Political Corruption in India: An Analysis

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"I would go to the length of giving the whole congress a decent burial, rather than put up with the corruption that is rampant." --- Mahatma Gandhi May 1939

This was the outburst of Mahatma Gandhi against rampant corruption in Congress ministries formed under 1935 Act in six states in the year 1937. The disciples of Gandhi however, ignored his concern over corruption in post-Independence India, when they came to power. Over fifty years of democratic rule has made the people so immune to corruption that they have learnt how to live with the system even though the cancerous growth of this malady may finally kill it. The recent Tehelka episode surcharged the political atmosphere of the country but it hardly exposed anything, that was unknown to the people of this biggest democratic polity.

Politicians are fully aware of the corruption and nepotism as the main reasons behind the fall of Roman empire, the French Revolution, October Revolution in Russia, fall of Chiang Kai-Shek Government on the mainland of China and even the defeat of the mighty Congress party in India. But they are not ready to take any lesson from the pages of history.

The history of corruption in post-Independence India starts with the Jeep scandal in 1948, when a transaction concerning purchase of jeeps for the army needed for Kashmir operation was entered into by V.K.Krishna Menon, the then High Commissioner for India in London with a foreign firm without observing normal procedure. Contrary to the demand of the opposition for judicial inquiry as suggested by the Inquiry Committee led by Ananthsayanam Ayyangar, the then Government announced on September 30, 1955 that the Jeep scandal case was closed. Union Minister G.B.Pant declared "that as far as Government was concerned it has made up its mind to close the matter. If the opposition was not satisfied they can make it an election issue. Soon after on February 3,1956 Krishna Menon was inducted into the Nehru cabinet as minister without portfolio.

In 1950, A.D.Gorwala, an eminent civil servant was asked by Government of India to recommend improvements in the system of governance. In his report submitted in 1951 he made two observations: One, quite a few of Nehru's ministers were corrupt and this was common knowledge. Two, even a highly responsible civil servant in an official report as early as 1951 maintained that the Government went out of its way to shield its ministers (Report on Public Administration, Planning Commission, Government of India 1951)

Corruption charges in cases like Mudgal case (1951), Mundra deals (1957-58), Malaviya-Sirajuddin scandal (1963), and Pratap Singh Kairon case (1963) were levelled against the Congress ministers and Chief Ministers but no Prime Minister resigned.

The Santhanam Committee, which was appointed by the Government in 1962 to examine the issue of corruption in its report submitted in 1964 observed: There is widespread impression that failure of integrity is not uncommon among ministers and that some ministers, who have held office during the last sixteen years have enriched themselves illegitimately, obtained good jobs for their sons and relations through nepotism and have reaped other advantages inconsistent with any notion of purity in public life.

The following comments of Nehru on the memorandum of charges against Pratap Singh Kairon submitted to the President of India by the non-Communist opposition in Punjab suggest his approach on corruption - The question thus arises as to whether the chief minister is compelled to resign because of adverse findings on some questions of fact by Supreme Court. The ministers are collectively responsible to the legislature. Therefore, the matter was one, which concerned the assembly. As a rule therefore, the question of removing a minister would not arise unless the legislature expressed its wish by a majority vote. (Pathology of Corruption by S.S.Gill)

Thus, we find that while Nehru's tolerance of corruption among his ministers legitimized this malady, his daughter Indira Gandhi institutionalized it by holding both the posts of the Prime Minister and party president. By doing so she was herself controlling the party funds, which gave birth to the money power in politics. The famous V.P.Malhotra (Chief Cashier of State Bank of India) case in which he got a telephone call believing from Indira Gandhi to pay Rs,60 lakhs to one Nagarwal remained a mystery. Corruption cases like Fairfax, HBJ Pipeline, and HDW Submarine deal came up since then. The famous Bofor's deal is well known. Narsimha Rao was the first Prime Minister being prosecuted in corruption charges. Cases like Rs.2500 crore -Airbus A-320 deal with France involving kickback (1990), Harshad Mehta security scam (1992), Gold Star Steel and Alloys controversy (1992), JMM bribery case, Hawala scam of Rs. 65 crore and Urea scam (1996) also came up during the period of Narsimha Rao Government.

Criminalisation of politics is another facet of corruption. N.N.Vohra, Union Home Secretary in his report (1995) on this issue observed:- A network of mafias is virtually running a parallel Government pushing the state apparatus into irrelevance. Quoting some DIB sources, he added,there has been a rapid spread and growth of criminal gangs, armed senas, drug mafias, smuggling gangs and economic lobbies in the country, which have over the years developed an intensive network of contacts with bureaucrats, government functionaries at local level, politicians, media persons and strategically located individuals in non-state sector. Some of these syndicates have also international linkages including the foreign agencies.

Against the above-discussed historical background of corruption during last fifty years, the only contribution of Tehelka is that the exposure has forfeited the right of the BJP to claim itself to be a party with difference. So long the BJP was in opposition, it was by and large known as a party with moral integrity, but when it aligned with the political leaders with shady background for the sake of power, the malady of corruption infected this party too. Once the moral integrity is compromised it opens the door of corruption. Perhaps the BJP leadership deliberately went for ideological compromise for capturing power at centre. L.K.Advani put the responsibility on middle class when he reacted to a suggestion by an important ex-National Executive member of the party against the dubious coalition politics. Advani reportedly said: The middle class does not like compromises and tends to be idealistic. At the same time, it is unhappy if we lose power. It wants power as well as ideological integrity. This is the dilemma of the party. ( Inside BJP by Dr. Jay Dubashi published in Times of India dated March 22,2001). Advani might have philosophised the situation but he cannot escape from the responsibility for the ideological compromise the BJP made for the sake of power.

Corruption is an abstract term. According to World Bank report 1997 abuse of public power for private gains is described as corruption. But this appears to be too simplistic explanation of corruption. In fact it is a multi-faceted evil, which gradually kills a system. A basic conflict between the ethos and system has weakened the Indian polity. The feudal outlook of the ruling class polluted the people's mindset, which judge the status of an individual on his capability to flout the law to favour them. This is the reason why corruption is no more viewed by people with abhorrence in Indian society. Leaders like Laloo, Jayalalitha, Sukhram and others, who are facing corruption charges, continue to have wide range of people's support. Transparency, responsiveness, accountability, probity in public life and good governance are now only slogans. The legislature has failed to make the judiciary, executive and even media sensitive to the cause of the common people. The failure of the political leadership to take a principled stand against corruption has clouded the system to the extent that it is now difficult to understand whether the system is alive or dead.

In the present context corruption is so much linked with power that our politicians have adopted a cynical attitude toward political morality. Maneuvering the anti-defection law for electoral politics with the help of both money and muscle power and other unfair means for the sake of power have affected the political morality of all the political parties and as such none of them can claim themselves to be faithful to nation in true sense. It was pathetic to see an excellent orator of congress struggling to brush away the past of the congress in the recent Big fight programme of Star TV.

The collapse of the Janata Party Government (1977-80), fall of V.P.Singh and Chandrashekhar Government (1990-91), turning his minority Government into majority by Narsimha Rao, split in Telugu Desam Party (1994), defection of Ajit Singh with his supporters to Congress (1993), defection of S.S.Vaghela from BJP, maneuvering defection by Kalyan Singh to keep the BJP led Government in power in UP are some of examples to prove that a sizeable number of our politicians are not immune to corruption.

With Tehelka exposure, we may like to refer to our ancient law book, which said, That monarch, whose subjects are carried from his kingdom by ruffians, while they call aloud for protection, and he barely looks on them with his ministers, is a dead, and not a living king. (Manusmriti VII/143) Tehelka is simply an addition to thousands of past and present eruptions in the cancerous body polity of the country.

Manu may not be relevant to the present century, but as human nature more or less remains same and states either in monarchy or democracy are governed by the same human beings, he is still relevant. License to govern does not mean license to be corrupt. Mahatma Gandhi believed in the need for creating a social climate against corruption, which meant creation of an atmosphere in which the corrupt could not thrive. The need of the hour therefore, is to wipe off the tormenting system, which could be possible only after its thorough overhaul. For this our national leadership is expected to devise a political mechanism to create a social atmosphere by empowering of people. The on going war cry against corruption, which is nothing but a mad fight to replace one corrupt system by another is not going to transform the beleaguered nation to a sustainable social order. -Source : southasiaanalysis.