Monday, January 2, 2012

If the War Against Corruption Becomes Just a Game, Let Politicians Beware

Albert Camus begins his famous essay The Fastidious Assassins with a provocation: “There are crimes of passion and crimes of logic”. The dividing line is not clear, he warns in aggravation. When India's leaders use democracy to frustrate democracy, is it a crime of passion or crime of logic – or does it not matter since the line that divides them is not clear anyway?

Although we have one of the finest democratic constitutions in the world, it is a fact that the practice of democracy has been at variance with the spirit of it. Indira Gandhi declared a harsh autocracy in 1975 in the name of the Constitution. Yet, the Emergency was only the most dramatic abuse of democracy. Less spectacularly the system has been getting subverted in our everyday lives. The way people with criminal records get elected to legislatures is a result of this subversion. The corruption that engulfs our lives is another.

It is in this context that we must look at the Lokpal brouhaha in and outside Parliament. The honourable as well as the dishonourable members ensured that the debate had very little to do with corruption and the problem of containing it. It was a political game for them – how to appear to be against corruption and yet keep alive the corrupt practices that sustained them in power.

It was no accident that the loudest, almost emotional, speech in the Lok Sabha was that of Lalu Prasad Yadav. He condemned the Lokpal bill not because it was toothless but because it dared to put on some false denture. “Anyone can file a case and hound you, calling you a chor”, he told his fellow MPs. This is a man who has half a dozen cases pending against him, some of them serious enough to hound him even in jail. People called him chor in the fodder scam. But why worry? The master manipulator in Lalu has managed not only to remain out of jail but also to bargain with Delhi to ensure for himself a position of importance in parliamentary arithmetic. Smart cookies like Lalu and Mayawati are above Lokpals and constitutions. They lend meaning to the slogan, Incredible India!

It was farcical to see the BJP accusing the Congress of losing its moral authority when it lost the Constitution Amendment Bill. Which party today has any moral authority to lose? As seen by the people, all parties are selfish and insincere, hence the historical groundswell of support to the anti-corruption movement initiated by Anna Hazare. That support has not ebbed despite the Gandhian's Mumbai fast ending abruptly in an anticlimax.

Of the many points that underline politicians' insincerity, not to mention ulterior motive, consider just three. First, the BJP ensured that the Lokpal Act would have no constitutional status. Which means that a government can abolish the law with the simple expedient of an ordinance. Secondly, the Congress introduced the idea of minority representation in the composition of the Lokpal – as absurd as a minority quota in the Supreme Court or Election Commission, and blatantly politically motivated on the eve of the UP elections.

The third point covers the CBI, a central element in combating corruption. The bill as envisaged by the Congress leaves the Lokpal with no power to control the CBI; the Government will control it. Only during Jawaharlal Nehru's and then Lal Bahadur Shastri's regimes could the CBI function independently. Beginning with Indira Gandhi, every Prime Minister has used the CBI as a political tool. A Lokpal with no real powers of investigation and prosecution will be a phoney Lokpal. It will make no difference to the culture of corruption that is suffocating India.

Towards the end of his essay, Camus asks a question that is scary. “Does the end justify the means? That is possible. But what will justify the end?. To that question, which historic thought leaves pending, rebellion replies: the means”. That's Camus's way of saying: Beware.