Business, Economics and Jobs

India: Drivers, peons, and astrologers sit on board of directors of politicians' firms

India's anti-corruption movement went bipartisan last week, with the media-indictment of Bharatiya Janata Party President Nitin Gadkari. But it's the details of the latest wave of revelations that are interesting.

In what the Times of India hints is a smokescreen to downplay Gadkari's role in several companies that the paper alleges may have been the conduit for some kind of payoff, it turns out that Gadkari's driver is among the board of directors at Purti Power and Sugar Limited -- which the paper has claimed received inexplicable transfers of large sums of money from 18 different firms, also suspected of being shell companies with Gadkari behind them.

Earlier this month, anti-corruption activist Avind Kejriwal leveled allegations that Robert Vadra, the husband of Sonia Gandhi's daughter Priyanka, used his clout to get a sweetheart deal on property in a real estate development built by India's largest construction firm, DLF. Kejriwal also claimed Uttar Pradesh Congress Party President Salman Khurshid had misappropriated funds in the name of a charitable trust run by his wife, while a former Maharashtra cop accused National Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar of graft associated with a massive greenfield luxury city, called Lavasa, in the state's hinterlands.  (All these allegations, of course, have been vigorously denied).

So what of the drivers, gophers, cooks and press-wallahs in their entourages?  Gadkari's chauffeur, one Manohar Panse, turns out to be far from unique.

"Peons, clerks and drivers of leading politicians have become overnight millionaires or secured key assignments in the institutions set up by their employers," the Times of India writes.  The only problem: They're not aware of their immense wealth.

"Such transactions are real but everyone knows that the people who make huge investments or are chosen for these important posts cannot possibly do it on their own and are being used," the paper quotes a senior bureaucrat as saying.

Sudhakar Madke and Suresh Atram, a driver and peon working in the firms set up by controversial BJP MP Ajay Sancheti, had bought a flat each worth Rs 60 lakh in the controversial Adarsh housing society, claims a senior bureaucrat.

In his deposition before the commission probing the Adarsh scam, Madke, who had never visited Mumbai, submitted that he had been granted an unsecured loan of Rs 60 lakh by his employer. Atram also secured a loan of Rs 60 lakh from Sancheti. In fact, the MP's firm extended unsecured loans to 10 persons for buying a flat in Adarsh and secured an undertaking from them, saying that in the event they were unable to repay the loan, the flats would automatically be transferred to the firm.

Another case was that of Vishal Kedari, a vegetable vendor from Pune's cantonment area who, with a monthly income less than Rs 10,000, also bought a flat worth Rs 60 lakh in Adarsh. "Our information is that Madke, Atram and Kedari came to know that were "owners" of the flats only after the Adarsh scam rocked the nation," the bureaucrat said.

Yes, it's good to be the king. And not so bad to be the king's flunky, either, it turns out.