Government of India has done commendable work in ensuring a belated dose of accountability in the case of Chhagan Bhujbal, whose rags to riches story mirrored his ascent in politics. Rather than follow the usual practice in India of going after minnows with deadly force and showing exceptional forbearance in the case of the powerful, it is expected of a government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that it enforce the same standard of justice on those in positions of authority who make hundreds and sometimes even thousands of crores for themselves and their families, as gets meted out to those indigents found guilty of petty theft. As a democracy, executive power vests within the political executive, and each of those in ministerial office have sworn on a legally binding oath to function in a manner solely for public rather than private good. In this context, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha needs to convene a meeting of House leaders to ensure that a Code of Conduct gets enforced for Members of Parliament belonging to the Lower House the way it has been, at least on paper, in the Upper House. In the Rajya Sabha, the Ethics Committee led by L.K. Advani needs to ensure that it has the logistics and the staff needed to function in an effective manner, so that it serves as a deterrent to wrongdoing. Being a Member of Parliament carries a solemn responsibility, and those who have been given such a privilege need to be held to the highest standards of ethics and made accountable if found wanting. Even more than MPs and MLAs, the much fewer number who are ministers at the state or Central level need to be monitored and brought to book, should there be transgressions on their part.
Although allegations of a political witch-hunt have been made in the Bhujbal case, this does not hold water. The amounts involved are simply too much to ignore or get passed off as simply the products of sound business judgement or luck. Throughout India, there are several politicians whose assets are similar to that of Mr Bhujbal, and these need to be exhaustively investigated as well, so as to ascertain how such riches came about. At the same time, care needs to be taken to ensure that vendettas do not get carried out. It is not uncommon in India for corrupt officials in investigating agencies being bought by businesspersons and politicians to fabricate cases, especially on those active in exposing the fraud and deceit indulged in by such influential benefactors. Officials guilty of using coercion and other means to fabricate false allegations against the innocent need to face the certainty of severe punishment, for when the fence is allowed to eat the crop unchecked, public distress is the consequence. In India it has been ensured by Prime Minister Modi that political interference in administrative decisions has been sharply reduced from what they were when Manmohan Singh was in office. The PMO needs to ensure that freedom from political interference that is enjoyed by officials be accompanied by strict monitoring of their activities, so that the powers given to them do not get misused against those inconvenient to the rich and powerful. The attention of the agencies needs to be focused on the Big Fish, not small fry. The action against Mr Bhujbal needs to get repeated in the case of others who are, or were, once in high positions and who have become billionaires through betraying the public trust.