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Corruption: A crucial election plank

Shantonu Sen and N Dilip Kumar discuss the prevention of Jan Lokpal from taking the spotlight and ameliorating a corruption-plagued country

Corruption: A crucial election plank

Ombudsman created more than a hundred years ago in Sweden has given that Norwegian country a corruption-free government. Years ago with a hope similar, Abhishek Manu Singhvi's father, late L M Singhvi, gave us Lokpal in 1963, but the country has struggled for over 60 years to make it a reality. That hope has been belied. Years later, in 2011, the Kejriwal-Anna Hazare combine, riding on momentum against corruption sweeping the country, gave us Jan Lokpal. Politicians with their extra sensory perceptions working overtime joined the bandwagon in apparent support, but it was only a charade. The draft of Jan Lokpal was diluted. Without CBI and CVC, or financial autonomy, it was a make-belief creature that is yet to see the light of the day. Now comes the article by Abdul Khaliq in the Indian Express of December 14, "Panacea That Isn't", where he, without quibbling, describes the Lokpal as a monstrosity. He goes on to state an autonomous Lokpal as "calamitous for democratic institutions".

People are disappointed and disillusioned with such criticism, that too without providing an alternate thought to the perennial problem of corruption. They (who mock) do not take into account the fact that without gratis nothing moves in the government; corruption has only spread into the vitals of every system; every government scheme and every activity is affected. Instead of suggesting another effective alternative course of action, they even hail the PM for his wisdom in not filling the Lokpal, while they ignore the fact that in spite of all his public posture against corruption, Modi had made Lokayukta dysfunctional in Gujarat during all his nine years of rule, and now, has not even opened the institution of Lokpal at the Centre since the time BJP has come to power. The country is aware that this government has even thwarted the efforts of AAP government to form the Jan Lokpal for Delhi by snatching away their ACB when they registered a case against Mukesh Ambani and others in the Rs 50000 crore Krishna-Godavari basin gas deal fraud. Is it all wisdom or collusion with the corrupt? Moreover, their argument that the present imbroglio in CBI calls for a rethink on the creation of Lokpal since autonomy would endanger the democratic polity of our country does not hold water. The present crisis in CBI is only a creation of BJP since the top two officers are only the picks of the present government, by ignoring the real merits required to run an institution like CBI. No one can ignore the fact that little has been done to fight out corruption. Undoubtedly, under these circumstances, corruption takes the centre stage in the days to come before India goes to mega polls in 2019. No political party can afford to skirt this issue.

Contrast this with the public perception and belief that the nail which sent BJP to the coffin in 2018 state elections in the Hindi heartland was Rahul's cry "Chowkidar chor hai" and farmer loan waiver assurance. Corruption, as it did with V P Singh in the '90s, and Anna Hazare in 2011, is again well on its way to become a raison d'être for all the distress to farmers, small shopkeepers, the unemployed youth, senior citizens with a fixed source of income, et al. Whenever acute stress strikes all and sundry, anti-corruption drive assumes an overwhelming presence. The multiple-community distresses that also need amelioration and correction surface, with corruption being the cause of it, become the talking point. The agrarian distress is stark and Rahul succeeded in seizing upon it — most obvious to attract votes — but the references that were no less telling were to the chowkidar and Rafale. He has emerged as the victor. He also knows a loan waiver is not the complete solution of the distress that has laid farmers low. To work on it, corruption has to be defeated.

Corruption is laying the entire country low and that is no secret. It is also no secret that Narendra Modi rose to power on his strident cries 'nah khaunga nah Khane dunga' and 'chowkidar'. This cry continues to be relevant. It resonates. Yet, there is so much that remains undone in the field of anti-corruption. That is something all parties out seeking votes will hopefully keep in mind in 2019.

2018 has been voters' affirmation that they are calling the shots. The high voter turn-out and the huge upsurge in the votes cast by women is a signal that our democracy has come of age. Yogi has called the BJP removal from seat of power 'a victory of deceit'. But, what is the assertion of a larger will over the lesser one is democracy at work. Pejorative dismissal of people's decision in this manner is arrogance and could cost the party with a difference heavily in 2019. Can it yet ask for votes in the name of its anti-corruption front, since what the country has witnessed till now is only hypocrisy?

Be that as it may, Rahul Gandhi has shown the way how to seize upon an idea, turned it into action within ten days on coming to power as promised. Loan waivers are announced. Something similar is needed in the field of anti-corruption if any party or a conglomeration of parties come to power. Barring a few sceptics or vested interests, people, in general, do not entertain any doubts about the effectiveness of an autonomous Lokpal.

When the Ombudsman in Sweden could be so successful, there is no reason why Lokpal should not be in our country. Yes, it can be a monster for the corrupt. But it would also be a saviour for the innocent. Only that the selection of Lokpal should be above board. There is no dearth of honest, competent and impartial people in the country. Once they are in place, there would be no prejudices, no selective amnesia in actions of CBI and CVC, or any anti-corruption and vigilance agencies in states, as is the present state of affairs, with a stranglehold of political dispensation over these institutions. And what is there to be afraid of the Lokpal? After all, they would only act within the perimeter of laws enacted. Initiating enquiries and investigations, according to sanction for prosecution, and monitoring of trials would be done by an autonomous and impartial Lokpal at the Centre, and such body in a state. For this, it should be made totally autonomous like Swedish Ombudsman to control CBI and CVC, or ACB and Vigilance at the state level, instead of government and the vested interests in bureaucracy controlling and guiding these agencies. It should become a nightmare to the corrupt. All the tall promises made for decades by all political parties across the country to root out corruption, having zero tolerance for corruption, have only been proved as empty rhetoric. Hence, the need for this change. With the change sought, the meddling of governments in impartial enquiries would stop. The country and people would gain faith in these institutions. It is vox populi. Political parties no longer can afford to ignore the people's voice.

Rafale deal for many is suspect. Yet, cries of enquiries either court-monitored or by JPC are aborted. Had there been a Lokpal, autonomous and armed with CBI and CVC, this enquiry could have started long ago. Therefore, a Lokpal promise will be a vote catcher of great significance.

(Shantonu Sen, former Jt Director, CBI; Dr N Dilip Kumar IPS (Retd), former Member, Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Shantonu Sen and N Dilip Kumar

Shantonu Sen and N Dilip Kumar

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