Let a thousand Anna Hazares bloom across India

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: The fast-unto-death by the social activist Anna Hazare in New Delhi and the nationwide support it has elicited for cleansing the system, has enormous relevance to Karnataka especially in the present context, where the air is thick corruption.

One thing is clear. Politicians, cutting across party lines, are opposed to any measure to rein in corruption in public life. They have successfully evolved ways and means to torpedo any such attempts, or to emasculate the system which is put into operation, to ensure a free run for themselves.

While New Delhi has a history of dragging its feet on the Lokpal bill in general and on the question of bringing the Prime Minister under its purview in particular, Bangalore has a track record of dragging its feet on the question of strengthening the hands of Lok Ayukta with suo motu powers to investigate charges of corruption.

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The common thread that runs in the attitudes of the central and State governments towards corruption, is the marked reluctance on the part of the the political parties, be it of Congress or non-Congress hues, including the BJP, to hold the bull by horns.

The intention is very clear: they don’t want to create any fetters which come in the way of their untrammelled enjoyment of power.

At the Centre, the main question which has been endlessly debated is whether the PM should be brought under the purview of the Lokpal bill, in whatever form it may be brought in.

The solution was/is simple: Had those who held the high august office voluntarily declared that they would subject themselves to the jurisdiction of the Lokpal, the matter could have been resolved in a jiffy and a suitable law could have found a place in the statute books.

But none of the worthies, from Indira Gandhi to Manmohan Singh, and including Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Deve Gowda, and Chandrasekhar, could volunteer to suggest that persons holding high office should not only be honest but appear to be honest too.

For all of them, the authority and status of the PM’s office appeared more important than the need for probity in public life. It is the cumulative mess created by the Cassandras of corruption, which has resulted in the 2G spectrum scam, which has made the current Prime Minister squirm in his seat.

Manmohan Singh’s image as a clean and honest politician has taken a severe beating. He has paid a big price for his  vacillation.

If the prime minister of the country is unwilling to lead from the front in the fight against the corruption, how do you expect the lower minions in the political hierarchy like the chief ministers and the State governments down the line to act otherwise?

If  the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, could be investigated for the Watergate scandal, or the high and mighty be proceeded against for tax evasion in America, it does not stand to reason as to why the busy  bodies in India tht is Bharat should be placed above the law.

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In Karnataka, there is a twist in the tale.

Since 1984, there has been a law and an institution to fight corruption. But it has been deliberately made ineffective. The Lok Ayukta has not been given suo motu powers to initiate action.  Such powers given when the Act was enacted by the Ramakrishna Hegde government, were subsequently withdrawn two years later for reasons not clear.

The Lok Ayukta, as an institution, was almost unknown (and unseen) for nearly one-and-a-half decades after its inception. The first time it caught the public imagination was when Justice N. Venkatachala, who was appointed during the S.M. Krishna regime in 2001,  became proactive in the discharge of his duties.

It was Justice Venkatachala who focussed attention on the lacunae in the law and took them up with the government. For all the sound and fury, his five-year term ended without his dream of the grant of suo motu powers being realised.

His successor, Justice N. Santosh Hegde, too has vigorously pursued the pending issue with the government, even going so far as to submit his resignation in the period. His five-year tenure is coming to an end in a couple of months and like his predecessor he has to retire with a feeling that the government ignored his plea.

None of the governments that have held office during the period of the present and previous Lok Ayukta have been able to restore the suo motu powers to the Lok Ayukta, which is a felt need.

And these include, the Congress government led by Krishna, the Congress-JDS coalitions headed by Dharam Singh, the  BJP-JDS coalition headed by H.D. Kumaraswamy and the present BJP government headed by B.S. Yediyurappa, which has been in office from 2008.

The message is quite clear: none of them is keen on doing it despite the public protestation of their commitment to fight corruption.

The Upa Lok Ayukta enjoys suo motu powers, which can be exercised over the lower echelons of the administration. The other higher-ups do not come under its purview. More often than not, the post is kept vacant.

When Venkatachala, started exercising the powers of the Upa Lok Ayukta in his crusade against corruption, the government woke up after a long gap to and felt the need to fill the vacancy. This was done more with the intention of reining in Justice Venkatachala than to strengthen the functioning.

But much to the chagrin of those who had planned the move, the new Upa Lok Ayukta Justice Patri Basangowda proved to be a good foil rather than hindrance to Justice Venkatachala. After Mr Patri Basangowda retired the post in 2009,   the post has remained vacant.

The absence of suo motu powers has not been the only problem faced by the Lok Ayuktas in Karnataka, who have taken their job seriously. The government of the day has been blutning the efficacy of the institution and efforts put in by it, to trap cases possession of assets disproportionate to the known source of income.

In some cases, the officers trapped remain without being suspended and some of them have been quite powerful enough to wangle promotions and get good posting too. The government deliberately delays the question of granting permission for the Lok Ayukta to prosecute officers who have been nabbed.

The list of the governments acts of sins of omission and commission is quite lengthy.

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A major development, which has occurred during the BJP government. stressing the imperative necessity of strengthening the Lok Ayukta, has been the surge of the scams.

The most important one has been the one pertaining to the illegal mining of iron ore, involving powerful politicians, in and out of office. The report given by the Lok Ayukta, which probed the matter, has been gathering dust.  The report has been relied upon by the Supreme Court but has not opened the eyes of the State government.

The inference is quite clear. But for the Supreme Court’s persistence in a case before it at present, the controversy over the illegal mining in Karnataka would have been pushed under the rug.

The second development is the scam over the denotification of the land, which during recent years has been openly regarded as a money spinner for politicians in power.

Going by the open charges being hurled it looks as if this has taken place one way or the either during the regime of almost all the CMs especially in the last one-and-a-half decades. A powerful minister of the BJP government has also been caught in the act. And chief minister Yediyurappa and his bete noire Kumaraswamy have been openly trading charges against each other.

Had a person like Anna Hazare been here, perhaps Karnataka would have witnessed the kind of  uproar that one is witnessing in Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.

Cartoon: courtesy Keshav/ The Hindu

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