If legislators are paid handsomely and the cost of elections is met by the government, a lot of political corruption will be taken care of. But Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev seem to be pursuing less workable ideas.

According to the philosopher Bushido, death has to be the ultimate strategy for any samurai. Anna Hazare or Baba Ramdev are not samurai; they may not have even heard of them. In any case, the Congress party has called their bluff and both have given up their threat to fast unto death. The Congress party may congratulate itself on diminishing their importance but the issue of corruption that these agitators have raised is real and will not go away. That was why the Independence Day this year was sad.

The two agitators have misread Gandhiji’s philosophy; that is why they failed. Gandhiji treated his adversary, the British, with utmost respect. He did not threaten to throw them into jail. In contrast, both Hazare and Baba Ramdev want the present rulers to pass laws which will inevitably send many of them into jail. Whatever values our politicians have, the desire to commit hara-kiri is not one of them. The entire programme that the two envisaged was therefore bound to fail right at the outset.

Suppose instead, the two had said: “But for the grace of God, there go I. Therefore, we have no desire to punish any of you but would like to change the system so that you do not have to indulge in corruption.” That argument would probably have received a more sympathetic ear.

Funding elections in kind

Then, as a first instance, we would like to pay you well — as well as Gandhiji wanted. Gandhiji’s limit of Rs 500 a month in 1938 comes to Rs 10 lakh today. Let us make that the salary not for ministers alone but for all MLAs with regular upgrades according to inflation. Because he accepted Rs 1,200 a month paid to Bombay ministers, let us make the equivalent Rs 24 lakh a month (again linked to inflation) the salary for all MPs. If that was the first move, how many legislators would have rejected that?

Next, we know that elections are costly. Hence, suppose it had been proposed that the entire cost of elections would be met — but only in kind — by the government. Further, what that ought to be is left to the decision of the contestants themselves.

That freedom is important because the cost of fighting elections in Mizoram or in Maharashtra is vastly different. So, when the contestants are given the freedom to decide what all facilities they should have, will they object?

Once these two propositions are made, there is the obvious fear that every Tom, Dick and Harry would like to jump in to contest elections. Hence, as a corrective, let it be proposed that the security deposit each candidate has to provide to the Election Commission should be equal to the proposed one month’s pay — Rs 10 lakh for MLAs and Rs 24 lakh for MPs. Will that not be considered reasonable and hence acceptable? Then, will not the number of contestants become a manageable figure?

Trying for Corruption

These reforms are likely to be acceptable to a majority of legislators. When these reforms are introduced, there will be next to no need to collect money under the table. Suppose a few recalcitrant legislators remain corrupt. To prevent them from indulging in such activities, we might add one more rule: all complaints of corruption against politicians will be heard daily by judges and judgement delivered within three months — failing which the judge concerned loses his or her position.

We can add one more rule: let the legislator have a function to serve the constituents. The constituents will have any number of complaints against the administration. As matters stand, a legislator can at best use his or her influence to get the official transferred.

Suppose, the legislator is made an honorary public prosecutor with authority to prosecute in a court of law any offending official. Then, several benefits emerge. One, administrators are under constant pressure to act properly and yet they are not subject to the whims and fancies of legislators: they have an opportunity to defend themselves in a court of law. If it is the rule that these cases, too, should be heard daily, the trials will not be a longstanding burden. Thus, legislators would have the power to question publicly misconduct of individual officials and, in turn, the officials would have the opportunity to defend themselves — once again publicly.

I assert that in such a case, neither politicians nor officials will have much opportunity to indulge in corruption.

Competition necessary

The system can be tightened further by making the runner-up to the legislator in the election an honorary joint public prosecutor and be paid half of what the legislator gets. Then, there will be competition between the two about who keeps officials in better check. The competition is important. It is the absence of any competition once a legislator is elected that has fuelled a lot of corruption.

Thus, paying legislators well, justifying that by invoking Gandhiji himself, meeting in full the cost of elections as desired by the contestants themselves, making judiciary decide cases promptly, and further making legislators honorary public prosecutors (along with their runners-up as joint honorary public prosecutors) should be a saleable proposition. They are likely to be accepted by most legislators. When they do, corruption should become negligible.

I would like to add that the basic principle of information theory also be accepted: every voter be allowed to cast as many votes as there are candidates. Then, every candidate is forced to address the entire constituency; hence, that will eliminate narrow sectarian candidates; that will give a fillip to those who think of their constituency as a whole and the country as a whole.

Respect — and profit — are what everybody needs.

(The author is a former Director, IIT, Madras. Response to indiresan@gmail.com and blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

This is 336th in the Vision 2020 series. The previous article appeared on August 11.

(This article was published on August 24, 2012)
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