Sunday, June 19, 2011

Save the Prime Minister from Lok Pal

The debate that the prime minister should or should not be under the ambit of Lok Pal is misplaced. To me the answer is an unequivocal YES. Is there need for a debate here for something as obvious as this?

Why should the prime minister be exempted? Is it because he is the most powerful government functionary? It does not make him above the law. Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely; so more power at the disposal of a government functionary, greater is the scope of corruption. Corruption is authority plus monopoly minus transparency. The prime minister, therefore, should be the first one to be included in the Lok Pal's ambit, not last, followed by other ministers, judges and bureaucrats.

This does not mean that we have no faith in the prime minister. But if there is no hanky-panky happening at the prime minister’s office, there should not be any problem to be open to scrutiny. In any case the Lok Pal decision is not final, it can be challenged at the higher judiciay: high courts and supreme court.

The fear is there for everyone to see. But that has not been forwarded the reason for the exemption of prime minister from this specialised scrutiny against corruption.

It is important to point out that corruption is not all about money chnaging hands as they say "under the table". I like what Eric Hoffer, an American social writer and philosopher, has to say on this: "It is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from their sense of inadequacy and impotence." Our prime minister has been referred as the 'weakest' and is a political light weight. Lack of strong leadership is part of the problem of failure to stem corruption.

This will create another power centre outside government, argue some in civil society who seem to be jealous of what Anna Hazare accomplished in quick time by Gandhian methods, also tongue wagging Congress party spokespersons make a similar point. If the prime minister and his/her office is clean in its dealings, Lok Pal will be just a mute viewer. There will be no other power centre.

The other argument is: The prime minister and his cabinet is only responsible to the people of India via the Parliament. There are ample institutional mechanism in place, already, to deal with corruption, why add to the bureaucracy in name of Lok Pal, another source of drain to scarce public resources.

This objection is stupid to the extent that it is actually funny. It is a blatant lie, not an excuse. If the existing institutional arrangements are effective: How come three trillion dollars worth of black money from India is stashed in the foreign banks? There are hundred equally compelling examples to make this point, let’s not bother to list them.

Now, we have entered this strange phase in our parliamentary democracy where it is possible for a ‘clean’ prime minister to head a ‘corrupt’ cabinet. This was taught to me in class five: cabinet is collectively responsible to the parliament, cabinet does not exist or function in the individual capacity of ministers, all the work done by the government is the collective decision of the cabinet, and prime minister as per the Constitution has no special privilege vis-à-vis ministers, he is just first amongst equal.

So, as per the Constitution, clearly prime minister cannot be ‘clean’ if even one member of the cabinet is found corrupt, because his corrupt dealings has the sanction of the whole cabinet, presided over by the prime minister. That is why I feel sorry for A Raja, the former telecom minister who has made home in Tihar jail, what he did is wrong, but that happened with the full knowledge of the ministries of Law and Finance and the prime minister’s office. Prime minister Manmohan Singh in writing raised certain issues of propriety with A Raja, when the latter insisted on pursuing the policy without incorporating the suggestions made by the prime minister in writing, the prime minister office replied in one line: “acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated….” Which was a tacit go-ahead. Now, under these circumstances, why should Raja be languishing in the jail alone?

The prime minister being a cabinet member holds many portfolios, like Manmohan Singh is also cabinet minister of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Railways, Planning, Culture, Atomic Energy & Department of Space. Now if prime minister is out of the ambit of Lok Pal, these ministries will too be exempted from corruption centric scrutiny. There is no reason why this special privilege be extended.

The move to create effective institution that will cease corruption to be a safe crime is methodologically mislead by pegging it on the prime minister. There is a much more basic question to ask here: is government serious to deal with corruption?

The reply to this question is also unequivical NO.

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