Anil Ghote, a legislator in Maharashtra, and Krishna Yadav,
another legislator and former minister were arrested for
their involvement in this Rs 3200 crore scam. The Union
home secretary went on record that the loss to public exchequer
could be several times higher. Lakhs of innocent citizens
might have bought these fake stamps and registered the sale
deeds of immovable property. The scam, executed by Abdul
Karim Telgi, is widely believed to be part of a conspiracy
by ISI to weaken our finances, and the involvement of trans-national
mafias is suspected. And yet, for years several state governments
were unaware of the obvious gap between stamp paper sold
and revenue realized! And police and governments were slow
to investigate the scam unearthed years ago. In AP, there
is evidence of gross neglect and delay, and complicity of
senior police officials. It is the pressure of civil society
in Maharashtra and judicial intervention which prompted
the police to act in a case with such wide ramifications
and major losses to the exchequer. Again public pressure
forced ruling TDP in AP to expel Krishna Yadav from their
party. And yet, they are reluctant to expel him from legislature
despite clinching evidence on tape of his demanding and
receiving bribes from Telgi to bless and protect the fake
stamp distribution while he was a Minister!
all our shock and consternation at these cases will not
yield any positive results. If things are to change for
the better, we need to answer three questions candidly.
First, why are such politicians getting away with these
heinous crimes including murder and anti-national activities?
Why do state governments feel compelled to defend and protect
such crooks in legislature? Surely, parties in power are
aware of the damage they do to themselves! The answer is
self-evident. A chief minister needs the continued support
of his flock for his own survival in power. Excessive zeal
in prosecuting crime and corruption will upset too many
legislators, and the resultant mid-night coup will unseat
the government. As long as the legislature in states determines
the fate of the government, it is unlikely that rule of
law will prevail. In our conditions, the parliamentary executive
system does not allow durability of governments through
honest governance. We need to separately elect the state
executive, and insulate the government from the numbers
game in legislature. The travails of the governments in
UP, Maharashtra and Kerala in recent times show the compulsions
politicians in power are subjected to in our system. At
the national level, the political dynamics are different.
Our diversity and fears of linguistic, religious and regional
majoritarianism, coupled with the risk of authoritarianism
necessitate the parliamentary executive. But in states no
such compulsions exist, and direct election of the head
of the government is vital to improve governance. All chief
ministers and senior functionaries in governments are aware
of the damage done by the legislators acting as disguised
and unelected executives, interfering in all matters ranging
from transfers and contracts to crime investigation.
why do parties pick up known criminals as candidates? For
instance, the criminal record of Krishna Yadav, and dozens
of others, was exposed by Lok Satta movement in 1999 in
AP in a transparent and credible process, applying objective
and verifiable standards. And yet, the parties nominated
and rewarded such persons with ministerial office! No major
party is exempt from this behaviour. Krishna Yadav in AP,
Raja Bhaiyya in UP, Shahabuddin in Bihar - the list is long.
Again parties are helpless given the compulsions of our
constituency-based first-past-the-post (FPTP) system, and
lack of internal party democracy. In such a climate, "winnability"
of the candidate is all-important. Whoever can spend more
money, deploy muscle power, and mobilize his caste stands
a better chance in gathering more votes than the rival candidates.
No responsible party seeking power can afford to give up
a seat, and therefore reduce the chances of legislature
majority, just to make a political statement! All parties
are trapped in this vicious cycle created by the FPTP system.
Decent and honorable candidates - Manmohan Singh, Arun Jaitley,
Arun Shourie and many more - are not "winnable".
Only a system of proportional representation (PR) whereby
the overal voting percentage of a party in a major state,
and not dependence on local oligarchies and modern political
zamindars in constituencies, determines the legislative
strength of the party can break this vicious cycle. There
are many practical models which ensure best advantages of
PR and minimize the risks of political fragmentation.
how are politicians able to act with impunity? The daughters
of George and Jeff Bush respectively were arraigned before
courts for minor infractions, and Tony and Cherie Blair
could be summoned by a mere police inspector to be reprimanded
for their son's drunkenness in public. How could even lowly
politicians in India get away with serious crimes? The answer
lies in the nature of our crime investigation. The police
force combines in itself myriad functions, and the politicians
control the fate of police officials. We need to separate
crime investigation and treat it as a quasi-judicial function,
making it independent of political control, but accountable
to the legislature through an impartial commission comprising
of jurists, professional police officials and eminent citizens.
Under the current system it is envitable that political
compulsions and boundless greed will undermine crime investigation
long as our political system is trapped in this vicious
cycle, and inexhaustible appetite for illegitimate funds
and dependence on legislators elected through FPTP system
continue, misgovernance and criminalization will only grow.
We need systemic solutions to combat these dangerous tendencies.
Economic reform and political reform are two sides of the
same coin, and can no longer be treated in isolation. That
is the lesson the shameful events in UP, Maharashtra and
AP offer us. Are we willing to listen?