“Five problems, one solution!” is the punch line delivered by Aishwarya Rai in a TV ad promoting a face cream or a shampoo, I forget which.
Can a single solution be found to deal with the multifarious problems confronting India’s political class? I believe it can. India is beset by crime, communalism, casteism, terrorism, insurgency, separatism and a host of crippling problems. But the problem currently engaging the nation most is that of corruption. How can that be addressed? The much debated Lokpal Bill is unlikely to deliver a meaningful result. It may only compound the confusion.
In the recent Supreme Court ruling on the black money case Justices Reddy and Nirjar bemoaned that the unholy nexus between lawmakers, lawbreakers and law enforcers had made India into a soft state where no moral authority to govern existed. In a newspaper article Mr. Sitaram Yechury identified poverty and disparate economy as the underlying cause of corruption. However deplorable economic disparity might be its removal is unlikely to help fight corruption. Corruption is being practiced by the rich, not by the poor. But both the Supreme Court and Mr. Yechury do seem to recognize that the problem transcends institutional or legal inadequacy. Corruption is a problem that has infected the culture of an entire society.
Culture is reflected in human conduct. Human conduct is influenced by the total social environment. Our environment is permissive. All rules and norms can be broken. A friend employed by a multinational and recently returned from London made an appointment with me. He was thirty minutes late. He brushed aside his lapse with some casual excuse. I asked: “When in London were you ever late for any appointment?” He thought for a while, and then grudgingly confessed: “No.” That is what environment does to conduct. Every crippling problem facing India’s politicians is created by a single cause. The problem is created because some law is broken. Therefore to contain all these problems the one single paramount requirement would be to ensure that all laws are observed. That is the single solution: observe all laws.
Let parliament decide what laws should be made and what those laws should be. Let the Supreme Court decide if the laws made conform to the provisions of the Constitution. Let the cabinet decide how those laws, rules and policies are to be implemented. What must be ensured by a third body is that all the provisions of the statute book and the rule books are scrupulously observed. That third body surely cannot be a Lokpal that has no electoral mandate. It can only be the President of India who has the widest electoral mandate of any individual in the country. By a minor amendment that does not violate the basic structure of the Constitution the President’s mandate can be converted from an indirect vote to a direct vote by the electorate.
If the President thus elected could perform the single task of monitoring and ensuring implementation of laws and official rules it would be a Herculean achievement. It should be noted that the surest way to minimize violation of laws and rules is to scrupulously observe all procedure. A casual approach to procedure invites violation of law and creation of problems. That is what a permissive culture delivers. That is why the British with a handful of officials succeeded in colonizing and ruling this vast subcontinent for centuries. They scrupulously observed procedure. We have imbibed many bad qualities from the British. We should imbibe this one good quality which made them arguably the most formidable and unique ruling class to have successfully governed this large nation.