At a time when the United Nations has been advocating complete intolerance against all forms of corruption, India – a signatory to the international anti-corruption convention is virtually on her way to squeeze out a benign structure sans teeth for scrutinizing the mammoth establishment.
The behemoth, one must understand, is riddled with sporadic malpractices across the spectrum. It is indeed unfortunate that a nation espousing political rectitude finds itself languishing with the most depraved States.
In fact the country is rated as the fourth most corrupt among 16 nations of the Asia Pacific. A Hong Kong based reputed business consultancy firm has rated India at 8.67 on a scale of zero to ten with the high end being stipulated for worst cases. Yet, there is a strange administrative and political reluctance to take this menace head on.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee might have commissioned a study to estimate the exact amount of unaccounted money generated within the system, the report in all probability will end up being stashed among hundreds of files in some discrete corner.
Obligated by the provisions of the UN Convention against Corruption calling for strong legislative instrument and trembled by a series of domestic scandals ranging from illegal sale of telecom licenses to property loans granted by state-owned financial institutions, interjected in between by military housing scam involving the highest leadership and siphoning of Commonwealth Games fund – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government grudgingly accepted the popular demand for a citizen’s ombudsman law.
Having kneeled before the collective anger of masses who have been lending their voices against corruption frequently, the government instituted a drafting committee composed of civil society members and senior ministers to prepare the broad parameters of an ombudsman bill that aims at creating an independent authority for investigating corruption cases within a stipulated time frame.
The drafting committee is mandated with the primary objective of setting the ground for providing constitutional cover to this body so that they can prosecute political and judicial executives too. However, right from inception the entire process is bespattered by all sorts of crude accusations and assertions emerging from both ends.
From call to arms in fighting graft to labeling the apolitical personalities as opposition stooges and indicting them for attempting to paralyze an elected government – the no holds barred game continues. In all fairness the irrational behavior of the ruling establishment has abetted a serious confrontation.
The civil society representatives are at loggerheads with the government for attempting to insulate the office of Prime Minister and high Judiciary from a genuine anti-corruption investigation. This move to make an exception for the Prime Minister contravening the provisions of Indian constitution has raised several eyebrows.
Parliamentary democracy clearly designates the Prime Minister as primus inter pares with collective responsibility. Allowing his cabinet colleagues to be scrutinized by the ombudsman will ultimately undermine their constitutional legality. After all, seeking immunity from any independent investigative body cannot be the exclusive prerogative of the Prime Minister who swears by the same constitution.
Moreover, it does not augur well for any democracy to have its top political executive scavenging for alibis to evade scrutiny. Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had the guts to declare himself a subject of investigation by any independent ombudsman in spite of serious charges of nepotism hanging over his own office while the incumbent executive Manmohan Singh had no hesitation in offering the Public Accounts Committee of the Indian Parliament to grill him on charges of corruption and embezzlement perpetrated by his esteemed colleagues in the cabinet.
That is precisely the reason why the entire nation is groping to find the exact cause of the Prime Minister’s sudden volte-face. This journalist understands that the disinclination to keep his chair above board by accepting independent audit has something to do with the ruling Congress Party’s internal political maneuvering.
The party top brass is apparently averse to the idea of exposing Singh’s successor to any enquiry conducted by an autonomous body with constitutional authority.
Intriguingly, the strategy to portray an apolitical anti-corruption movement as malicious vigilantism derives from a shrewd plan supposedly blessed by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party subtly. The current chief of the outfit was rather ambivalent in his written response to the government on the issue of incorporating the office of Prime Minister under the ambit of the proposed anti-corruption body. Whether this can be construed as a political understanding to subvert the egalitarian law for arresting corrupt practices would require further assessment.
Undoubtedly UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s clarion call to conquer this global menace has fallen in deaf ears. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the nodal authority to battle economic and criminal malpractices is often left frustrated at such non-compliance in the national level.
“Unfortunately, UNODC is not able to intervene in sovereign affairs of nation states and in particular cases” laments chief of communication Alun Jones. Perhaps, Mahatma Gandhi’s India is yet to recognize that administrative, political and judicial corruption can only be routed by an enlightened citizenry.