Mithilesh Kumar Srivastava, better known as Natwarlal, is considered the greatest con man in India. And for good reason—he sold the Taj Mahal three times, among other scams and several prison escapes.
Natwarlal was a lawyer before he scammed people. His arsenal consisted of more than 50 aliases and masterful signature forging skills. Simply watching someone’s hand movement was enough for him to imitate their signature.
The notorious con artist stole an unknown amount of money well into the millions from various prominent businessmen. Besides three Taj Mahal sales, he also sold the Red Fort, Rashtrapati Bhavan, and the Parliament House of India. Over 100 cases across eight states of India were linked to Natwarlal and earned him 113 years in prison. Even though he was arrested nine times, he escaped every single time and only served around 20 years of imprisonment in total.
Once, he stole a police uniform and walked out of jail. A guard who aided his escape later found out that the bundle of notes that Natwarlal had given him was just pieces of paper.
Another escape occurred when the con man was taken to a hospital and treated for a kidney disorder and urethral strictures. Police accompanied him when he stepped out of the hospital at midnight, but he vanished again along the way.
Natwarlal broke free for the last time in 1996 at age 84 while being taken for treatment in a wheelchair. He disappeared at the New Delhi railway station and has never been seen since.
Even his supposed death raises questions. Natwarlal’s brother claimed to have cremated him in 1996. But 13 years later, his lawyer filed a plea to dismiss over 100 pending charges against the con man, claiming his recent death in 2009.
Given the latest horror comedy to be reported in Malawian media, it seems to me that this story is rather appropriate. We seem to have a government run by conmen, or people who have studied the works of conmen like the one discussed above. The difference, of course, is in the fact that instead of making “ghost” sales of government land and properties, they are making real sales; disposing of government real property illegally while the so-called president and his cabinet looks on unconcerned.
Recently it was reported that government officials in Malawi sold a publicly owned secondary school to some Malawians of Asian origin. It is said that upon taking possession of the school, the new owners immediately shut the school down leaving hundreds of students stranded. According to the report, the Ministry of Lands had no knowledge at all of the development until it was mentioned to them in a parliamentary inquiry.
In the past few weeks I have written about how the ministry of lands is also having to grapple with the problem of stopping Democratic Progressive Party supporters, Presidential bodyguards and cabinet ministers from grabbing any land they like in Lilongwe and illegally developing it, and pulling out guns to threaten any ministry of lands official that has the guts to question these activities or try to stop their criminal acts.
Not content with looting the public purse, it seems, government officials have realised that as the country is generally leaderless and unguarded, they can now also get away with appropriating public land and public buildings.
Last week I pointed this out as essentially one of the biggest problems for Malawi. There is no one who feels patriotic enough to actually do something against the thieves and looters of Public funds and public property.
For most Malawians, it is enough to voice their disapproval and displeasure on social media. Beyond this, many feel there is nothing much else that they can do. They are probably right, for we have seen in recent times that in Malawi, even marching in protest in huge numbers does not really have much sway over those determined to take this country to the abyss.
If you have seen the Hollywood movie series known as “Scary Movie”, you will understand why I liken the situation Malawi is in now to those spoof horror films knows as scary movies. Some of the things happening in the country defy reason, and are too tragic for one to believe that they are real. The issue of a whole government secondary school being sold off to private buyers without the knowledge of the minister or any senior government officials is a case in point. I mean where on earth have you ever heard of such a thing? It is the kind of story one would laugh about and associate with the great Indian conman that I have discussed above.
And like I pointed out last week, there are three arms of government empowered to help with the governance of this country. In a scary movie like the one Malawi is enacting, one would not expect the judiciary to be the saviour- not if individual activists like Charles Kajoloweka are discouraged from going to the courts as they have been so far. Only the executive and Parliament have the mandate and the capacity and means to safeguard and protect this country from such looting. When, however, it is the executive itself perpetuating these acts of looting and impunity, then that responsibility falls to parliament as the last line of defence.
I therefore recommend parliament for probing the ministry of lands on the many issues of government land appropriation that is happening in the country. That notwithstanding though, I hold the view that our parliament can and should do more over and above simply asking the government to explain such travesties. I submit that to rescue Malawi from the scary movie comedy that it has become, its guardians need to be more proactive, ready and willing to explore new ways of bringing those that are ruining it to book.
In my article last week, I discussed the investigative powers of parliament, and its powers to recommend prosecutions and even termination of employment of members of the executive that fail to hold up to scrutiny.
I believe it is high time our parliament started living the true meaning of its creed.