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The land of elected criminals

Sunday 26 February 2006, by SINGH*Tavleen

When I heard this week that the man charged with killing Jessica Lall had been acquitted by a Delhi court, it made me sick. Not just because it is evil when murder goes unpunished but because this particular murder offers us a mirror of modern India and the reflection that we see is repugnant. It shows us a country in which you can get away with the most horrible crimes if you know the right people and if your pockets are deep enough.

Manu Sharma and his eight accomplices were acquitted for want of evidence. There were more than a hundred people at the restaurant in which he allegedly fired a shot at Jessica because she said the bar was closed and could not give him a whisky. As the spoilt son of a politician he was unused to taking no for an answer. Three people said they saw him fire the shot, many others saw him run from the restaurant after he shot Jessica, some chased him and others informed the police that his car was still parked outside the Tamarind Court. The police were so unconcerned that the car was left standing long enough for his friends to come and drive it away.

In those first days after the night of the shooting (April 30, 1999), nobody had any doubt about the identity of the killer. He must have been aware of his own guilt or why would he have gone into hiding, but our criminal justice system moves with arthritic slowness. And, as the years went by, powerful influences came into play and crucial witnesses discovered that they had seen nothing. One even denied he had been at the restaurant that night and by October 2004, Manu Sharma made bail. It should have been a sign of things to come but as someone with a naive belief that good always triumphs over evil I remained convinced that justice would be done. I was wrong.

We live in a country in which you can and will get away with murder if your Daddy is a powerful politician. One of Sharma’s accomplices, Vikas Yadav, also the son of a powerful politician, was so sure of this he was charged with killing his sister’s boyfriend three years later. When they found Nitish Katara’s body it was so badly burned his mother found it hard to recognise him. She has fought a long, lonely battle for justice but she may as well give up. Vikas Yadav will probably be a free man soon just like his friend Manu Sharma and before we know it they could both be sitting in Parliament.

That is where the sickness begins. We have allowed our politicians to believe that they and their ghastly children are above the law and because of this the worst kind of scum have come to see the Lok Sabha as the ultimate absolution. You can be a murderer, smuggler, rapist or thief but if you can find some rotten borough that will elect you - or that you can intimidate into electing you - then the cases against you become irrelevant. The very policemen who have been hunting you are forced to give you protection.

Scum produces scum and the progeny of our elected representatives are usually worse than their parents. They grow up at taxpayers’ expense to a life of unimaginable luxury and privilege. Mostly, this renders them unemployable so Daddyji is obliged to either set them up in business of some kind or offer them his seat in Parliament. Our political parties do not have any system that would bring into their ranks good people so party bosses find it convenient to accommodate these sons and heirs. Some turn out alright, most are ghastly. And, of course, those of criminal bent are more welcome than others because they have no scruples about using any means possible to get elected.

It is a terrible business and proud as we are of our democracy this is one aspect we should be ashamed of. But, if this is the land of elected criminals it is also the land of karma and I believe Jessica’s killer will pay according to those mystic laws of cause and effect that are the foundation of Indian philosophy. Those who helped him walk free will pay too and for my part I wish only that in this life, not the next one, they suffer even half the pain Jessica’s family has suffered. May they live with the terrible, unrelenting grief of seeing someone they love die for no reason at all.

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