Make honesty in governance the new normal (Sunday Guardian)
The Nehruvian-Lutyens system that has clogged the arteries of India needs to be replaced with a system of governance that meets the test of transparency.
In an effort to dispel any doubts about whether or not he was a favourite of the Congress Party, MPs in the Rajya Sabha moved in lockstep to ensure that Subramanian Swamy got silenced within a minute of attempting to speak. The nation now has become aware that an MP from the Rajya Sabha should not mention in the House the name of any MP from the Lok Sabha. Presumably, the reverse holds as well. He or she should also avoid naming countries, clearly because such a mention would inflame relations between that country and India. It is doubtful that any other democracy has imposed such limits on the freedom of speech of its MPs, a group of individuals, who, in other countries, are expected to speak with even more verve and colour than the average sailor. Over the coming days, more and more reasons are certain to get used up to ensure that Swamy not use Parliament the way he has prime time on television to make his point, especially against Sonia Gandhi, who crossed a red line with the economist when she switched in 1999 from a promise of support to a coalition government backed by the Congress Party to a Congress government headed by herself that would be backed by other parties. After the 2004 polls, the Congress president decided against taking over as Prime Minister, handing the post over to Manmohan Singh despite an outcry from MPs belonging to the party.
The Modi government needs to ensure that each and every link in the decision-making chain involving the Agusta Westland helicopter purchase be examined in detail. An examination of the tax records abroad of close relatives of top politicians, officials needs to be carried out.
Sonia Gandhi’s success in remaining at the core of the political and policy process from the time she took over as AICC president in 1998 shows her skill in managing both the Nehruvian processes of governance as well as the “Lutyens Lok” she has effortlessly charmed since the 1960s. The National Herald case is among the few where there is an actual signature of hers on a decision. For the rest, there is merely conjecture about her involvement. For the reality is that at no stage during 2004-2014 did Sonia Gandhi hold any formal position inside the portals of government, besides the “advisory” duties of the National Advisory Council. Incidentally, the Narendra Modi government would do well to set up an NAC of its own, and populate the body with individuals having views that are not at all the same as those held by senior members of the government. But for the UPA-era NAC, there would probably not have been a strengthened RTI or an MNREGA, at least the second of which is being run far more effectively by the NDA than it was during the decade in office of the UPA, while the first will hopefully be further expanded, so as to create the transparency needed to reduce graft.
A court in Italy has drawn attention to the muck that swirls around governance in India, and the Modi government needs to ensure that each and every link in the decision-making chain involving the Agusta Westland helicopter purchase be examined in detail. There would be less than a dozen individuals (political, official and military) needing such attention, and their lifestyles as well as that of family members needs investigation. Several who have made huge amounts of illicit money have sent relatives abroad, who have adopted the citizenship of the country they are living in. An examination of the tax records abroad of close relatives of top politicians, officials as well as the higher echelons of the uniformed services needs to be carried out, to locate possible parking of black money with such individuals. The Ministry of Defence has constituted a committee of babus to examine the Agusta file. It was expected of Manohar Parrikar that he would show more imagination, as by constituting a committee that has members from outside the bureaucracy. The hearings of such a hybrid (with civil service and civil society participation) committee need to be conducted publicly, with hearings getting live streamed online. The Nehruvian-Lutyens system that has clogged the arteries of India with dirt needs to be replaced with a system of governance that meets the test of transparency and accountability.
Freer speech, more revelations, and perhaps some inadvertent false charges as well, are the future in an India whose young seeks to be heard and wants to know the same facts that Lutyens Lok keep to themselves in the manner of the British. As he enters Year 3 of his term, Prime Minister Modi will hopefully ensure that the guilty in major defence and other scams be punished, whether they be in the Congress, in the BJP or elsewhere. “Make honestly in India”, rather than—as for the past four decades— “import dishonestly into India”, needs to be the new normal.