Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Finance Minister P. Chidambaram at the 16th meeting of the National Integration Council in New Delhi on Monday. PTI
t is scarcely a secret that existing laws and the manner of their enforcement have failed to eradicate corruption among politicians in office. Where, once those at the starting rungs of the political ladder used to travel long distances by bus and train, these days, even commercial flights are regarded by many netas as an inferior and hence avoidable method of transport. Corporate houses are increasingly purchasing and maintaining small aircraft as well as helicopters, less for their senior staff to flit about than to loan — free of cost — to select politicians for trips within India and abroad. Where once schoolrooms or dilapidated guesthouses were the usual places of overnight stay, these days even a 4-star hotel is considered a letdown.
Visitors to The Oberoi, the Taj Mansingh, or other 5-star hotels in Delhi cannot fail to notice politicians crowding the rooms and restaurants, running up bills at a meal which would feed a village for weeks. While the dress may still be kurtas and pyjamas, these are often tailored to perfection from the finest linen or wool, depending on the season. Clearly, it is a hugely expensive task to maintain for even a week a "representative of the people". Of course, the only people that such elements represent are the Nandan Nilekanis and the Bill Gates. The frenetic zest with which politicians in India make money gives rise to the suspicion that this country's politicians have — in secret — discovered a method whereby they can take their hoard of wealth with them when they finally depart for the hereafter, or at least that portion not already spent in the fleshpots of Miami, Paris and London.
Recently, the Supreme Court of India made a welcome contribution towards the objective of cleansing the political system of the crooks, who have clogged it almost from the time India became Independent. The court ruled that those lawmakers found guilty of major crimes will be disbarred from Parliament. After all, those who make the law need to be subjected to a much higher standard of compliance than the rest of the population, rather than — as now — escape the law altogether. Following Rahul Gandhi's completely accurate characterisation of the ordinance designed to enable tainted netas to escape from the fate, Justice A.K. Patnaik would consign them to, there has been a chorus of voices that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ought to quit. Such an outcome is unlikely. It needs to be remembered that after the Chandra Shekhar government fell, then economic advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went to the outgoing PM and asked for a new sinecure when faced with the unendurable prospect of being without an official title for the first time in his life.
The skill exhibited by Manmohan Singh in hopping from one important position to the other is only matched by that other saintly member of the Union Cabinet, A.K. Antony.
Dr Singh lamented to the outgoing PM the fact that he had no house in Delhi to retire to, a sad state of affairs which so moved Chandra Shekhar that he (reportedly through pre-dating the relevant order) ensured that Dr Singh was given a perch in the University Grants Commission, from where of course he once again moved on to the Ministry of Finance, this time as its minister. The skill exhibited by Manmohan Singh in hopping from one important position to the other is only matched by that other saintly member of the Union Cabinet, A.K. Antony. The Defence Minister has seldom been outside the "cool shade" of high office, and should Dr Singh do the unexpected and quit, is likely to take his place.
It was Manmohan Singh who announced recently that he would deem it an honour "to serve under Rahul Gandhi". This being the case, there ought to be no problem in swallowing the barbs tossed his way by the Congress vice-president and consigning the Tainted Neta ordinance to the rubbish heap. Following on its stellar performance in the case of tainted netas, the Supreme Court has now ordered that voters be given the "None of the Above" option at the ballot box. Should the percentage of this cross that secured by the winning candidate, the election ought to be countermanded. And in order to ensure that our lawmakers avoid acting irresponsibly after getting elected, a law needs to get passed giving voters the right to recall a truant MP or MLA. Accountability ought to be continuous, and not just at five-year intervals.