Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Corruption and political reforms


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By Toki Blah

Life is dynamic and change, the driving force behind this dynamism. But change can threaten convention, tradition and established comfort zones. In India, party politics and politicians, have always been seen as permanent fixtures, institutions and elements of democracy, that are here to stay. Ever since independence, Indians have been schooled to believe that their best interest and that of their nation lay in the hands of their elected representatives and their political parties. This belief is now being seriously challenged. Politicians both at the local and the national level have exposed themselves as tin gods with fragile feet of clay. The iconistic profiles of a Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, a Sardar Vallabhai Patel and a Dr Radhakrishnan has given way to that of grubby, sordid and opportunistic banias, out to make a quick buck whenever the opportunity arises. In the process politicians have rapidly gained the reputation of being an obstacle to the vision of a new India by young India

Recognition has to be given to the fact that the 21st century has ushered in a new found sense of identity for Indians. It somehow seems we have finally been able to shed off the last vestiges of our colonial past. A new self confidence and self assurance has set in. India is a nation on the make and on the march. An emerging super power. A nation ready to introspect; to soul search; to question its roadmap for the future. The tryst with destiny has finally come to pass. The time to chart a new course has therefore arrived. Indians want to get on with life and the promises it holds. Politics, politicians and their self centred behaviour are obstacles in the way. It’s an irritation that young India is no longer willing to put up with. Life once again demands a change!

Into this cauldron of national experimentation steps in Anna Hazare with his demand for an end to all corruption. It struck a sympathetic chord and overnight he became a national sensation. Why? As we the people of India demand our place under the Sun, deficit Governance is overwhelmingly identified as the most shameful trait of India before the International community. As we look at ourselves it is one of the most shameful aspects of our identity. Corruption, which emanates mainly from the political class, has been identified as the main contributor towards this demeaning profile. It’s unacceptable. It’s a clear and present disgrace. It’s a stigma that every Indian, now wants to eliminate. How it is to be done has however become the greatest debate in our democracy. Anna and Co believe the Jan Lok Pal Bill is the key. Perhaps so, but many baulk at Team Anna’s self-righteous posturing that they and they alone know what is best for India. Many flinch when hunger strikes are used as weapons to bludgeon democratic and parliamentary processes into submission. Questions are being asked if corruption is really the ailment or a symptom of a deeper malady. Questions blowing in the wind. Calling for answers on behalf of our children and their future.

India was recently engulfed by a series of corruption tsunamis of unprecedented magnitude that we are still reeling from their aftermath. It’s not that we are unfamiliar with forms of corruption. The term ‘Chai ka Paise’ is a phrase common to both the rich and poor of this country. What upsets is the scale of indulgence; the brazen manner of indulgence; the platform from where this indulgence was conducted; the hypocrisy behind the indulgence and most shocking, the political perception that election to office and the power it bestows confers the right to indulge in graft and sleaze. Those elected to power perversely believe that they can literally get away with murder. Shockingly they are not far off the mark. Those in power can easily circumvent the law. Law enforcement agencies take pride in siding with the rich in the perverse belief that only the poor and the marginalised are capable of committing crime. The rich and powerful can do no wrong- they are above the law. To be in power is to be unaccountable and those we elect to power have consistently fostered and encouraged this belief. It is the root cause; the origin; the fountain head of corruption in this country.

So how do we confront the malaise of corruption? Reservations have already been expressed over Anna’s proposal for an omnipotent, all pervasive Jan Lok Pal. What guarantee that this new entity will completely eliminate corruption from the country? None what so ever ! The truth is that despite the existence of a plethora of laws and law enforcing agencies, we have managed to perpetuate a political system that encourages the view that the Rule of Law does not apply to those in power, especially our politicians. Absence of a Rule of Law always results in mal Governance. The absence of Good Governance in turn usually provides fertile ground for fostering and promoting corruption in public service. Actually this is what we are experiencing in India today. Absence of Good Governance is the malady. Corruption is just one of its symptoms. The time has therefore come to shift the focus of our attack from the symptoms to the actual ailment.

We have to ask ourselves who is responsible for introducing and maintaining aspects of Good Governance? The Government of course! And as the Government in a democracy such as ours is composed of elected representatives, it is the bounded duty of our honourable political leaders to usher in Good Governance. That they have consistently failed to do so implies two things. Either our elected representatives are incapable of fulfilling their mandate or they deliberately refrain from doing so. Either way, the conclusion is that the political system has not been able to produce representatives capable of delivering on the needs of the electorate. It is therefore required to install, at both Parliament and State Assemblies, elected representatives capable of rising to the challenge before the nation – the introduction and establishment of Good Governance. Good Governance after all is the ability of the political system to use power to deliver the best to its people. God knows it is something we have yet to experience!

It has now become obvious that Good Governance can only come through reforms in our political system, especially in the electoral process. We need to end criminalisation of politics; the use of muscle and money in elections; improve on the anti defection Act; but most important how to bring in a more capable, responsive and insightful representation in our legislature. The quality of representation must improve. It’s as simple and as complicated as that! Anna and Co too have taken cognisance of this fact and have already announced that electoral reforms with a provision for ‘Recall’ as the focus of their next demands. Predictably it has provoked a reaction from the Election Commission on the impracticability of such a demand, while the team’s partisan political stance in UP and Hissar has not gone down well with everyone. But be that as it may, the demand for electoral reforms is too serious an issue to be sacrificed on the rocks of appeasement or TV ratings. A sad day if it should.

In conclusion it needs to be mentioned that we are not the first nation nor the last to call for electoral reforms. Others have done it before and there is no need for India to rediscover the wheel on reforms. Of import is the need to bring in representatives who carry the trust and confidence of the electorate and who in turn return the same in good measure. In the past, candidates have been forcibly thrust upon the electorate. To counter this, a demand for the introduction of NOTA (none of the above) as one of the buttons on the EVM machines has been made. Again how practical is this? Perhaps Indian Electoral Reforms need to focus more on suitability of candidates rather than on rejection or recall. Perhaps the demand should be on preliminaries before actual polls. Pre poll electoral exercises where the chaff is separated from the grain; the suitable representative from the unsuitable; the capable from the inept. We need an electoral paradigm where the electorate chooses from the best available not from the worst. Improve the quality of political representation and it will result in better governance through Law Makers who believe in the Rule of Law.


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