RATTLED by public outrage against prevailing corruption and the failure of the UPA Government to take timely action to prevent the loot of public funds, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is now talking about his Government’s pledge to take “swift and exemplary” action against wrong doers. His verbal assaults on corruption do not carry conviction in the light of his total silence and inaction on numerous scams that caused huge loss to public exchequer and brought shame to the Government.
In order to divert attention from his failures, the Prime Minister says there is a growing feeling among the people that our laws, systems and procedures are not effective in dealing with corruption. This, Mr Prime Minister, is half true. While our laws, systems and procedures need to be made more robust, what is lacking is their effective implication. There is no political will to bring to book the corrupt, particularly the high and the mighty. Widely held perception, Mr Prime Minister, is that instead of ensuring that the wrong doers are punished you are shielding the scamsters on one pretext or the other. You plead helplessness because of coalition compulsions and look the other way when those close to the dynasty are in the line of the fire. Even as votes were being purchased to save your minority government, you showed victory sign to the reporters inadvertently accepting your complexity in the fraud on democracy. Nothing much would have happened if the Supreme Court had not taken cognizance of major scams. It is because of stringent monitoring of the investigations into these crimes that A Raja and Kalmadi are behind the bars and Kanimozhi has been chargesheeted.
The UPA Government’s honesty of purpose is suspected. The fact of the matter is that the Supreme Court has slammed the Government more than once for its failure to take appropriate measures to stop the loot of public funds. In the course of hearing on the petition on black money, the Supreme Court the other day angrily asked the Government if it were sleeping over the issue of massive black money slashed away in tax havens. Further it questioned the Government for concentrating on only one person—Hasan Ali Khan, the Pune-based horse breeder, who is charged with money laundering at a massive scale—as if no one else had secret accounts in foreign banks. The court asked the Government why it had not disclosed identity of other persons about whom it has information of holding dirty money abroad. There is a strong suspicion that the Government is coming up with one excuse or the other for not making public the identity of foreign fund holders because these disclosures would implicate members of the dynasty. The court virtually rebuked the Government for treating these cases merely as tax evasion. Investigating the source of these funds is of utmost importance as it could be “terror money” or money coming from drug peddling or from sale of arms. In another case some months back, the apex court had questioned the inexplicable delay on the part of Prime Minister to respond to issue pertaining to 2G scam.
Prime Minister’s commitment to give exemplary punishment to the corrupt looks hollow in the light of the fact that his Government has taken no concrete action to bring back the money slashed away in secret accounts abroad. Secrecy laws of Swiss banks have undergone a sea change. United States of America forced the Swiss Government to disclose the identity of American citizens having accounts in that tax haven thereby opening a window of opportunity for other countries to access this information. Several countries, including Germany, has benefited from this changed scenario. But UPA Government doesn’t seem to be interested in pursuing the matter. UN Convention on Corruption is one step forward. But for inexplicable reasons India has not ratified the convention though it signed it about a decade back.
The Prime Minister didn’t respond to the issue when it was forcefully raised in Parliament by former Union Minister and BJP vice-president Shanta Kumar. Kumar followed this up with a communication to the Prime Minister. The only response he got was an acknowledgement about the receipt of his letter signed by MoS in PMO. This much for the Prime Minister’s commitment to bring back the money looted by corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and business tycoons.
Whatever the credentials of non-official members of the Lokpal bill drafting committee, it is now in the interest of the fight against corruption to let the committee expeditiously complete its job. The ruling party that readily agreed to constitute the committee has a responsibility to ensure that it functions smoothly. That was not to be. A CD mysteriously reaches countless media houses and individuals. No one has owned it so far but its contents, if true, are hugely damaging for the reputation of Shanti Bhushan, a prominent member of the drafting committee. Amar Singh making it a big issue is not surprising.
However, why is Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh casting aspersions on non-official members of the committee? His intentions become extremely suspect when he questioned the role of Karnataka Lok Ayukt Santosh Hedge in dealing with alleged cases of corruption in that state. The smear campaign launched by Digvijay Singh, close to 10, Janpath, is obviously aimed at derailing the drafting of the anti-corruption bill. It is in line with Congress Party’s time tested strategy to give with one hand and take away with the other. We witnessed it in 1990s when the Party propped up one after the other three non-BJP minority governments and made moves to destabilise them within months. Anna Hazare’s unflinching faith in Sonia Gandhi is manifest in his repeated appeals to her stop the smear campaign against his colleagues. Sonia’s touching response is that she didn’t encourage or support such politics. While she asserts that she is against such politics, her Man Friday besmirches the reputation of the “civil society” representatives and her party’s official spokesman defends the campaign on the specious premise that in a democracy everyone has a right to express his views. What is it if not running with the hares and hunting with the hounds?
Corruption that is eating into the vitals of our society is a complex problem. It is entrenched in the system. It has countless dimensions from the “speed money” paid to officials to get things done to the way rules and laws are interpreted to secure contracts and permissions. Investigating agencies have lost credibility because these can be easily manipulated. It would be worthwhile to ensure their neutrality by making them autonomous like the Election Commission. A powerful anti-corruption institution is indeed the need of the hour. But it alone won’t solve the problem. A massive awareness campaign to arouse the masses against the evil and organised groups of committed citizens at all levels can hopefully lead to more transparency and accountability in the system. Good governance and zero tolerance for corruption, a robust judicial system and incorruptible media are the other requirements to combat corruption in all its manifestation.