April 1987 — Swedish State Radio reports that a 60 billion rupee (US$1.3 billion) deal for 400 self-propelled howitzers between the Indian government and Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors in 1986 had been tainted by bribery. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi orders an investigation into the matter. In June, the Swedish government reveals that the company spent 1.3 billion to 1.8 billion rupees (US$29 million to US$39 million) on consultancy fees which were allegedly used to bribe Indian officials.
November 1989 — With the Bofors scandal as a backdrop, Gandhi’s Congress Party, which had ruled India for 42 years, is ousted from power in elections that leave the party with fewer than 200 of the 543 seats in Parliament.
May 1991 — Former Prime Minister Gandhi is assassinated by a suicide bomber at an election rally. The Congress Party installs veteran politician P.V. Narasimha Rao as provisional leader; Rao becomes prime minister following his party’s victory in June elections.
April 1992 — The Bombay stock market plummets as banks fail to meet payments on purchases of government securities. According to investigators, several banks had illegally conspired to funnel money held by Indian and foreign banks to stockbrokers in order to speculate on the Bombay exchange. The market collapse costs millions of Indian investors an estimated 69 billion rupees (US$1.5 billion).
June 1993 — Harshad Mehta, a stockbroker known as Big Bull and one of the main suspects implicated in the ongoing Bombay securities scandal, alleges that in late 1991 he delivered suitcases containing 10 million rupees (US$217,000) in political donations to Prime Minister Rao. In July, Rao and his Congress Party barely escape a no-confidence vote.
December 1993 — The Joint Parliamentary Committee investigating the 1992 Bombay securities scandal concludes it was a deliberate and criminal misuse of public funds by four banks caused by lax enforcement by the government, stock exchanges and banks. The committee criticizes the Ministry of Finance for not noticing problems, then failing to respond to them.
December 1994 — On the same day, two cabinet members quit due to their roles in the Bombay securities scandal, and a third resigns after a government report links him to a scandal in which sugar imports were intentionally delayed, enabling sugar companies to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in profits.
January 1996 — After a four-year inquiry into the so-called hawala scandal, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) charges 10 political leaders with accepting 650 million rupees (US$14 million) in bribes from the leader of a money-laundering racket. Hawala is a popular form of black market trading, whereby money from abroad is laundered through street dealers to family members in order to avoid taxes. Three cabinet ministers immediately resign.
March 1996 — A national newspaper reports that in July 1995, National Fertilizers Limited (NFL) contracted to buy 2 million metric tons of urea from the Turkish firm Karsan, yet despite an advance payment of 1.7 billion rupees (US$38 million) by NFL, Karsan never delivered any urea. Authorities uncover a kickback scheme surrounding the deal involving Karsan and NFL executives, as well as relatives of high-level government officials. Charges are brought in December 1998, but motions by the accused and other procedural snags draw the case out over many years. As of early 2006, nine defendants are facing trial, including B. Sanjiva Rao, a relative of former Prime Minister Rao, and Prakash Chandra Yadav, son of former Union Minister Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav.
May 1996 — After two key governors of India’s ruling Congress Party are linked to the hawala scandal, the Congress Party is defeated in elections. In the ensuing political chaos, first Atal Behari Vajpayee of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), then H. D. Deve Gowda of the newly created United Front Party, become prime minister.
August 1996 — Federal police discover 60 million rupees (US$1.3 million) in cash and a stash of jewelry during raids on two homes owned by Sukh Ram, former Telecommunications minister under Rao. Investigators discover Ram had undeclared assets worth 390 million rupees (US$8.5 million). Ram, who supervised 1.1 trillion rupees (US$25 billion) worth of tender offers for the privatization of the Indian telephone system, is accused of accepting bribes, but the charges are later dropped.
April 1997 — The CBI implicates 56 suspects in the so-called “fodder scam,” an alleged 20-year scheme that looted 1.9 billion rupees (US$280 million) from agricultural support programs in the state of Bihar. Among the suspects is Laloo Prasad Yadav, national president of Janata Dal and powerful ally of Prime Minister Gujral.
July 1997 — Yadav splits the Janata Dal Party, taking 16 of its 45 members to found the new Rashtriya Janata Dal. He quits as chief minister of Bihar after the Supreme Court denies his appeal for protection from imprisonment and the CBI orders his arrest. Yadav arranges to install his wife Rabri Devi as the new chief minister, even though she has no political experience and is reportedly illiterate. Yadav surrenders to authorities a week after resigning, and is released on bail in December.
November 1997 — India’s fourth government in 18 months collapses. Prime Minister Gujral resigns after the Congress Party withdraws its support from the ruling coalition. Parliament is officially dissolved in December.
March 1998 — Atal Behari Vajpayee of the BJP becomes the fourth prime minister in two years. The Congress Party picks Sonia Gandhi, the widow of assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, as its new president.
October 1999 — The Bofors scandal resurfaces when corruption and conspiracy charges are filed against five people, including deceased ex-prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who is accused of blocking an investigation into Bofors. Former Defense Minister D. K. Bhatnagar and arms dealer Win Chadha are also charged.
January 2000 — The Central Vigilance Commission, charged with attacking corruption, publishes the names of 74 senior bureaucrats and 20 police officers whom the agency believes should face corruption charges. Most are from elite branches of the civil service, and some are retired.
September 2000 — Former Prime Minister Rao is convicted of criminal conspiracy and corruption in the 1993 vote-buying scandal — the first Indian prime minister to be convicted in a criminal case. He is sentenced to three years in prison but is acquitted on appeal in March 2002.
March 2001 — An Indian news Web site, Tehelka.com, releases a secretly filmed documentary apparently showing 31 politicians, bureaucrats, and army officials receiving bribes from undercover journalists posing as arms dealers. The scandal leads to the resignation of Defense Minister Georges Fernandes, the leaders of the Samata Party and the ruling BJP, and the suspension of four Defense Ministry officials. However, Fernandes is later reinstated, and the CBI never files charges in the incident. Tehelka.com suspends its operations in October 2002 due to lack of funding — its chief investor, a brokerage firm named First Global, withdrew all of its Indian operations after being served with over 200 summonses by the government.
March 2002 — Parliament enacts the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), a controversial anti-terrorism measure that grants the government far-reaching powers, which are allegedly used to target religious minorities and political opponents. Much of POTA resembles the defunct Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), under which tens of thousands of human rights violations were committed against minorities, union activists, and political opponents in the 1980s and 1990s. After acknowledging these abuses, the government lets TADA lapse in 1995.
December 2002 — Parliament passes the Freedom of Information Bill, which gives citizens the right to access certain government information, and the Representation of the People Bill, which requires candidates for parliamentary or assembly elections to disclose any criminal records and declare assets and liabilities after being elected.
December 2002 — The New Delhi High Court stops the trial of the Hinduja brothers, who run a multibillion-dollar global business empire, and dismisses the case, arguing that the CBI did not follow proper procedures in filing charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating, and bribery related to the Bofors scandal. In July 2003, the Supreme Court reverses the lower court and orders resumption of the trial.
March 2003 — Investigators looking into an inter-state counterfeit stamp operation file charges against 39 people, including government clerk and alleged mastermind Abdul Karim Telgi. The detainees are accused of printing and selling fake stamps used for government notary purposes.
July 2003 — The Anti-Corruption Bureau reveals that as many as 2,642 government employees arrested on bribery charges over the past 10 years have not been prosecuted. The lack of progress is attributed to supervisors, since under Indian law investigators must obtain permission from the head of the department in which the accused employee works in order to proceed with charges.
November 2003 — Two congressmen and 11 senior police officers are detained pending an investigation related to the Telgi stamp scandal, now estimated to have cost the government 200 billion to 300 billion rupees (US$4.3 billion to US$6.5billion). About 60 people, including 13 police officers, have been arrested during the investigation.
November 2003 — Satyendra Dubey, the supervisor for a national highway project in Bihar, accuses road contractors of colluding with gangsters to steal from the 550 billion rupee (US$12 billion) project. Dubey is assassinated after his identity is revealed.
November 2003 — Dilip Singh Judeo, a junior environment minister and BJP leader, resigns after a video is broadcast showing him taking money from a businessman representing an Australian mining company. The “businessman” later tells the CBI he was a journalist running a sting operation.
February 2004 — The Delhi High Court posthumously clears Rajiv Gandhi, D. K. Bhatnagar and Win Chadha of corruption charges in the Bofors scandal. The Hinduja brothers are cleared of corruption charges, but not cheating and conspiracy charges.
April 2005 — Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee suspends all transactions with South African weapons manufacturer Denel after a South African newspaper reports that Denel had improperly obtained confidential information relating to Indian arms purchases. Denel secured a 220 million rupee (US$4.8 million) contract in 2003 to supply rifles to India.
September 2005 — Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav is charged with misappropriating state funds in the long-running “fodder scam.” Both Yadav and Bihar Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra are charged with embezzling over 1.8 billion rupees (US$40 million) in state funds intended for the purchase of animal fodder and with illegally withdrawing an additional 9.2 million rupees (US$200,000) from the treasury in the state of Jharkhand. In all, a total of 170 people have been charged in connection with the scandal.
January 2006 — Prahlad Goala, a reporter with the newspaper Asomiya Khabar in the northeastern state of Assam, is murdered. Goala had recently written articles accusing local forestry service officials of having links to timber smuggling. The forest warden, who had made death threats against Goala soon after the articles were published, is arrested in connection with the killing.
March 2006 — The BJP alleges corruption in the military’s contract to buy six submarines from two French companies. The BJP claims the government overpaid for the submarines by approximately 5.2 billion rupees (US$113 million) and used the excess to pay commissions to middlemen who helped secure the deal. Commissions in defense deals are forbidden under the law.
December 2006 — A former cabinet minister, Shibu Soren, is given a life sentence for murdering his aide, Shashinath Jha, 12 years ago. He is found guilty on charges of abduction, murder and criminal conspiracy. Soren is the first Indian cabinet minister to be convicted of murder. Federal investigators claim Jha was murdered because he was aware of kickbacks paid to Soren’s party members.
In a landmark ruling pertaining to another case, the Supreme Court says prosecutors do not need prior permission to begin proceedings against politicians facing corruption charges. Until now assent was needed from the Parliament speaker or a state governor to charge an MP or a legislator. The judgment is announced while dismissing petitions filed by politicians arguing that the prosecution must have permission from competent authority prior to filing corruption charges against them.
August 2, 2007 — The Manipur state government issues a directive banning the publication of any statement made by unlawful organizations. This order pertains to books, newspapers and any document, whether printed or in electronic form. If any of these printed materials contain content that the state finds necessary to ban, the publication will be forfeited. The All Manipur Working Journalists Union urges the state government to withdraw the orders by Aug. 9.
August 14, 2007 — A group of men who identify themselves as members of Shiv Sena, A Hindu Nationalist Party, attack the office of an Indian weekly newspaper Outlook. The assailants are angered by the political journal’s depiction of Bal Thackeray, founder of the party, as a “villain” in the current issue of the magazine. Outlook magazine editor Vinod Mehta calls the incident a “clear and blatant attack on the freedom of press.”
January 2008 — The World Bank exposes serious fraud in Indian health care programs jointly funded by donors, India and the World Bank. The World Bank found lapses in auditing, malpractice and corruption in five healthcare programs launched between 1997 and 2003. The projects dealt with health issues such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS control.
June 2008 — The Transparency International India-Centre for Management Studies Corruption Study 2007 reports that corruption in India involving citizens including below poverty line (BPL) households is all pervasive across the states and public services. The survey covered 108 districts across all the 31 states of the country and reported that no state or service was anywhere near “zero corruption” level. Seven states are reported to have an “alarming” level of corruption, while in Delhi the level is “high”.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reports that initiatives like Right to Information (RTI) and e-governance, computerization of judicial records for clearing massive backlog of legal cases in courts, and the provision of social audit in the implementation of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) have been instrumental in curbing corruption in the country to a large extent.
July 2008 — A nuclear cooperation deal between India and the United States draws heavy criticism by India’s left-wing parties, who demand a vote of confidence take place in the Congress. The governing coalition survives the vote but those opposed to the deal still form a new oppositional alliance in protest. The left-wing opposition claims the government has been tainted by corruption.