GOING TO JAIL FOR TAKING PART in the struggle against British rule was a status symbol in the early days of India’s Independence. Many got pensions as ‘freedom-fighters’ for that (though some politicians could have manipulated to show that their jail terms for crimes were for participation in the ‘Satyagraha’- peaceful civil disobedience.)
During decades of Congress rule corruption and highhandedness of the ruling class was so rampant that one felt most of them deserved to be jailed. Few were prosecuted for corruption and fewer still convicted as the entire administrative machinery was in their hands. It was only in recent years that politicians got convicted and sent to jail.
Then started the era of five star jails in India – jails in which politicians can live in luxury to continue their manipulations,safe and protected from those they harmed.
The report, by Deputy Inspector General of Police D,Roopa, that the supremo of Anna DMK party, V.K. Shashikala who ‘inherited’ the party from J. Jayalalthaa, had given a bribe of Rs, 2 crore for getting special facilities in the Parappana Agrahara jail of Bangalore where she was sent by the Supreme Court in February this year.
The facilities included a ‘suit’ of five cells and an entire corridor or her exclusive use and a special kitchen catering only to her. Following the example of another Congress ally Lalu Prasad Yadav of RJD in Bihar, she has been ruling Tamil Nadu from jail through a dummy Chief Minster.
The news does not come as a surprise. Whether true or not, the fact that people believe Shashikala and the jail authorities capable of such a fraud is revealing. The immediate result of the whistleblower’s report was that Chief Minister Siddaramaiah demoted DIG Roopa to the post of Commissioner of Traffic and instituted an ‘inquiry’ by an IAS officer.
Such inquiries are known to be a mere eye-wash, with the result decided in advance by the ruling politicians. They are meant to just buy time till the people forget. The Director General of Prisons, who is retiring in about a week, was ‘sent on leave.’
Jails are supposed to be ‘correctional’ institutions, but many undertrials and petty offenders are turned into major criminals there. They are criminal breeding centres. Jail reforms are meant only for seminars and discussions.
That jails in India are a cesspool of corruption and that criminals get whatever they want, including cell phone to direct criminal acts by their gangs outside, is well known. Added to that is the new dimension of politicians enjoying VIP treatment and running their parties from inside.
Some decades ago, a reporter of a newspaper I was editing got ‘arrested’ deliberately and stayed in the ‘jail ward’ of a hospital to report how the criminals, admitted there though healthy, used to go out whenever they wanted, to commit crimes and come back to show their attendance there. That was his award winning assignment.
A friend in the corporate sector once was asked by his bosses to carry a few millions of rupees to an ex-minister who was in jail for a big fraud. The money was refund of what the company borrowed from him to tide over a routine liquidity problem. Hours before the meeting in the jail, a truck was caught in which some million rupees were found and the driver confessed he was taking it to .the jail for the ex-minister.
The friend found the ‘jailed’ ex-minister sitting in a well-provided office in the jail, disposing off files of his business empire and the jail officers doing his bidding like his servants. The friend asked the VIP prisoner why he was getting the money through a truck driver when he (the friend) could have as well brought it there.
“Oh, that was for giving to the jail officers,” the ex-minister said, casually waving away the loss of “just a few million” rupees. He enjoyed VVIP treatment in the jail, protected from inquisitive media and attacks of his detractors.
For many politicians, like him, being in jail was, therefore, just what they needed. As long as they enjoyed special treatment and five-star hotel facilities there, being jailed was only notional. As long as they could use Cash, Caste and Coercion as political tools they can always win elections.
That is the true face of Indian democracy.