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Corruption, What’s That?: NO LOK PAL AND MR Q WALKS FREE…., By Poonam I Kaushish; 17 August 2007 Print E-mail


NEW DELHI, 17 August 2007

Corruption, What’s That?


By Poonam I Kaushish


Phew? It has been a real busy week for the media. Keeping track of the tamashas of the poweratti, glitterati and chatteratti. Forget the Congress-CPM jhagra over the Indo-US nuclear deal. Or the first ‘At Home’ of our new lady Rashtrapati that left many Union Ministers fuming. And the scandalous spectacle of Mr Q (Quottrocchi) walking away a free man. What to say of the razzmatazz Independence Day celebration in Parliament’s Central Hall which saw our President Pratibha Patil and the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh play party-pooppers by raising the bogey of corruption, so grating to the ears. Didn’t anyone tell them that as far as our polity is concerned it’s akin to flogging a dead horse!


Never mind, the show must go on. Asserted the President: “Corruption today poses a grave challenge to our system and it is time the nation begins to determinedly combat this menace.” Really? Echoed the Prime Minister, “For all the benefits of development to reach the poor it is essential that the delivery systems of the Government at all levels, are more efficient and purged of corruption. The cancer of corruption must be extinguished if democracy and development have to have a real meaning for our people.” 


Brave words, indeed. Which have been repeated ad nauseum year after year. The moot point is what has the UPA Government done so far and is doing to eradicate this cancer? Zilch, if its track record is anything to go by. In fact, like many Government’s before it, there is a lot of empty rhetoric, convenient amnesia but when push comes to shove to act, it falls flat on its face. Three examples out of many which expose the Government’s serious intent or shall we say indifference to corruption. The implementation of the much-promised Lok Pal Bill. The latest ignominious chapter of the Bofor’s gun saga. The Government’s adamant opposition to pursuing the Taj corridor scam.


Take the Lok Pal Bill. It has been hanging fire for over 37 long years, pending Parliamentary approval since 1977. It was expected to go a long way in curbing corruption and making our netagan accountable. Alas, this has turned out to be easier said than done. The last one heard of it was three years ago, when the Union Cabinet, presided over by Singh took it up for consideration. But nothing came of it as the Cabinet was divided on the issue. Some favoured it. Most others sought clarifications. Not a few simply trashed it as useless. The main stumbling block was whether the Prime Minister should be included in its purview. Predictably, the exercise turned out to be still born, and the draft Bill was referred to a Group of Ministers. And it remains there till date. Dumped and conveniently forgotten.


Early this year, amidst a slew of scandals, the Government once again talked about introducing a liberal dose of “Ethics in Governance”. The institution of the Lok Pal was suddenly rediscovered when the five-member Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), headed by senior Congress leader and former Karnataka Chief Minister Veerappa Moily pushed for many constitutional amendments to put an end to corruption which, it felt, was not only an ethical issue but one that was “hindering our growth and seriously hurting social services which are critical for the poor.” It also wanted a stop to “collusive bribery” which resulted in a loss to the state, public or public interest.


One recommendation stood out among the many path-breaking measures that the ARC proposed to ensure a clean and transparent executive, an honest polity and an accountable judiciary. It wanted soonest the setting-up of a long-discussed and eagerly awaited Rashtriya Lokayukta at the Centre and in the States but excluding the Prime Minister, once again, from its ambit.


That apart, nothing epitomizes corrupt India more than the Bofors scandal. True, the kick-back of Rs 64 crore in the Howitzer gun scandal is a pittance in an era when scams run into mind-boggling thousands of crores. Nevertheless, it exposed as never before the rot, deceit and collusion at the highest level of Government and led to the fall of the Rajiv Gandhi Government. It still raises a basic question: Can Government leaders and functionaries continue to play ducks and drakes with national security. Not surprisingly, the scandal continues to have the UPA Government scurrying for cover, makes the Congress see red and even brings Parliament to a grinding halt. 


Call it a twist of irony or whatever else, the Bofors ghost, spanning over 27 years, was virtually laid to rest on 15 August. As India celebrated its 60th Independence, the main accused Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi was gifted out-of-the-blue his own freedom. All thanks to the bungling or connivance of the two arms of the Government --- the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Law Ministry. For reasons best known to the two, the Government shockingly withdrew its appeal in Argentina’s Supreme Court challenging the Federal Court’s order rejecting its plea for Quattrochhi’s extradition.


Recall, the Italian businessman accused of receiving $7 million in bribe as a middleman in the $1.2 billion purchase of the Bofors gun from Sweden was arrested in Argentina in February last based on an Interpol Red Corner alert. One presumed the CBI would rejoice over this unexpected windfall and would go all out to seek Quattrocchi’s extradition having failed to extradite him from Malaysia two years ago. More so, after the sharp flak it justifiably received for having allowed the defreezing of his accounts before the UK Crown Prosecution Service on the ground that there was no case against him.


Wrong. One has only to see the sordid somersaults by the Government from the Prime Minister downwards, the Congress and the CBI in la affaire Quattrocchi to know that all talk of morality, accountability and honesty is essentially public posturing and making the right noises. By Government after Government. All setting up Committee after Committee. All tom-toming their intentions. The net result? A big, big zero.


What else can one expect from a polity which rationalizes the irrational and even tries to justify the inclusion of tainted ministers in the Cabinet by arguing that there is no such law or any Parliamentary convention that bars them from holding office. And deplores the expulsion of 18 errant MPs in the cash-for-question scandal and the MPLADS (Local Area Development Fund) as an attack on the poor-have-nots and illiterate MPs.


Whats new? Aren’t we accustomed to an immoral, corrupt, criminal and unaccountable polity who could stoop to anything for paisa and gaddi. Wherein a ghotala of few thousand crores is not worthy of feeding the chara of morality. To quote former Prime Minister Vajpayee’s speech in the Lok Sabha during the debate in the Hawala scam in 1996: “Politics has become a way of making money.”


What troubles one is the new dimension to this age-old malaise. That it does not strike any chord among our leaders who have reduced graft to a farcical political pantomime. They conveniently wash their hands off corruption by calling it a “systematic failure.” Or cursorily dismiss it as one of the ‘unlisted’ perks of their jobs. Are they kidding? In plain English this translates into a fig leaf to cover their shocking incompetence and scandalous failure.


Most distressing is that there is no sense of outrage or shame. Now corruption is naked, unashamed, public and brazen. Sanjiva Reddy’s words haunt and taunt us. On the eve of laying down his office as the President of India he told INFA years ago that public morality has sunk so low that “anyone who has opportunity to make money and doesn’t do so is a bloody fool.” How true.


Tragically, India’s downslide has been rapid. With every passing year and election, the barometer of corruption and immorality is steadily rising wherein it no longer shocks or causes mass protests. It is slowly becoming an accepted norm, part of one’s routine. Curse all, but the majority willingly has come to lump it. Shrugged off as a price one has to pay for democracy.


How does one eradicate this scourge? There are many remedies if one is dead serious. Remember, what the people ultimately want is transparency and accountability. That is the crux of the problem of our polity. Alas, this has so far been only preached ad nauseum but seldom practiced. The top has to be clean to make the lower levels clean. Yatha raja tatha praja. The harsh truth is that no politician has till date been able to overcome his greed and bell the big fat cat of corruption. All have reduced it to merely chasing a mirage and indulging in shameless hypocrisy and humbug.


All in all, the UPA and its leaders, especially Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chairman Sonia Gandhi, are clearly on test. Are they really serious about combating corruption or have they willy nilly decided to surrender shamelessly to horrendous corruption? In case they are serious, the Government must finalise the Lok Pal Bill without delay and ensure that it is enacted latest in Parliament’s winter session. Else, an increasingly agitated and restive public will be justified in concluding that honesty is only a fallacy of imagination and no longer the best policy! ---- INFA

(Copyright India News and Feature Alliance)          


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