checks & balances needs to be implemented in parallel with the office of an independent, all-powerful ombudsman. The supervisor needs to be supervised.

Q. You have been mostly talking about what won’t or may not work. Why don’t you talk about what will?

A. Curbing corruption is a complex issue. It needs a whole series of structural, administrative and legislative changes, in addition to a change in the mindsets of people. One of the major sources of corruption is the electoral process in the country. To curb this, political parties need to be closely scrutinized and audited for their sources and usages of funds. Campaign finance reforms need to be initiated at multiple levels. One doesn’t quite see the proposed Lok Pal bill laying any emphasis on such issues.

There was a suggestion sometime back by the Chief Economic Advisor, GOI, about ways of curbing small-ticket corruption or what he termed as ‘harassment bribery’. Do browse an interesting discussion on the issue to appreciate the complexities of the task here.

In the absence of a well thought-out initiative, merely the addition of a Lok Pal may just mean addition of another layer of bureaucracy which, while pandering to populist sentiments, would hardly be effective in curbing corruption. At best, the incremental effect may be fairly marginal, at worst, nothing may change eventually.

A. I don’t want to listen to all your depressing arguments. My friends are right now calling me to join a candlelight march on the issue which they would be starting in the next one hour. I have to leave now. We will win, come what may. { Anna ….. Anna ….Baba …Anna….Baba…..Vitthala …..Vitthala ….Guruji }

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