Readers will recall that on December 2nd it was stated in these columns that a silent war between the Prime Minister and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi was under way. I wrote:
“Congress President Mrs. Sonia Gandhi is deeply worried over the decline in her party’s popularity on the eve of a general election. Drastic measures are being contemplated to reverse the trend. The favourite option that currently tops the agenda is to replace Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh after the assembly poll results are out. The projected date of change is early January…The usually compliant PM is not obliging… The PM… is determined to complete his term but would be willing to be replaced as his party’s prime ministerial candidate for the next general election which he may not contest.”
Yesterday the PM in his first press conference in over a year officially announced that he would not become Prime Minister if the UPA returns to power after the general election. Clearly a compromise has been worked out between 10 Janpath and 7 Race Course Road to the latter’s advantage. The PM criticized Mr. Narendra Modi’s candidature for PM but fell short of naming Mr. Rahul Gandhi as his successor. The reason for the delay most likely is that the Congress is pursuing a new strategy that necessitates tacit agreement with Mr. Arvind Kejriwal of Aam Admi Party (Aap). Only after that might Mr. Gandhi take the plunge.
Readers might also recall that in earlier assessments it was pointed out in these columns that AAP will focus on metropolitan cities to revive traditional Congress values. It will be complemented by the traditional Congress vote in rural India that would be attracted to it because of nostalgia for Gandhian and Nehruvian values. Together both AAP and Congress might then mount a challenge to the BJP and Mr. Modi.
The possible hitch is Mr. Kejriwal’s avowed aim to fight corruption. Would he be content with cosmetic moves against UPA corruption or actually go for the jugular and name top leaders in specific cases? As it is Mr. Kejriwal’s stated resolve against corruption can prove to be hollow regardless of how he acts. Thus far the election campaigns of both Mr. Kejriwal and Mr. Modi have exhibited a very high degree of publicity and communication skills. There has been substantial input of international expertise in both campaigns. This should not surprise in an increasingly global political system. But any meaningful or innovative policy formulation to address major political problems has yet to emerge in either leader’s campaign. That is why Mr. Kejriwal’s resolve to expose corruption may not amount to much even if sincerely implemented.
In his emotional maiden speech in the Delhi Assembly Mr. Kejriwal said: “The most important agenda for the government is to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill.” That indeed is the litmus test of sincerity to fight corruption as perceived by Mr. Kejriwal, the Congress, the BJP and almost all the public. It is a hollow and meaningless measure that has been consistently criticized by this writer ever since the demand surfaced.
As pointed out the failure to curb corruption arises from non-implementation of existing law and not from absence of adequate law. Rebutting BJP leader Mr. Harsh Vardan in the Delhi Assembly Mr. Kejriwal said that the existing Lok Ayukta law was too weak. He wanted a stronger law that would ensure imprisonment and seizure of property of the corrupt. Seizure of property might be a new measure but do not prevalent laws ensure that the corrupt are jailed? The Chief Minister could at most forward a corruption complaint to the Lok Ayukta. Can he not do that presently to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) or to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)? If these institutions cannot deliver results why will the Lok Ayukta functioning even under the stringent law envisaged by Mr. Kejriwal succeed?
Regretfully one must conclude that Mr. Kejriwal like his counterparts in other parties has given insufficient thought to the failure of curbing corruption which arises not from inadequate laws but from refusal to implement existing laws.
This happens because these institutions are controlled by the very government which may be accused of corruption. These institutions need to be liberated from government control. How will Lokpal or Lok Ayukta be liberated when they are appointed by the same functionaries that appoint the CVC or CBI and are accountable to the same sources? Unless the CBI is made a constitutional body under charge of a President or Governors in states appointed by the President and accountable to the same, there will never be an effective fight against corruption. Without such systemic reform there will never be effective lasting governance.
Therefore despite his sincere protestations of fighting corruption, in tangible terms Mr. Kejriwal in action may have little impact on Congress fortunes. In other words the prospect of a future Congress-AAP alliance blossoming cannot be ruled out. The Congress has already declared that it may support AAP in Delhi for the next five years. Congress General Secretary Mr. Digvijay Singh has advised Mr. Modi to learn from Mr. Kejriwal for whom he has high praise. And as for making stringent laws to fight corruption, Mr. Rahul Gandhi has already announced six new Bills for laws to fight corruption. That may please Mr. Kejriwal. Alas, it is unlikely to make a jot of difference to the prevalence of corruption. For that the country needs governance. For that our democracy needs systemic reform, not tinkering with a few laws.