THE ALERT WATCHDOG
Twenty twelve, Vinod Rai feels, will “go down in the history of Indian democracy as a defining year. A year in which the citizen came centre stage and debunked the age-old myth of the silent majority”. It was the year of the middle class, who finally gave voice to long-held anger on government corruption in the wake of some of the worst scams in Indian political history. Most of these were unearthed not by the media but by a government authority. Over the course of his five-year term, Rai, India’s most famous Comptroller and Auditor General, exposed corruption running into the lakhs of crores of rupees. In the process, he returned an institution that had long been reduced to a mere accountancy firm to its original purpose. The watchdog of government spending finally grew some teeth.
After taking charge as CAG in 2008, Rai turned the institution’s gaze away from analysing the minutiae of government contracts towards the processes that go into awarding them. He found what had long been alleged but seldom proven: that vital resources of the country were being given away at impossibly low prices due to collusion between the government and the private sector. Starting with the 2G spectrum allocation, he began putting numbers to this looting of the exchequer, a quantum to the rot that we all knew had set in. It was the numbers that made headlines, but the intricately detailed CAG reports exposed the ways in which government policies were systematically flawed.
Predictably, Rai’s criticism of the government was met with criticism from the government. He has been accused on various public fora of being an activist, of being attention-seeking, politically ambitious, even unpatriotic. Of tweaking the numbers for maximum impact. Of using the media for his own ends. His response, always, was to shrug off the charges and get back to work on his next report.