Ex-minister in south India charged with graft

THE weekend detention on corruption charges of one of south India’s most powerfully connected politicians has thrown new light on the scale of graft in public life and sparked predictions of further arrests in coming months.
Anti-corruption campaigners yesterday welcomed the detention of former Karnataka chief minister Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yeddyurappa, a former key ally of the country’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, on charges of receiving improper payments for land and presiding over illegal mining in his state.
The move marks the first time a former chief minister has been arrested by a Lokayukta (state ombudsman), the provincial version of a more powerful national body that campaigners have been pushing for in protests across northern India this year.
Yeddyurappa was forced to resign in July after the anti-corruption ombudsman accused him and other family members of presiding over illegal mining and accepting irregular payments.
He surrendered to authorities at the weekend, and within hours was transferred to hospital after complaining of chest pains.
His arrest could not have come at a worse time for the BJP, whose veteran leader, L.K. Advani, began a 12,000km anti-corruption tour of India this month to highlight the extent of corruption in the ruling Congress party.
Analysts were divided yesterday over the fallout from Yeddyurappa’s detention, with some hailing it as potentially the beginning of a new era of accountability and others warning it could cement resistance to a strong national anti-corruption watchdog among federal politicians from all sides.
“It does expose the rot on both sides of politics, but more importantly, this is the first time the Lokayukta Ombudsman has ordered the arrest of any senior politician,” said Brahma Chellaney, analyst at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research.
“This will send a chill down the spine of all politicians who are opposing the creation of a strong Lokpal (national independent ombudsman) by parliament. It could have the unintended effect of creating stronger resistance to an independent national agency capable of tackling corruption.”
India’s grassroots war against corruption has taken off this year thanks to the public campaign and hunger strikes of septuagenarian activist Anna Hazare.
Public desire for stronger anti-corruption laws has never been hardier after a series of corruption scandals, including the multi-billion-dollar telecommunications scam that claimed the former federal telecoms minister and several corporate figures.
Four high-ranking Commonwealth Games officials have been jailed on corruption charges.
Analysts said the former Karnataka chief minister’s arrest had been expected due to a trail of cheques traceable to his family, so it was not necessarily a sign of more accountability; the Indian Express editorialised that the Yeddyurappa detention was “a reminder of the complexity and embeddedness of corruption” in India.