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February 23, 1998


Issues '98/H D Shourie

'Committed politicians should join hands to fight corruption'

I have been taking up the common problems of the people of India for the past many years. In the last 20 years, we at Common Cause have been fighting for a corruption-free India. Corruption is the root cause of a series of maladies that have affected the country's development. The initiative to curb corruption in India should come from political parties and their leaders.

Therefore, as soon as the 12th Lok Sabha elections were announced, Common Cause sent a detailed questionnaire to 43 national and regional political parties on January 17 asking them to spell out their programmes and policies to curb corruption and to tackle other pressing issues in the country.

Primarily, I asked the presidents of all these political parties four questions.

Has your party got any policy on population control? Population explosion in India has resulted in misery, poverty and deprivation that cannot be explained in words. I have never seen any politician really concern himself with the population problem in India. It is amazing that successive government policies have failed miserably to check the population growth in the country. It is time for positive population control measures. But where are they?

Has your party got any programme on literacy? Illiteracy and population are inter-related. Population growth in India has been exponential because people are illiterate. Literacy should be declared a fundamental right of every citizen of India. At the moment, it is just mentioned in the Directive Principles of the Constitution. It is sad that 50 years after Independence, literacy is not an issue for our politicians. It is tragic that it is not a plank for an election campaign.

Has your party got a programme for the conservation of water in the country? Have you drafted a policy on rivers, atmosphere and pollution in the country? It is horrible to think that when part of India is brimming with the after-effects of economic liberalisation, millions of people in the villages do not have drinking water.

Has your party got a programme to curb corruption in the country? Curbing corruption in public life has never been on the agenda of any political party.

I sent this questionnaire to the political parties and waited all these days. But only one party -- the Janata Dal -- replied by just saying that these issues are being taken up in their manifesto. Other major parties like the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have neither written back to me nor have they specifically mentioned their action plans to make India a corruption-free nation.

India is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. I have been a government servant. I have seen how corruption has crept into every department across the country. How can people in villages benefit from economic progress if the budgetary allocations for their development never reach them? Out of every rupee allocated for the welfare of poor people, only 16 paise reach them. The remaining 84 paise is devoured by the middle men, the senior officers, the section officers, the clerks and the peons. Has the finance ministry really taken any initiative to stop this great robbery of India's poor people?

It is also pathetic that political parties treat corruption as a non-issue. There are a thousands of politicians who have been charged with bribery cases. Has real action been initiated against any politician seriously? A number of politicians have been chargesheeted on corruption charges. But has anyone been punished so far? Isn't it truly a blot on a flourishing democracy like India that corrupt politicians are getting elected again and again?

In 1996, Common Cause launched a crusade against corruption and the lavish spending of politicians during elections. On a petition filed by me, the Supreme Court ordered the Election Commission to ask all political parties to file their income tax returns.

But this is just a small beginning. If they want to make India corruption-free, honest and committed politicians should join hands to fight it as a national evil. Corruption is much more than a national evil. It is a contagious disease that has afflicted every nook and corner of India.

H D Shourie is the Director of the New Delhi-based Common Cause, an organisation for ventilating common problems of the people. He spoke to George Iype.

Issues '98

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