Monday, June 6, 2011

Deceiving the people in legal ways is still deception. It won't work

Deceiving, alas, has become part of democracy. It can be brazen or it can be subliminal , the latter being more cunning and therefore more destructive. India goes brazen when big private interests have to be protected. But at the subliminal level, it is continuously deceptive – and continuously corroding the vitals of the country.

When Union Carbide's Anderson was given a special plane and helped to flee the country in the wake of the Bhopal gas catastrophe, the state was deceiving the Indian people. In contrast, when BP's oil well caught fire in American waters, President Obama himself led the campaign to get full compensation from the oil major. American interests first for America. American interests first for India too!

It is a perennial mystery that India has no qualms about putting other people's interests above its own. When European adventurers dropped arms in Purulia forests, one of the brigands was able to stop off in Bombay and walk out of the crowded airport a free man; Wikileaks has since told us that the arms drop was a clandestine state operation to topple West Bengal's communist government. The biggest deception of all was the state brazening it out in the Quattrochi case from beginning to end.

Subliminal deception takes place mostly through manipulative legislation. In a nutshell, laws are framed to make office-holders virtually immune to prosecution. This trick began with the dawn of independence. It continues with renewed vigour as we can see in the state's latest hardening of attitude in the drafting of the Lokpal bill.

Remember, the state was ready with a draft bill. It was its toothlessness that led to a groundswell of unexpected public support to Anna Hazare's campaign for a meaningful draft. The Government's acceptance of the Hazare position was quick, evidently because it was rattled by the explosion of public opinion, as it is rattled by Baba Ramdev now. But there were doubts whether the Government would agree to a law with real power to punish corrupt officials.

The doubts are now confirmed. The Government representatives in the drafting committee now insist that any Lokpal legislation should not apply to the Prime Minister, the higher judiciary and – this is revealing – bureaucrats of the lower levels and MPs in their “conduct in Parliament”. The first two categories had been widely discussed and many, including former Prime Minister Vajpayee and some members of the present ruling elite, had agreed to their inclusion. The Government has actually gone back on its previous position.

The exclusion of bureaucrats and MPs from the Lokpal's jurisdiction gives the game away. From the day the Constitution was enacted and conduct rules for the services formulated, bureaucrats have been protecting themselves and their political mentors with all kinds of immunities and exemptions. The most pernicious idea is that to prosecute someone against whom there is prima facie evidence, you need the permission of his higher-up, bureaucratic or political. Since abusers of power operate in packs, permission is hardly ever granted. The guilty remain free to add to their guilt.

The case of MPs is even more scandalous. We have the worst types of people getting elected and the shameful episode of MPs taking bribes to raise questions in Parliament is still fresh in memory. None of the offending MPs was punished, so some are presumably still making money through their “conduct in Parliament”.

What the latest Government stand brings to light is that the intentions of the ruling class are not honourable. They want to have laws that will not punish the guilty. They want to deceive the people. They want to do this while publicly proclaiming, as Sonia Gandhi recently did, that “transparency is the very heart of our governance”. Wrong. Deception is the very heart of governance. It has been so under all political parties. It won't work much longer because the people have seen through the game. Even the brouhaha over Baba Ramdev's 5-star jetset satyagraha will not dilute public disgust with corruption.