Banish corruption, investigate corruption cases honestly and punish the corrupt -- that will create a more positive environment. If you put a lid on cases of corruption, the cynicism and negativism will grow, says Arun Jaitley.
The prime minister appeared concerned with the environment of cynicism in the country on the issue of corruption when he addressed anti-corruption investigators at a conference in Delhi on Wednesday. He analysed the present situation as a 'mindless environment of negativism' being created in the country which is obviously not healthy for any parliamentary democracy.
It would have been better if the prime minister had honestly introspected as to why this 'environment' has been created in the first place.
Corruption in governance and public life appears to be overflowing. It has crossed the limits of tolerance. We created several institutions which were perceived to be safeguards against corruption. They are either helpless spectators or have been seriously comprised. New rules are therefore being laid down replacing old conventions on how corruption is to be exposed. This is what we have witnessed in the recent past.
In the Bofors' bribery case indisputably kick-backs were paid. The Swiss authorities informed the Central Bureau of Investigation that kick-backs were paid to a shell company whose beneficial interests were owned amongst others by a 'politically connected' person and yet a Joint Parliamentary Committee headed by the Congress leader, which submitted a report that these were winding up charges and not kick-backs. The CBI's approach in the case depended on the political colour of the government in power. Once the Congress-led government was installed, the CBI decided to collude with the accused and provide to them a burial of the case.
Even a wishy-washy charge-sheet in the 'cash for votes' case established that bribes were paid to win over the votes of members of Parliament. The government and the prime minister survived the vote of confidence after the Indo-US nuclear deal. Could any prime minister survive in public life in the face of voluminous evidence that his majority was procured through bribery?
Yet a parliamentary committee and the police investigation were both rigged to prevent the truth from surfacing. The '2G spectrum' scam was monumental. The CBI prosecutions reflect only the tip of the iceberg. After considerable pressure through parliamentary tactics, a JPC was constituted but presently we are confronted with a situation where the JPC may find nothing wrong with what happened under the United Progressive Alliance government.
The JPC by a majority may endeavour to give a clean chit to a monumental scam. The 'coal block allocation' scam stinks of nepotism. Politically and commercially influential persons became rentiers and name lenders in an allotment which was made through discretionary process. The virtues of a competitive bidding mechanism were ignored.
An honest government would have tried to restore sanctity of governance by cancelling the allotments and resorting to a bidding mechanism and yet it chose not to do so. How can ministers of the government see virtues when tangible resources meant for commercial exploitation are to be allocated by a discretionary mechanism rather than a competitive bidding process. The spin given by some of them to the opinion of the Supreme Court in the presidential reference on the allocation of natural resources was that there is a vindication of discretionary allotments.
The manner in which senior ministers of the government have jumped to defend the indefensible commercial transactions of a member of the Congress party's first family indicates that the current controversy is being utilised to display loyalty rather than to enforce probity.
Politically connected people cannot be debarred from business. However, the kind of entrepreneurship displayed in this case where windfall gains are monumental and investment is miniscule. Somebody needs to look into these transactions to determine whether they are bonafide business transactions or favours. There obviously is a lot more than what meets the eye. The possibility of windfall gains emanating from a 'political equity' investment intended to reap 'political dividends' cannot be obviated.
Each one of the above instances establishes existence of unfair and unacceptable transactions. There is a legitimate apprehension that institutions intended to be a watch-dog on these practices have been seriously compromised. Citizens groups are being told that the State will not take any action. Loyalty is more important than probity.
The citizens must go to court and establish a case. The citizens are mere whistle blowers; they have to bring these cases into public domain. It is the responsibility of the State to investigate these cases. If the State shirks from its responsibility, unconventional methodologies of exposure will overtake the existing public discourse.
The Comptroller and Auditor General is an established institution performing its functions. The government prefers to assault it rather than follow its sage audit advice. The experience of the JPC's shows enormous clout of the government to prevent truth from surfacing on the mere strength of numbers. Even the Public Accounts Committee is being prevented from doing its job particularly in the case of 2G spectrum allocation scam.
The CBI was statutorily created to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption. Its credibility is today a suspect. The CBI is currently functioning on a premise that the UPA must be helped wherever it can be; the opponents of this government must be framed and those in the middle such as the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party must be under a perpetual sword hanging on their head. This is the methodology for managing parliamentary numbers.
Yes, the prime minister is right when he says that there is an environment of cynicism or negativism. The poison which perpetuates this negativism therefore must be expunged from the system. That alone will create a positive environment. Banish corruption, investigate corruption cases honestly and punish the corrupt -- that will create a more positive environment. If you put a lid on cases of corruption, the cynicism and negativism will grow. Popular anger has emerged because of lack of accountability. Probity and accountability alone will eliminate this 'negativism'.
Arun Jaitley is a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.