However much American leaders may praise India as the World’s “largest” democracy, a 2006 diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks reveals that they were under no illusions about the state of governance in India.
The then US ambassador to India felt that the emergence of a separate ‘corruption economy’ and ‘corruption elite’ and that the Congress government seemed more eager to pander to powerful interests rather than uphold the rule of law.
Writing shortly after a stand-off between shop-keepers and the Supreme Court over the illegal operation of commercial establishments in residential colonies, ambassador David Mulford gave rare, blunt and unvarnished description of the “blatant and unchecked” corruption and decay of Governance in India’s “showplace” capital.
“..we are seeing the development of parallel societies, as those with money and political connections feed at the public trough and live in comfort, while most Indians do without,” Mulford wrote, almost anticipating the Anna Hazare led anti-corruption protests that happened five years later.
Mulford was writing in November 2006, shortly after the government had beseeched the Supreme Court to suspend the sealing drive it had ordered against illegal shops on “law and order” grounds.
“Since 1962, shopkeepers aided by corrupt civil servants in the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) have ignored New Delhi’s Master plan and illegally constructed over 50,000 shops in residential zones.
“After residents, angered by the intrusion of commercial activity into their neighborhoods, filed petitions, the Supreme Court ruled that the shops violated the Master Plan and ordered them sealed and shut down..
“Civil Servants in both agencies have lined their pockets since 1962, accepting bribes from anyone who wanted to escape the provisions of the law.
“Forty years later, Delhi is an urban mess with over 40,000 illegal commercial shops in residential zones, resulting in crowding, noise pollution, traffic congestion and crime in residential areas,” he pointed out.
Mulford pointed out that the BJP was actively supporting the traders’ demands, partly because most of its base in Delhi was among the trading class. However, was nonplussed by the Congress government’s failure to support the Supreme Court’s tough stance.
“For over 40 years, government allowed traders to construct illegal shops in residential zones in exchange for large bribes. The corruption was so blatant and so unchecked that it caused intense public outrage.
“At one time, such corruption could go on unreported and unchecked, but civil society, in conjunction with the courts and the media has grown more outspoken and defiant in recent years.
“Public-spirited citizens in housing associations took on the status quo and took their case to the courts, which provided them with redress,” Mulford explained the reason behind the sealing drive.
Mulford pointed out that the Government had intervened to help out the nexus of the corrupt officials and unscrupulous traders that had set up commercial establishments such as shops in residential areas, despite a law banning such operations.
“The Delhi government and the UPA have bent to the will of the powerful traders, who promised more violence if the sealing did not stop. Both the Delhi and the Central governments have requested the Supreme Court not to seal any more business until January 31.
“During this interval, the Delhi Government hopes to amend the 2021 Master Plan to remove zoning restrictions and permit the illegal businesses to remain.
“The shops reopened on Thursday and though the Supreme Court ruled for the sealings to resume, the Group of Ministers intervened. No shops will be sealed until at least November 6th, giving the Court time to hear the concerns of both the Central government and the MCD who have filed affidavits requesting a stay on the sealings and relief for the traders.
“Pandering to powerful vested interests (the traders and corrupt civil servants) by the Congress government is a serious setback to these civil society reform efforts.
“Both Delhi and Central government politicians are cowering in the face of the demands of the traders. The Congress leadership has demonstrated that it is more interested in cultivating powerful vested interests than upholding the rule of law and looking after the interests of the common man.
“This nexus between greedy businessmen, corrupt government officials and opportunistic businessmen is repeated throughout India. Delhi has been touted by its Congress government as a showplace.
“However, recent events only underlie the failure of government to provide basic services (water, electricity, law and order, sanitation) to the common citizens.
“Instead, we are seeing the development of parallel societies, as those with money and political connections feed at the public trough and live in comfort, while most Indians do without.
“This latest setback demonstrates that unchecked corruption, greed and special interests can derail India’s economic progress and political reform efforts…
“These developments in the nation’s capital, which is touted as a showplace for all of India, point to a nexus between greedy traders, corrupt civil servants and opportunistic politicians which has disregarded the rule of law and undermined governance,” he pointed out.