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Koda moments

In 21 years, Madhu Koda went from labourer to chief minister to alleged scamster. Koda’s trail of wealth and intricate empire may be a glimpse into the lives of those who never get caught, or get away. His incredible journey...

india Updated: Nov 08, 2009 02:19 IST
B. Vijay Murty

http://www.hindustantimes.com/images/edstoryimg/stick.jpgIn 1988, a 17-year-old student of Tata College in a town called Chaibasa in Jharkhand dropped out because his father, a poor farmer, couldn’t afford to keep him in college. Find a job and support the family, the father said. So Madhu Koda, whose ambition then was to join the army, dropped out and joined work as a daily wage labourer in a mine in Gua, Jharkhand. His job was to carry lumps of iron ore on his back. For this, his wage was Rs 20.50 per day, "but the contractor used to pay only Rs 16 or even Rs 15 every day and get signatures or thumb impressions of the workers against payment of Rs 20.50", Koda told HT in an interview in September 2007.

How that labourer who used to have Rs 4.50 stolen from him daily came to be the alleged owner of Rs 4,000 crore (Rs 400 billion) in ill-gotten money is currently the subject of a massive investigation.

Yet, back in Gua, no one believes their boy could be guilty of any wrongdoing. People here still adore the “honesty” and “simplicity” of the son of the soil, who they feel has fallen into trouble for blindly trusting a few deceitful friends. Binod Sinha, 38, a former milkman and Koda’s close associate, who is accused of diverting over Rs 1,500 crore of public funds into a complex web of overseas investment channels, has emerged as their biggest enemy.

“If he (Binod Sinha) ever comes to Gua again, he will face dire consequences,” says Naresh Kumar Das, 39, Koda’s childhood friend and political associate for several years till Sinha allegedly distanced the iconic leader from his own people.

Koda’s sister Sumitra Birua, 32, says despite resistance from her parents, Hari Om Jha, an influential Vidhyarthi Parishad leader then, inducted Koda into the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) before encouraging him to contest elections on a Bharatiya Janata Party ticket in 1996. “He was a good farmer, and later developed into a skillful welder,” she says, adding he could have easily got a job in Steel Authority of India and spent life peacefully. She herself still lives in poverty in a one-room house.

An austere RSS cadre, Koda campaigned for his first polls in only two vehicles, a Maruti Omni and a Mahindra jeep, both provided by Jha.

People associated with him during his early political days recall that Koda had no money to pay his booth managers, or travel in a car to the district headquarters at Chaibasa.

It was after becoming a minister in 2000 that Koda met Sinha, then a tractor dealer in Chaibasa, who introduced the tribal politician to luxuries that were entirely new to him.

“As he grew in politics, he got trapped in the coterie of some corrupt people, and began taking wrong decisions,” says Jha, who has seen Koda grow into an accomplished politician.

Though a Koda critic, district Congress general secretary, Nazir Khan, 60, says a decade back, the ex-Jharkhand CM was popular as ‘Gua ka Gandhi’ (Gandhi of Gua). “His needs and thoughts were never big,” Khan says, adding that even when he was a cabinet minister, he went to the river to bathe.

At the house of his younger brother, Rajesh Koda, 35, a mine contractor, the women are unaware of the turmoil plaguing the elder Koda. “I’m illiterate, hence cannot read newspapers,” says the ex-CM’s sister-in-law, Kuina Koda, 27, busy playing dice with three other women from the neighbourhood.

But her husband seems very disturbed. In Chaibasa consulting legal experts to help his brother, Rajesh tells HT over the phone, “Since he is a successful tribal politician he is being victimised.” He asks if the Centre was aware of his brother’s corrupt practices, why were raids not carried out earlier?

Contesting as an independent, Koda had won the parliamentary polls from Singhbhum — a traditional Congress stronghold — in April this year. The Congress leadership had apparently invited him to join the party, but Koda declined. Instead, last month he had announced plans to float a party soon and field 15 to 20 candidates.

“It’s a corporate war,” says Sinha, the person in the eye of storm, from a secret hideout over phone. Denying all charges levelled against him and Koda, he said he would surface at an appropriate time to reveal details about their properties.

Income Tax officials led by the director of investigations Ujjwal Chaudhary say Koda, Sinha and another associate of theirs, Sanjay Chaudhary, made transactions worth Rs 2,000 crore during his tenure as Jharkhand’s mining minister — a position he held for eight years from 2000. A lot of the money is suspected to be bribes paid by companies, which were then awarded mines and contracts in the state. In addition, there was also money from minerals pilfered by the local mafia, say sources.

Koda’s trail of wealth and intricate empire may be a glimpse into the lives of those who never get caught, or get away.

According to a study conducted by Delhi-based think tank National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, the size of the parallel economy in the country could be around Rs 16 lakh crore (Rs 16.90 trillion), or 40 per cent of India’s gross domestic product — the market value of all goods manufactured and services generated in a year.

“The confidence with which such people are indulging in corrupt practices is unimaginable. They have no fear of law, so to say,” remarks a CBI officer who did not want to be identified.

Only those officers who can work as per the wishes of their masters get good postings, says former Punjab chief secretary K.R. Lakhanpal.

Who the real ‘masters’ are is another matter, though.

With inputs from Madan Kumar