“I spoke to Mulayam-ji at 10.30 PM. Then I spoke to CM (chief minister) Akhilesh Yadav. And at 11.11 PM the Collector received the SDM’s suspension order – within 41 minutes the order came. This is the strength of democracy” thundered Narendra Bhati, a Samajwadi Party member, in a rally he organised at Gautam Budh Nagar in NOIDA in the state of Uttar Pradesh on July 28, 2013.
Narendra Bhati is also a Member of the UP Legislative Assembly and an aspiring parliamentarian. He was bragging about the way he got the Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) of New Okhla Industrial Development Area (NOIDA), Durga Sakti Nagpal a young Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, placed under suspension for allegedly having a wall demolished of a mosque coming up on a government plot of land in a village in her jurisdiction. Mercifully, he claimed that his actions symbolised triumph, presumably over the uppity IAS bureaucracy, of democracy, not his own. What he did not mention, however, was that he had enormous controlling interests in the allegedly illegal sand mining in rivers of the district which she (the SDM) cracked down upon incurring his wrath and that of his cohorts in the sand-mining mafia.
The story is indicative of two facts one of which is the way the young, honest and idealistic officers working with missionary zeal for the nation’s wellbeing in accordance with law are broken in to fall in line with the “system” so that the crooked political class could ride them on their back. All their angularities and idealisms are blunted and, finding themselves insecure, most become part of the “system”. The “system”, corrupt and anti-people, is designed and put in place by unscrupulous netas (leaders) like Bhati and bureaucrats who happened to have succumbed to their pressures forgetting about all their ideals or whatever they had joined the government with. Numerous instances have been reported of bureaucrats giving up their initial fervour under the threat of frequent capricious and penal transfers, suspensions or even more severe actions against them for not toeing the line of netas. Choosing softer options they act as handmaidens of self-serving netas and assist them in their nefarious activities.
The second fact that emerges in high relief is the way crooked politicians operate for personal gain and gains for their cronies interfering with unbiased administration, playing around with innocent bureaucrats’ careers. Over the years the netas have emerged ever stronger so much so that they can twist and bend the laws and established procedures to their personal advantage. Threats and intimidation are often taken recourse to against bureaucratic objections to get their way that is mostly irregular or even illegal. In government establishments in India nothing moves without their approval, more so in the states and their acts are mostly oriented to milking the system. Even netas outside the governing machinery have acquired a say in regard to practically every aspect of administration effectively neutralising the bureaucratic process and the Rule of Law.
They have become so power-obsessed that they do not want any check on them and their unethical and irregular activities. The Lokpal (Ombudsman) bill is a glaring example; they have stalled it for around forty five years – an enactment that would have objectively looked into their shenanigans. Even the independence of the Central Bureau of Investigation has been a bone of contention as the government of the day would not want to let go of its control over it as it is often let loose on people considered inconvenient. Besides, it is used to settle scores with its opponents and, in the current coalition era, to keep a sword hanging over corrupt netas whose support is vital for sustenance of a precariously perched government. Anna Hazare’s movement in 2011 movement was all about this vital agency but he was fobbed off by parliamentarians with a clever subterfuge. Now even the Apex Court is attempting to free it from government control. Quite obviously, in the event of it being unchained, numerous politicians – big and petty – and many legislators in the states and at the Centre would go where they legally belong – behind the bars, criminals as they all are.
No wonder, members of parliament across the entire political spectrum, who generally keep snapping at each other, have exhibited rare unity in agreeing to enact a law that negates the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the iniquitous provision in the Representation of People’s Act that protects a convicted member from disqualification on ground of pendency of appeal. The ruling alliance headed by the Congress is very clearly out to prevent criminals from going to jail! It is such a pity that the party that spearheaded the Freedom Struggle epitomising observance of strict morality in politics has come to plumb such depths of un-ethicality and pursue politics devoid of any values.
Again, MPs displayed the same rare unity in asking the government to amend the Right to Information Act to keep political parties out of its purview. The Central Information Commissioner (CIC) had brought six major political parties under the Act being recipients of government largesse. It hit them where it hurts most as most of them have shady dealings and none has ever declared the sources of their funds. Besides, they also harbour criminals on the basis of their utility in fund-raising and winnability. As the CIC decision shattered their opacity bringing all their fishy activities in public domain all of them were up in arms against him.
The netas always gang up whenever their interests are at stake. The former Lok Sabha speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, had been pleading for constitution of an independent body to determine the pay and allowances of the legislators. Stonewalling the reasonable suggestion they made extravagant demands for their pay-hike. Eventually, in 2010 they voted hefty hikes in their pay, allowances and perquisites so much so that the government now is estimated to be spending Rs. 61 crore (6 billion) per annum on each MP. No wonder, more than half of the MPs and many legislators in the states are crorepaties (multimillionaires). And, yet apart from their high salaries, earnings from personal businesses and yields from illegal and corrupt activities, they have no shame in partaking food and beverages from the Parliament canteen at heavily subsidised and ridiculously low rates.
In view of their despicable conduct politicians have come to be viewed with contempt and as proverbial “scoundrels”. Most of them are corrupt to the core and not only crooked, they are also criminals having criminal charges filed against them or have even been convicted. They effectively interfere in the process of balanced administration and have successfully subverted the Rule of Law. Their main occupation seems to be to exploit the system, expropriate undue perks and privileges, plunder the state’s resources, make illegal money any which way using their status to enrich themselves and buy votes in order to return to power again and again. Their immorality has prevented economic progress of the country and in many ways it has percolated down to the society at large bringing down the once-shining image of the country. It is mainly because of their corrupt ways that the country figures near the bottom in the international corruption index.
Democracy, ironically, has been largely vitiated by the very people who are supposed to work it. Unfortunately, the country seemingly has slipped unwittingly into a highly iniquitous and corrupt oligarchy of the political class which has appropriated power, privileges and riches at the expense of the state to the exclusion of all others, destroying everything their predecessors, the nation builders, stood for. Their overwhelming presence doesn’t seem to allow alleviation from the current predicament of the country in the near future.