Probably the first high profile scandal after independence was the Jeep scam in 1948, when jeeps were required for the army operation inKashmir. V. K. Krishna Menon, the then High Commissioner for India in London entered into a deal with a foreign firm without following the normal procedure. Rather than initiating a judicial inquiry, as suggested by the Inquiry Committee led by Ananthsayanam Ayyangar, the then Government announced in1955 that the Jeep scandal case was closed. Union Minister G.B.Pant made a funny announcement “that as far as Government was concerned it has made up its mind to close the matter. If the opposition was not satisfied they can make it an election issue.” Soon there after in 1956, Krishna Menon was inducted into the Nehru cabinet as minister without portfolio.
Other notable scandals include the Mudgal case (1951), Mundra deals (1957-58), Malaviya-Sirajuddin scandal (1963). The governing climate in those days can be gauged from the following observations:
A one man committee of A. D. Gorwala, set up to suggest ways to improve the system of governance, observed that quite a few of Nehru’s ministers were corrupt and this was common knowledge and that the government goes out of its way to shield its ministers.
The Santhanam Committee, which was appointed in 1962 to examine the problem of corruption, observed in 1964 that: “There is widespread impression that failure of integrity is not uncommon among ministers and that some ministers, who have held office during the last sixteen years have enriched themselves illegitimately, obtained good jobs for their sons and relations through nepotism and have reaped other advantages inconsistent with any notion of purity in public life.”
In later years, corruption gradually became almost institutionalized when power got concentrated in just one person – Indira Gandhi. Nagarwala case (or V K Malhotra) was a most bizarre scandal when the Chief Cashier of State Bank of India, V.P.Malhotra paid Rs 60 lakhs to one Nagarwala supposedly on telephonic instructions from Indira Gandhi. Nagarwala died in jail but the mystery was never really resolved.
Later, the Bofor’s deal and the kickback charges led to Rajiv Gandhi losing power. Then Narsimha Rao became the first Prime Minister to be prosecuted in corruption charges in the JMM bribery case. Of course, he was later acquitted.
What is surprising is that despite the knowledge of widespread corruption no effective measures have yet been installed that curb the menace. The Lokpal Bill could not be passed in last decades; it speaks for the utter lack of political will in the country.