Sarkari child’s play

The combatants are firmly holding on to their views in the raging battle over the issue of corruption. Contortionist spokespersons of the United Progressive Alliance government have tried to justify indefensible actions. Civil society’s self-appointed leaders have held forth as if they are latter day Gandhis.

The government caved in cravenly to unelected representatives one day, only to react like a brutal Banana republic authority the next. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have argued over the staggeringly important issue of dancing at protest sites. The tenor of this entire discussion has been stunning in its immaturity. Where are the adults?
Let us examine the civil society representatives first. They appear to be, uniformly, decent people with their hearts in the right place. But do they understand politics, economics and management? Leave aside the low opinion they appear to harbour about common Indian voters like me, the veracity of their ideas is suspect. Some of them claim, in all seriousness, that the black money stashed abroad by corrupt Indians is `400 lakh crores! That’s approximately $9 trillion! This figure (more than six times the size of India’s economy!) would make Indian black money the second largest economy in the world, next only to the United States. Really now! Black money is a serious problem. Quoting outlandish numbers makes the entire issue sound ludicrous.
Judging from interviews of civil society representatives, their proposed legislation for an important institution like the Lokpal also has childish ideas. Long-established judicial concepts like separation of powers have been given the go-by for an all-powerful institution which can play investigator, judge, jury and executioner. This institution would have the power to investigate and charge anyone suo motu, which would bring decision-making in our already snail-paced bureaucracy down to a halt. Most importantly, how do we ensure that this all-powerful Lokpal doesn’t itself become a den of corruption? Aah, very simple. We’ll have the Lokpal appointed by a committee of “wise elders”, such as self-appointed civil society leaders, Magsaysay Award winners, Nobel laureates etc. So people recognised by a committee of elderly Scandinavians are to decide India’s future? Come on. Are we serious? There’s a difference between agitating as a bleeding heart (which serves a purpose, I admit) and running a country. A child wouldn’t know the difference, but an adult should.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the Central government. One would think that these people are mature. They have been elected to the highest offices in the land. They make decisions that affect one billion people. How they make decisions, though, is a mystery. An important civic legislation like the Lokpal is being decided by five self-appointed civil society leaders and some government ministers through a process of public brinkmanship and blackmail. Where is the legislative oversight in this? We are a parliamentary democracy. Our laws are supposed to be laid down by our elected members of Parliament (MPs). The real problem for this government, however, began earlier. In an immature disregard for our parliamentary system, the UPA decided to outsource legislations and policy-making to a civil-society dominated, Congress president Sonia Gandhi chaired, National Advisory Council (NAC). Obviously, other civil society members, like Anna Hazare and team, questioned why they should be any less important than the politically-connected non-government organisation types in the NAC. And they began a street agitation over their beliefs. It was a matter of time before Baba Ramdev, with a genuine mass base, decided that his views should also be taken seriously.
Once a government surrenders to one street agitation, it cannot decide that it will not listen to another. There is logic to the parliamentary method. It involves an ugly process of negotiation, a thrust and parry of debate amongst MPs, which decides policy and legislation. Messy it may be, but this process is far better for a country in the long term. Because the MPs making the decisions and conducting the negotiations have been elected by the people of India. They are representative of the collective opinion of the country. Once we short circuit the parliamentary process to make decisions through street agitations by NGOs and blackmail by activists, it is a slippery road to an ungovernable country like the Philippines. A government that does not realise this is nothing short of childish. And the way they reacted to Baba Ramdev’s demonstration, with lathicharge and tear gas shells on peaceful protesters, made abundantly clear that mature, logical thinking is at a premium in our government. Sadly, the Opposition has not covered itself with glory either, coming with its own biases, cussedly stopping reforms like the GST (Goods & Services Tax) which would make indirect taxes a lot less cumbersome and corruption ridden. But that’s another story.
The corruption issue is incredibly important. It needs serious solutions. Immature ideas like “shoot them all” or “we need a benevolent dictator” cannot be the basis for discussions. If we throw out all our politicians, who is going to govern our country? NGOs? There are enough practical ideas to combat corruption, and many have already been implemented in various states, like IT-enabling land transactions, open auction/bidding for all government contracts, complete transparency on all decisions through Right to Information. Some additional topics do need serious discussion, like a rational incentive and salary structure for the people who run our country. Also, campaign finance reform. Elections are expensive. If we don’t find a legitimate way for politicians to fund their election campaigns, we are institutionalising corruption.
Most importantly, of course, we need a well thought through Lokpal, constitutionally as powerful as the Election Commission or the Comptroller and Auditor General, and independent of the Executive. It should carry out anti-corruption investigations and prosecutions. Any more powers to it, like a judicial role, and we will create a leviathan which will hurt us in the long run. Also, I see no reason why the Prime Minister should be kept out of its purview. Do you?

Amish Tripathi is the author of the bestselling novel The Immortals of Meluha


Great article... It needs to

Great article... It needs to be changed at Judiciary level, babus, bureaucrats... themselves are reluctant to change. Even if Anna or Ramdev succeed, what is the guarantee that decades of corrupt practices will vanish just on such and such particular date?

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