Last night, Haryana IAS officer Ashok Khemka broke down on primetime television.
Appearing on Headlines Today's panel to discuss the controversy surrounding Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra's shadowy real estate dealings with DLF, Khemka, who had cancelled the mutation order relating to a plot of land that Vadra sold DLF on the ground that it was irregular, was accused of "scandalous" conduct "unbecoming of an officer."
The man who hurled that accusation: KTS Tulsi, senior lawyer of the Supreme Court, who said that for Khemka to pass the order cancelling the mutation on 15 October 2012, four days after receiving his transfer order, was inappropriate. Tulsi also accused Khemka of "wanting to become a martyr and launch a political career."
At which point, Khemka, one of a rare breed of fearless and incorruptible IAS officers, who has been transferred 43 times in 21 years because he has always been a whistleblower against corruption in land dealings, broke down in front of the cameras. (Watch the lively debate and its poignant ending on Headlines Today here.)
Here is a man who, somewhat rarely for a bureaucrat in a corroded civil service, had taken action on a blatant case of irregularity in a land deal involving one of the most powerful non-political players in India (who, however, has enormous clout in the political realm, on the weight of the fact that he is Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law).
Here is a man who received his transfer order at 10 pm on 11 October, barely hours after he initiated an investigation into Vadra's land dealings with DLF, since there seemed to be prima facie evidence of irregularity.
Here is a man who is facing death threats for having effectively spiked one land transaction between Vadra and DLF since there was a blatant technical and jurisdictional irregularity. (The original mutation order was passed by an Assistant Consolidating Officer, whereas under the rules, only a revenue officer had the authority to sanction land mutation.)
Here is a man who could so easily have been in on the take on corrupt land deals, 0r at least have looked the other way when a manifest case of irregular land transactions came to his notice, in the way that so many of his peers in the services do, but acted to uphold the rule.
Here is a man whose reputation had been dragged in the mud all day on Tueday by the Harayana government with false claims that his transfer was effected under the orders of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. (The facts of the case are a little more complex, but essentially establish the Haryana government's claim as venomous lies. The High Court pronouncement asking for Khemka to be relieved - at his own request - of two of the four posts he held: those related to the posts of special collecter under the land ceiling law and special land acquisition officer. But the transfer order served on him relieved him of the post of Director-General of Land Records and Director-General of Consolidation of Holdings, in which capacity he had ordered the investigation, and which posts were not covered by the High Court ruling.)
Here is a man who, somewhat uncharacteristically for a faceless babu, has been forced to come out into the open and into television studios to defend his fair name.
And rather than have his uprightness acknowledged, he was being slandered in full public glare by a Supreme Court lawyer who has evidently lost the ability to tell right from wrong.
It's enough to make any man weep.
Supreme Court lawyer and anti-corruption activist Prashant Bhushan, who too appeared on the panel discussion, smacked down Tulsi, asking if he had "sold his soul" to the Congress. Tulsi responded by trotting out the same old Congress lies about Bhushan's family's land acquisition in Himachal Pradesh to run a charitable school.
What does it say of India if a senior Supreme Court lawyer does not find the egregious influence-peddling by the son-in-law of so powerful a person as Sonia Gandhi to be "scandalous", but finds the action of an IAS officer - who is merely upholding the due process of law by cancelling an illegitimate order - to be "scandalous"?
What does it say of India if people in politics (and on the periphery) have become so drunk on their power that they will go to any lengths to cover up what is rapidly being shown up to be an open-and-shut case of influence-peddling and corruption leading right up to the gates of 10 Janpath?
What does it say of India that honest men in civil services - who are so rare to find in the first place - should receive death threats merely because in upholding the due process of law, they refocussed public attention on the shadowy real estate dealings of hollow men like Vadra and institutions like DLF?
What does it say of India if men like Ashok Khemka are reduced to tears on primetime television for just doing the right thing?
Cry, Ashok Khemka, and drown India in your tears. This blessed country that has fallen into venal and corrupt leadership desperately needs to undergo a ritual purification exercise. Not even your tears may cleanse it of its corrupt impurities, but for now that's all we have going for us: the honest tears of an upright man...