There has been considerable comment about the way the economic reformer in Manmohan Singh has finally woken up after having gone to sleep for eight straight years. Should the Prime Minister gather up his reserves of courage and press ahead with implementing more of the measures that he ought to have introduced in 2004, and especially if he remembers domestic interests rather than focus exclusively on helping external players, the country would be the gainer. Whatever happens in the next general election, 2014 (or 2013) will be Manmohan Singh’s final year in office. At present, his legacy is that of a failure. An economic wizard who has presided over higher inflation and lower growth. Who has watched in seeming helplessness as the level of graft in governmental decisions rose to a level exceeded only by the British takeaway of India’s assets and gold during the previous two centuries. Who has allowed the Prime Minister’s Office to become a joke, even as shadowy operators sans any official responsibility directly command ministers and bureaucrats to give decisions that favour favourites. Coal allocation is just a single example. It was hardly a secret that AICC treasurer Motilal Vora wore a sunny smile during the years when coal block after coal block got allocated to players who were personally close to the handful of individuals — none holding positions of state authority — who have called the shots in governance since mid-2004. For some reason, the Economic Intelligence Wing of the Income-Tax Department, which is so zealous against businesspersons who are regarded by their superiors as ripe for a shakedown, has ignored the raft of cell phone calls and meetings that took place between successful bidders of the coal blocks and these few operators
Should a government come to office in 2014 that is genuine about cleaning up graft in the country, it would investigate each and every one of the foreign visits of top leaders of major political parties and their close relatives, i.e., children, sisters and brothers. Each week, corporate jets leave from cities across India to faraway (or nearby) destinations, carrying with them precious human cargo. Naturally, there is no security check done of the luggage of such travellers, whether on exit or entry. If they take away with them priceless antiques stolen from temples across India, or CDs containing information that would be useful to foreign governments, no agency in the country is in the know. Because of the feudal nature of the Indian state, where the successors of the British colonial cohorts have arrogated to themselves the pomp and privileges of India’s former masters, this country’s investigative agencies do not have the courage to question those at the top about activities that may have repercussions on national interests. Dubai and London are two cities to which the powerful in India and their families repair ever so often, usually in corporate jets. What do they do there? Whom do they meet? Who takes care of the huge bills for hotel, conveyance and incidentals? There is a fog of silence over all such queries, a fog that needs to get dispelled soonest.
The propensity to take advantage of the generosity of wealthy friends and to shamelessly misuse their corporate jets (and other logistical advantages) while travelling is not confined to those high up in the parties now running the Central government. BJP president Nitin Gadkari seems addicted to corporate jets, using them even on sectors where commercial aircraft operate in plenty. Anna Hazare has made the mistake of believing that a single point plan — creation of a Jan Lokpal — would erase corruption. He needs to battle for a Code of Conduct for Political Leaders instead. They ought to travel only by train, preferably by the lowest available class. Within cities, they ought to use public transport at least once each day, while VVIP areas ought to be subject to the same power cuts and water shortages that the rest of us experience daily. And as for travel, Presidents, Vice-Presidents and general secretaries of all national parties ought to submit details of all their travels in the previous month, including the mode. They ought to give details of the foreign travel each month of children and close relatives. Thus far, leaders in India have insulted the people of India by behaving as though they are too ignorant to be trusted with such details. Over the decades, the people of this country have become the equals of counterparts anywhere else, despite the primitive level of internet coverage and the lack of genuine freedom of expression in a country where those drawing salaries from the exchequer believe that only they are qualified to speak on behalf of the rest, and to decide for the rest.
It is time for a Code of Conduct, not simply during election time, but during the remaining period as well, that would expose national and state leaders to the hardships faced by people because of the former’s mismanagement. For too long have the political elite and their friends savoured the gain, while the rest of the people endure the pain.