Indian bureaucrat hounded out of office 43 times for fighting corruption



Ashok Khemka is a troublemaker.

A senior career bureaucrat, he simply cannot tolerate corruption, and so, in every job he takes, he does his best to put a stop to it.

Not surprisingly, that does not always go down very well with his bosses.

In 21 years as a government worker in the northern state of Haryana, Khemka's determination to follow the rules has seen him transferred out of his job 43 times — or moved to another department every six months on average.

In his last job, he survived just 80 days. But this time, Khemka turned himself into a national celebrity by taking on the might of the Nehru-Gandhi family, which has dominated Indian politics since independence. With resentment against official graft running high and the media hungry for scams, Khemka was eagerly seized upon as a hero.

Khemka's rise to fame began this month when anti-corruption activists accused Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of India's most powerful politician, Sonia Gandhi, of amassing tens of millions of dollars through a series of shady land deals since Gandhi's Congress party came to power in 2004. Vadra denies the charges.

Khemka, then director of land registration in Haryana, saw a newspaper report alleging that the deals occurred in four districts for which he was responsible. He immediately ordered an inquiry, asking for the relevant land records to be sent to his office.

"If the allegations being made are wild in nature, let it be exposed and we can show that we are fair," he said. "If the allegations are correct, then action should follow. Robert Vadra is an ordinary citizen, and he is under the rule of law of this country."

Khemka said that three days later, bureaucrats in two districts told him they could not comply with his request for the land records because of instructions "from the top."

"I said, 'Look, Robert Vadra is not above the law. If you don't do it, I will address you a letter and it will become a media storm,' " Khemka said.

At 10 o'clock that night, a note arrived at Khemka's apartment notifying him that he had once again been transferred, demoted to a more junior role running the state seed development corporation.

Khemka said that the government feared "a big exposure" but that he does not know whether his demotion was linked to the Vadra case or other investigations he had begun into a host of similar cases.

India's anti-corruption activists embraced Khemka and vowed to stand with him.

"We are fully with Khemkaji," India Against Corruption leader-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal told reporters, using a traditional Hindi honorific. "We salute his struggle and will offer any help he requires. I appeal to all honest Indians to show some courage in their districts like Khemka did and expose corruption."

Khemka, who passed one of the most competitive examinations in the world to enter the Indian Administrative Service and has a Ph.D. in computer science, is clearly a man who respects the rules — his conversation is dotted with references to sections of the administrative rule book, to land laws and to the constitution.

Despite multiple appearances on Indian television, he has stressed that he is not criticizing government policy in the media, something that is, in itself, against the rules of service for a bureaucrat.

"Crony capitalism and corruption is not government policy," he said. "I am just lending my voice against my superior decision-makers in the hierarchy, who are blatantly disobeying government policy and engaging in this kind of racketeering."

In 1993, Khemka, then a local magistrate, was asked by the then-chief minister of Haryana to procure government trucks to transport people to a Congress party rally. He refused. Later, he successfully fought the use of asbestos in warehouse walls and water pipes, overcoming a powerful asbestos lobby in league with local politicians.

He blew apart a cartel supplying poor-quality bricks to the government and exposed the illegal transfer of prime land just outside New Delhi to a builder at a cheap rate, winning a national anti-corruption award in 2011. He says he donated the prize money to cancer and tuberculosis research.

"I have a sixth sense of seeing where a scam is," he said. That has not always made him popular with his colleagues — especially now.

"In the last one or two months, most of my friends, or some of them, have deserted me, for the reason of fear, or part jealousy," he said. "I will not walk into an office very comfortably. Sometimes I feel a sense of uneasiness, that I am not one of them."

Nevertheless, Khemka said that his juniors are often proud to be associated with him. He has received messages of support this month from retired senior bureaucrats and Indians all over the world, he said, something that has helped him through this "nightmarish experience."

The government, however, has challenged Khemka's version of events.

Haryana's chief minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, denied that Khemka's transfer was a punishment and promised that the allegations against Vadra would be investigated. But if they were found to be false, he told reporters, then "appropriate action" could be taken against the bureaucrat.

Meanwhile, a whisper campaign began in New Delhi about Khemka's character. Government loyalists asked whether he was simply someone who could not hold a job.

"Is he the only Mr. Right and all others evil ogres, or is there a fundamental problem that is being overlooked?" asked Congress party spokesman Manish Tewari.

But journalists and lawyers here in Chandigarh say Khemka has an unrivaled reputation for honesty.

"In my experience, there are two kinds of government officers — officers who work only to please their political masters, and other officers who work to uphold the law, who work for justice and the poor," said advocate Kuldip Tiwari. "I put Mr. Khemka in category two. So far as his honesty and integrity is concerned, no one can doubt it."

The stress is clearly affecting Khemka, who says he has also received death threats.

"People like me who fall foul of the system, who see through their game, they try to badger you, to bully you. All these kind of threats, they make life horrible for you."

In an interview in his bare new office, sitting on an orange-checkered couch, he sounded a tone of defiance, vowing to fight to change the system from within "until the date of my retirement."


Rama Lakshmi and Suhasini Raj contributed to this report.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music(who aren't Arctic Monkeys)
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Digital Project Manager/BA

£300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Digital/Ecommerc...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Test Lead (C#, Java, HTML, SQL) Kingston Finance

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organi...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home