P V Indiresan

Better ways to take on corruption

Updated on: Apr 17, 2011
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Anna Hazare's initiative is not without its limitations. The proposed Lokpal Bill focuses on punishing the corrupt, without addressing institutional issues such as electoral reforms, which are crucial to prevent corruption.

The “triumph” of Mr Anna Hazare in forcing the government to yield to his demands on the Lokpal Bill is at best like the proverbial curate's egg — good in parts. Governments in Delhi have used every trick not to pass a Lokpal Bill for over 40 years.  However, as Rousseau has explained, democracy is a system which enables ordinary people — who have either no time or knowledge or inclination to involve themselves in politics — to select persons of their choice to undertake political management. He expected that electors will choose only those experts who are qualified to take on responsibilities of governance. Having done so, how can ordinary people interfere with the expert opinions and actions of their elected representatives? Would that not lead to anarchy? There are some people who think that the problem lies in our character.  They forget that England too had what have been known as “Rotten Boroughs”.  Some of them had only three voters who could elect two MPs!  

GOVT VIEW ON LOKPAL

These boroughs became such a scandal that they were at long last removed by the Reform Act of 1832.  However, that reform was brought about by the British Parliament itself, by pressure from active MPs who were concerned about the dangers of very small constituencies being purchased by unscrupulous persons. Unfortunately, it is not clear whether there is any such concern among our own MPs. Essentially, the movement led by Anna Hazare wants the following for the Lokpal: (a) Powers to receive complaints directly from the public; (b) authority to prosecute and punish any politician or civil servant; (c) convict people within a time frame and (d) be selected not by politicians but by a group of reputed citizens.

The Bill proposed by the government does not accept any of these but vests all powers with politicians. The differences are serious and it is doubtful whether politicians will agree to surrender the absolute authority they enjoy at present.

Already, Mr Sibal, the Telecom Minister, has raised doubts about the utility of the Bill proposed by Anna Hazare.  The Chief Minister of Punjab has said that there will always be corruption and nothing will stop it.  Thus, the unfortunate fact is that powerful politicians have lost a sense of shame; they will use every tactic to delay and frustrate the do-gooders.

REAL ISSUES OVERLOOKED

A serious problem with the proposed Lokpal Bill is that it emphasises punishment for the corrupt and expects that fear will prevent corruption.  It is well known that prevention is better than punishment.  The Lokpal Bill is glaringly at fault on that score.

Why do we need a Lokpal at all?  Why not confer the same powers and freedom on the existing judiciary? I have suggested that competition is a powerful force that will favour probity.   A serious flaw in all democratic countries is that, once elected, legislators face no competition until the time of the next election.  What they need is a continuous comparison with a competitor.  The runner-up in any election should be given the authority as well as the financial and legal means to compete with the elected representative to process complaints from their voters. Both should also be paid very well and have the authority to take up their cases before appropriate judicial authorities.

DISCONNECT WITH PEOPLE

We all know that the French nobility were wiped out in the French Revolution, but the British nobility survived such a horror.  

The main reason was that the British nobility had a system of “seasons”.  They went to London during the spring; probably moved on to the sea side in the summer; then there was the hunting season; and finally during winter they were back in their estates. It was not unusual for a British noble to spend as much as six months in his country estates.

In contrast, the French nobility stayed on in Paris throughout the year; they never knew their tenants.  British nobles may have been authoritarian but they were seen as human beings who often did resolve disputes and maintained a minimum of justice in their estates.  In contrast, the French nobility were total strangers to their own people.

We have a similar situation in our country with our MPs.  How many Business Line readers can even name their MPs?  How many of them can meet their MPs or MLAs and be confident they will take up their complaints with the authorities? Our MPs are like the French nobility; many of them are parasites. That is why they have to pay obeisance to the likes of Anna Hazare.

British MPs hold what they call “surgeries” where they meet their constituents and try to resolve their complaints.

 Fortunately, their constituencies are small, only a few tens of thousands whereas an Indian MP can have a million of them.  

Even then, it is not uncommon for an Indian MP not to visit his or her constituency at all.  They do not bother to do so because (a) they have no competition and (b) they get their seat as largesse from the high command and not from the people they are supposed to represent.  They do not even know whether they can contest from the same seat again.

REFORM AREAS

Candidates for elections should not be selected by party high commands but by local representatives, and MPs should be in constant competition with their runner-ups for local attention.  

The judiciary should be given the powers and privileges proposed for the Lokpal — when the judiciary is good, we do not need any Lokpal: That is the case in developed countries.

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

This is 301st in the Vision 2020 series. The previous article appeared on April 4.

Published on March 12, 2018

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