Sting on polity
The sad fate of the eleven members of Parliament who allegedly took cash on camera for asking questions in the house should serve a lesson to all in public life. Their political career is finished and they are the specimen villains of Indian democracy. But for the Cobra Post-Aaj Tak sting operation, they would have remained in public life for long, as respected, honourable representatives of our faith. The political class and the media are unanimous that these notorious men should be ostracised from our system.
Can we hope for a cleaner political system henceforth? We should, considering the overwhelming display of determination cutting across party lines. If it is so, the nation should be proud, and Indian democracy a model for the world.
The sting is not a great revelation. Because in the JMM bribery case when Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister, we witnessed money was paid for a pro-vote. The UPA has made the JMM leader a union minister and later chief minister, though he could not continue in office for other reasons. But the invasion of the drawing room by the 24-hour action replay on TV screens had a compelling effect on the political leadership. In Germany and the US the system has an inbuilt mechanism to allow and regulate lobbying. The Government of India has appointed at least two firms in the US to lobby with the Senators. Pakistan has been doing this with greater success. In Canada and the UK there are systems in place to cope with the lobbies. The House of Commons inquiry committee on a similar charge in 1994 ruled ?the offer of payment to table a question is not of the same character as the offer of payment for a member vote and does not seem to fall into the definition of bribery, nevertheless such an offer if made and accepted is certainly dishonourable and damaging to the standing and reputation of Parliament.? Thus the members were spared of punitive action.
Interestingly the sting reporter approached our MPs pretending to be lobbying for some small-scale industry consortium called the North Indian Small Manufacturers Association (NISMA). To that extent, the bribe given was quid pro quo. The sting reporter not only persisted with the offer, though some MPs expressed their reticence, but tried her trick with 57 MPs, of whom 11 got trapped. The matter is serious. What is being emphasised is that we should not show indecent haste in hanging the lobbied and exonerating the lobbyist.
Are they manifestations of a larger malaise? Or trivialisation of the issue of corruption, which has become passe? It may not be considering the scorn, indignation and swiftness of purpose in delivering justice. The poor MPs, mostly back benchers did not get even the usual chance that our democracy generously grants to even the most despicable criminals like Abu Salem or Shahabuddin. Even MPs like Afzal Ansari, accused of murdering the BJP MLA Krishnanand Rai and eight others could evade the law and attend Parliament?no questions asked.
But the collective disdain for the bribe-scared MPs sets one thinking of the famous Biblical caution ?He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone” (New Testament, John, VIII, 7).
The godly commandment may not be a practical device for imparting justice in our globalised polity. But spare a thought. The first casualty of the expose was the Volcker report, and the BJP'sdemand for probe into Sonia Gandhi'sinvolvement in it. The timing is significant, for according to their own admission, the sting operation was on for the last eight months. That majority of MPs caught on camera are from BJP could be accidental. But it has irreparably blunted the BJP'sresponse to Volcker and even its silver jubilee celebration blitzkrieg.
The UPA has a dubious record in terminating corruption cases, abruptly. The Bofors case is closed under Manmohan Singh. Similarly the disproportionate assets case against Lalu Prasad Yadav. With equal tenacity, it gave clean chit to Satish Sharma. The similar case against V. George, Sonia Gandhi'sprivate secretary, was also buried. Even BSP leader, Mayawati was sought to be let off the hook in the Taj corridor scam.
The Congress and Communist leaders are known to receive exceptional foreign patronage as exposed in the Mitrokhin Archive II and the Volcker report. The CPM and CPI are so indignant of the homegrown corruption that any mention of the KGB patronage would sound sacrilegious. Only the other day the Kerala CPM chief ministerial candidate Pinaroy Vijayan managed a clean chit in a Rs. 98-crore SNC Lovlin scam. Nobody raises a question on the lavish lifestyle of politicians. Today politics has become the most lucrative business and career. So even tycoons want to get elected to Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha. In the sixties and seventies we used to hear of Members of Parliament allegedly working for industrial houses. The role of corporate in politics has only magnified in the globalised economy. Politicians who start their career with empty wallet end up as billionaires before our own eyes. What is the secret?
Is it that only the naive and less connected get caught? The bribe begins at the political party level, from the day one seeks a party ticket. Most parties want their ticket aspirants to fill the party coffers to get qualified for a nomination. Some even claim, it is said, to have purchased their seat in the august house. If it is true, is it the system or the leadership to take much of the blame for the repelling state of affairs? One has to be brutally honest to encounter these facts. As a commentator noted, it is always the daily wage earner who gets trapped, while the big sharks go scot-free. If we have to genuinely clean up the system, it has to begin from the top, delve into one'sinner most self and mercilessly analyse individual probity in public life.
It is easy to join the crowd that crucifies the sinner, but tough to Christ-like stand apart and search one'sown conscience.