Quit corruption: another jumla or sincere effort?

Quit corruption: another jumla or sincere effort?
In his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ address on the anniversary of the Quit India Movement in August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorted the nation to imbibe the same spirit and expel corruption, communalism, casteism, poverty and dirt by 2022. The Quit Corruption or ‘Bhrashtachar Hatao’ slogan of the PM reminds us of Indira Gandhi’s ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan that propelled her to power in 1971. Whether the PM’s exhortation to the countrymen is another election jumla (gimmick) or a sincere pledge remains to be seen.

Take the case of appointment of a Lokpal. Despite enactment of the Lokpal Act in January 2014, the Modi government is dragging its feet on the appointment of a Lokpal who could play an important role in the war against corruption. The government has delayed a decision citing the absence of a designated Leader of Opposition to select a Lokpal. Despite a Supreme Court bench in April 2017 directing the central government to go ahead and make the appointment, there is no action from the Modi government. This puts under question Modi’s sincerity in tackling corruption. Lest we forget, during his tenure as Gujarat CM, Modi steamrolled efforts to appoint a Lokayukta in that state.

Finally, then Gujarat Governor Kamla Beniwal exercised her discretionary powers and appointed retired Judge R A Mehta as Lokayukta. The appointment was challenged by the Modi government in the Supreme Court, which upheld the appointment. Judge Sahai, acting as third judge because of a split verdict, upheld the appointment and indicted the Modi government, noting that: the “pranks” played by the chief minister on the Lokayukta issue “demonstrates deconstruction of our democracy”.

Last year, the Union Finance Ministry decided that for gold purchases above Rs 50,000 one must quote the PAN number, and brought it under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). But a few weeks ago, this requirement was removed. Can political expediency to woo the powerful gold merchants lobby on the eve of the Gujarat assembly polls go hand in hand with the claimed fight against black money?

The situation is no better in non-NDA ruled states. One may recall the prestige that Justice Santosh Hegde brought to the office of Lokayukta in Karnataka. His report on illegal mining led to the indictment and jailing of then chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, the Reddy brothers of the ‘Republic of Bellary’ and others. But sadly thereafter, the scandals besetting the Lokayuta office during his successor’s tenure followed by the state government stripping the Lokayukta of its police powers made it a toothless body. The fact is that no politician wants to be questioned about his or her corrupt activities.

Cases of conviction of high profile corrupt politicians in India are few indeed, such as Sukh Ram in Himachal Pradesh (recently admitted into the BJP), Lalu Prasad in Bihar, Om Prakash Chautala in Haryana, R Balakrishna Pillai in Kerala. Most corruption cases against politicians are stalled in courts on technical or other grounds and linger on for decades, by which time judges who heard the original cases change, witnesses turn hostile, die or disappear, the public loses interest, and finally the corrupt politician goes scot free!

All this despite Section 19(3) (c) of the Prevention of Corruption Act clearly stating that “no court shall stay proceedings under this act on any ground nor should exercise the power of revision in relation to any interlocutory order passed in any inquiry, trial, appeal or other proceedings”.
Is BJP clean?

While appreciating the government for enacting laws to tackle benami assets, unaccounted money, etc., it must be noted that concerted efforts are being made to sabotage the RTI Act, which enabled the public to expose several scams. The zeal that the Modi government has shown in pursuing corruption cases against opposition leaders is conspicuously absent when it comes to those belonging to the ruling BJP. This is especially true regarding scams involving BJP politicians, such as the Vyapam Scam in Madhya Pradesh in which the CM’s name is mentioned, PDS scam in Chhattisgarh, land scams in Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Are we to believe that the ruling BJP consists of only clean people? The Supreme Court in January 2014 indicted Anandiben Patel in a land scam but that did not come in the way of her elevation as Gujarat CM later. Like the UPA government, the Modi government, too, is using central agencies such as the ED, IT and CBI to target its opponents. During UPA rule, the BJP was against enquiries by the CBI, calling it as the “Congress” Bureau of Investigation. But now when BJP is ruling at the Centre, they clamour for CBI enquiries. Investigation into the Panama Papers that exposed the illegal wealth held in offshore entities by corrupt politicians, Bollywood stars and corporates close to the ruling party have not made any headway.

Probity standards in our public life have nosedived so much that our politicians will go to any length to defend their ill-gotten wealth. I remember reading a biography of Lal Bahadur Shastri, our second prime minister, which mentioned how a leading Indian corporate had offered a lucrative job to the PM’s son, Hari Krishna Shastri. But Shastri’s son thought that he should consult his dad before he responded to this offer. Shastri reportedly told his son that this is not an offer to you but to me, the prime minister. Hari Krishna declined the job offer.

Today, we have a BJP president who defends his son whose business turnover rose from a mere Rs 50,000 to Rs 80 crore in just one year after the Modi government came to power! Union ministers have rushed to defend the BJP president’s son, whose case is even taken up by a government lawyer! Modi’s talk of “zero tolerance to corruption” and slogan of “Na Khaoonga, Na Khaane Doonga” is thus hollow.

(The writer is an economist)

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