POLTICAL CORRUPTION – THE ENEMY WITHIN US

by: Indrajit Barua

 

Almost every representative of the people begins his political life with

a lie – a statement of his election expenses. He spends far more then

the law allows him. This compulsion to spend more then the law allows

stems out of the belief that the Indian voter can be bribed into

accepting non-performance from the political executive. Thus, the origin

and need of unaccounted money can be laid at the entrance door of our

democratic system itself. Political corruption is the fountainhead of

all other forms of corruption. The photograph of the policeman’s

outstretched hand seeking his ‘due’ from a truck driver as published in

a popular newsmagazine is but a graphic illustration how political

corruption and its natural offspring – bureaucratic corruption -- have

all but destroyed our moral fibre.

 

Politicians are very quick to make laws to regulate and control of the

citizens. They are however very loath to make any laws to control and

regulate their own behaviour.

 

In developed countries, the citizen has the right to obtain information

from the government. In India, which is trying to become a developed

country, the government has retained the right to withhold information.

Almost every piece of government paper is labeled secret in that the

average citizen has no right to see it. As someone has commented, and

perhaps not with tongue in cheek, even toilet paper in the bathrooms of

government offices is secret! Thus it is by design that corruption

flourishes under such obsessive secrecy.

 

Every amendment of the US constitution has given more liberty to the

citizens and has attempted to make the functioning of government more

transparent and open. On the other hand, practically every amendment of

our constitution has curtailed the citizens’ personal liberty and has

perpetuated all-persuasive secrecy under the protection of archaic laws

enacted by our erstwhile imperial rulers.

 

Laws of most democratic countries prescribe that chartered accountants

or certified public accountants must audit the accounts of political

parties. In India, there is no such provision of law; according to the

Election Commission of India, the accounts of political parties are

secret documents that cannot be exposed to the public view.

 

Our womenfolk, and not without reason, regularly protest against the

proliferation of liquor shops. They do so because alcohol brings them

misery in the form of drunken and abusive husbands and sons. On the

other hand, our womenfolk have not been heard to make noises of protest

against corruption, perhaps because corruption brings them material

comfort. Indeed many a wife of a modestly paid government official has

been heard to proclaim that her husband has ‘outside income’. Something

must indeed be seriously wrong with our value system: a drinking husband

is bad news but one that steals is something to be talked about with

pride!

 

Political corruption and its natural offspring, bureaucratic corruption,

have encouraged insurgency in certain states. Manipur and Assam are

examples. How do you expect our youth to be hard working and honest when

the ruler himself is openly dishonest? What is the difference between an

extortionist with the power of his gun and a corrupt politician

/bureaucrat with the power of his pen?

 

What can we citizens do to force the politicians to behave?

We can demand that the accounts of political parties be available for

our inspection, much in the same way as the accounts of limited

companies are available for inspection by the public. There is no law

that bars the Election Commission from making the accounts of political

parties and their candidates available for our examination – yet these

are ‘secret’ documents. If such information is withheld from us under

the shelter of obsessive secrecy that surrounds every little piece of

officialdom, then we can and should approach the courts for redress.

We can demand that a law be enacted to make it mandatory to have the

accounts of political parties audited by chartered accountants.

 

We can demand that criminals be barred from contesting elections. A few

years ago the Election Commission of India had submitted to the

government the draft of a law, which, if enacted, would have prohibited

persons convicted for more than two years imprisonment for a criminal

offence from contesting elections. We can demand that the draft of the

law proposed by the Election Commission be made public and that the

government give us an explanation why it has remained silent on this

issue. We can demand that such a law be debated in Parliament and

enacted.

 

Why is the government so anxious to keep the Vohra committee report

secret? This report is reported to have exposed the close and intimate

nexus between criminals and politicians. We can demand that the report

be made public. Again, if the government refuses to come clean, we can

approach the courts for redress.

 

Today, we have a government headed by a Prime Minister who is known to

be an honest and upright politician. However, in the recent past, he has

not come out openly against his party admitting into its fold some

people against whom criminal charges are pending. We can only hope that

this does not become a habit, and that he allows and encourages the

majesty of law to proceed against such persons without fear or favour –

because like charity, honesty begins at home. A dishonest political

executive will always be a weak political executive. By honest action,

Mr Vajpayee should give us hope that come the next election, we will not

get to hear about the ‘anti-incumbency factor’ – a euphemism coined by

psephologists to describe dishonest, weak and ineffective political

executives.

 

In the end, it is we citizens – we little men and women making little

marks with little pencils on little pieces of paper in little booths --

who must clean our Augean stables. It has been shown time and again,

that the courts will help us if we approach them. The armed forces of

India have to be eternally vigilant against aggression from without; we,

the citizens of India, have to be eternally vigilant against aggression

from this enemy within – corruption in high places.