Should The Thief Be The Judge
If during Ayub Khan’s Pakistan 40 families ruled the country, as mentioned before in these columns, these days around 400 families are ruling India. They comprise politicians, civil servants, businesspersons and even a few journalists. Indeed, India is blessed with what may be termed “sarkari journalists”, those who are adept at currying the favour of any dispensation that gets elected to power. When the BJP rules, they take out their Sanskrit phrase book and speak with authority of the ancient classics, while during Congress rule, they show off their knowledge of French wines, aware that Europe has a special place in Sonia Gandhi’s heart. In the infrequent intervals when smaller parties grab the Prime Ministership, such scribes abandon their Savile Row suits for rough homespun pyjama-kurta, and speak in Hindi rather than in English or (even better) French. Small wonder that for years, several for these “defenders of the public interest against the establishment” were each given talk shows by the national broadcaster, Prasar Bharati. These usually comprised of interview formats that were of such scintillating brilliance that not even their spouses could bear to watch a full segment. Of course, despite the nil viewership, several lakhs of rupees were paid each month to each “independent editor” by the state broadcaster.
Small wonder that there has been an amazing transformation in the lives of the sarkari journalists over the past two decades. Most have exchanged tiny flats for impressive mansions, and routinely send their children abroad to expensive educational institutions for studies. The price of such munificence is silent about VVIPs, the very section of Indian society that accounts for much of the country’s problems. Despite frequent boasts of India being a democracy, the mainstream media is almost totally silent about the rampant wrongdoing indulged in by VVIPs and their friends and relatives. Thus, the public remain ignorant of the frequency of the foreign travel of the VVIP set, or of their business interests and personal lives. Even something as non-controversial as health is kept a close secret, as witness the total black out over the health condition of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The result a rumor, with some saying that she has skin cancer, while others aver that it is a brain tumor. Such reticence would be unthinkable in Europe or in North America, but is taken for granted in the feudal culture of South Asia, where some aspects of politics resemble the situation in North Korea more than they do a genuine democracy.
The British-bequeathed system that has been the gift of Jawaharlal Nehru to India has ensured that the forms of democracy get preserved, even while the entire substance gets drained out. The very process of contesting elections involves large bundles of black money, as the legal limit for election expenses is absurdly low. This money gets provided by dubious interests, including narcotics smugglers and other crime syndicates. The help they give a politician to get elected results in the criminal class getting immunity from prosecution. Many, of course, become elected politicians themselves. Either no case is filed, or if a case gets filed ( usually because of the pressure of public opinion), the prosecuting attorneys ensure that their case gets presented so badly that the judge gives the benefit of doubt to the accused. This was the modus operandi used under both the Vajpayee as well as the Manmohan Singh governments to enable the fugitive influence peddler from Italy, Ottavio Quatrocchi, to be acquitted in both Malaysia as well as in Argentina. Government agencies rely on the Law Ministry for counsel, and these are secretly briefed to ensure a walkover for the other side, of course for a price. Small wonder that Law and Justice ( a double misnomer in the case of this particular ministry) is so much sought after by greedy polticians. In any case, the justice system in India functions so slowly that it will be years—if not decades—before a case even gets heard in court. Hence the judicial system is no longer a check on wrongdoing.
How can an individual who has spent millions upon millions in black money to get elected have the mindset needed to cleanse India of the corruption that is choking the country? The answer lies in the fact that for six decades, the political class in India has refused to get passed laws that subject them to scrutiny and punishment. The laws passed are so riddled with loopholes and exceptions that few get enmeshed in its coils. Which is why the entire political class in India is so horrified at Anna Hazare, who is asking for the Jan Lokpal Bill to be passed.This is an enactment with real teeth, and hence the palpable reluctance of the political class to get it passed. Instead, they are moaning about the “anti-democratic” War on Corruption that is led by Anna Hazare,Sri Sri Ravishankar and Baba Ramdev. Of the three,it is Sri Sri Ravishankar who has the greatest following, that too across the globe. All three are secular leaders. While Hazare is a social activist, Sri Sri Ravishankar is the founder of the Art of Living, that teaches an individual to adopt a harmonious lifestyle. Baba Ramdev teaches yoga, the ancient science of exercises designed to improve health. All three have united to lead the effort to ensure that the India of the 21st century gets free of the filth of the India of the 20th, an era in which only the unethical have jumped ahead, while the honest languish.
It ought to be compulsory for every legislator, at the regional as well as the national level, to submit to a polygraph test to determine if she or he spent black money during the campaign, or has any undeclared assets. Any person failing the test should get disqalified, and the person with the next highest number of votes should be declared elected (provided that person passes the lie detector test). The political class in India has made a common cause with the many academics singing hosannas to “Nehruism” in making a fetish for the so-called Westminster Model. The reality is that India is not the UK, and ought to have evolved its own system rather than borrow wholesale the very system that was created by the UK so as to keep India in submission. Today, there is a growing popular movement against a series of laws and institutions that are in essence no different from that during the colonial period. What India is seeing is a Cultural Revolution, where Mao Zedong’s cry of “Bombard the Headquarters” is being reproduced by a saintly 74-year old from the village of Ralegaon Siddhi in Maharashtra. And the people are responding, with the government (that is so effective in blackmailing and slinking the corrupt, including much of the so-called Opposition) helpless against an honest man. As predicted in these columns, a tide of anger is sweeping across India that will end in the creation of a system of governance that is more transparent and more pro-people (rather than pro-politician) than the present. Setting a thief to catch a thief has been the prescription of the political class, which has only ensured that corruption grows each year rather than it diminished. In contrast, Anna and Sri Sri say that only the honest can catch the crooked, so they should be given the authority to do so. No wonder India’s well-fed political class is reaching for blood pressure medication.
By MD Nalapat