Rooting out corruption and black money – Can the Lokpal deliver?

In my previous blog, “Drafting of a new Lokpal Bill – has it opened a pandora’s box?” I had raised a number of issues concerning the Lokpal Bill and developments around it. Events during the past few days have made it even more imperative that these issues – identifying the real source of corruption, exposing the inadequacy of the representative system of democracy and the present political process to root out corruption, and redefinition of the role of people and their organisations in the political system -- be addressed.

Those of us fighting for a corruption-free society have to reckon with the fact that the drive for maximum profits, by Indian and foreign multinationals and big corporations, is the actual source of all corruption. The investigations into the 2G scam have revealed that it is the big business empires such as the Tatas, Ruias, Reliance, Maxis and others who were the core drivers of the scam. The huge propaganda in the monopoly media against corruption and the drumming up of the Lokpal Bill as the antidote for all corruption in India, makes one wonder whether this is a ruse that the rulers are adopting to settle scores between various interest groups and to install a system of “good governance” which legalises lobbying and corruption at higher levels. So, an anti-corruption Bill that does not have the teeth to annul licenses that were purchased through graft by big business houses, to recover the super profits made through fraudulent practices, to impose huge penalties on them, and if necessary, take over their operations, cannot make a dent on corruption. Likewise, a Bill against black money that cannot demonetise high value currencies, confiscate money in secret accounts or benami accounts in India and abroad, and impose huge penalties on the culprits, cannot be effective.

Will the Lokpal have such powers? The present Constitution has created three institutions – the executive, legislature and the judiciary. These three institutions were supposed to act as “checks and balances” on each other so that the entire system of representative democracy runs smoothly in the interests of the big business houses. The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, set up in 2000, pointed to serious flaws in the working of the system. Repeated scams, proliferation of black money, the party-dominated political system, use of money and muscle power in elections, have all raised a persistent demand that the working of the Constitution be reviewed. Developments around the 2G scam and the suggestion for a fourth institution called Lokpal which will be independent of the other three, and may even be more powerful than them, has further strengthened the demand to review the working of the Constitution, and examine the suitability of the present political system dispassionately. Facts have shown that the Parliament does not really represent the people; the electoral process is party-dominated and the vast majority of the people have no political rights other than voting in the elections. The Executive, comprising the Council of Ministers and the administration, is not at all accountable to the people. The Judiciary is a non-elective body and the clamour for judicial reforms is growing by the day. In this situation, how will the Lokpal be different from other institutions? If it is to be nominated by the President and blessed by the Executive and Parliament, can it act unfettered in the interests of people? If it is to be an elected body, will not the present party-dominated political system ensure that political parties and through them the big business houses have the final say in whose interests the Lokpal will function? We have seen that existing independent bodies such as the Election Commission, the Central Vigilance Commission, and others have always acted in the interest of the status quo. For example, the Election Commission has been pushing for reforms that will legitimise the huge spends in elections and also keep out smaller parties and independent candidates from the democratic process.

 The central question is, how will the Lokpal be accountable to the people and act in their interests? It is true that lakhs and lakhs of people have come out on the streets and are demanding that corruption and black money should be eliminated. How will their sustained participation and control over these institutions be guaranteed?   

Only when people are politically empowered can they exercise control over their elected representatives and institutions of power. Without a fundamental overhaul of the present political process, this cannot happen. The present political process has to be transformed from a party-dominated process, serving the interests of big business houses and monopolies, to a people-centric process. This means that representatives to all institutions of power should be selected and elected by the people and subjected to the right to recall if they fail to act in the interests of the people. All elected representatives to such institutions should be accountable to the people. People should have the right to initiate legislation by proposing drafts of the legislation and having the final say in determining the contours of the legislation, through a referendum if necessary. The Constitution should be amended to provide adequate guarantees and mechanisms to make sure that the legislation is implemented in full spirit.

Let us take the discussion on how to make the system accountable to the people and establish people’s control over institutions of power forward.

Posted In: Political Process    Electoral Reforms    Peoples Initiatives    Representative Democracy    Judiciary    Constitution    legislature    executive    good governance    institutions of power    right to recall