Monday, 20 January 2014

Do not fall silent now, Mr R.K. Singh (Sunday Guardian)


R.K. Singh
f conditions within the country are so dire now, the reason lies in the fact that those appointed to the Central services often decide to throw their consciences away while in office. They see the evil that is being done or hear about it, but choose to remain quiet.
All too often, some join in the loot, aware that the chance of retribution is slight. Even the IAS couple in Madhya Pradesh appear set to simply pay some tax and get to keep the money they have made through improper means. Almost no officer shows the spine to expose wrongdoing while in office, even by placing views on file that indicate something suspicious is going on.
Small wonder that the "steel frame" has degenerated into the "rubber frame", indicating the type of substance which makes up the disappearing backbone of officials in India. Not that they can be blamed, for the harsh treatment meted out to officials such as Ashok Khemka, who have challenged corrupt ministers and senior colleagues, offer a cautionary tale to those eager to challenge graft and maladministration. However, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has pointed out that modern technology enables whistle-blowers to expose the corrupt at minimal personal risk.
Videographing evidence and uploading the same online is something that the 16-year-old son or daughter of an official can do with ease, which means that the excuse of potential harassment as the reason for not telling about graft is no longer valid. The Aam Aadmi Party has its downside, a Nehru-era economics textbook being part of that, but it is a fact that ordinary citizens have become more confident of their ability to fight the corrupt, as a consequence of its emergence.
This columnist has never been an admirer of former Home Secretary R.K. Singh. Colleagues describe him privately as parochial and obsessed with colonial-era visions of controlling the citizen rather than empowering them. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has become an obstacle to progress in India, with its efforts at controlling even the guest list of those invited to international conferences. Rather than simply say that organisers need to inform the MHA — especially under Palaniappan Chidambaram — it has made it mandatory to secure its permission for a range of activities that are the citizen's prerogative in any genuine democracy.
A recent example is the request by authorities in Afghanistan to an Indian university to serve as guide and mentor in the setting up of a modern University of Afghanistan. The university has for the past four months been struggling to get MHA and Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) permission for such collaboration, only to this far meet a blank wall. Conspiracy theorists would say that it is the US lobby in the MHA and the MHRD that is blocking permission, because Washington would like to see a US rather than an Indian university mentor the proposed University of Afghanistan. However, rather than the Central Intelligence Agency, it is likely to be the official sloth that is responsible for the delay in giving permission. The point is that R.K. Singh as Home Secretary has been complicit in several of the ridiculous micro-managing that the MHA is seeking to do over routine activities of people and institutions in India, and should he be a part of any future government, is likely to attempt the same. Seeking a smothering degree of control is core to the colonial DNA that our administrative machine still retains.
However, whatever were his predilections, R.K. Singh needs to be congratulated rather than chastised for speaking out. The former Home Secretary has made some serious allegations, and it is unfortunate that even the BJP (which he has joined) is downplaying them. Among them is the revelation that even station house officers in Delhi were appointed after bribes were paid, allegedly to the Union Home Minister himself. Interrogating such SHOs, hopefully with the cooperation of the then police commissioner, is essential, and the sooner this be done, the better. Neeraj Kumar needs to step up and either confirm or refute his brother officer's charges. The officers need to testify in the full glare of the media rather than in the secrecy of cloistered chambers. Singh has also alleged that a businessman was sought to be protected by the Union Home Minister, even though he was close to a Karachi don known to have an interest in firecrackers. Is this the same Mumbai businessman who has regularly provided aircraft for the convenience of certain high-level BJP leaders, and who is known to be a business associate of certain BJP functionaries who regularly appear before television?
The people of India are entitled to the truth, no matter which party or which leader is involved, and if R.K. Singh is to keep to his pledge of transparency, he should reveal the name of the businessperson as well as give tangible details of other acts of treachery to the public interest. Don't fall silent now, Mr Singh.

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