Dr Jagdish Shettigar
DURING the last couple of years the issue of corruption has been occupying the central stage and it is rightly so. The incumbent government has contributed a lot in pushing this vital issue as major debating point-with series of mega scams like the 2G Scam, Commonwealth Games Scam, Coal-gate and God alone knows how many more are still waiting to get surfaced. There are also charges on certain individuals be it Robert Vadra or Yeddyurappa or Mayawati or Mulayam Singh Yadav and there is no end to the list.
Those who have access to gossip going on in the national capital or for that matter state capitals are aware that only tip of the iceberg has come out. Corruption has engulfed practically every aspect of public life. It is no more restricted to only those in the ruling; nor one can say that it is an inevitable disease present only in political life. Practically, every walk of life suffers from this disease. In fact, often I get a feeling that the species – fortunately, there are still a few around- considered free from such a disease may be case of failures in life.
No doubt, practically every one of us have been feeling uncomfortable due to this cancerous disease. Many of us might have not been this beneficiaries of this unfair practice. However, I am sure, almost every one of us has contributed directly or indirectly in spreading the disease. If someone claims that he is the exception to this practice, I just don’t trust him. Such is the menace of corrupt practices. When some messiah-like person suddenly appears giving an impression that he has the solution, people respond in good numbers. What people are looking forward to is relief from corruption since they are fed up by having been forced to give bribes in day-to-day activities-be it getting a driving license or passport or even getting a child admitted to school. The Anna team is trying to exploit helpless situation of the common man without diagnosing the problem properly.
That is why they came out with a simple solution called Lokpal. Perhaps, over-ambitious vested interests might have calculated that Lokpal would work out a quick-fix in realizing their hidden agenda. As it unfolded much earlier than expected, they proved that it is just another attempt to usurp power through short-cut method but still, they call it a movement. As a matter of fact, every movement in post-independence India–be it “garibhi hatao” call by Indira Gandhi or “Sampoorna-Kranti” led by Jaya Prahash Narayan or VP Singh-led anti-Bofors stir or the Ram Janmabhoomi movement led by LK Advani – helped those who were smart to feel the pulse of the society in gaining power to govern. But none of the movements mentioned here succeeded in fulfilling aspirations of people, that is, the objectives with which people were taken for a ride. Often I feel whether common man is meant to be fooled by the one who is comparatively smarter. Fortunately, the Kejriwal team started getting exposed even before the so called ant-corruption movement gained grounds. They cannot indulge in hit-and-run tactics any longer.
With whatever a little understanding of the system with my limited exposure, I strongly believe that threat of getting punishment alone cannot deter one from becoming corrupt- however the strong the bill may be-as long as chances of getting caught is minimum. When the existing system facilitates the corrupt man not only to hide his bribe money but also to convert it into white with minimum chances of getting exposed why would he be bothered about the so-called punishment clause? It would amount to be a rule in the book- like a traffic rules to be followed only when a constable hiding in a corner suddenly catches some one violating. By nature we are hardly self-regulated and hence, tend to ignore red signal if constable is not present at the spot.
Instead of unnecessarily wasting energy on how strong Lokpal should be, why can’t we think about plugging the loopholes in the system by reforming certain outdated laws which either facilitate or compel both bribe-giving as well as bribe-taking. In this context, electoral reforms, property transaction, citizens’ ID [the UAID work is in progress] should get top priority. Similarly, there is an urgent need to tighten trade registration as it facilitates hawala transaction across the borders. Moreover, it is time foreign institutional investment through participatory-note route is banned as this facilitates not only return of black money in the guise of foreign investment and but also getting converted into white money. As long as these provisions are available why would anybody bother about punishment when chances of getting caught is minimum? Demanding strong Lokpal or getting back black money stashed abroad makes only political statement. In reality it is a half-baked solution. For smaller characters like a clerk in passport office or transport office citizens’ charter may do wonder-of course, in addition to RTI-in minimizing corruption.
I can understand limitations persons like Anna Hazare-with due respect to his commitment to public cause-and others in understanding the nitty-gritty of the system. Only thing they understood correctly was the vulnerability of politicians about public perception about them and danger of losing vote in case of the same turning negative. They were also good in judging pulse of the public. After all, success of any leader depends on how good he is in pulse reading that too at an appropriate time. But I cannot understand how a political party with a long track record in governance commits one blunder after another. Biggest blunder the government committed was by accommodating representatives of the so-called civil society into a drafting committee.
Participation of public in governance is certainly a healthy sign of democracy. Our system has already adopted this practice-be it budget making exercise or proposal to bring major changes in law. General public have ample opportunity to participate in the process. It is a different matter that the opportunity is utilized largely by those who are organized like chambers of commerce. In similar manner India Against Corruption also could have given their inputs.
In its eagerness to weaken established opposition parties government accommodated Anna Team in the drafting committee. This amounted to major blow to the parliamentary convention. History will not forgive the present government for this damage. Then of course, series of blunders like, red-carpet welcome to Baba Ramdev at the airport, midnight lathi charge on women asleep in Ramalila grounds, arrest of Anna Hazare all resulted in public anger building up against the government . Of course, Congress spokespersons like Digvijay Singh, Manish Tiwari have further fuelled it through their immature statements.
On the part of Team Anna or now re-christened as Team Arvind, their behaviour has been not only immature and arrogant may be because of over confidence. First of all, they should know that no law can be hundred per cent perfect. It is only at the stage of implementation that shortfalls can be noticed and accordingly need to be reformed. One has to start from somewhere. After all, legal inputs accessible to India Against Corruption has not come from the brightest jurists of India. There are many legal brains in the country- much superior than these self-styled legal pundits. How can they take a posture that they know everything?
Besides, on a negotiating table, one must have an attitude of give and take. If one has to dictate every thing to the other side where is the scope for negotiation or for that matter, discussion? Kejriwal and company have proved that they are not just fit to sit on a negotiating table. Biggest mistake committed by them is demeaning Parliament which is formally elected by the very people whose support they claim. Public can give their opinion. But law making is the prerogative of Parliament. Perhaps the team has over estimated their support with out understanding characteristics of their support base. They have failed to understand that their support which is basically the educated middle class that too salaried class apart from students. This section doesn’t want any risk when it comes to peaceful life-be it domestic or professional.
No wonder the bill had to face the fate of what it is today. In fact this development was anticipated. Nobody was serious in getting the bill passed. Otherwise, how can an ally of the government move amendments when the bill was supposed to be official? The result is that common man is yet again fooled. But this time by all including those who appeared as his saviors. Perhaps , that is what he is supposed to be. I am still struggling to find an answer why it is so.
Instead of continuing to fool people in the pretext of one movement or other-when the ulterior motive is to usurp power-why shouldn’t we focus on how to plug the loopholes in the system and accordingly amend certain laws which either compel corrupt practices or facilitate hiding it. I don’t think anybody on the planet can claim solution to remove corruption. Corruption has always been an integral part of governance-whether the system was a kingdom or dictatorship or communism or democracy irrespective of country or period. All that one can do is to minimize the scope for the same. Let us think of reforming the system rather than trying to settle political scores.
(The writer is a former member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council and BJP National Executive Committee member. But the opinion expressed here is personal.)