Indian Decade

Is Nothing Sacred?

New allegations over the use of golf courses raise questions about corruption in India’s military.

For decades, the Indian populace believed that despite widespread corruption and malfeasance in public life and institutions, one entity—the nation’s armed forces—remained above the fray. Sadly, a recent spate of scandals has shaken such public confidence even in the probity of the officers and men of the armed services.

Last year, to the shock and dismay of many, social activists revealed that some prime land in Colaba, Mumbai, had been allotted to a number of senior retired military officers, notably in the Indian Navy. Ostensibly, this land was supposed to have been made available to the widows of the fallen in the Kargil war of 1999. These sordid revelations led many to quickly dispense of their ill-gained properties and cost the chief minister of the state of Maharashtra his job.

But now, yet another scandal involving prime land has come to light. According to news reports from India, the Army has been running 97 golf courses across 3,250 hectares of land. Access to these golf courses was for the well-heeled in the armed forces, and cost them a pittance. To compound matters, the Army apparently purchased a host of golf carts and sought to fob them off on the exchequer as either wheelchairs or as wireless reconnaissance vehicles.

This latest scandal comes hard on the heels of two other less spectacular disclosures. One involved a senior officer who had poured ketchup on some civilians to suggest that they had been shot in gun battles. Another had been caught running an illicit racket involving the army’s liquor rations.

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All these episodes underscore a tragic reality: the once impregnable bastion of the armed forces has now also fallen prey to the temptations of making a quick buck, in flagrant violation of professional norms, moral rectitude and legal strictures. Taken together they constitute a disturbing postscript to a number of other, larger and wider scandals that have wracked India in the recent past. They underscore that no institution in the country is now without some taint and that the quality of India’s democracy is now at risk.