Indian democracy is a tale of schizophrenic irony. ‘Global Corruption Barometer 2013’, a survey conducted by Transparency International, says 85 per cent of Indians believe politicians are corrupt. Yet they vote for them. In turn, politicians do not protect people. They protect their own. Hostilities were suspended after the Supreme Court ordered that legislators should be immediately disqualified upon conviction; all parties irrespective of conviction banded together to oppose the order. Election rules allow politicians on trials to contest polls or serve as legislators. The ruling that politicians cannot contest elections from jail further irked our netas: in many cases, the politicians concerned are on bail anyway.
In another case of political protectionism, the Union Cabinet approved amendments to the Right to Information Act to keep political parties out of its purview. The amendment exempts parties from sharing funding details, hiding corporate contributions that are bribes for favourable policies. Outwardly, corruption is a political tool for the Opposition to debunk the government. The Congress-led UPA government has given its foes enough ammunition on this score. The government accuses the Opposition of being disruptionist because it wants to stall reform. Yet, the collusion between the two becomes painfully apparent when mutual interests are at stake.
The angry politicians demand that a lawmaker should not be disqualified immediately on being convicted for an offence attracting a sentence of two years or more. Their argument is, besides the politician losing his legislative status, he would be left without redress if acquitted after his term expires. Examining the roll call of netas jailed in the recent past, acquittals mostly have not been forthcoming, or have been reversed on appeals. Of 545 elected MPs, criminal cases are pending against around 30 per cent as of May 2011. Seventy-six MPs, including 13 from the Congress and 19 from the BJP, face serious criminal charges like murder, rape and extortion. Is it any wonder that any attempt to reverse the criminalisation of politics is met with stiff opposition? The list of politicians in and out of jail comprises the Who’s Who of India’s political establishment: Om Prakash Chautala, A Raja, Kanimozhi, Madhu Koda, Suresh Kalmadi, Kripashankar Singh, Ashok Chavan, R Balakrishna Pillai, Jagan Mohan Reddy, B S Yeddyurappa, G Janardhana Reddy et al are either in jail or on bail. A Samajwadi Party politician proudly boasts of getting an honest bureaucrat framed and suspended in minutes for taking on the sand mafia. The nexus of big business, politics and the bureaucracy subverting the law is well documented.
If the politician is the most visible face of corruption among the ruling class, there are the silent ones who move the levers of power, staying in the background. A survey on Asian officialdom notes that Indian bureaucracy is the worst in Asia, rating 9.21 out of 10. Institutions like the CAG have opened cans of worms in babudom in many public developmental schemes. Bureaucrats indicted of corruption continue in high positions of power. The jail records of babus rival that of politicians: senior bureaucrats have been imprisoned for scams ranging from 2G to land allotments to amassing disproportionate assets.
As far back as 300 BC, Chanakya wrote, “Just as it is not possible not to taste honey or poison put on the surface of the tongue, it is not possible for government servants dealing with money not to taste it in however small quantities.” In this ancient vice, the quantities have become monumental today. The only way to check corruption in the bureaucracy is to clean up the political stables. The fault doesn’t lie with the corrupt politician alone, but with the people who elect criminals. Caste, religious factors and money power get more votes than genuine democratic interest. Anti-corruption crusades like Anna Hazare’s are either discredited or collapse under the weight of internal contradictions. The rulers will always look out for their own, and it is time India looked out for itself.