A Fixer in Every Post
A Guest Post by Sakshi Gupta
The Congress has displayed some very astute political tightrope walking over the past few years. To the casual observer, it would appear that the grand old party of India, with its sage like prime minister, benevolent high priestess and army of clean-shaven young leaders represents the ‘clean’ face of new Indian politics. Most scams and embarrassments have been associated with its allies – the 2G Spectrum Scam with A Raja of the DMK, the rotting grains in FCI godowns with Sharad Pawar of the NCP. The Congress has easily been able to project an image of having to live with murky allies due to political realities, while being above them. A quick review of the UPA’s record, however, will show that the Congress has been complicit, or even instrumental, in a process of systematically destroying democratic institutions – a process which in the long run could have far greater ramifications for democracy and governance in India than individual acts of corruption that its allies have indulged in.
It started with the office of the President. Pratibha Patil’s main qualification for the job was her unquestioned loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family. However, numerous reports of corruption and even complicity in murder against her and her family were hastily swept under the carpet. It is easy in the political world to dig out dirt against any one, and allegations cannot be taken as proof of guilt. However, the crux of the problem lay in the complete refusal by the Congress to engage with any objections against the proposed candidate. The sanctity of the office of the President suffered as a result.
The pattern has been repeated with alarming regularity. The appointment of Navin Chawla as the Chief Election Commissioner despite allegations of partisanship and objections from the highly respected incumbent, smacked of complete disregard for the importance of the office. Similarly, last week the Congress pressed on with (and indeed justified), the appointment of PJ Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner despite his possible involvement in the palm oil scam in Kerala, and association with the 2G Spectrum scam. The result was a complete mockery of the bipartisan process of appointment, with objections from Sushma Swaraj of the BJP being rubbished by the Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari on prime time television. Examples abound – take the continued support to Kalmadi in the face of widespread corruption and mismanagement of the Commonwealth Games, or the interference by the Finance Ministry against all precedent in the extension of the Deputy RBI Governor’s term of office. Nothing has been done to remedy the CBI’s reputation of being a stooge of the Congress either – in fact, the party appears to be reveling in the image.
The importance of the independence of bipartisan institutions cannot be overstated. To take just a single instance, the Election Commission is among the few bodies in the country which has the confidence of the public as being a democratic institution beyond reproach. Past chiefs have shown themselves to be equal to the task of taking on political heavyweights and goons to ensure that elections in India are free and fair. It is the existence of institutions such as these that have kept India from teetering into chaos unlike other fledgling democracies such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and a multitude of African countries. Just one stint by a politically partisan appointee could effectively destroy the reputation that the institution has created for itself against numerous odds.
It is unfortunate that these incidents do not carry the eyeball grabbing power of a grisly 1000 crore scam. The opposition has also shown incapacity to run with the theme and give it the necessary political traction. Murmurs of dissent by the BJP can be heard every so often, but no concerted attack has emerged.
The solution can and must be found through soul searching within the Congress itself. After the struggles of the nineties, the Congress is a party that seemed to have finally come to its own. It has the political clout and growing mass popularity to be in a position to really transform the fundamentals of governance in the country. Appointment of loyalists at the helm of every institution designed to function as a counterweight to government power, perhaps stems from a deep seated insecurity within the party. I believe that this insecurity is misplaced. By delivering on the promises of good governance that brought the party to power, the Congress can cement gains already made. This makes strategic sense as well – independent institutions can help to keep allies in check without eroding the goodwill of the Congress with these parties.
Most importantly, for a party whose fate has been closely bound with the fortunes of the country since its birth, history’s judgment must carry some weight. The country is at a crossroads of sorts, and the Congress, once again, has the steer. Meddling with democratic institutions that could help India to realize its ambition of becoming a healthy, vibrant democracy will do neither the party, nor the country any favours.