ARTICLES FROM THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN
Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2019.
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I strongly believe with all my intuition and from what I perceive around me in the new emerging political landscape of India, that the Narendra Modi government has ushered in the long delayed dawn of the twenty first century for our nation. A nation that had endured decades of political decadence, particularly the proactive anti-national measures initiated and encouraged by the UPA government during the last decade.
Though I am almost an agnostic, I had in my own way prayed for this day, and it did arrive. But even before that, I had devoted much thought towards what the priority agenda of the new government should be and how it could overcome and uproot the deep rot that has set in, not only in governance and the body politic, but has also deeply infected our society and our social structures. I do realise that Prime Minister Modi and his government are being inundated by a hard rain of well meaning advice coming from all quarters and sections in our country. In spite of what higher intellects have been articulating, I have, nevertheless, meditated with whatever intellectual foresight I can command, and thought out an agenda that I will spell out in my pieces in The Sunday Guardian.
Let me take some credit for myself for spotting the exalted planet on our national horoscope. And I did vigorously proclaim with all the energy and eloquence that I could summon, his superiority over his rivals, known and not so well known or apparent. Fortunately, the magnitude, pervasiveness and the societal destructiveness of crimes by the Congress regime had become so deeply imprinted on the aam aadmi's existence, that not too much additional exposure was required for the people to understand what had gone wrong with the country, and why their lives were becoming more and more miserable with each passing day. They knew deep within themselves that what they and the country urgently needed was a leader with strong, proven leadership qualities and integrity, who could communicate easily with them, and would place their interest and our country's interest first. With this, the Congress party, that had demonstrated the exact anti-thesis, were not difficult rivals to conquer. I never tire of recounting the current joke during the past few years, that if one politician (of course the Congress adherent) were to fall into a river and drown, there would just be some pollution; but if all of them met the same fate at the same time, that would be India's solution.
The people understood what was happening to them and to India, and very firmly and categorically changed the course of their destiny. Today, sitting on the terrace of a New York hotel, in bright sunshine and cool breeze, I must record my gratitude and appreciation for the thousands of lawyers calling themselves "Lawyers for Modi", my fellow writers in The Sunday Guardian, headed by the matchless M.J. Akbar, and above all my students and young adherents all over the world of education, who ceaselessly strived and contributed to make this dazzling, unprecedented victory possible. Together, we were able to change the cesspool of misrule and larceny that India's democracy had become during the past decade, and infuse fresh water of life into it.
Modi's agenda is bound to be tough, because every issue is a priority. The mother of all priorities is attacking corruption, cleansing governance and making it work. With that, all other priorities become easier to address, namely, removing causes of hunger, despair and all forms of poverty; reducing prices and inflation; retrieving our stolen wealth stashed away in offshore tax havens that can be the greatest boost to our economy; creating strong systems for protecting our country from external and internal terrorism; strengthening secularism and imprinting it in young minds, before fanatics fill the vacant ideological space; and lastly, but most importantly, protecting Mother Earth, her finite resources and environment, and not degrading it further in our quest for growth.
The most challenging battle for Narendra Modi will be to attack corruption, for it has become chronic and cancerous, and has deeply invaded our political, social, economic, and civic life. Public and governmental corruption is the more noxious, as it involves abuse of government trusteeship by the trustees (the government), something unpardonable in a democracy that must place public good first, and looting of public funds. Combating corruption is indeed an arduous and complex task, but a good beginning could perhaps be made by prescribing a Code of Conduct for all legislators and representatives of the people, and making them swear a public oath that they will not misappropriate public money meant for people's and public programmes.
As India's democracy evolved, often in rogue mutations, representatives of the people have come to assume real executive power, both administrative and financial. The governance norm practised today is that while the signature belongs to the official, the order emanates from the non official representative of the people, who under the present administrative system bears no official or financial responsibility under any special statute. The people of India, especially at the grassroots, are perfectly aware of who the real sanctioning authorities are, regardless of who the signing authorities may be, even regarding simple matters that touch their lives. Just as the informed citizens of India, particularly of Delhi, were aware about the sanctioning power of 10 Janpath, and the signing power of the then Prime Minister.
It took the first two or three decades after Independence for the hallowed representatives of the people to learn the art of using budgets, programmes and procedures to siphon off public funds allocated for schemes meant for the people, and become wealthy overnight. This was also the time when the Congress monolith had started cracking up in the states, and the era of coalition governments was germinating. The MLA was gradually becoming a monetised commodity for the survival of governments, a trend that caught up with Parliament, as the Congress monolith started cracking up there too, and the era of coalition governments began.
Generally, money could be made in two ways — actual siphoning off from government programmes through fictitious bills and a friendly bureaucracy, and rent seeking for permissions and licences, legitimate or illegitimate. The bureaucracy was the easiest to buy up, and it did not take too long for the political-bureaucratic nexus to set in and become firmly established in governance.
Today, India's corruption has become ingenious. Like the cancer virus, it can adapt to any situation, and be a winner. It can give a quick look at any government intent, programme, rule or procedure, and can instinctively smell the potential leakage points, and go for them. And this is where the complete lack of administrative and financial accountability for the non-official acts as a blanket of complete immunity, and the political-bureaucratic nexus thrives. This nexus maintains a real time inventory of every possible avenue it can use to enrich itself at the cost of the common man and taxpayer, and prevent public good.
I am of the firm opinion that a set of statutory rules must be created for all non-officials who exercise administrative and financial power, just as there are for government officials, which fix accountability for financial or administrative corruption. Obviously the elected representatives would oppose this, but the Prime Minister has adequate political capital and popular goodwill to initiate this exercise. The people of India would adore him for this and support him to the hilt. This would be the first salvo against corruption, and in one stroke, it can break the nexus between the politician and the bureaucrat, which is blighting the lives of our people. The Prime Minister has sent the right signals to the bureaucracy and ministers regarding integrity and efficiency. He has also taken the first step to break the political bureaucratic nexus by prohibiting relatives of ministers to become their assistants, and by setting fresh norms for appointment of private secretaries. I sincerely hope he considers my suggestion of starting the process of investing non officials with statutory financial and administrative responsibility. If this happens, the entire character of our polity will change.
Let me end on a happy note. Some of the gloom that I experienced while reading the depressing state of our planet and the gruesome conflicts going on all over the world, got welcome relief when I saw a video recording of a marvellous speech made by our new Human Resources Development Minister at an International Women's Conference organised by the Art of Living at Bangalore in February this year. It seems to have passed unnoticed in India, but was obviously circulating in the US. It captured the admiration of several of my American friends, who were curious about the young, dynamic speaker. Smriti Irani was impressive and did our country proud, speaking extempore, with great confidence, wisdom and compassion. Her speech is on YouTube, and anyone who hears it will realise that no university degree can substitute for genuine learning and sensitivity, great common sense and practical application, and innate understanding.