Nearly two decades back, a man named TN Seshan took the entire nation by a storm. In fact it was no less than a whirlwind or a meteor like tsunami. As the Chief Election Commissioner of India, he introduced sweeping reforms in India’s electoral democracy. He undertook an expedition to clean up the electoral system and succeeded in dampening many malpractices like booth capturing. Seshan’s magnetism strengthened the institution of the Election Commission like never before and established the commission as one of the quintessential driving forces behind Indian democracy.
Today, another man has risen during this tumultuous period of transition from being an agricultural society to an industrialized nation with the intention of changing the rules of the game. Vinod Rai, Comptroller and Auditor General, is in no doubt giving Seshan-like effect to the CAG which is bound to evolve as a stronger institution due to his valiant efforts. Election Commission became acquainted of its abilities only after Sechan’s theatrics and Rai’s antics will indeed enhance the role of the CAG as a proactive auditor. After having sent shivers down the spine of the Central Government by pegging the amount of loss caused due to the 2G scam and Coalgate at Rs 1.76 lakh crore and Rs 10.67 lakh crore respectively, the CAG has now taken on the self styled ‘vikas guru’ and unarguably India’s most controversial and watched after Chief Minister Narendra Modi. CAG reports for 2009 and 2010 tabled before the Gujarat Assembly have hit out at the Narendra Modi-led BJP Government in Gujarat on the issue of corruption by pinning the amount of loss caused due to financial irregularities at Rs 17000 crore. The CAG with its omnipresent vigil is indeed the most pervading watchdog in the history of modern India. We may raise question marks regarding the methodology used by him in ascertaining losses but the fact remains that he has had the courage to expose the corrupt without being overawed of their political affiliations. Well done Mr Vinod Rai. Salute!
The Central Government seems to be obsessed and infatuated with the theme of status quoism wherein they try to strategically put every contentious issue into the cold storage. This dodgy behaviour is nothing but an appease-all ploy by means of making concocted committees and coming up with pseudo assurances.
Once again a demand has been made to declare Ram Sethu a national monument, a bridge believed to have been built by Lord Ram’s army and is considered sacred by Hindus. There’s no need to shelve the Sethusamudram project. An expert panel appointed by the Prime Minister and headed by RK Pachauri has already yielded and submitted a report in favour of executing the project through Dhanuskodi instead of Ram Sethu. Ram Sethu is considered holy by Hindus who constitute an astounding 83% of the population and it would be highly sacrilegious to tamper with an object considered divine by over a billion people.
Karunanidhi was once blasphemous enough to ridicule Lord Ram by saying from which engineering college had he graduated when he was defending the need for his pet Sethusamudram project. This kind of religious torment for the sake of development cannot be accepted in a pluralistic and secular polity. The Central Government should recognize Ram Sethu as a national monument and shouldn’t go ahead with any developmental activity which tampers or amends it in any form.
It’s been quite an eventful day as two alarmingly substantial developments have taken place. The Naxals planted a landmine bomb in a district of Maharashtra and killed as many as 12 CRPF personnel and injured 28 other troops. Left wing extremism or home grown terrorism in India has actually been stereotyped as a non news story. Had the same happened in Kashmir and had it been powered by elements based in Pakistan, we would have created a huge furore till now but not many of us are acquainted of this sinster deed which has taken place today. I am in no way defending cross border terrorism but the statistics are indicative of the fact that Naxal backed terrorism has accounted for more lives than terror activities plotted on Pakistani soil or driven by Pakistani terrorists. We should not have an indifferent attitude towards both these concerns. Both pose an incredible amount of threat on national security. The enemy within is in no way less sinister than the enemy outside. We need to wipe out all sorts of extremism from our great land.
The second big news story arose out of Karnataka where the ruling State BJP Government seems to be giving the Congress led UPA Government at the Centre a run for their money both in terms of controversies and corruption. After the highly pulsating Lokayukta report which caused the removal of BS Yeddyurappa from office and the ever embarrassing ‘Porngate’ scandal, the latest to bite the Karnataka Government is a report of the Karnataka Minorities Commission alleging a scam of Rs 2 lakh crore in connection to the illegal sale of Waqf property. Figuratively this scam is also alleged to be bigger than the 2G scam and if we go at this pace then the figure of Rs 1.76 lakh crore would be forgotten soon since the stakes involved in other scams are much higher. The allegations need to be thoroughly probed and it’s high time that all religious trusts (be it Waqf Boards, Christian Missionaries or Hindu Trusts) open themselves to financial scrutiny and make their economic transactions, accounting balance sheets and net assets public so as to clear the din concerning the mega frauds which are being orchestrated under the name of working for God and spreading religion.
It appears like the Congress led UPA Government is jinxed and cannot govern without controversies and political firestorms driven because of scams involving humongous financial irregularities and astronomical amounts. The Government is once again in the dock because of its hazy policies. The Times of India rocked the entire nation this morning when it published a story on its first page which claimed to have possessed a copy of the draft report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on coal blocks allocations which said that the Government had lost about Rs 10.7 lakh Crores by not auctioning coal blocks and by extending undue benefits to public as well as private sector enterprises. The CAG last year had pegged the amount of loss caused because of the non-auctioning of the 2G airwaves at Rs 1.76 lakh crores.
Although this figure remains disputed till date but the fact is that this scam could be six times the worth of the 2G scam. What ensued next was a very predictable pandemonium inside Parliament. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee issued a clarification in the Lok Sabha and said that the CAG’s report was just a draft report till now and was yet to be finalized. The PMO also issued a statement in which it said that it had received a letter from the CAG this afternoon in which the CAG had written that the report wasn’t final yet and the figures quoted were based on certain observations which are yet to be thoroughly examined and discussed. Whatever be the outcome of this report, I think it’s time for the Government as well as the industry captains to revisit certain policies which include concessions, waivers and incentives being granted to corporations. It’s not unethical to give industries concessions because industries require boosts and they are also run by citizens of India but what we need to ensure is that national resources are not illegitimately privatized. Natural resources happen to be the property of the public and the Government is its custodian. It’s the job of the Government to ensure that if any concession or incentive is handed out to the corporations then the benefit of that concession reaches the citizens. If it hasn’t then it’s nothing but a fraud involving immense national treason.
People who can afford to pay heavily are not at times charged highly because the Government intends to hand out corporate subsidies to them so that their input expenses go down and they sell the product attained by means of a subsidized resource or contract at cheaper rates to the consumers but many a times the corporations acquire resources at cheap rates and then they sell it to other corporations at very high rates in the name of dilution of equity. Some corporations don’t do that but then they go on to charge a lot more from the consumers for the sake of greater profits and completely ignore the Government’s intrinsic intention with which they were handed out these benefits. At times the corporations lobby for such kind of policies and the Government functions under their behest to facilitate this loot. This is unjustified and a dubious practice.
The topic for today’s debate is that, “More political power to the civil society is not a threat to democracy” and I, Saif Ahmad Khan, will speak for the motion. The terms democracy, civil society and threat can have umpteen interpretations but for argument’s sake I’ll keep the scope of these terms restricted and India centric. Democracy is a system of government where people elect officials via elections. The entire system rests on three planks: legislature, executive and judiciary. Civil Society is a term which is a bit ambiguous in nature but it can be easily construed as nothing but the citizens of a country. Threat, in the context of this debate would mean subversion of democracy.
The first argument which is put forth to stop the civil society from being granted more political power is that it would lead to multiple power centres which will facilitate anarchy. The response to this argument is enshrined in the Directive Principles of State Policy jotted down in the Indian Constitution. The Directives instruct the State to decentralize power by creating more institutions which function in consonance with another and transfer more and more decision making power to the people.
India is a representative democracy and not a direct democracy like Switzerland where people decide on all legislative and executive decisions on their own through referendums. Why can’t India have a similar system? It can be done by means of a constitutional amendment by the Union Parliament under Article 368. Is it violative of the basic structure of the Constitution? Certainly not! The basic structure of the Indian Constitution suggests that India should be a democracy, not necessarily a representative parliamentary democracy. So there is ample scope of India moving from a representative democracy where we authorize a few bunch of people to act on our behalf to a direct democracy where we act on our own. This is strengthening and enhancement of Indian democracy and not its subversion.
I do agree that the present system provides citizens with many powers. These include the power to elect. Certain civil society institutions like the NAC have also been institutionalized as extra-constitutional bodies. We have trade unions, NGO’s, human rights and environmental groups to lobby and press for civil rights. We have to our disposal judicious solutions but one thing is for sure that no set of rules and regulations are enough because the world is ever changing and human wants never ending. When NGO’s came, people said they would replace the Government. It didn’t happen. When RTI came, people said it would make government functioning impossible. It didn’t happen. When PIL’s came people said Judiciary would become most powerful? It didn’t happen. And most importantly when the British were asked to leave, they said, if we ever leave India, it would become a land of snake charmers. Instead of that we became the second fastest growing economy in the world.
Yes, there is some scope for mis-utilization but that cannot be the premise to dump an idea whose time has come. We need to bring reforms and we need to make the entire system more accountable but for that we also need to become more powerful politically.