Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

The font of corruption is undoubtedly electoral politics and the assiduous cultivation of the corrupt. Hence the criminalisation of politics and the politicisation of crime.

Bumbling Along, Chalta Hai

Much of what passes for lofty decision-making constitutes just bumbling along. Now the Supreme Court has removed Thomas as CVC as a result of bureaucratic mishandling.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 7 March, 2011

Recent events, with action often being propelled only by media exposure and court directives, reveal the parlous state of governance in India. This is truly alarming and scandalous as much of what passes for lofty decision-making constitutes just bumbling along. The Supreme Court has removed Thomas as CVC consequent to bureaucratic mishandling of his papers as put up before the high-power selection committee.

The Court has laid down future guidelines, stressing the overriding importance of institutional over individual integrity, though the latter is not unimportant. It has also questioned limiting high level posts to government servants. This pernicious practice stems from a misplaced spoils system premised on wisdom and competence residing exclusively within the Government.

The Prime Minister has properly taken responsibility for the Thomas muddle though no mala fides attaches to him. But he must now act and clean the Augean stables. This can only be done by building a national consensus as good governance cannot be a matter for partisan predilections. One question that must be asked in all these cases – and of the judiciary and investigating agencies too – is why the Thomas case and so many other sensitive matters drag on for ever. Liberhan and Nanavaty are outstanding examples of how not to do it. The Qattrocchi “closure” masks the deliberate sabotage of the Bofors inquiry early on, with the then foreign minister used to further a cover up. Hasan Ali, a named multi-crore tax defaulter is regularly at the gym and seen at the races but was allowed to roam around Scot free until the Court had to bellow about “what the hell” was going on. The BJP may smile, but its conduct in Karnataka is equally reprehensible.

The breakdown of the criminal justice system is palpable, with even justices and former chief justices being arraigned, one such being the current chairman of the National Human Rights Commission. Another judge has remarked that “no government wants a strong judiciary”. The Supreme Court has shared its agony over low provisioning for justice in the national budget. What comes in the way of greatly expanding the judiciary at all levels, with nyaya panchayats and honorary magistrates at the base? This, of course, will be useless without police reform and independence for bodies like the CVC and CBI, which should have its own autonomous prosecution agency.

Much of this can surely be done within weeks by ordinance, on the basis of a broad national consensus that starkly exposes stand-out elements that patronize the corrupt and corruption, Legislative ratification can follow. Undemocratic, some will exclaim! But is the persistent and massive loot of the nation’s conscience and wealth a democratic virtue? And do we have the luxury of time with a billion mutinies on hand?

And why cannot the full gamut of police reforms, endlessly debated and refined for 30 years, be enforced at least in Delhi, Pondicherry and Chandigarh without further delay? It is a crying shame that even after the Home Minister’s plaintive cry in Parliament that mala fide transfers have reduced the police to a “football”, absolutely nothing has happened. The charade must end.

The font of corruption is undoubtedly electoral politics and the assiduous cultivation of the corrupt and corruption to amass funds from any and every source. Hence the criminalisation of politics and the politicisation of crime. With five states elections slated for April-May the corrupt are readying to gather their harvest, Let us see how many with criminal records are given nominations. The Election Commission is expanding and strengthening its election expenditure monitoring system - including paid news in which sections of the media are involved – and favours inserting a “none of the above” box in the ballot paper and introducing a run-off system so that the winning candidate is elected by a true majority of those voting. All this will call for long-pending electoral reforms that must include registration of political parties with a roster of paid members, annual elections of office bearers and a public audit of accounts. A simplified primary system on the American pattern may also be considered at the next stage.

The series of killings of whistle blowers across the country indicates that honest men and women are in danger of life and limb while the crooked flourish. This is an intolerable state of affairs and such criminal activity must be put down with an iron hand.

The sudden Tamil Nadu crisis is likely to blow over as the DMK has few options. The withdrawal of its Union ministers could facilitate a cabinet reshuffle but should not incapacitate the Government from vigorously pursuing governance and economic reform for that is what the country wants and will strongly support.

Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, the ruling regime has unfortunately launched a vendetta against the country’s best known son, Mohammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank. The charges are trivial and run counter to the efforts being made to restoring the country’s secular, democratic liberal values that inspired its liberation movement. Friends of Bangladesh must hope that the government will realize its error and not allow its record to be sullied by a sorry witch hunt.

In Pakistan, liberal voices have been further intimidated by the brutal killing of the Minorities Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad. In Track-II dialogues, such spokespersons say they are fighting back but fall a prey to old mindsets when they talk of threats from across their “eastern borders”. Yet they deny they need a permanent enemy in India to cohere. They cite a huge “trust deficit” and want India to put behind 26/11 but cannot plainly assert that Pakistan will live up to its 2002 promise of ending cross-border jihad, pleading that this is past history despite current incendiary pronouncements of the JUD/LeT. They say Musharraf’s peace formula was not based on any consensus and the will of the J&K people must prevail. They welcome restoration of dialogue, with the Pakistan Army fully on board, and their bottom line is that India cannot be an island of peace in a continent in turmoil.

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