Last month the Supreme Court of India delivered a judgement the entire nation wanted to know what it would be. It found the AIADMK supremo and former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa, her close friend Sasikala and two others guilty. In a second-level appeal the top court overturned the Karnataka High Court’s clean chit to the accused persons, and fully approved the trial court’s findings that justified convicting all of them.
The Supreme Court determined that Jayalalithaa amassed assets valued far more than her verifiable income during a five-year period when she was Tamil Nadu’s chief minister. Possessing such unexplained assets is an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The court further found that all the four were in criminal conspiracy to advance Jayalalithaa’s object, and that the chief minister was aided by the other three to acquire her surplus assets. Jayalalithaa did not live to learn about the Supreme Court’s judgement. She died ten weeks before it was announced, and so the Supreme Court recorded that the criminal case against her 'abated' – that is, it had to be discontinued – though the judges opined that available proof clearly pointed to her guilty conduct under the anti-corruption legislation.
Did the trial court or the Supreme Court return a finding that Jayalalithaa took bribes in specific instances? No. That was not also required for their adjudication. When it was established in court that Jayalalithaa, a public servant, had acquired assets exceeding her income but could not explain how, anyone figures out how she could have made money to buy her questionable assets. If she had earned her money cleanly to finance those assets she would have revealed it to the court and cleared her name. When she did not show proper lawful sources for her surplus funds which funded her excess assets, that was enough to consider her guilty under the anti-corruption law.
Most of the voters have not grasped a central fact recognised by the Supreme Court. That is, the Supreme Court declared that out of the four brought to justice, it was chief minister Jayalalithaa who had amassed all those excess assets, retaining much of them in the names of the other three and with some businesses floated by those three. That means, Jayalalithaa had leaned on the other three to amass wealth by wrong means, not the other way around. The major offender was Jayalalithaa, the elected representative of people. That was the Supreme Court's finding.
Laws in a democracy place government work in the hands of two classes of people – civil servants, and elected representatives who belong to political parties. Between them the elected representatives control and oversee the civil servants. When the two classes go about their jobs honestly, whether efficiently or not, people have their best chances to work and prosper. This is basic to the working and growth of a democracy. Here, if efficiency is lacking in administration there is always room for efficiency to enter. The most stealthy way of undermining a democracy, while retaining its outward form, is by letting bribery and corruption flourish in government transactions. Then efficiency in administration too gets stifled and sidelined by design.
If a ruling political leader in India makes money by corrupt deals on some government contracts and through special government favours, the common people would not know it easily. Other politicians sniff out his corrupt ways, but most of them are not clean themselves and have either made their moneys the same way or are biding their time.
Remember, a person in charge of a government has authority to make postings of key officers and personnel at places and in positions he wants them to serve. If he makes gains through bribes or devious methods, he will also demand a routine share of unaccounted money and ask irregular favours from his ministers and officers he chooses for key government postings, knowing that they will take bribes or secure other personal benefits in their official work. So the stream of corruption flows down. It travels faster downstream – it seldom moves upstream from the bottom - and spreads wider too downstream. The result is, a corrupt man at the top of an elected government picks the pocket of every citizen. He won’t care where he takes it, whom he robs, in what amounts or for how long. He would just want to cover his tracks as he keeps hunting. And taking to corruption is like going in for luxuries. You never feel you had enough.
A corrupt leader heading a government could be efficient in keeping the government going, and be quite intelligent too. He might remain popular through tricks and good luck. But he blocks the best chances of progress and prosperity for the people. That is the chief reason why lots and lots of talented young Indians go to the US to do well and prosper easily, rapidly and surely. So, unlike other crimes of an elected leader, corruption hits ordinary citizens the hardest, though not quite visibly. It is more devastating when an elected leader, like a chief minister, is the villain. So our laws should deal with proven corruption among elected leaders more sternly than they do now – to leave a disheartening effect on those waiting in the wings.
Adolf Hitler of the Nazi Party wrecked havoc in Germany through oppression and dictatorship. It happened step by step after he was sworn in its Chancellor in January 1933 to head a coalition government. He could get a law passed in the Reichstag, the German Parliament, called the Enabling Act of 1933 which gave the German Cabinet powers to enact legislation bypassing Parliament and departing from the German Constitution. With that, he abolished labour unions and all other political parties and put his political opponents in prison. From 1933 to 1945, he made his one-man rule by whim look legal. He presided over the genocide of about 6 million Jews in a hate campaign.
After Germany was defeated in the Second World War and Allied forces occupied the country in 1945, the Nazi Party was banned. The present German Criminal Code outlaws use of all symbols of unconstitutional organisations, except for purposes of art or science, research or teaching. It is a punishable crime in Germany to celebrate or promote Nazi symbols such as Swastika, Celtic Cross or the Nazi salute in support of the banned political party. The country has legally prohibited any act to eulogise or revive the despotic Nazi Party, rather than leave it to the good sense of the people in the light of past experience. Today you can't also see a statue of Hitler at a public place in Germany.
We should look upon corruption among elected leaders as bad for the pride and development of our country as Nazism is viewed for Germany. If we do that we need a change of law, somewhat to this effect: If the Supreme Court holds an elected representative, whether an MP, MLA or local councillor, guilty of an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, no one may say he was not guilty of that crime and no one may publicly say anything in praise of him or do anything publicly to preserve or propagate his name or memory in the political sphere. Using any of his pictures or possessions for that purpose will also not be permitted. The convict should also be banned from undertaking any political activity, being a member or leader of any political party and contesting elections for any political office, for the rest of his life. Any co-conspirator or abettor, as confirmed by the Supreme Court, and his pictures and possessions, will also be subject to like prohibitions.
Are we harsh or unfair in talking of a new law like this? No, we aren’t. All political leaders humbly claim that people are their real masters. If a servant is caught swindling his master’s funds, will the master dismiss the servant for ever or ban him for some years and welcome the culprit later? Our legal system of today allows the corrupt political servant to be back working at the same place, or even a bigger household, after his jail term plus six years. Meanwhile his sharers and associates keep singing his praise and awaiting his return. Or if the culprit dies sooner, they openly adulate him and pep up his memory so they may cash in on his remaining fame and step into his shoes quickly – we know this will happen for sure. Then who are the real masters?
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Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2017