Politics needs a re-boot

By Prabhakar Timble
25 August 2011 14:46 IST

What is true of the anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare also holds spot on for the economic reformist Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.   Both may not win a direct election to the Lok Sabha or State legislatures. There are doubts whether they will make it to a Municipal corporation.  At the same time, both have the personal power to galvanise and mobilise the support of the middle class to the causes that they espouse. This is because of their image and the courage of conviction. Of course, the 24x7 electronic live sessions converts every home into Ramlila maidan.

Why the Congress is paranoid about the anti-graft movement? Why should the Congress spokespersons go haywire and shower abuses on the post-man? On the other side, they are acting as if hit by a paralytic stroke. Team Anna and the civil society have generated adequate awareness at least amongst the classes, if not the masses. This is an opportunity for any sane government including the opposition to initiate actions against corruption. Like we wait for the Independence Day to salute the national flag, now we are waiting for the day when the Lok Pal would be hoisted to take up issues of corruption.

Apart from enacting a strong Lok Pal law at the Centre and a Lok Ayukta for the States, the government particularly at the State level should use this opportunity for a cleanup of the state administration by harnessing the existing machinery such as the Anti-Corruption Bureau, State Vigilance Department, I.T. and Enforcement Directorate.  These measures would develop some iota of trust and confidence in the intentions of the government to tackle corruption of public men and officials. The draft Lok Pal bill presently before the Standing Committee of the Parliament definitely needs to be provided with teeth. It may not be possible to include the provisions of the Jana Lok Pal (Team Anna draft) in toto. Bringing MPs under Lok Pal is fine but bringing their conduct and behaviour in Parliament under this authority would be undermining the constitutional safeguard. We may not be throwing the right person in legislatures. This does not mean we should go for a wrong remedy to rectify the deficiency. Similarly, it is in the larger interest of independence of judiciary, despite questionable conduct of some, that the judges are kept outside the ambit of Lok Pal. However, they should be covered under a separate Judicial Accountability law. The Prime Minister could well be brought under the scrutiny but with safeguards, riders and limitations since the office should not be rendered impotent.  

I do not doubt the credentials of Team Anna, the passion to fight against corruption and the commitment to the cause. At the same time, the team has to think holistic and take care that in no way the machinery of Lok Pal is bestowed with powers which violate the provisions of the Constitution of India. It is advisable to have different authorities for redress of political corruption and for administrative corruption.  Undoubtedly, the authorities should be independent of the executive. It is in the interest of the people of India that the government and the parliamentarians also consider the suggestions made by the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information. (NCPRI) There is lot of value and practical intent in the recommendations. 

Corruption is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. It is in direct competition with the all pervasive God. You meet both at every step. The streams run through all political parties, politicians, bureaucracy, trade organisations, professional bodies, corporate sector, NGOs, spiritual swamis or gurus and yoga cum meditation houses. We have ensured that even the abode of gods and places of worship do not practice untouchability when it comes to the corrupt. It would not be out of context to state that in our country the camel of corruption can pass comfortably through the eye of a needle than a clean citizen through the gates leading to the Secretariat, Collectorate, Police Station and Government Corporation.

I do not know why the Congress feels that the anti-corruption movement is anti-Congress. The leaders are falling prey to the perception that the Congress is another word for corruption as the BJP is to communalism. Though largely true, both are not the sole tenants of either corruption or communalism respectively.  There are also allies of different shades.

As the civil society battles with corruption, the political parties need to battle with their concept of winnability. I am told that the non-negotiable criterion to assess winnability is the capacity of an individual to put aside around Rs. 30 crores for election spending. This is for a constituency in Goa. You can imagine for the rest of the country.  The supplementary criteria are criminalisation, coercion, and communalisation. The more the criminal cases politicians have registered against them, the higher the likelihood of them being elected to power. The potential to garner minority votes either in terms of religion, caste or region is a part of the calculation. Added to this is the art of creating a vote bank of vulnerable, powerless and helpless voters. The political parties choose their candidates not on the basis of confidence that the candidate will espouse the party values, but out of fear that the party may lose the seat unless it goes by such winnability!

The political party wins the seat but loses as a political party even if they form the government. BJP as a party lost face in Jharkhand taking the support of Madhu Koda to form the government, again was bruised in Karnataka though continues to be in power. In Goa, the Congress gets diluted and alienated from the party values after every election. Time is not far that this party may finally be left with only a slice of the minority vote.

The think-tank of all the political parties has a golden opportunity to sow parliamentarians and legislators of character with commitment to public causes and governance and also to expect sensitive and result-oriented bureaucracy.  Team Anna has energised the soil for the government. It is easier to enact an anti-corruption legislation than reduce its incidence and impact. It is not that all those who support the movement against corruption are for the Jana Lok Pal. They are definitely standing up to voice their frustration. The cries emanating from the nook and corner of the country are due to the falling confidence in politicians and bureaucrats in delivery of public services to the citizens.

The opportunity provided by Annaji can be profitably used by political parties and the swelling anti-corruption brigade to redefine winnability in elections. Voters should consider the character, work record and the political platform. Do not worry of who is going to win. Pick the best to represent you, not to make you helpless and powerless. Unnecessarily super large sums of monies in unnecessary hands, providing undeserved popularity (winnability) is a threat to democracy, stability, justice and people’s empowerment.

 

 

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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