Capitalism protects the rich and picks on the poor - in India and in Papua New Guinea

In the thought provoking article below from the Times of India, Shobhan Saxena reflects on the fact that in the capitalist system there is one law for the rich and powerful and another for the poor. As a result, while the powerful can plunder the public purse and destroy the environment with impunity, 'in the case of theft in a rich man's house, the police would have picked some poor blokes, slapped cases against them and dumped them into jail in no time and the government never bothers to save these young, innocent lives from going down the drain. Cabinet ministers don't act as lobbyists for these wretched souls'.

Perhaps in PNG, if we hadn't abandoned the core intentions of our Constitution and ignored our National Goals since Independence, we might today be showing the world that there is a better model of development...

Shobhan Saxena: In the early 20th century, a British civil servant, posted in a dustbowl in central India, blew his top one morning when he noticed that his Indian servant hadn't polished his shoes properly. He called the servant, a young lad, and slapped him.  Not satisfied with his explanation, the officer kicked him, punched him on the face and then slashed him with his leather belt. He kept beating him till he couldn't do it anymore -- the servant was dead. After the poor Indian's wife and children wept and cried in front of senior British officers, the family was given Rs 25 in compensation. And the guilty officer was punished: he was made to pay Rs 25 in fine. 

When I read this story in a school textbook many years ago, I was filled with anger. For days, I discussed the story with my classmates. We all agreed that the British were cruel by nature. That's why the British officer killed the Indian. In our hate-filled discussions, we completely missed the point that the British officer could get away by paying a fine of Rs 25. We completely missed the fact that in British India there were two sets of rules – one for the ruling class, comprising the British and their Indian collaborators, and another for ordinary Indians. The idea of justice was very simple: if a rich man was caught doing something wrong, he was fined; if a poor man was caught committing a crime, he was dumped into the jail.

More than 60 years after Independence, this colonial practice of letting the rich criminals get away with murder is still continuing. From two recent episodes it's become clear that we still have two sets of rules: one for the ruling class, another for the aam aadmi.  Though the government has a list of 50 Indians who have illegal bank accounts in the Liechtenstein Bank in Germany, no action has been taken against these people. The government is treating the looting of money as a case of tax evasion and the culprits are being only fined despite the Supreme Court's observation that the government was "wrong in treating black money as a tax issue when it was simple and pure theft of the Indian economy". Criticizing the government for not making public all the names on the list, the apex court said on Tuesday that plunder of the nation had taken place.

Even if the Supreme Court didn't raise the issue, the Manmohan Singh government should have answered a few obvious and simple questions: Who are these people on the list? How many of them are in public life? What is the source of this money? Was public money siphoned off by these people? Why the government didn't make any attempt to recover this money?

But, instead of answering these uncomfortable questions, the government is busy shielding these criminals. Their identities have been hidden in a sealed envelope.

The second case which shows how the rich, famous and powerful of this country can get away with anything, particularly the plundering of national resources and public money, is the Lavasa hill station scandal. According to a report submitted to the Bombay high court on Tuesday, the Ministry of Environment and Forests has said that Lavasa Corporation violated environmental laws while building the hill station. But, instead of declaring the city illegal and order its demolition, the ministry has suggested a "hefty penalty and creation of a fund out of Lavasa's pockets to restore the damage done". By chickening out at the last moment, minister for environment Jairam Ramesh has proved that he is just a paper tiger who makes a lot of noise just for publicity. Recently, Ramesh had ordered the demolition of the Adarsh tower in Mumbai, but by giving the penalty option to Lavasa, he has unwittingly opened that penalty route to all criminals who are ravaging the country's eco-system in the name of development.

Because all these cases – Adarsh, Lavasa and Lichtenstein and Swiss bank accounts – involve the rich and powerful, no FIR has been filed till now, no one has been arrested, no body has been sent to jail and there are no indications that anyone would be prosecuted. If it was a case of theft in a rich man's house, the police would have picked some poor blokes, slapped cases against them and dumped them into jail in no time. There are more than 10,000 undertrials languishing in Delhi's Tihar jail. Most of them are in prison for petty crimes like pickpocketing or street fights. Most of them have spent more than seven years in prison, not because they have been sentenced by a court but because they don't have money for bail. And that's only one jail in the country. Hundreds of thousands of young men and women are rotting in jails because their families can't bail them out. In prison, many of them get raped or become drug addicts. If they come out after years in the company of hardened criminals, they become criminals too. 

The government never bothers to save these young, innocent lives from going down the drain. Cabinet ministers don't act as lobbyists for these wretched souls. But, when it comes to acting against the wealthy, even if they are criminals, the state develops cold feet. Then it proposes the escape route: fine and penalty.  That's what the Indian government has been doing in Lichtenstein and Lavasa cases. With details about Indians holding illegal bank accounts in Swiss banks likely to emerge soon, no points for guessing what the government would do. It will make sure that the identities of these criminals are protected and they get away by paying a fine. And the government would assure the corporates that their interests would be protected. Like everything else, our government is inspired by the US, the cradle of capitalism and its shady crimes. The famous mafia don of 1930s, Al Capone, was not arrested for years despite the fact that he openly ran dens of hooch, gambling and prostitution in the heart of Chicago. Because he bankrolled the politicians and bribed the cops, no one dared to touch him. Finally, when he became too big for his boots, they caught him, but not for his heinous crimes, including murder, but for tax evasion.

In predatory capitalism, criminals are allowed a free run as long as they pay their taxes. Not paying your taxes is the only crime in this system. And if you don't pay your taxes, you are doomed. That's why the Indian government is offering the tax route to the criminals who have stolen and stashed the country's public wealth abroad. That's why the government is happy with just levying a fine on the Lavasa corporation which has violated every rule in the book. And that's why it doesn't care for the poor people who keep rotting in prisons.