Two events on a single day brought out in glaring relief the distortion in the Indian mindset that renders democracy into a farce. First, giving the ruling on the petition by Dr. Subramaniam Swamy on the 2G scam the Supreme Court (SC) blamed the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for the inordinate delay in giving sanction for prosecution. The court ruled that in future all decisions regarding grant of sanction for prosecution must be within the time frame of four months. This welcome ruling was marred by the unnecessary observation made by the Court exonerating the Prime Minister.
The Court said:
“We have no doubt that if the prime minister had been apprised of the true factual and legal position regarding the representation made by the appellant, he would have surely taken the appropriate decision…By the very nature of the office held by him the PM is not expected to personally look into the minute details of each and every case placed before him…”
Secondly, on the same day Defence Minister Mr. AK Antony placed all blame for the dispute related to the Army Chief’s date of birth squarely on the military and absolving his ministry.
“For 36 years, two branches of the same institution maintained two dates of birth and that is why this controversy … I don't agree… that it is a civil-military controversy,"
The Army Chief General VK Singh concurred with the Minister. One can sympathize with the SC for being deferential towards the PM. One can appreciate the Army Chief for loyally endorsing his Minister. Both seem to be actuated by the desire to bury controversy and get on with the job. But both are horribly wrong. And unless this wrong is righted there is no hope of reforming India’s flawed democracy and tottering governance.
The SC should know that the evidence related to the 2G scam did not require study of minute details to conclude that prosecution was justified. Even a child knew that a prima facie case existed.
By its exoneration of the PM and castigation of the PMO the Court legitimized incompetence. If the PM is not responsible for the functioning of his office, who is?
During a TV debate on the subject one journalist endorsing the Court said that “the PM was responsible but not accountable”. Did he consider the absurdity of his remark?
If the official responsible is not accountable, should accountability be thrust on someone irresponsible?
Similarly the Army Chief very well knows that he had for years asked the Military Secretary to rectify the divergence of his birth date as recorded in the two departments of the army. While this was pending for decades was not the Defence Ministry aware of this discrepancy? Did not the Defence Minister have the authority to intervene and rectify the mistake?
What, after all, are the responsibilities and duties of the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister? Or do they have no real responsibilities at all?
And that is what brings us to the nub of the problem. Our system has degenerated to one in which there is power without responsibility, and responsibility without accountability. This distortion has shattered the functioning of democratic governance. It has created the notion that unless an official personally has his hand in the till he is innocent regardless of what his juniors working under him might be doing. This notion has made a mockery of the well established principle of constructive responsibility that devolves on every minister in the discharge of responsibility. It is this norm of constructive responsibility that ensures adequate performance by officials in any healthy democratic system.
Today the entire Indian nation is participating in a silent conspiracy of furthering hypocrisy that destroys governance. The PM and the Defence Minister are considered decent individuals because everybody knows that they have no real power. The real authority rests with an extra-constitutional centre of power, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi.
In a recent article in The Statesman Mr. MG Devasahayam criticized President Pratibha Patil who as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces did not lift a finger to defuse the crisis involving the Army Chief. That is a start. More and more people need to point out the accountability that necessarily accompanies responsibility. More and more people need to take a good look at the Constitution to appreciate what our political system ought to be and what it has become. India needs a system in which there is power with responsibility and responsibility with accountability. Until that is achieved good governance will elude us.