Several incidents in the past few months have made us feel like everything is going wrong in this country. The truth however is that many things have always been wrong for a very long time. Corruption has always been around; politics has permeated into the functioning of supposedly independent governmental institutions; the judiciary has always been slow. Rather than fret or try and make political capital out of these old issues, all serious and right thinking people must focus their attention on making reforms which will clean these up.
But first and foremost, let it be known to all political parties that we the people hold all of them responsible for the mess in equal measure. It’s not like the BJP is any better than the Congress. Or the AIADMK than the DMK. Or the BSP than the SP. They are all made from the same mould and they are all responsible. Sure, some parties and some people are a shade better than others. But none of them can claim any high-ground on any of these issues. Especially the BJP which forgets that it did precisely nothing on the several issues that it is raising now. There was corruption in defense during the BJP’s time. There is corruption in Karnataka now. They did nothing to make CBI independent. They never chased down Quattrochi when they had the chance. They did nothing to bring back black money. What right do they have to now speak from a higher pedestal?
What are the reforms needed? I’ve covered many of them in my previous posts:
1) Electoral reforms: Basically, we need to understand the problems associated with coalition politics. A small coalition partner can extract a huge, disproportionate pound of flesh as part of the bargain. I don’t think there is a single Congress minister who is as corrupt or inefficient as Raja was (try naming one!). It was George Fernandes (not a BJP minister) who shamed the government in the coffin-gate scam. Smaller parties need cash to stay alive.....they are the ones who cause the maximum damage. If coalition politics is here to stay, then we must make changes that protect governance standards during such periods. Should we say that the government cannot be toppled for 5 years no matter what? Should we bind the coalition partners together for 5 years....so that they cannot defect mid-course in an attempt to put pressure on the ruling party (Something similar to the Anti-Defection Act)? Should we disallow post-election coalition partnerships and insist only on pre-election ones? Whatever we do, we need electoral reforms.
2) Judicial reforms: The judiciary itself is a huge drag on our democracy. There are two major reforms needed. a) There is need for faster speed in decision making. The judicial process cannot take 20 years in deciding on matters. How can we deny Thomas the office of CVC if his case has not been settled for the last 20 years? If there is a need for setting up more courts and having more judges, let that be done quickly. Let more law schools be set up if the talent pool needs to be increased b) There is need to weed out corruption. Especially at the lower levels, judges are known to be corrupt. Every once in a while, corruption is detected even in the SC or the HC. Why is the judiciary shielded from the regular process of law? Do you know that the judiciary is highly protective about its independence.....to the extent that appointments of judges, reviews of performance, trials in corruption cases are all outside the usual rules of law and only the CJI can decide what to do in such cases? This should be cleaned up.
3) Election funding: Most cases of corruption emerge because the political establishment needs about Rs 1 lac crore every 5 years to fight elections. While election funding is not exactly banned, it is certainly not taken to kindly by the corporates. Maybe, the government should make political funding a tax-exempt expense. Maybe the government itself should fund the elections out of its consolidated fund. Why are political parties not subjected to compulsory audit of their accounts? Unless we reform election funding, the need for corruption will never go away. Even if you and I entered politics (and I am sure we consider ourselves to be clean people!), we will become “corrupt” if we have to fight elections.
4) Babu’s salaries: Babus are professionals. While there is certainly a sense of pride in serving the country, and immense satisfaction in wielding the power than comes with the job, it is a fact that babus worry about their future as much as we do. We get paid much much more.....the starting salary of a sales exec is now Rs 3-5 lacs in the major cities. Why then are the senior-most babus paid around the same figure? Sure, babus get lots of perks....but they cannot take those perks with them after retirement. A cabinet secretary (the seniormost babu) must get a salary of at least Rs 2-3 crores a year; all other secretaries should be paid Rs 1 crore each and so on. Plus there should be incentives paid on the basis of performance appraisals. The same should apply to MPs by the way. If we have to join politics and become a minister (and stay clean), surely we need a good enough salary!
5) Make CBI autonomous; get in the Lokpal bill: There is a dying need to do this. Strange, the BJP did nothing on this when they were in power. Even on the Lokpal bill, there is a huge debate. Though the PM has suggested that his office be brought under the ambit of the Lokpal bill, there is no consensus because the draft bill leaves out the PM on foreign affairs and defense matters. There is some concern about the fact the Lokpal will be made up of 3 retired HC or SC judges.....apparently there is a worry that the judges who want this job after retirement will curry favor with the ruling party when they are still working! Surely we can plug these gaps. Interestingly, the judiciary wants to be kept out of its purview. How convenient! Likewise, everyone wants the CBI to be independent, but no one does anything about it.
There have already been many far reaching moves made in the past. Freeing up the Election Commission, enacting the Right to Information Act, keeping the judiciary totally independent, having an independent media.....these are all moves that have made us strong. We need many more similar moves.
This is where media has to get in. The only way to raise awareness about these reforms is through media. Now if only media could avoid itself from being manipulated.....and I am clearly making this accusation that media itself is part of the problem......then we can make some real progress. After all, what’s the point in cribbing about the past if you don’t have the strength to make changes for the future?
The real truth is that none of the incumbents (present beneficiaries) are interested in making real change. The BJP and the Congress don’t want the Lokpal bill (they don’t say no....they say the bill needs to be improved!). The media doesn’t want to take up its responsibility....they love to crib because that’s what gets them TRPs! The people also don’t want real change in spite of all their cribs.....because I think we are a society that loves drama! No one wants to pay more to the babus or the MPs but we want to complain about corruption! I guess, this is the very definition of
and us Indians! India