Kanimozhi is a name that half of India cannot pronounce, especially television anchors in Delhi. But she has become a favorite subject of middle-class discussion across the nation this season. As a member of Parliament and the millionaire daughter of one of the most powerful politicians in South India, it would have been unthinkable in another time that such a person would go to prison. But, now she is awaiting trial on corruption charges in the Tihar jail in Delhi, in a small, sultry cell that has in one corner a squat toilet, a terrifying sight for any affluent Indian woman. The former minister for communications and information technology, too, is in jail facing charges of financial impropriety, as are five top corporate executives, an influential sports administrator and a few bureaucrats.
Never have so many powerful people in India been jailed within a few months, and there is a joyous feeling in the middle class that the nation is finally revolting against institutional corruption. As a decent, law-abiding retail executive said with a glass of vodka in his hand and a sparkle of epiphany in his voice, “Something is happening.” But there is a far more serious revolt under way in a different India where people live on land and not on rugs. And this revolt by farmers who are fighting to protect their land from being acquired through unfair means by the government reveals the urban middle class as the chief beneficiary of political corruption.
The Indian middle class, like anybody else in the world, wants stark, black expressways with neat, white lines down the middle, an uninterrupted power supply, giant shopping malls and high rises with vast, green golf courses in the shape of amoebas. And corporations that employ them to expand and prosper by setting up more factories. But to achieve all this, the government and private companies have to influence or coerce landowners to part with their most important asset — land. It is a fiendishly complicated process in the best of times, especially when the affected people perceive politicians as real estate brokers who represent builders and private companies.