Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Granting genuine autonomy to the CBI and Central Vigilance Commissioner (and their state counterparts) would constitute a major step forward as this could keep errant bureaucrats and politicians in check.

Waging War on Corruption: New Strategies

Electoral funding needs to be strictly curtailed and politicians held accountable. Corruption is a web that must be attacked from all sides.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 18 April, 2011

The controversy over Anna Hazare and the Jan Lok Pal Bill lingers. Everybody, big and small, abhors corruption and wants it stamped out. How this is to be done and the ambit of reform required remain open questions. This is why excessive reliance on a single instrument like the Lok Pal may be investing more in faith than prudence. Corruption constitutes a web, and must be attacked from many sides.

The grant of genuine autonomy to the CBI and Central Vigilance Commissioner (and their state counterparts), together with independent powers of prosecution without the crippling requirement to secure official permission to proceed against senior officials and ministers under the so-called “single directive”, would constitute a major step forward as this could keep errant bureaucrats and politicians in check. The danger of frivolous complaints and smear campaigns against upright public officials can be obviated by swift and condign punishment of those making false allegations. The Lok Pal and Lok Ayuktas could oversee such a system and ensure the necessary checks and balances.

Other elements cry out for correction. Electoral funding has become a primary engine of corruption. Though many honourable politicians seek elected office in order to serve, for others political power has become the road to pelf, influence and control over the processes of governance and their use as a negotiable instrument. Corporate houses often insure by funding those who might control the levers of power. The mafia does so as an investment in future deliverables and to win protection and patronage. Intimate links forged between politics and crime has also resulted in the criminalization of politics and the politicisation of crime, eating away the roots of the criminal justice system.

Illustratively, the just concluded Tamil Nadu polls were marked by attempts to buy votes with cash and liquor and promises of mixers, grinders, laptops and what not. Crores of rupees were seized in suspicious circumstances. Eighteen percent of the candidates had criminal records and 35 per cent were crorepatis. In other states, candidates’ self-declared assets have witnessed quantum jumps with little explanation for such large accretions. Several in this category do not appear to hold pan cards. The Central Election Commission has cracked the whip and tightened the model code of conduct, causing some parties to protest “emergency rule”!

Where does the answer lie? Most are agreed on electoral reform. But this by itself will not suffice without political party reform. The Constitution, strangely, sets out the framework of elections without reference to political parties. The Representation of the People Act too only refers to parties in the context of recognizing “national” and “regional” parties on the basis of their voting performance. But what is a “party”?

Surely it is time to include a new Article 326-A in the Constitution to provide that candidates seeking to represent the people in Parliament and the State legislatures shall, to the largest extent possible, be drawn from “registered political parties”. Such a provision would provide the basis for legislation defining political parties and for their regulation with regard to maintaining a register of members, the terms and conditions of membership, internal elections, public audit of their accounts and cognate matters.

State funding of elections might only entail an addition to funds currently available from other sources, unless offered in kind for such things as printing and paper, hiring or preparation of meeting venues, petrol/diesel coupons and postage. For the rest, corporate funding should be allowed subject to an overall ceiling per company, detailed disclosure in the balance sheet and a specific ceiling in relation to the company’s turnover. No donation from any private agency, association or friends should exceed a given figure and, other than for petty amounts, must be accompanied by a copy of a certificate of payment with a pan card number addressed to the newly established income tax expenditure cell of the CEC. Violations should be visited with harsh penalties not excluding disqualification from holding elective office by candidates for six years for corrupt practice and a fine for defaulting donors. Stringent action could prove salutary, although lawbreakers are usually one step ahead of the law.

Repeated elections at different times add to electoral expenditure and administrative disruption. Could we consider the holding of simultaneous Lok Sabha and state assembly elections on a fixed date every five years with the proviso that each legislature will serve its full term? Should a government be defeated or resign in the interim, an alternative ministry shall be formed, if necessary, under an agreed leader elected by the house.

Panchayati raj and nagar palika elections could follow a different five year electoral cycle. One option could be that the sum total of some four million local body representatives form an electoral college indirectly to elect members of the state assemblies, who then become members of an enlarged electoral college to elect members of the Lok Sabha. Election costs could come down dramatically, with a new pattern of electioneering as well. Opposition to indirect elections mainly stem from the belief that a smaller body can be bribed or manipulated more easily. Is this an insuperable problem? Perhaps not. An added advantage could be that indirect elections could enable the country to follow an indigenous system of primaries so that electoral paratroopers do not descend on unlikely constituencies from on high with rash IOUs of prospective service. Bogus candidates would be largely eliminated.

Barring of candidates with pending criminal charges; expanded legislatures to match the growth of population, the additional members being elected on a partial list system with 25 to 33 per cent overall reservation for women; and barring defectors from holding any office in the life of the House plus one year thereafter are some among other matters that could be considered.

Police reforms, as amply debated, and a vast expansion of the judicial cadre at all levels, with nyaya panchatats and honorary magistrates at the bottom, are also vitally necessary.

There is a time for debate and a time for action. This is a time for action. Let the Government properly take the lead. Let 10 or 20 true and good MPs from mixed parties also draft single clause Private Member’s Bills and Resolutions and introduce them in Parliament to flag priority concerns. The nation will back them.

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