Corruption: Democracy, Sonia-style

Hari Om
19 Jun 2011
 

Our constitution says we are a democratic country and our government is of the people, by the people and for the people. In other words, the people are the chief determinants and their representatives in Parliament and the Assemblies are simply public servants whose only duty is to frame laws consistent with people’s needs and aspirations, subject to the condition that the laws defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India, and promote secular and democratic values. Indeed, this is what democracy means in the real sense of the term. Genuine democracy is one that respects people and their sentiments and opinions and ordains their representatives to do what the people want them to do.

But the Congress’ concept of democracy is different. It believes that the election of individuals for a period of five years means unbridled powers for Members of Parliament and Assemblies to loot and plunder public money and misuse their position to promote their selfish intentions, and that the people forfeit all rights once they elect their representatives for five years. Congress believes that people have no right to intervene in law-making processes and that their interventions, including holding of peaceful demonstrations and dharnas, are undemocratic means to destabilize the government, undermine democracy and weaken institutions, including Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Judiciary. The Congress’ democracy wants the people to hold aloof and not intervene even if the situation goes out of hand; even if the “elected members” of Parliament and Assemblies are on a looting spree.

Congress goes on to pour contempt on those who take up issues of public import and ask the government for action against the corrupt and those who have stashed millions in foreign banks. Congress makes it loud and clear that it and its government would take strong action against those who dare launch an anti-corruption crusades. What Congress and the UPA Government did to Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev and his thousands of followers at Ramlila Ground, Delhi, in the intervening night of June 4 and 5, 2011, was just a trailer and a warning to civil society to behave or suffer oppression. The senseless brutalities perpetrated Delhi Police at the behest of their political masters was a strong message to civil society that those who toed the official line or kept their mouths shut alone would escape official wrath; others would be dealt with as Baba Ramdev was dealt with.

Congress believes in democracy of a different style. This Democracy: Congress style could be legitimately described as sham democracy – where people have no rights and the so-called elected representatives have absolute and extraordinary powers, including the power to beat, maim and even kill those considered inconvenient.

Congress believes the kind of democracy it has been promoting and strengthening will produce a “moral effect” of the type General Dyer produced at Jallianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919. It has coined definite terms for those who call themselves members of the civil society and crusaders against corruption. Thus, Anna Hazare, who, like Baba Ramdev has been educating public opinion about the menace of corruption, has been dubbed an “un-elected tyrant” by the arrogant party spokesperson Manish Tiwari.

Earlier in April, Anna Hazare sat on fast at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, to persuade the Centre to adopt an effective Jan Lokpal Bill. This forced government to constitute a joint-drafting committee consisting of five ministers and five members of civil society, to draft a Jan Lokpal Bill. The committee has met several times, but without success. The official members (Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, Law Minister Veerappa Moily and Minister of Minority Affairs Salman Khurshid) are not willing to bring the offices of Prime Minister, Judges of the Supreme Court, MPs and so on within the purview of the proposed Jan Lokpal Bill. On the other hand, members of civil society, including the controversial pro-Maoist and pro-Kashmiri separatist Prashant Bhushan, are rigid on this score. The impasse has seen Congress ministers and national spokespersons, including Tiwari, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Jayanthi Natrajan, and media in-charge Janardhan Dwivedi, using all kinds of invectives and epithets against Anna and his team members.

But Congress crossed the line by calling Anna Hazare “tyrant.” If Anna is a “tyrant”, what about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna, Defence Minister A.K. Anthony, even Home Minister P Chidambaram, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, I&B Minister Ambika Soni? Should they also be called “un-elected tyrants”? Others like Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Farooq Abdullah hold important portfolios in the Union Government though they are not members of the Lok Sabha; some are in the Central Government because of the parties to which they belong.

Manmohan Singh has never won an election. He once contested from Delhi but lost to Vijay Kumar Malhotra (BJP). He is Prime Minister because of what is termed in the constitutional history of India as the “Kimberley Clause” that provides for selection and nomination and not for election. He is in South Block because Sonia Gandhi could not be sworn-in. Now he is presiding over what could be legitimately termed as the most corrupt, insensitive and controversial government independent India has ever seen.

Similarly, Krishna, Anthony, Sharma and Soni are not members of the Lok Sabha. They are members of the Rajya Sabha and hold crucial and sensitive positions in the government, again, because of Sonia Gandhi. They, like Manmohan Singh, do not represent any constituency. They are by-products of the Kimberley Clause that Congress opposed tooth and nail in the early 1890s. Similarly, as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa pointed out, Union Home Minister Chidambaram is not a people’s representative in the real sense of the term, but won the 2009 Lok Sabha election through “fraudulent means.” Chidambaram acknowledged that the case is pending before the Madras High Court.

Lord Kimberley was a member of the House of Lords, one of the members who drafted the Indian Councils Bill, which became the Indian Councils Act of 1892. The Act provided for selection or nomination and not for election, and the British Parliament adopted this legislation much to the chagrin of the Indian National Congress. The Congress accepted the Act in a “loyal spirit” but regretted that it did not in “specific terns concede to the people (read Indians) the right of electing their own representatives to the Council.”

The Congress had also said: “No reform of the Indian Councils which does not embody the elective principle will prove satisfactory to the Indian people or compatible with the good government of India” (Parliamentary Debates on Indian Affairs, House of Commons, 1892, March 28, 1892, P. 129). Lord G.N. Curzon, who later became Viceroy of India and was at that time Under Secretary of State for India, had rejected out-of-hand the Congress’ demand for introduction of elections in India, saying “The people of India are voiceless millions who can neither read or write in their own language, who have no knowledge whatever of English and who are not perhaps universally aware of the fact the English are in their country as rulers.”

It appears the present Congress leadership is not aware of what the Congress did before and after 1892 to persuade the British to introduce a system that would entitle Indians to return to the Councils persons of their own choice so that they could take up their cause and enact laws that would represent the will and opinion of Indians. The Congress had opposed the Kimberley Clause saying nominated and selected Indians would only toe the British line as they would not be accountable to the people.

Compare the position as it exists today and you would find that Indians are facing the same situation as they faced during British rule. Today, there are at least 15 ministers, including the Prime Minister, who are not accountable to the people but to Sonia Gandhi. The so-called Indian National Congress has empowered Sonia Gandhi to use the Kimberley Clause to the hilt, creating an environment under which the people have little or no say, and the nominated element rules the roost.

Congress just cannot treat civil society so poorly. One may or may not like Anna, Prashant Bhushan, Medha Patkar, Sarabai and others who support the dread Maoists and Kashmiri separatists and communalists, but one cannot disagree that Congress has forgotten the meaning of democracy and that “if he (Anna) is a tyrant then those who are calling him a tyrant are also tyrants.”

Congress needs to introspect and refashion its approach towards democracy. But it is extremely doubtful if the all-powerful Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi will do so. They think they can crush any kind of dissent. But one thing is clear: Corruption has become an issue and those who oppose and crush Anna and Guru Ramdev would pay a heavy price as and when general elections take place in the country.

The author is former Chair Professor, Maharaja Gulab Singh Chair, University of Jammu, Jammu, & former member Indian Council of Historical Research

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