Imperious ways

| Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on May 28, 2013

A consultative approach to appointments vested with constitutional sanctity will have a positive bearing on governance.

The exit of Vinod Rai as Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India after several turbulent confrontations with the Government during his five-year tenure over corruption brings to mind some well known Shakespearean quotes. Lady Macbeth’s guilty cri d’çouer, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say! What need we fear when none can call our power to account?” is one. And echoing Henry the Second about Thomas Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Prime Minister may well have said to himself, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” So fierce was the assault launched by Rai on corruption that, to remind the Congress party of another quote from a former Indian prime minister, “ Nani yaad aa gayi”. Yet, since the Constitution fixes the CAG’s term as five years, the Government only had to wait it out to appoint someone else. That it has done, in the person of Shashi Kant Sharma upon his retirement as defence secretary. Sharma now has the strange job of having to audit the actions taken by the Defence Ministry, some of them under his stewardship. No wonder it has been said by some wise man from China: “Be careful what you wish for” because Sharma is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Or, as the Greeks would have it, he will have to sail between Scylla the monster and Charybdis the whirlpool. No sailor emerged unscathed. Sharma will have to strive hard to become the lone exception.

These confrontations and dilemmas would not arise, at least with such intensity, if the Government agreed to adopt a more consultative approach to the appointment of all posts that have an important bearing on government and governance. The method followed in the case of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) could be applied to all these posts so that loyalty to the Government in power (or the expectation of it after being appointed) is not the sole criterion. The CVC’s appointment is made only after the Speaker and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha have been consulted. But sometimes even that may not be enough because, as became clear during the P.J. Thomas affair, the Leader of the Opposition had objected to his being appointed. The Government had ignored her objections.

A better is way is to get such appointments made by a committee of Parliament comprising an odd-numbered set of MPs not exceeding seven and not more than one from each party. The Government should propose at least five candidates and this committee should interview them, spending a full day with each. This would be the Indian version of the American system of confirmation hearings but without its problems. The current system is a legacy of the British Raj which refused to trust the ‘natives’. The sooner it is jettisoned, the better off India will be.

Published on May 28, 2013
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