“Can corrupt politicians ever be punished in India?” Mr. N. S. Venkataraman questions and writes about the cancer that is eating up our country’s core. As if on cue, some days later we receive Mr. Firoze Hirjikaka’s essay on the state of our 66 years old Republic.
We put the two articles in one post as the underlying theme is the same. Mr. Hirjikaka, inter alia, touches upon corruption, which has become an integral part of the state of the Republic.
We invite comments from readers. You can “Leave a Reply” in the column at the end of the post. Let’s have a lively debate on this topic of corruption which has affected all of us in some way or the other and also how you feel our Republic has fared.
The Corrupt Politician
N. S. Venkataraman, Chennai
In India, hundreds of politicians at various levels are suspected to be corrupt and dishonest. In fact, the distinction between politicians and criminals has become wafer-thin. Many criminals enter politics, contest elections, win and then become ministers and govern the country!
Bernard Shaw’s words – “Politics is the last resort for the scoundrels” is very apt. Politicians are the most suspected and, perhaps hated, tribe in India.
Is Corruption Winning?
In spite of strong anti-corruption laws in the country, the corrupt politician finds a way to escape the clutches of law, circumvent the law and prolong the judicial process by exploiting legal loopholes. He/she then remains in public life with all the ill-gotten wealth intact. Rarely, a corrupt politician has been punished, with few exceptions.
Since a large number of our electorate belongs to the lower income group and are often semi-literate, they are susceptible to monetary temptations. The corrupt politician hoodwinks such gullible people by money power, muscle power and by cleverly posturing to win elections.
Today, politics has made inroads into every aspect of life, and thus, every aspect of life appears to be corrupt. There is corruption among the bureaucrats and professionals. But politicians are the fountainhead of corruption. The Election Commission of India and the judiciary have failed in keeping corruption in check, in spite of the immense powers that they have. The only way to eradicate corruption is to arrest the corrupt politicians, punish them and ensure that they do not enter parliament and assemblies.
There is frustration and anger amongst the general public that dishonest politicians continue to hold sway over national politics and the government. Sadly, the people seem to be helpless.
High time the Government acts
The Indian electorate was highly impressed with Narendra Modi’s promise, before the parliamentary elections of 2014, of rooting out corruption and ensuring that the corrupt do not enter the parliament and the legislative assemblies. This helped Modi to win the confidence of the people and emerge victorious.
Having been in power for nearly twenty months, Indians expect Modi to fulfill his promise. But, Modi finds it difficult. For instance, the noise made by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi during court hearings (National Herald case) about dishonest dealings, the vituperative language used by Arvind Kejriwal when his confidante and principal secretary was investigated for corruption charges and the media publicity that followed, highlight the difficult task for Modi and his government to check corrupt politicians.
When the politicians face corruption charges and realise that they are on weak ground, they are seen to make all sorts of drama, use all sorts of language and level vague and unproved allegations against the government in the hope of diverting attention of the public from their misdeeds. They use the media to mislead the people, and the media (both print and visual) forever looking for sensational news, gives prominence to mutual accusations, without caring to conduct good quality discussions so as to expose the corrupt.
Modi and his government’s priority is to condemn and eradicate the corrupt forces and while doing so, if they fall, let it be so for the sake of probity in public life.
The State of our Republic
Firoze Hirjikaka, Mumbai
After 66 years, perhaps it is time to reflect on the state of the Republic of India. What do we find? The state of our Republic is like the proverbial curate’s egg – good in parts, but mostly poor. Our honourable Prime Minister would probably take exception with this blasphemy, particularly in the fortnight of Start-up India and Make in India which is touted to propel India to First World status and make us the envy of the financial world.
Despite Modi’s rhetoric, is India really shining, or even about to shine? Our jet-setting PM has made a phenomenal 37 foreign visits in the one and a half years he has been in office, at an estimated cost to the exchequer of almost Rs.400 crores. After every trip, he proudly announces that he has signed commercial agreements worth several hundred million dollars. So, in aggregate and in theory, the country has benefitted by several billion dollars.
But where are the results on the ground? India’s per capita income remains one of the lowest in the world. Our human development index ranking remains pathetic. In theory, more and more Indians have risen above the poverty line, but what is our poverty line in absolute terms? Millions of our countrymen who are officially above the poverty line eke out a miserable existence in hovels; as do six million slum dwellers in Mumbai alone. Why isn’t the many lakh crore rupee investment making any significant improvement in their daily lives? The answer could lie in the wide gap between promise and delivery.
Take the example of Modi’s “model” state of Gujarat. During the annual pravasi divas extravaganzas, Memoranda of Understanding worth billions of dollars are signed. However, statistics show that less than 15% of these translate into concrete projects.
If there is one predominant issue since Modi’s coronation that causes concern, it is the ascendancy of the RSS and the laissez-faire displayed by the government towards the vituperative Hindutva agents who have now boldly come out of the woodwork. Modi maintains the facade of staying aloof from such matters – apart from occasional generalised homilies – but his allegiance to the RSS is thinly disguised; as is the long rope he allows to the Hindutva fanatics, many of whom belong to his own party and ministry. My unfounded suspicion is that it is part of his grand design to put the Hindu Rashtra dream on the backburner until he has achieved supremacy over most of the states in India. Fortunately, that eventuality now seems increasingly distant.
Defeat Corruption or Be Defeated
If there is one absolute truth in India, it is that corruption will always prevail. Take the example of Maharashtra’s new BJP Chief Minister. He is a decent man and reasonably honest. He came to office promising to defeat corruption, but in the end corruption defeated him. Now he is content to just go with the flow. As was amply demonstrated during the Manmohan Singh administration, there is no point in being clean yourself when the prime motivation of those around you is to make a quick buck. If you are brave or foolish enough to challenge the prevailing system, you will find yourself isolated; and eventually give up.
When senior politicians and ministers continue to do the bidding of builders and industrialists, when criminals continue to be elected again and again, when municipal corporators continue to wink at the shortcomings and downright dishonesty of contractors – for a consideration, of course – burdening the tax-paying public with cost overruns and dismal infrastructure, when government hospitals spend crores on expensive medical equipment and then allow it to rot due to indifference and shoddy maintenance, what hope is there of achhe din ever coming to this benighted nation?
Aam Aadmi’s Role
It is perhaps a trifle unfair to lay the entire blame on politicians and government officials. We the people must share the blame too. Have you wondered why it is so easy for policemen and municipal officials to collect bribes from the public? It is because breaking the law on petty issues and not following the rules seems to be a national pastime for many of us. If we commit a traffic violation, we would rather slip something to the cop than pay a reasonable fine. If we want to make some alterations in our flats, we will happily bribe the municipal inspector rather than try to get the required permissions. Many income tax commissioners are crorepatis because rich businessmen and high net worth individuals will offer a large consideration to avoid paying the legal taxes. And paying hafta to corrupt officials has become a fact of life that is taken as a given. Don’t forget that you cannot be asked for a bribe unless you do something illegal. But then, where is the fun in that?
As if politicians and public officials enriching themselves at the public’s expense are not bad enough, we have to suffer their warped priorities and their penchant for grandstanding over petty issues that have little or nothing to do with the welfare of the public they were elected to serve. For example, BMC corporators are trying to take over one of the finest museums in Mumbai because they consider it elitist. After handing over the management to people who actually knew something about culture, the museum was transformed from a neglected relic to a world class cultural place. And now these Neanderthals want to reverse the process.
In another instance, a teenage boy was arrested for kissing his girlfriend in a public place in front of her mother. Apparently the innocent act of a consensual kiss was considered a criminal act by the cops and the boy was charged and booked under the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act. A kiss is a sexual offence? Seriously? This puritanical response to any form of intimacy exemplifies the mind-set of the police who are, otherwise, reluctant to register an FIR in genuine cases of criminality.
Our Members of Parliament preen themselves in the august house by taking pot shots at each other. They all are adherents of the flawed dictum that two wrongs do indeed make a right. Every time the BJP is accused of wrongdoing, they blandly justify their calumny by pointing out that the Congress did something similar in the past – and vice versa. The PM’s avowed intention of achieving a Congress-free Bharat now seems unlikely; and that is a good thing. Having only one dominant party is not healthy for a democracy.
An enduring feature of Republic Day is the announcement of national awards – Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, etc. In my opinion, these awards have lost their lustre and validity. It started when the awardees were selected more on the basis of political patronage than merit. Deserving candidates were bypassed in favour of sycophants of those in power; and the “party with a difference” is no different. Take the case of Anupam Kher, who so vigorously defended Narendra Modi and the BJP in the intolerance debate. Kher is a competent actor, but many others are far more deserving. By conferring the Padma Bhushan on him, the message was clear. Support us and you will be suitably rewarded. Aamir Khan, by contrast, has been cast into the wilderness by the BJP just because he had the temerity to voice an honest opinion.
A prime example of the lack of foresight and application of mind is the Bharat Ratna awarded to Sachin Tendulkar. The motive behind the award was populism, pure and simple. To put Tendulkar in the same category as Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and J.R.D Tata is ludicrous and a little insulting. What is even more distressing is that he demeans the high honour that has been conferred on him by continuing to act in ad films and peddling products. God knows, he does not need the money!
All is Well
In conclusion then, the state of our Republic is mediocre, at best – and likely to remain so. There is no genuine thirst among the people for better governance. There is no sustained demand for accountability in those who govern us. Yes, we shout slogans and file PILs, but the government has long perfected the art of ignoring them – or at best, make token gestures. Meaningless inquiry Committees are constituted, the guilty ones are suspended (and quietly reinstated later). Some politicians are even arrested – and promptly released on bail. We the gullible consider our honour to be satisfied and move on with our lives. This is India; and this is just the way things are. Jai Hind!