2010: the year of scams

2010: the year of scams

It is the time of the year when pundits look for a theme that unites the year and, as far as India is concerned, 2010 was, more than anything else, a year of scams (with the caveat that the word has been overused, sometimes entirely out of context, by India’s hyperactive 24x7 media).

The previous year, 2009, was overshadowed by the elections and 2008 by the terror attacks in Mumbai. But this year, which will end in two weeks, has been marked by disclosures of corruption in, among other things, the organizing of the Commonwealth Games; the allotment in Mumbai of flats in an apartment building meant for war heroes and war widows to politicians and senior defence officers; and the allotment of spectrum and licences to telcos (in 2008).

There have been other scams —indeed, Mint’s political bureau insists there is or has been one in every state in the country and a large one for almost every month of the year—as well, ensuring that newspapers, magazines, and television channels were never at a loss for a sensational subject through the year. Ironically, one of these, relating indirectly to the allotment of telecom licences, came back to bite the media late in the year, when it was revealed that several worthies from the profession had been indiscreet at best and dishonest at worst in conversations with a powerful lobbyist.

There used to be a time when frauds related to companies, banks and stock markets used to come to light in April, May or June, the first quarter of the financial year for most Indian companies, and also the one when most declare their financial results for the previous financial year. The assumption was that any financial sleight of hand in the previous year was bound to show up when the numbers were being checked before the results were announced.

There is no clear reason why 2010 turned out the way it was, although there is a cynical point of view that things have always been the same. It is only that judicial and media activism and an internecine political battle between two parties have served to highlight these scams, goes this hypothesis.

Mint’s Capital Calculus column has a more plausible theory (see page 4 of today’s Mint) and also believes that this year could mark the beginning of the change everyone wants to see. That may well be the case. If, as the column argues, 2010 marks not just the year of scams, but also the year when the process of cleansing began, then history would have cause to remember it, and fondly at that. Yet, given resent disclosures about the progress of investigations into allegations surrounding the organizing of the Commonwealth Games, it could also be the year of missed opportunity.

Will 2011 be less corrupt? Tell us at views@livemint.com