The loss to the nation is far greater than the private gain
to those in power. The politician is more a victim of a
vicious process than he is the villain as honesty and political
survival are increasingly incompatible. The bureaucracy
perhaps is more culpable, and this despite its life-long
security provided by constitution. But politicians are elected
to change things for the better. They have the ultimate
responsibility. And good sense and wisdom demand that they
grab opportunities to cleanse the system and enhance the
legitimacy of the system.
the government dithered when the Election Commission sent
proposals on May 14 for changing the rules to provide for
full disclosure at the time of nomination. A host of arguments
were advanced to bury the issue: it is impossible to implement
the Supreme Court directive; it requires a change of law;
the Court is encroaching upon the Parliament's territory;
political consensus needs to be evolved among parties; no
one can contest if disclosure is mandatory; candidates'
privacy will be invaded; crime syndicates will learn of
politicians' wealth and resort to blackmail and extortion;
the people do not care about these disclosures; these reforms
are elitist preoccupations, and so on. Our capacity to defend
the indefensible is extraordinary. If a small fraction of
this energy and innovation went into creative pursuits and
governance improvements, India would be a world class economy.
All it takes to enforce disclosures is an amendment of Rule
4 of Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. The Election Commission
was forced to issue orders under Article 324 only because
the government refused to act in time.
truth is, people, as the ultimate sovereigns have a right
to know about candidates. Equating active citizenship with
elitism, and glorifying passivity and ignorance are antithetical
to democracy. Politicians, whose legitimacy comes from the
people's mandate, are imperiling the system by resisting
reform. Politics is about the promotion of people's happiness.
It is too serious a business to be left to politicians alone.
The assumption that entrenched political parties have a
monopoly on wisdom is dangerous.
need much richer and focused public debate on governance
issues. The sharpest minds in the country and the media
have to pay attention to our political process. Mere criticism
is counterproductive, and we need to debate and agree on
specific reforms. The period of Civil War in the US witnessed
high quality debates. Yet the opponents' intentions were
always respected. The early years of our own freedom struggle
saw deep analysis and rich debate.
Everyone in public life laments mounting corruption, poor
infrastructure, appalling quality of public services, low
level of human development, increasing criminalization of
politics, judicial overload, and economic retardation on
account of poor governance. And yet the political class
seems incapable of responding to the challenges except in
crisis situations. And in turn, crisis is defined as either
fiscal collapse or political instability.
Clearly, enlightened citizens must force reform. Our predicaments
are by no means intractable. There are practical, effective
answers to most of our problems. The best practices in our
own country and abroad serve as useful guides to us. Happily,
we live in a glorious age of scientific advancement and
communication. The fruits of liberty and technology can
easily transform the lives of all our children in a short
span of about 15 years. That is the lesson from the experience
of the Asian tigers and China. But politicians must act
quickly and decisively to make this dream a reality. Candidate
disclosure is just the first step in our political reforms.
Political funding, voter registration, management of parties,
system of election, centralization of power, accountability,
judicial delays - all are crying for our attention. The
political process, which ought to be the solution, has become
the main hurdle. Political reform is the key to our prosperity.