MORALITY IN HOSTAGE
Posted on November 26th, 2010

UPALI COORAY

With multiple scams apparently weighing on their minds, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi today spoke out against the “cancer of corruption” and rising “graft and greed”, saying these are putting in danger the very basis of Independent India. 

Gandhi said the country’s economy may “increasingly be dynamic, but our moral universe seems to be shrinking… Graft and greed are on the rise. The principles on which Independent India was founded, for which a generation of great leaders fought and sacrificed their all, are in danger of being negated.”(Source NDTV.com 19/11))

It is common knowledge that corruption in India is rampant since the “License Raj” days up to now. There has been a spate of alleged scams being revealed in India in recent months which may have compelled P.M Dr. Manmohan Sigh and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi to break their long held silence.  When India has a greater influence than any other country on Sri Lanka’s socio-cultural and economic relations, it is pertinent to gather what our country could learn from the ongoing revelations of misdemeanor at high level in India where even the hitherto unchallenged “Mr. Clean” image of P.M. Manmohan Singh and the future of the U. P. A.  Government is at stake.

The resignation of A. Raja, the Telecommunication Minister over what is known as 2G Spectrum scam where the minister is alleged to have issued licenses to selected telecommunication companies violating procedure deliberately at give away prices is the latest in a chain of such scandals. The notional loss was estimated at $38 billion to the exchequer. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself defended Raja’s decision and said on May 24 that all that his communications minister had done was to implement a policy already in place and none of the norms were flouted. However it has now been revealed by the Controller Auditor General of India that Raja has not even followed the advice of the Prime Minister to call for auctions. The supreme court of India has called for an explanation from Mr.Singh about the long silence of the Prime Minister of India on this matter.

Raja is a member of the Karunanidhi led DMK and represents the Dalit community of south India. Dalits are the poorest of the Poor in Indian society. Similarly Mayawathie the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh who is another Dalit leader is alleged to have amassed enormous wealth through dubious means. These leaders who are suppose to bring emancipation to their down trodden segment of Indian society; being Dalits is only a vehicle for power and pillage. 

The Adarsh society scam where Flats meant for defense personnel and Kargil (Kargil war was in 1999 between India and Pakistan) war widows expanded to include politicians’ kin, bureaucrats and defense top brass by Ashok Chavan the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. These flats worth millions were built in the Colaba area in Mumbai which is a prime location. Chavan was compelled to resign on account of the public outrage against him over corruption charges. Chavan was the first person to shake Barack Obama’s hand when the US president landed in India.

Commonwealth Games’ Organising Committee Chairman Suresh Kalmadi’s close aides T S Darbari and Sanjay Mahendroo were arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation for their alleged role in the huge financial irregularities in the organization of the Games. Kalmadi was removed from the post of secretary of the congress party. The monies involved in the irregularities is said to be 80000 crore. (One crore = ten million). The CBI is reported to be closing on Kalmadi.

Ministers Shashi Tharoor, Sharad Pawar, Praful Patel are known to have dubious links with IPL teams. Shashi Tharoor lost his job as minister of state in the external affairs ministry following a scandal involving his then friend and now wife Sunanda Pushkar’s stake in the Kochi IPL franchise. One should recollect that Tharoor was India’s nominee for the U.N.S.G post when Sri Lanka’s nominee was Jayantha Dhanapala. Tharoor’s nomination may have affected Dhanapala’s chances to some degree.

Lalit Modi the strong man of cricket in India was suspended as chairman and commissioner of IPL in April 2010. Modi was accused of among other things multimillion Dollar kickbacks while assigning telecasting rights to T.V. Channels and attempting to rig the bids for two new IPL teams. A confidential report from the Tax department revealed that he holds silent stake of three IPL teams.

  In the Scorpene Submarine deal sensitive secret information was being smuggled out and transferred to the global arms trade.  It was revealed that among the civilians involved were navy chief Arun Prakash’s wife’s nephew Ravi Shankaran and his associate Kulbhushan Parashar. Despite being identified as recipients of the leak, the navy chose not to act against either of them””‚in fact, Shankaran fled the country. Investigators had chanced upon a trail that led eventually to the Rs 18,798-crore Scorpene submarine deal. The navy and the defense ministry are alleged to have suppressed this information. Under pressure, the government handed over the case to the CBI. Now, Parashar has been arrested. Shankaran, who has gone underground in the UK, has had his passport revoked and is a proclaimed offender.

Earlier in February 20, 2009 Thirteen years after Rs 2.45 crore  in cash was seized from his residence, former Union Communications Minister Sukh Ram was convicted on charges of amassing Rs 4.25 crore disproportionate assets during his tenure in PV Narasimha Rao’s cabinet. He was imprisoned for three years. Court also orders forfeiture of his disproportionate assets worth Rs 4.25 crore.

When the country is worn-out with several scandal stories of Congress-led UPA government, the fresh BJP scandal hit India once again as Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa has been landed into a fresh land scam.

The abovementioned scams are only the tip of the Iceberg. Rampant large scale corruption is a factor which negates the economic achievements of India. the poor are more vulnerable both in terms of being easy targets for being subjected to extortion, bribery, double-standards and intimidation as well as in terms of being hit by the negative and harsh consequences of corruption on country’s overall development processes. So, in addition to the negative impact of corruption, there is also an element of disproportionality and inequality. The statement by President Barack Obama that India is not an emerging country but a country which has already emerged is wishful; according to A. Ram the editor in chief of the Hindu news paper who was interviewed by Sri Lanka Rupavahini recently. Ram was one of the journalists who did the initial investigative reporting which brought to light the Bofors scandal involving Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi.  

What does this mean to Sri Lanka?

Considering the fact that it was the supportive Indian policy towards Sri Lanka against the struggle to eradicate terrorism that paved the way for victory against LTTE and the enormous contributions it had made towards rebuilding the country; no Sri Lankan would like to see India facing political instability and chaos. The happenings are matters totally internal for India and we can only wish that the outcome of the ongoing investigations will clear the gloom now engulfing the government?  However there are some relevant facts which S.L could gather in order to chart its path for better governance.

President Rajapakse in his address to the nation subsequent to taking oaths for his second term; unequivocally said that one of his goals in his second tenure would be to eradicate corruption.  

It is an undoubted fact that Sri Lanka is relatively behind India in terms of functioning democratic governance.  The Democracy Index of the Economist Intelligence Unit confirms this by placing India at the 37th position well ahead of S.L which is in the 57th position out of 167 countries.  It is this relatively higher democratic process in India I believe enables the cough up of corruption regularly. The head of government who is the Prime Minister is directly answerable to the Parliament and the availability of a strong hawk eyed opposition does not allow a free hand to the governing party. More over the “Right to Information Act” of 2005 enables any citizen of India to request from any public authority which is expected to provide the information within thirty days except in certain restricted areas.  The act also requires every government department to computerize the processes to avoid red tape and deliberate attempts to hide information. India is at the vanguard of figuring out how to exploit technology and innovation on behalf of democratic accountability.   

It could be the efforts that are being made to strengthen the democratic process in India that has made many improprieties to come to light in recent times. The practice of forcing the perpetrators to quit office even if allegations have not been fully investigated is yet unknown in Sri Lanka.  Also the feature of members of governing party or its cronies getting caught and being punished is not seen in our country. The danger of unbridled power is that anything can be swept under the carpet. A weak opposition in parliament and the apathetic voting public allows room for unexposed misdeeds of the rulers and their cronies.  The exposure of misdeeds in Sri Lanka mostly happens against political rivals or other adversaries. No leader in S.L has so far attempted to clean the Augean stables.

Achieving a healthy rate of growth and increasing per capita income do not necessarily mean that a country is on the correct path to development. The benefits of the growth should at least trickle down if not flow down to the lower strata of society. This does not happen or negligible in India. As one would observe in the above illustrated scams; the Indian “License Raj” is still active and kicking under a crony capitalist economy. The watch dog institutions responsible for overlooking aberrations in government administration in India; though  relatively more independent than in Sri Lanka  are unable to cope up with the high level of corruption because of the lack of political will.  The congress party of Rajiv Gandhi lost the election on account of the exposure of the Bofors scandal and P.M Dr. Manmohan Singh’s government could face the same fate in next general election due in 2014 or earlier. This should be an eye opener to the government of Sri Lanka.  Democracy and development are complementary to each other. More democratic the country is, poverty alleviation would be greater.

Impunity from recrimination can be beaten through many ways. The first and the ideal is to have a leadership which values moral responsibility in governance.  Secondly the mechanisms available to reveal and control should have sufficient teeth to operate. Thirdly the same yard stick should be applied to friend and foe.

Except for three world leaders namely Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King no other leader in the world can be classified as leaders with high moral responsibility.  It is too abstract in the present day world. Therefore what can be expected is the minimization of corruption to the extent it does not affect the grasp of power of the rulers on the one hand and it does not affect the country’s progress significantly on the other hand.

It would be observed that the Indian watch dog institutions such as the CBI, the Controller Auditor General, the fourth estate are relatively independent than in Sri Lanka. It’s the high judicial independence which made the Supreme Court to call for explanations from the serving Prime Minister of the country. The watch dog institutions of Sri Lanka such as the Bribery commission has been defunct for a long duration and other institutions such as the COPE, the PAC, should be given more teeth to function. Independence and corrupt free Police force is also a sine qua non in this regard. Sri Lanka is faced with the challenge of revitalizing institutions of development administration and getting rid of the scourge of corruption in our public life.

The people of this country are ever grateful to the President for what he has achieved so far despite obstacles which many thought could not be dealt with.  Similarly they have given a very clear mandate to him to do the rest which includes eradication of corruption, nepotism and cronyism. They are hopeful that the tasks would be tackled successfully.

UPALI COORAY

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