Nearly 20 years after N N Vohra, the then Union home secretary (currently Governor J&K), wrote his secret report on the politician-bureaucrat-mafia nexus, an abridged version of the report is now in circulation in the social media, thanks to an RTI activist. While the authenticity of the available version is not certain, the picture painted tallies with reality of the goings-on in ‘governance’ as we see today. The alarming state of affairs summarised by Vohra has not only not been checked and remedied over the past two decades, the ‘nexus’ has been developed into a full-fledged business partnership for all the privileged stakeholders at the expense of the citizen. Vohra’s snapshot of the health of the nation in terms of internal security, thuggery, muscle power, money power, and maladministration has been hidden for long from the public; the deliberate (?) failure to address the issue raised has cost the country dear — the current reality has far overtaken the dismal picture painted in 1993.
Some quotes from the available version of the report (not fully authenticated) tell their own story: “The mafia has progressed over the years leading to the establishment of a powerful network. This could not have happened without these elements having been protected by the functionaries of the concerned government departments, specially customs, income-tax, police and others... The network of the mafia is virtually running a parallel government pushing the state apparatus into irrelevance… the utter inadequacy of the criminal justice system... prolonged delays in the disposal of the courts seriously hamper the effective functioning of various enforcement agencies…”
Vohra had also summarised the evidence he examined in the following terms: “It is apparent that crime syndicates and mafia organisations have established themselves… have developed significant muscle and money power and established linkages with government functionaries, political leaders and others to be able to operate with impunity… Warning signals of sinister linkages between the under-world, politicians, and the bureaucracy have been evident with disturbing regularity.”
While Vohra has not dealt with corporate involvement in influencing major economic policy decisions in detail, observers have known all along of the politician-business nexus, which has seriously suborned the economic policy decision-making apparatus of government. Manning of senior positions in key economic sectors is dictated directly by business interests — the recent example in the Cabinet reshuffle is mere reiteration of standard practice.
The ‘nexus’, both economic and security related, is evident not only at the Centre, but equally in every state of India. The goings-on in the mining sector, the 2G scam, Coalgate, and other recent revelations about the shenanigans of the corporate sector are manifestation of the disease diagnosed by Vohra. The question whether the cancer has advanced to an irreversible condition is relevant—will even major surgery help? It is now clear that crony capitalism is the lifeblood of national governance.
In the mid-90s, Vohra’s successor as home secretary had, in a secret report, talked of parallel government in 14 districts of Bihar, where the writ of the formally constituted government did not run—this, in the heart of India, and not in the periphery. In every district of India, an insightful observer can locate the operation of a number of mafias—typically relating to land, quarrying, sand, liquor, excise, forest, etc. They control the levers of administration in the district and ensure that no official is allowed to stay long enough to investigate or take remedial action. The support base of political parties in the states rests on the muscle and money power of mafias rather than the strength of clean administration or ‘public’ support. This is sadly a national phenomenon—the cozy arrangement between all concerned in managing affairs preempts any serious analysis of the malaise, not to speak of effective remedial measures.
Two-thirds of the population is in poverty; India has the highest illiteracy rates in the world; we are the world’s malnutrition capital; the average citizen does not count for anything in this country. ‘Roti, kapada, makan’ is a far cry for most Indians—not to speak of clean water, basic availability of power in rural areas or elementary toilet facilities. Is there a connection between the ‘nexus’—the mafiosi identified to by Vohra—with the alarming condition of the average citizen nearly seven decades after Independence? Why was the Vohra committee report not taken seriously by successive governments? Was there a direct interest in the decision-makers of the day to ensure that the facts brought out by Vohra be not tackled by the country, nor even discussed? Is it farfetched to presume that Indian governance has embraced the ‘nexus’ mode as the keystone of decision-making, with the ruling class being the beneficiaries at the expense of the citizen.
The Santhanam Committee mooted the concept of Lokpal; four times in the past 50 years, attempts were made to legislate an effective Lokpal, the latest being Anna Hazare’s movement. All these were thwarted by the government of the day, and the messengers silenced. Vohra Report was silenced even before his findings were made public. These are dangerous signs for a democracy. Is our “democracy” sustainable?