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Mainstream, VOL LX No 19, New Delhi, April 30, 2022

The Age of Crime and Computers | TJS George

Friday 29 April 2022, by T J S George


Imagine a situation where a household celebrity of Karnataka such as B. S. Yediyurappa cannot be found. That is what happened in the ultra-modern state recently. There is a special court for the trial of cases involving MPs and MLAs. Officials attached to the court failed to serve summons on Yedi, accused in a land denotification case of 2012. Reason: The accused could not be found.

The official visited Yedi’s house on three different days. The big man was busy touring the state, the official was told. Why the tourist could not be tracked, why he could not be contacted on phone, why nothing was done after the perfunctory house visit by the official, no one knows. What everyone knew was that officials were very busy finalising arrangements to name Shivamogga Airport after Yedi.

The reality is obvious: Public life has become intermingled with criminalities. You can no longer be a successful politician unless you do things that are considered punishable. Things like a court summons are seen as signs of the importance a political leader has achieved. Dodging the court then becomes his democratic right. And a status signal.

There was a time when a court summons was evidence of a person’s involvement in undesirable activities. This changed when "undesirable activities" included a large slice of political activities. The cyber age is bringing about more changes. Now there are ultra-modern devices to shield real offenders.

In Bangalore, the tech capital of the country, the police has set up what is called Computer-Aided Despatch (CAD). This has helped cyber crime victims to get refunds of Rs. 2.8 crore that they had been swindled of. Forget for the moment the unrefunded crores. The authorities put it this way: "CAD is a new system of registering crime where the focus is on being victim-friendly and swift recording of all details." If you think you are a cyber-crime victim, all you have to do is to make a call to Number 112. A police control room operator will take down information and register a "cyber crime incident report." Hopefully the control room police will immediately start remedial action.

Cyber crime victims will need a special kind of thick skin to approach the police for help. That is because they are ordinary citizens while those who take freedom with the law are well-connected politicians. This was clear even before "cyber crime" became fashionable. When crime was simply crime, official sources showed that more than 2556 sitting MLAs and MPs from 22 states were involved in criminal cases.

In 2009 as much as 30 percent of Lok Sabha members had criminal cases against them. In 2014 this increased to 34 percent, and in 2019 to 43 percent. It looked as though involvement in some criminal activity was a qualification for membership of the Lok Sabha. Prejudiced as we are, many of us think that the high level of criminality is because of states like UP and Bihar. In our imagination we see these states as "lawless." Well, be ready for a surprise. The highest percentage of candidates facing criminal charges were in Goa (32 percent) and Kerala (29 percent). What does this mean?

That people in positions of power are often involved in criminalities is something that we don’t normally presume. But if we look closely at some of the happenings that shocked the country, a different picture may emerge. The encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in 2005 and of his wife a few days later is now part of history. In July 2010 the CBI filed a 30,000-page charge sheet that led to the arrest of several policemen and also of Amit Shah. As always, where big fish is involved, things just float away. Nothing happens in the end.

Just think about that phrase "encounter killing." It’s an all-purpose phrase. You can kill someone you don’t like, and then say it was an e. k., sounding like something that was just and justifiable. The public don’t even know how many citizens have been disposed of under e. k. Patriotism can be packaged in multiple ways. If a murder is packaged by leaders recognised by the public as leaders, then no one will dare question what is inside the packaging.

Our democracy was no doubt nurtured by leaders like Gandhi and Nehru and Patel. It was sturdy and genuine. But they are gone and a new breed of leaders are at the helm now. Their ideas are different as are their ideals. Leaders no longer get the trust of the led. Who are the bigger losers — the leaders or the led?

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