The School Services Commission scam, wherein crores of rupees have been uncovered by the Enforcement Directorate from the homes of “close confidantes” of Partha Chatterjee, a powerful TMC chieftain, has led to a lot of “chi chi, e baba, bhaba jaaye ” conversation in Bengal, carried on over WhatsApp groups, and in the privacy of living rooms where there is no fear of being screenshotted.
Part of the interest in this case to a population jaded by political shenanigans stems from the sheer scale of money involved in a state used to seeing politicians taking bribes of a few lacs on secret camera by a sting operation. And now instead of a few measly notes, we have bundles of currency stacked like it was a scene straight out of Narcos or Breaking Bad. Part of the interest though is because of the money having being recovered from a person being referred to in the media as a “confidante”, an ex model and actress. Meme-worthy and deserving of parody and of one-liners as it is, after all what can common people do in the face of this level of corruption but laugh, the whole incident obscures some larger, more concerning questions.
The official Trinamool line is it’s a conspiracy of “you know who” and/or Partha Chatterjee is a bad apple and/or what about Nirav Modi? Leaving aside the whataboutery and the “it’s all planted” canned response to everything, the thing to consider is whether it indeed was just one person.
First of all, the money was being stored in these apartments, they were essentially vaults. Which begs the question: for who and for what? The amount of money in currency notes is too huge for it to have been carried in Partha babu’s Punjabi pocket (Bengalis call kurtas Punjabis), the movement of money at this scale is an industrial exercise. Remember that the source of the money is allegedly bribes paid by candidates to be recruited into government positions, mostly teachers, and obviously the money wasn’t given directly to the confidantes of Partha Chatterjee. So how did the money reach here, over how many days, and through who? Because make no mistake, what we are seeing is a node on a distributed network, it’s like breaking into a router and missing the fact that it is only a small part of the Internet. And how has this network operated without the state law enforcement agencies doing anything? Why did it take central authorities to raid the premises, given the obvious scale of operations?
Now here’s the thing. Let’s be realists. Corruption is inevitable in a democracy, I mean if people are willing to kill, bribe, conspire, trigger riots to get elected, surely they must be getting something out of it other than the purple pleasure of serving the country.
But there are two kinds of corruption. One is the cut money from development. Whether it be allocation of bandwidth, literally pulling money from the air, or a certain percentage from real estate projects that winds up in the pockets of politicians, there the interests of the politicians are aligned with general development. This is why politicians are always for malls and bigger buildings and more infrastructure , because they skim off the top. If better roads and newer bridges mean richer politicians, maybe it’s not that bad, at least they are incentivized to do good or at least not get in the way of the good. Yes the cost of corruption is passed along to society and consumers, but it is still better than the other kind.
That kind being the School Services Commission scam. Why so? In the absence of industrial development and private sector jobs, people are willing to sell their ancestral property and take loans to bribe their way to the only steady income option available: government jobs. So how much they pay is a function of their desperation. Here, unlike the infrastructure scenario, the more the government misgoverns, and the greater the desperation, higher the bribes, more the bundles of cash landing up in the apartments of confidantes. This leads to a death spiral, where the worse things get, more money the politician makes. It also stands to reason that once the people actually get the jobs that were procured on the wings of illicit payments, they will themselves take money under the table to recover their investment, leading to tidal waves of corruption lasting for decades.
The jokes and memes will pass, but this will not.