Suit case – An All Party Symbol in Indian Politics.
About two dozens of suit cases of same size stacked above the wardrobe in a politician’s house caught the attention of a news reporter while interviewing him. He became curious and enquired about them. The politician replied that they were all given to him as gifts by his friends and relatives. Reporter,” do you use them all”. Politician said “yes, during traveling”. Is one suit case not enough for multiples of travels? – Reporter. The clever response was that he uses them all in order to please his friends and relatives.
Citizens with knowledge about Indian politics know that suit cases are not gifted empty particularly to politicians. The contents are currency notes with Mahatma Gandhi’s picture on it and content value depends upon the nature of favour expected from the politicians. The true meaning of friends and relatives is an open secret. Suit cases are normally gifted during the night to hide the identity of the friends and relatives! Gutsy politicians however, do not hide them in secret dens as they no longer worry about the raid of government agencies. A central minister, when Enforcement Directorate discovered suit cases containing bundles of gifted notes in his residence a few years ago, very casually responded to the press that he had absolutely no idea about who brought and kept them inside his residence.
Gifting suit cases were not common in South India until 1980. It used to be medium size brief cases. A sportive and energetic Chief Minister from Bangalore took the initiative of promoting the brief case to suit case. It had the contagion effect and other Southern states immediately took steps and replaced brief cases with suit cases. Size and number of suit cases determine the status and power of the politician. Brief cases are still in operation but relegated to district level and petty politicians in the rural area. In selected deals brief cases are used in state capitals towards ‘token advance’ or compliments to seek appointment with party chiefs.
People of a Southern city still remember the story of transportation of a few hundreds of suit cases immediately after the death of a chief minister. The death news was withheld for three hours until the total removal of the suit cases from his residence. There was a scramble among very high level party workers within the three hours to grab as much as possible from the booty. The suit cases were successfully moved to a far off place in three trucks. It is rumoured that the escorting confident party men knocked off a few dozens of them on the way and diverted to their den. This may not be possible now as they are all properly accounted and entrusted with more than one loyal person. Effective contingency plans are also in place to ensure their safety.
Suit cases generally travel by air for safety and security purpose. Airport officials avoid questioning the content even if they see them in their detector. They have a clear idea about its origin, the destination and the ultimate recipient. Stopping them will boomerang on them either by stopping of promotion; transfer to remote places and in chronic cases threat of enquiry commission. Flights to Delhi from Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata carry the maximum number of suit cases. Smaller sizes and brief cases travel within the state like Madurai/ Coimbatore to Chennai, Cochin/Calicut to Trivandrum and Nagpur/Pune to Mumbai. It is always an accompanied baggage and there are professionals who handle the transportation task and have the ability to tackle the situation in case of any waylaying by authorities. Now a day’s politicians travel with ‘gift suit cases’ without fear as it has become a normal practice.
Traffic of suit cases gets momentum as soon as the elections are announced particularly for the parliament and state assembly. Initially it will be within the political group. Competition to get the party ticket flags off the traffic. Corporate bodies will slowly enter as and when the exit poll results are announced by the media. There will be hectic activities of exchanges when coalition arrangements are under way. During the final stage of election they fly to different destinations to meet the election expenditure. The retail distribution is generally operated through ambulances and school buses to escape checking by vigilantes. Full scale corporate involvement will begin once the ruling party settles down in the canopy.
Suit cases remain above party politics. Opposition parties deliberately do not venture to check their transportation for two reasons; first they may perhaps contain their share of the gift and second, it is needed from the same source when they come to power. They are only keen to know the person or the company which dispatched it and the purpose. This information goes into their data base for future needs.
Gone are those days when suit cases were used by smugglers. They have started playing an important role in Indian politics. They have gained a kind of diplomatic immunity in all air ports particularly where the destination is New Delhi or the state capitals. As the GDP of India is growing with too many foreign investments and SEZ proposals, its domain has expanded substantially in the last decade into bureaucracy and the top management of government controlled institutions. Attempts were also made to penetrate into judiciary. Suit cases are known as “Potti” in Tamilnadu and its content value has multiplied from Rs. One crore in 2005 to Ten crores in 2014. Suit cases have become an important force in the political economy of India; their size and content value closely follow the GDP growth.
Indians should sincerely pray that suit case does not become a national symbol.
“Sathyameva Jayathe” perhaps.
Ref: MSN blog in 2006 by the author
(Published in Mylapore club Magazine January/2015)