Comment

On scientific corruption and ‘recommendation letters’

The Justice Sarkaria Commission holds a meeting in Madras (Chennai) on September 20, 1976. Photo: The Hindu Archives

The Justice Sarkaria Commission holds a meeting in Madras (Chennai) on September 20, 1976. Photo: The Hindu Archives  

Underhand dealings come in different forms in T.N., as this reporter discovered

Journalists covering politics in Tamil Nadu often come across political rivals of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) harping on the accusation that the party indulges in “scientific corruption”.

The term, it is widely believed, was first used by retired Supreme Court Justice Ranjit Singh Sarkaria, who was appointed during the Emergency to probe graft allegations against the M. Karunanidhi government (1971-1976).

The Sarkaria Commission was constituted in February 1976, soon after the DMK government was dismissed by the Indira Gandhi dispensation. It is said that Justice Sarkaria was so taken in by the ingenuity with which public funds were embezzled that he described it as “scientific corruption”. However, there appears to be no record in the public domain of him having used the term.

Since the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) often targeted DMK on this score, I once asked a second-line AIADMK leader how he would explain this ‘scientific corruption’ to the common man. By that time (the early years of the millennium), the massive corruption charges against the 1991-1996 Jayalalithaa regime had dwarfed the DMK government’s alleged omissions and commissions.

The groundnut analogy

The leader, now a Minister, said: “Sir, if we ask our cadres to steal groundnuts from a field, they would go and uproot the plant, leaving behind a trail of evidence. But if you ask the DMK guys to do the same, they will dig below the field and remove only the groundnuts, leaving the plant in its place. This is what we call ‘scientific corruption’.”

In as much the remark evoked laughter, many politicians, irrespective of their party affiliation, have their own way of getting things done under the table. On the eve of a festival in 2004 when Jayalalithaa was Chief Minister, a premier university in Tamil Nadu was in the midst of recruiting faculty members.

I was in the vice-chancellor’s room for an interview that afternoon when a young woman, accompanied by her father, walked in, requesting that her candidature be favourably considered. The candidate said she hailed from the same village as an AIADMK Minister and handed over a sealed envelope with the State Government’s insignia, which purportedly contained a ‘recommendation letter’ from him.

The vice-chancellor — known for his integrity — opened the envelope, read the contents and, to my surprise, said, “Okay, the Minister has written everything. I will take care.” The woman and her father thanked him and left the room with high hopes.

‘Pongal greetings’

However, once the door closed, he passed on the recommendation letter, written in Tamil in green ink, to me. The Minister had written something along these lines: “With Tamil Nadu witnessing a golden rule and all-round development under the exemplary leadership of Thanga Tharakai (Golden Star), Dr. Puratchi Thalaivi (revolutionary leader) Honourable Amma (as Jayalalithaa is known among supporters), I am happy to extend my Pongal greetings to you.” Period.

The vice-chancellor smiled and said: “Maybe the letter was obtained for a price. If she gets selected on merit, she would believe that the letter did the trick. [But] if she is not selected, she won’t go back to the Minister.”

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 11:45:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/on-scientific-corruption-and-recommendation-letters/article29102489.ece

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