POLITICIANS MUST ALTER OUTLOOK

Corruption In Public Life

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

Political corruption has once again come into sharp focus. Income tax raid on Lalu Prasad’s associates, CBI raid on P Chidambaram’s son Karti and allegations of corruption by Arvind Kejriwal from his ex-minister have hit the headlines this summer season. While Opposition may scream ‘political vendetta’, Government sends clear message that ‘the day of reckoning has come for many. They all will be accountable.’

Further, an aggressive electronic media has been after these leaders on the basis of tapes in the case of Lalu, documents in case of Karti and allegations by Kapil Mishra against Kejriwal. There can be no two opinions that these cases need investigation, but there should be no witch-hunting.

While the allegations against Lalu of alleged investments in shell companies and benami deals worth over Rs 1000 crore, may not be too difficult to believe, given the Supreme Court reopening probe against him in the Fodder scam. Recently reports of political patronage too have emerged against Lalu and his elder daughter, Misha Bharati, the latter having purchased expensive property in Patna at throwaway prices by buying and selling shares in dubious companies. A property purchased for Rs 1.41 crores a few years ago is said to fetch anything around Rs 40 to Rs 50 crores now.

While, the charges against Karti are of serious nature, with alleged irregularities in FIPB approval of INX Media, in the case of Kejriwal just charges without any tangible proof cannot be taken for granted. In West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s image has taken a beating for scams against her party and arrest of her party leader in Lok Sabha and also another MP on charges of corruption. It is said that her elder brother runs the Government and according to reports her brothers have amassed huge money through unethical means.

Earlier, corruption cases were reported against Mayawati just before the UP polls. Lately, an expelled General Secretary played seven audio tapes at a media conference to prove BSP chief’s “lust for money”. He alleged that Mayawati had demanded Rs 500 crores from him after the polls.

The present scenario of corruption in public life has gained momentum. But it is surprising that there are no such charges against the BJP and its leaders. Many would find it difficult to believe that persons like Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Chauhan and Rajasthan’s Vasundhara Raje and some former ministers of Karnataka involved in illegal mining among others are ‘clean’ politicians as alleged charges of corruption are against them too.

There are reports that BJP has been instigating journalists and a section of the powerful electronic media to highlight cases of corruption against their opponents. It is a well-known how at BJP’s behest, the past and present Lt. Governor of Delhi had and is harassing Kejriwal since he assumed office. Moreover, there are allegations that BJP with the help of Central agencies is hell bent to bring corruption charges against him and destroying the AAP. But this is not to say that the recent charges against Kejriwal need not be investigated. But there should be no bias.

Tall promises of making public life corruption free are yet to fructify. In spite of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, social audit, which has yet to be undertaken, and other measures to make the administrative machinery transparent, the reality is that precious little progress has been made to cleanse the system. While the Center has sometimes shown sparks of good governance, most State governments are not free of corruption. Bribe having to be paid to get work done is no secret.

Political analysts are of the opinion that as doctors have to struggle before getting established when they charge big fees, similarly politicians have to spend huge money to win elections and, as such, they have to recover the money through unethical means. Moreover, huge amount of funds are required to run the party machinery and this money comes from bribes, donations for favours extended, etc. This justification cannot be totally ignored. However, the system cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.

At the same time, it may be agreed that corruption in public life is not a modern phenomenon. It was prevalent in political and civic life of ancient India too as has been discussed by Kautilya in his Arthashastra. But since Independence and specially in the last decades or so corruption has become a chronic feature of our public life. So much so that people have started treating it as a normal feature. They no longer show righteous indignation against corrupt practices, fight injustice or express shock when big scandals like ‘Fairfax Deal’, AgustaWestland and ‘Bofors Pay-offs’ are exposed.

As such, it is indeed foolish to assume that the system would become corruption free. However, it is not intended to justify corruption as most leaders have been found to amass huge wealth and assets within the five-year term of their election. The extent and volume of corruption has to be checked so that the common man is not unduly harassed and forced to pay extra from his meagre earnings.

Prime Minister Modi’s tall talk of transparency and weeding out corruption from public life has remained hollow slogans. Previous governments also did not take any initiative in the matter. Thus, the present situation calls for serious introspection and drawing up an action plan to curb unethical practices to the maximum extent possible.

One may mention here that demonetisation which was carried out with much fanfare was not really successful in weeding out corruption. The whole system needs to be reformed for which politicians and the bureaucracy at top levels, need to show the way. More transparency is required in government functioning and there should be no attempt to hide anything from the people.

The Government’s endeavour to ensure good governance and total transparency has officially been taken as ‘Social Audit of Public Grievance & Citizen’s Charter’ that has become mandatory once every year for all organisations, Departments of both Central and State governments that have public interface. But most of these organisations are reluctant to face an independent third party audit.

As regards State governments that receive huge welfare funds from the Centre, no such social audit has yet taken place except one in Andhra Pradesh on the MGNREGS a few years back. The reason for the reluctance of States is obviously due to corruption and mis-governance at the panchayat levels and the benefits not reaching those for whom they are intended.

It is time that the Government enforce such audit at all levels where the aam admi is concerned to ensure how the administrative machinery is operating and whether they are  following their objectives/charter in carrying out their work. It is only documents that speak and such analytical reports would reveal the efficiency and credibility of most organisations.

Though the task of checking corruption is indeed quite formidable, there has to be sincere attempts from top to the bottom at reforming the system to the extent possible. Moreover, there should be devolution of power and responsibilities to curb the top-down approach which has been an important cause of growing corruption. But all said and done, a basic change in human behaviour of our politicians and those in public life is called for to root out unethical practices that retard development.  —INFA

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