N Dilip Kumar was the first Indian police officer to use a spy camera to nab corrupt government functionaries.
In 2007, he was assigned to a position that conventional wisdom considers a punishment posting—chief of the Anti-Corruption Bureau of the Delhi government. Unlike his predecessors, he saw a lot of potential to make a difference in this position, recognising that corruption had become part of popular culture. He encouraged people to come forward and register complaints and use their own mobile phones to capture corrupt police and civil officials demanding bribes. He used this footage to prosecute them.
It was not as simple as all that, however. For instance, a Delhi-based owner of a construction firm recorded engineers of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi demanding bribes, and the footage led to their arrest, but was not enough to secure a conviction against them.
The challenge is to make sure the footage would be admissible as evidence in court, which required that it be verified as authentic. To get verification, Kumar would play the footage to the accused officers. Aghast, they would justify their position and would, in effect, end up verifying their voices and the video.
In his two years in the position, Kumar supervised 50 sting operations to expose corruption in various government enterprises and entities. To his credit, he secured convictions in most cases. He calls the government a “cesspool of corruption”.
Kumar had become a hot potato for politicians, and by the end of 2009, the Delhi government shunted him out rather unceremoniously from this position of responsibility as well. After a few months, he was appointed Joint Commissioner of Delhi Police in charge of the Vigilance Department.
He was supposed to pursue an in house investigation against police officers who faced corruption charges. He made a mark here as well, exposing, among others, police officials who were hand in glove with the city’s sand mafia.
His peers describe him as an inconvenient officer. “He had a reputation as a stickler for law by the book,” says a special commissioner, as if it were a disqualification, and adds, laughing, that “he didn’t get the larger picture of how governments in this country function.” The ‘larger picture’ he is referring to is the larger interests of the political party in power, to which, he indicates, one's self-interest ought to align. Here, too, he was soon given marching orders. This did not come as a surprise to him.
Kumar retired from the police service as Special Commissioner of Provisions and Logistics with the Delhi Police. This position turned out to be a blessing in disguise. He had little work, which gave him a lot of time to pursue his new found passion: writing. “I am glad I was assigned a posting that allowed me a lot of free time,” he says, sounding almost thankful.
Ever since he received this final posting, he has followed a meticulous routine. He would wake up at four in the morning, and, sitting out in his balcony overlooking a garden with many fruit trees, he would type on his laptop non-stop for hours. He has just completed a fictional account of the experiences of a police officer in Goa, Northeast India and other parts of the country, which is due to be published by Dorrance Publishing Company early next year.
Kumar is not a corruption crusader. He just did his job—innovatively, but according to the law of the land. He was made to realise, time and again, that acting against corruption is like stirring up a hornet’s nest. With great frustration, he watched the Lokpal movement fail to bring about an effective anti-corruption law that he feels would have made corruption “a less safe crime”.
He feels it’s a conspiracy: “all political parties joined hands against strong anti-corruption legislation as all of them have skeletons in their closets.” He is of the opinion—fortified by his 35 years in the police—that unless the Vigilance and Anti-corruption departments are independent of the government, nothing much is going to change. “These departmental enquiry bodies only reel out statistics to fool the public,” he says.
Part of the problem, he says, is that people do not understand how corruption operates, what it does to all of us individually and the nation and society collectively.
Corruption operates at many levels within government and society, and includes an array of crimes, not just those few listed in the the Prevention of Corruption Act. These include forgery, cheating, fraud, misappropriation, criminal breach of trust, criminal conspiracy, extortion and perjury, to name a few. The corrupt also invariably end up violating Income Tax laws and some, by parking their illegitimate wealth overseas, violate various provisions of the law that check money laundering.
Corruption is a big challenge to the economy, and, in long run, even to nationhood. “Corrupt [people] are therefore anti-nationals,” Kumar argues, mincing no words.
To address this issue, he wrote a book called Bakasur, in which he uses mythology to explain corruption. He believes mythological tales are “a powerful tool to communicate and explain ideas” because they are inspirational accounts of good prevailing over evil that people identify with. In them, demons, or rakshasas, are often described as the ugliest embodiment of human form, evil in their actions.
To Kumar, corrupt people are manifestations of demons. In his book, he gives corruption a face. He calls corruption the Bakasura of modern times.
Bakasura was a rakshasa who had an insatiable desire to eat. He would wander in search of food from one village to another, eating everything given to him, and, the legend goes, would end up eating those who wouldn’t feed him. The more he was fed, the hungrier he would get. There was no stopping him.
In his modern avatar, as visualised by Kumar, Bakasura the corrupt, makes for a scary picture. His insatiable appetite for illegitimate money is shown through a huge belly, stuffed with money. His nose is like that of a pig.
“Pigs eat shit,” Kumar explains, and amassing illegitimate wealth, usurping money meant for someone else, is like eating excreta. Illegitimate money is money ‘wasted’ by the system, he argues, and those who grow rich on wasted money are akin to those who feed on body waste.
Money can only result in three things: danam, bhogam and nasham (donation, consumption and destruction). If you have more than you need, Kumar explains, it is bad for your body, mind and soul, and only leads to vices. Black money is a sure way to nasham.
The laal batti in Bakasur’s hand symbolises power and authority, nodding at netas and babus, along with the Nehru cap on his head. His double tongue signifies hypocrisy and deceit. The spoons around his feet depict sycophants and boot lickers. And a disgusted Mahatma Gandhi is shown jumping out of the currency notes in his pocket—this is not the India of his dreams.
Kumar’s book is full of anecdotes that make one hang one’s head in shame at how governments function. In it, he also offers his suggestions, one of which is for legislation along the lines of the Jan Lokpal bill. It is meant to reform the younger generation, who Kumar believes need to be shown the true face of corruption so that they can make good choices in their lives. At the very least, he reasons, they should be aware of the implications of making a wrong choice.
He wrote the book in both Hindi and English, and says he is “getting this book translated into many vernacular languages, so the message reaches all over the country.”
According to the myth, Bakasura was killed by Bheema (of the five Pandavas) in a pitched battle that lasted for days. It would require a herculean effort like Bheema’s to checkmate corruption. Alas, regrets Kumar, there is no modern world Bheema.