Thursday, March 15, 2007

Corruption Debate: Flaws in the Moralist approach-I

Two timely pieces in The Hindu today – one by Harish Khare and another by Sriram Panchu – have sought to focus on the reasons why we have lost the battle against corruption all these years. Of these, Khare’s lament is that of a pessimist, who has lost all hopes of the civil society striking back at corruption, because he argues, it has already lost its moral voice, because of its acquiescence in corruption in one or the other. He cites Fali S.Nariman’s argument – which I referred in one of my previous posts recently – and faults him, without naming him, that the “self appointed arbiters of public morality, who otherwise applaud every instance of judicial over-reach, cannot make up their minds.” Clearly, Nariman’s advice to judiciary to keep off a corruption case of a politician, on the verge of facing an assembly election, is indefensible both morally and constitutionally, for the reasons I had suggested.
Essentially, Khare blames the media and the judiciary, for failing to instill fear among the corrupt. As for the reasons for corruption, he blames the coalition compulsion, and the need for funds by political parties to fight elections.
Indeed, it is time for debating systemic reforms: the block vote proposal of an obscure official of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution to introduce democracy within our political parties, and do away with the ills of Tenth Schedule dealing with curbing defections is one which requires serious consideration by elites (I have referred to in the Comments section previously, and Arun has provided the Link). This would also answer the “compulsions of coalition”, which Khare has referred to in passing.
The second would be the Proportional Representation. In a plural society like India’s, it is the PR, rather than first-past-the-post system which should correctly reflect a fair representative democracy. I don’t think there could be any serious or sincere arguments in favour of the latter as compared to the former (PR). Yet, PR has not earned many adherents across the political spectrum, primarily for lack of opinion makers. The parties’ dependence on funds can diminish, if PR is introduced.
One would tend to agree with Khare’s trenchant indictment of media’s partisanship. But that alone cannot explain why the civil society has squandered its power of disapproval against corruption. The media played a significant role in exposing the Bofors scandal. And a national election was fought on the issue, bringing down the Rajiv Gandhi Govt. in 1989. Today, the media has almost given up on the Bofors scandal. Do media set the pace for politics and civil society any longer? Or is it the reverse which we are witnessing? Economic reforms, and liberalization of economy since the early 1990s and the impact on corruption is one factor which Khare has ignored in his column. One expects corruption to thrive in an atmosphere of permit-licence-quota raj (PLQR). With the demise of PLQR, and the ushering of a transparent governance, is corruption being institutionalized, as Khare claims?
Khare has made only a passing reference to Judiciary’s capacity to arbitrate disputes in the political sphere, saying it has been dented because some Judges allow personal likes and dislikes to override judicial equanimity. Is there a suggestion that Judiciary has been more pro-establishment when it comes to political disputes? In other words, is the Judiciary dependent on the executive for various extraneous matters, that it wants to favour it in its judgments, or interventions? These are indeed troubling questions, which require honest answers.
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