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

More and more premature leaks of sensitive documents, reports and select file notings even before they are duly submitted to the prescribed authorities, or while still being written, are disturbing.

People, Parliament, Process, Politics, Probity

The best way to move forward is to let Parliament function and not derail debate at every turn through noisy intervention and street action.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 6 August, 2011

As another Independence Day approaches, India finds itself a troubled nation with many assailed by doubt and uncertainty about where we stand and where we are headed. There is certainly cause for concern but none for despair. Matters are on the mend as lessons have been learnt, redressal is under way and corrective legislation and protocols are being put in place.

The best way to speed the process is to let Parliament function and not derail debate and consensus-building at every turn through noisy interventions, street action and pronouncement of guilt before due process. More and more premature leaks of sensitive documents, reports and select file notings even before they are duly submitted to the prescribed authorities, or while still being written, as in the case of the Karnataka Lok Ayukta’s report on the Bellary mining matter, are disturbing.

These are not necessarily always acts of bona fide whistle-blowers but of motivated insiders and interested parties who possibly desire to influence subsequent debate and due process by introducing a slant that often hardens into “fact”. They seek to create a climate of opinion on the basis of subjective analysis and political biases that can cloud objective reality, on the basis of which it is insistently demanded that heads must roll and resignations be instantly tendered. Reputations are sullied. Both the media and the political class of all hues are equally responsible for this trend of judging reality through distorted mirrors. Judges too have become prone to excessive obiter dicta and observations that the media and commentators often pass off as judgements and indictments. And last Sunday a sitting Supreme Court judge advocated that the Prime Minster should be brought under the Lok Pal. He should henceforth recuse himself from any future court proceedings to do with the Lok Pal.

It would accordingly be desirable that these issues are made the subject of a serious and frank discussion in relevant fora as self-inflicted wounds do no service to the nation. The Government should take the lead by bringing political leaders, legal experts, media persons, academics and administrators together to discuss these issues and establish appropriate guidelines. The object of this homily is not to condone malfeasance or cover-up or enable defaulters to evade accountability and justice but to reassert due process as a bulwark of democratic conduct.

The introduction of the Lok Pal Bill in Parliament last week saw so-called Team Anna burn it in public as it ”insulted” poor and exploited Bharat vs well-heeled India. It was a “fraud” on the people and a failure of the consultative process since a “strong” and comprehensive Lok Pal Bill had not been tabled on the lines drafted by the Hazare group. On the contrary, the contents of a Lok Pal legislation have been extensively debated up and down the country and the contents of the Hazare draft bill are widely known. Why should the Government sponsor a “civil society Bill” on the Lok Pal and not also on every other topic under the sun deemed urgent and important.

Team Anna would ask the government to abdicate its functions and Parliament to subordinate itself to the “sovereign people” who have spoken through an amateur and mysteriously-framed Hazare-led “referendum” of 72,000 respondents in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk constituency! This is second-grade street theatre. The counter-argument that the Constitution does not permit referenda is equally bogus. It does. Recall the Goa opinion poll of January 1967 that determined that Goa should remain a separate entity and not be merged with Maharashtra.

Parliament must decide in accordance with its own timetable. It will consult others and is not going to obey any arbitrary August 16 deadline. To argue that Dr Manmohan Singh is willing to submit himself before a Lok Pal but has been overruled by his cabinet, which would exclude the prime minister until he demits office, is specious. Had Dr Singh said the PM should be excluded, he would have immediately been accused by these same loud critics of having something to hide. The cabinet has views the prime minister as an office and not as an individual and has seen merit in preventing the highest executive from being immobilised or compromised by frivolous complaints. For the rest, the PM is responsible to Parliament and not above its sanctions, nor of the jurisdiction of the Courts if charged with corruption, as Indira Gandhi discovered.

Establish a leviathan to handle every kind and level of corruption or complaint from top to bottom would be monstrous and unworkable. People forget India’s sheer size and diversity and its federal structure. The comparison would be with an imagined Lok Pal or Ombudsman for all of Europe and Russia or for all of North and South America combined. A more decentralised structure is called for and it exists. However, each element in this structure with appellate jurisdictions may require enhanced powers, autonomy and trained staff to discharge its responsibilities. Who will deny that the Karnataka Lok Ayukta has done a commendable job. If in other states, Lok Ayukyas do not exist or are non-functional, the remedy lies in appointing and reinvigorating them.

Corruption and black money are closely linked with electoral and political reform. Hence the importance of a series of discrete measures of which the registration of political parties, ensuring their democratic functioning and audit of accounts would be essential parameters. Each one of these must be dealt with urgently but separately to establish an inter-linked system of checks and balances.

Those who threaten a fast unto death must know that emotional blackmail and violations of law are unacceptable. The consequences of any acts of folly by them or those who support them will be theirs alone.

The Government and Parliament have many issues of great immediacy to attend to – the economic slowdown, on which the PM’s Council of Economic Advisers has expressed deep concern, passage of the Land Acquisition and Relief and Rehabilitation Bill, the food security enactment, progressing the investigations on various scams and so on. They should not be distracted by unnecessary side shows or divide on petty political considerations.

The downgrading of the United States’ credit rating also signals a possibly bumpy road ahead for the global economy. This may not leave India unaffected and speedier growth and internal job creation may be the best antidote to prevent sliding down with the rest, should that happen.

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