When it comes to corruption, politicians everywhere are the same. Neither higher literacy rates nor higher per capita incomes nor, for that matter, socio-economic backgrounds of politicians seem to make a wee bit of difference. Politicians in southern states cannot claim the moral high ground against their northern counterparts, notwithstanding the airs they might give themselves. Also, corruption cuts across parties, with the Marxists no better at resisting the temptation to line their pockets as against their centrists and rightist rivals. The fact that the dubious role of no other than Pinarayi Vijayan, the Marxist Chief Minister of the 100%-literacy state, Kerala, is mentioned in multiple corruption cases, though nothing concrete has surfaced to directly link him, suggests that the business of politics invariably leaves all its practitioners tarred with the same black brush.
Now, in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu the ruling regime of Chief Minister M K Stalin was forced on the back foot when a few months ago the Enforcement Directorate arrested V Senthil Balaji, Minister for Electricity, Prohibition and Excise, on charges of money-laundering. The cash-for-jobs case pertained to the time he was the Transport Minister in the earlier AIDMK government. Three FIRs were lodged against him in 2018 while the ED registered another case in 2021. It may not come as a surprise to anyone that the ruling DMK leaders had taken the lead in accusing Balaji of corruption. Ironically, the same DMK leaders led by Stalin now accused the Narendra Modi government of vendetta politics when the ED began to investigate the very charges they had labelled against Balaji when he was with the AIADMK. Despite going right up to the apex court for bail, Balaji and his wife continue to cool their heels in jail, given the seriousness of charges against the two.
Even as Stalin’s defence of Balaji failed to shield him from the ED, another minister in his government was convicted last week for corruption. Senior cabinet minister and a DMK functionary, K Ponmudy, was convicted by the Madras High Court for possessing assets disproportionate to his income. The case was launched when the AIADMK government was in power and pertains to the time Ponmudy was a minister in the Karunanidhi Government. The trial court acquittal was reversed by the High Court. Pointedly, the case was investigated and charges filed by the AIADMK government. The ED was at no stage involved either in investigations or in prosecution, though the ED is investigating a money-laundering case against him for handing out sand mining licenses in return for bribes. Dropped from the ministry following his conviction by the Madras High Court, Ponmudy can still appeal in the Supreme Court against his conviction but given the strong evidence of corruption he is unlikely to get relief. The High Court has sentenced him and his wife to three years in prison and a fine of Rs 50 lakh.
Admittedly, the above two were not the only senior ministers in the Stalin regime embroiled in corruption charges. Several more face accusations of illicit money-making. Why, a couple of months ago Stalin himself and the extended Karunanidhi family was accused of amassing huge wealth over the years by none other than his own finance minister. The audio tape of Palanivel Thiagarajan’s allegations against the chief minister and his family soon led to his transfer to a relatively insignificant ministry, though he protested that the tape was doctored to cause trouble for him. Anyway, Stalin penalised him for daring to speak what everyone in Tamil Nadu has known for long — which is that the Karunanidhi family has accumulated enormous moveable and immoveable assets thanks to their long stints in power. If ordinary people aware of the corruption of their leaders still elect them, the fault lies with them, and not with the corrupt leaders. Though fierce antagonists in politics, J Jayalalithaa or Karunanidhi shared a weakness for unearned lucre. Both D Raja and Dayanidhi Maran as ministers in the Manmohan Singh government were at the centre of multiple corruption scams. Therefore, to suggest that only voters in Bihar continue to elect leaders corrupt leaders like Laloo Prasad Yadav is wrong. For voters in the South too corruption is passe, a non-issue. Tamil Nadu is the case in point. Corruption is the common denominator of Indian politics. Period.