Saving Democracy from the Corrupt, Callous and Repressive Corporate Rule


When Parliament meets in August, the UPA and NDA partners will once again have enough materials to engage each other in a pot-calls-the-kettle-black contest, what with the shadow of the 2G scam getting larger with every passing day. The scam has already claimed two ministers and one MP from Tamil Nadu. The Congress is desperately trying to save itself by blaming it all on the DMK – but any credible probe is bound to implicate the nucleus of the coalition government, the Prime Minister who defends corruption in the name of coalition politics and advises the media to downplay the scams in ‘national interest’.
The 2G scam is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The current telecom minister Kapil Sibal who from day one has been trying to rubbish the CAG report on the 2G scam has already added his own little chapter to the unending saga of the great telecom robbery by exempting the Ambanis from paying a penalty of Rs. 650 crore. If Sibal has favoured Anil Ambani, we know from the CAG how petroleum minister Murli Deora connived with Mukesh Ambani as the latter increased the development cost of its KG Basin project from $2.4 bn in 2004 to $8.8 bn in 2006 – a clever way of concealing profit and also underpaying the necessary royalty. Deora has been silently eased out of the cabinet in the course of the latest reshuffle.

And then there is the cash-for-vote scam UPA-II has inherited from UPA-I. The parliamentary committee formed in July 2008 to probe the scam recommended that the probe should ideally be conducted by the CBI or the Income Tax department, but the government did nothing of the sort. Even the Delhi Police were sitting on the probe, till pulled up recently by the Supreme Court. And now even without completing the probe they have gone out of their way to give a clean chit to the Congress or the Samjwadi Party even as all clues lead to the doors of people like former SP leader Amar Singh or key Congress strategist Ahmed Patel. And let us not forget that the scam was also corroborated by the US embassy’s confidential cables to Washington.

If these scams provide ample ammunition for the BJP and NDA, there are also skeletons tumbling out, at regular intervals, of the BJP’s cupboards. The latest salvo has again come from Karnataka where the Lokayukt has just filed his second report on the state-sponsored illegal mining scam in the state. The report indicts several Karnataka ministers including Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa. Former Chief Minister and JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy, who ruled the state in collaboration with the BJP in 2006-07 and Rajya Sabha Congress MP and miner Anil Lad are also mentioned for their role in the scam which has cost the state exchequer at least Rs. 1800 crore between March 2009 and May 2010. Ironically, while the media got busy with the Lokayukt’s report, (leaked a day before it was officially submitted), the Karnataka CM had left for Mauritius on a ten-day vacation!

Talking of Lokayukts, there is another Lokayukt report that has recently been in the news. The Lokayukt of Delhi, Justice Manmohan Sarin, has held Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit guilty of making a false promise to the poor in the 2008 Assembly elections. Dikshit had said 60,000 flats for the poor were ready for distribution and 400,000 flats would be ready by 2012 when land for the flats had not even been acquired! Justice Sarin has set a significant precedent by holding a Chief Minister accountable for promises made during elections. Bihar does not have a Lokayukt yet, otherwise we could have also had a Lokayukt report holding Nitish Kumar responsible for his poll promise of supplying subsidised foodgrains to Bihar’s 1.5 crore poor families.

While the CAGs and Lokayukts are having a tough time keeping pace with the diversity and volume of scams in today’s corporate-driven India, the Supreme Court too is finding it tough to reconcile today’s trigger-happy and callous governance with the good old constitutional paradigm. Whether it is foodgrains rotting in FCI godowns or black money piling up in foreign banks, the terror of Salwa Judum in BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh or the plight of contract sewage workers right in the national capital – of late the apex court has often come out quite strongly against India’s corrupt, callous and power-hungry rulers. The corrupt rulers are of course trying every trick to protect themselves from what they call judicial ‘overreach’ or the ‘tyranny’ of civil society; and parliamentary prerogative is often the most convenient shield they hide behind. The Lokpal Bill, likely to be tabled in the forthcoming Parliament session, is being sought to be diluted precisely by invoking the shield of Parliament’s supremacy and sovereignty.

Yet it is not difficult to see that what poses a much bigger threat to India’s constitutional democracy today is the unaccountability and impunity with which the tainted rulers, working in cahoots with shady corporates, are holding the people and parliament to ransom. The system of institutional checks and balances – and an effective Lok Pal could well be a useful addition in this regard – can of course go some way in curbing the growing corporate tyranny, which is why we must support the idea of a stringent anti-corruption legislation. But the real impulse to save freedom and democracy from the clutches of corrupt and repressive corporate rule can only come from outside the four walls of Parliament – from the spring wells of people’s resistance. The battle for democracy must therefore be strengthened by all means.