Monday, June 17, 2013

London's speeding Minister is jailed; Our speeding MLA beats the cop

Ours is the only democracy in the world where people's representatives can commit crimes and still walk around with their heads held high as people's representatives. Sure, a few Suresh Kalmadis and A. Rajas have recently seen the insides of jails. But the notion that people's representatives are above the law remains firmly entrenched. The "I-have-done-no-wrong" statements issued by the recently sacked Ashwini Kumar and Bansal are the passwords of the corrupt.

Elsewhere Presidents and Prime Ministers pay dearly for their crimes. Look at what happened in the country with which we have the closest soul links, Italy. Silvio Berlusconi, fresh out of the Prime Minister's office, was sentenced last month to four years in jail. Ravishing under-aged girls was the least important of the charges against him. The ones that weighed more heavily were tax fraud, bribing lawyers and breaching confidentiality.

In Israel, a man who was President from 2000 to 2007, Moshe Katsav, was given a 7-year jail sentence for raping a woman and molesting two others who worked for him. Confirming a lower court verdict, Israel's Supreme Court said, "It is hard to see someone who served as an official symbol of the state going to jail". But to jail he went.

We have had no President or Prime Minister who violated under-aged girls, at least not as far as we know. But we have had senior ministers who "forgot" to pay income tax for decades, and who breached confidentiality to help foreign intelligence agencies. Not only did nothing happen to them; they remained venerated leaders.

The Philippines had a matinee idol, Joseph Estrada, as President. Philippine Presidents exercise power, like American Presidents, and Estrada took off like the hero of an action thriller, treating the whole country like a wild-west movie set. Half way through his term, he was forced out of office and into jail for corruption. The most serious of eight charges filed against him was "plunder". Another President, Gloria Macapagal, was also arrested, first for election fraud and a second time for "plunder".

In fact, some Asian countries whose democratic credentials we do not recognise have a better record than us about holding their leaders accountable. Taiwan's President, Chen Shui-bian was jailed in 2009 for corruption. Two years later he was given an extra term of nearly three years for forgery and money-laundering. Similar things have happened in South Korea. In Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had to flee to avoid a jail sentence. He is still staying away although his sister Yingluck is the current Prime Minister.

War crimes are an altogether different-game where punishment is selective. Recently Guatemala's ex-dictator Efrain Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison, primarily for the genocide of Mayan people. Last year Liberia's ex-president Charles Taylor was given 50 years in jail for war crimes.

The biggest war crimes of our age were committed by Kissinger-Nixon in Cambodia/Vietnam and Cheney-Bush in Iraq. But they will never be hauled up before any court -- the privilege of superpowers. We should look not at the US but at Britain if we want an object lesson in democracy.

Jonathan Aitken, a Conservative Party minister was imprisoned in 1999, and Conservative Deputy Chairman Jeffrey Archer in 2001 for perjury, violating an oath. Chris Huhne who was Energy Minister in the current coalition Government was caught speeding in 2003. He told the police officer that his wife Vicky was driving. This helped him escape a driving ban, but the wife had penalty points entered in her driving licence. Eight years later Huhne abandoned his wife for another woman. Vicky took revenge by revealing that he had lied to the police about the over-speeding. The case was re-opened and both were sent to jail for "joint offence". Huhne's party is still in office, but he resigned from parliament in disgrace.

Compare this with the police officer who booked a Mumbai MLA for speeding. He, the policeman, was suspended, then called to the legislative assembly and beaten up there by a gang of MLAs. In India people's representatives are a shame.