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political corruption

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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

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

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

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.

From: Indrajit Barua,     17 November, 1999.
           ‘Akashi’, Jorpukhuri South, Guwahati – 781001.
            ( e-mail: indrajitbarua@philosophers.net )

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