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PUCL Bulletin, March 2006

One law for the people and another for the lawmakers

-- By Mahi Pal Singh

Corruption has hardly been an issue in this otherwise great country of ours, particularly if it is corruption among our politicians. We have had many such cases in the past. One of them was the case of kickbacks in the purchase of Swedish field guns named Bofors during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as the Prime Minister of the country in which Rs.64 crores were paid as kickbacks. Though the country’s voters threw his government down and some military officers were sacked, nobody, including any politician, has got any punishment in the case till date.

To save Narsimha Rao’s government from being toppled through the no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha crores were paid to Members of Parliament belonging to Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, including its head Shibu Soren and the media reported in great details how banks worked overtime for counting the cash deposited in the bank accounts of politicians to secure their votes against the no-confidence motion, yet our justice administration system failed to punish any of the bribe givers or takers and all of them occupy seats of honour and power today. Electronic media showed a cash of five crores discovered in the house of Sukh Ram which was allegedly paid in the telephone purchase scam, but he conveniently escaped being convicted in the case and was later wooed by the same BJP leaders in their scramble to come to power who did not allow Parliament to transact any business for days together raising the issue of corruption in the matter and action against him. In the Hawala case, too, no politician named in the much publicized Jain diary was punished although some of the politicians confessed on the TV screen that they had taken the cash as mentioned in the diary.

In the latest sting operations called ‘Operation Duryodhan’ and ‘Operation Chakravyuh’ conducted by Cobra.com Members of Parliament were shown accepting cash for asking questions in Parliament and demanding commission for doing developmental tasks out of Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) fund respectively. The former case received immediate attention of the two houses of our national legislature and the eleven Members of Parliament involved in the case were expelled from Parliament because it involved the honour and credibility of all Members of Parliament because our Members of Parliament wanted to maintain their credibility and image even in the face of an exposure, showing such brutal murder of parliamentary norms and shameless lust for money, on the TV screen, though it is difficult to assess how successful this effort will be in achieving its desired effect. The only saving grace was that no member of the left parties was shown indulging in corruption in the two sting operations. ‘Operation Chakravyuh’ is yet to catch the attention of our Parliament.

Only a few months ago the Speaker of Lok Sabha, Comrade Somnath Chatterjee had raised doubts about the utility of continuing MPLADS because it is nothing but a means of adding to the corruption already prevalent in our elected leaders. Otherwise, too, there are doubts regarding the utility and legality of this schemed as it overlaps the functions of Panchayats and municipal bodies. People only become skeptical whenever MPs demand a rise in the amount allotted to them under the scheme.
But the moot question that remains to be answered is – What punishment our elected leaders get for indulging in corrupt practices apart from the political fallout of being caught in the act? A policeman or a clerk not only gets dismissed from service and our judicial system also punishes him if he is caught accepting even a small amount for doling out a favour or doing something which otherwise too is a part of his duty. But how many of our corrupt politicians have received punishment at the hands of our justice administration system? In the present case, too, what punishment did the eleven MPs get apart from the political punishment of being deprived of their seats in Parliament? Does that not show that there is punishment for the small fry but none for the big sharks? In a country which vows for equality before law aren’t there one set of laws for ordinary citizens and another set of laws for our worthy law-makers? And see the audacity and shamelessness of these corrupt politicians – some of them plan to go to the court of law for “justice” (read “hiding behind the curtain of intricacies and technicalities of laws” as many of their brethren have succeeded in doing in the past). And see yet others, too, who are raising their voice in favour of their party colleagues in the name of the same “justice”.

  Arun Jaitley, one of the General Secretaries of BJP, writing in the article entitled ‘Bending rules to lay them down’ published in The Hindustan Times dated 27.12.05 has said that “expelling tainted MPs is politically correct, but constitutionally questionable.” Although he himself admits, “I do believe that the misconduct of the members amounts to a breach of privilege. I do believe that the power of Parliament to punish under privilege could be stretched to include the power of expulsion.” Yet, he says, “I strongly contest the position that for misconduct outside the rules of privilege, a member of a legislative body should be expelled from the House.” He goes even further to say, “I doubt if any House of Parliament is empowered to cut short a constitutionally prescribed term of its members other than for breach of privilege.” What a strong defence of his colleagues in the name of the rule of law in the country! And why not? We all know that most of the tainted MPs are from the BJP, his own party. He forgets that he and his own party never abided by it nor demanded the rule of law in the aftermath of the communal riots either in 1992-93 in Mumbai or in Gujarat after the communal genocide openly organized and indulged in by his party colleagues in the wake of the Godhara incident. In the matter of Babri Masjid/Ram temple controversy at Ayodhya he and his party leaders have been expressing views inimical to the concept of the rule of law and even expressing disbelief on decision of the judiciary. One is bound to doubt the intentions of such people when they talk of the rule of law though everyone would wish that they really had a faith in the rule of law. They only raise such slogans when it suits them and their party interests.
And they want us and all the people of this country to believe that most of them are honest and true servants of the people. One does not need more examples to understand and appreciate why M.N. Roy said long ago that a party based parliamentary democracy could only lead to corruption, and never to a true grass-roots democracy as representatives of the people do not think of empowerment of the people but themselves by whatever means they can.

Our conscientious law-makers and thoughtful people must think seriously how our ornamental democracy can be turned into a real one, or at least, saved from deteriorating further into becoming a safe haven for the corrupt and how our constitutional oath of equality before law can be ensured for all

People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014