Power Corruptshttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/power-corrupts/

Power Corrupts

Isn’t it shocking that two BJP MLAs in Gujarat were found causing mayhem in Ahmedabad? When the police arrested them,they turned violent.

Isn’t it shocking that two BJP MLAs in Gujarat were found causing mayhem in Ahmedabad? When the police arrested them,they turned violent. Then,to top it all, Narendra Modi went to the police station,scolded the police for arresting his MLAs and got them released. Is this not a total breakdown of law and order? Should there be President’s Rule in Gujarat?

None of the above is false except that it was in Kolkata and not Ahmedabad,and it was Didi and not Narendra Modi who misbehaved in this manner. Since she is part of the ruling coalition and also secular of course,nothing will happen to her. But is it not remarkable how rapidly power corrupts and what consolation do the citizens and especially the police of Paschimbanga get from such arbitrary behaviour? Is this paribartan?

Corruption of power is a bigger danger even than the corruption which is about money grabbing. One of the most remarkable things about India is the extent to which the power of the executive is unchecked. We have just had an episode in the British Parliament where Theresa May,the Home Secretary,has been held to account for allowing the procedures about checking passports and visas at airports and ports to be relaxed. May blamed the head of the UK Border Services as having exceeded her instructions and suspended him. Now he has resigned and with the help of his Union,is suing her. Parliament is angrily holding her to account and she has had to appear before the whole House as well as the Select Committee on Home Affairs. It is very likely she may have to resign.

Compare this scenario with what has happened in Kolkata. No one will question Mamata Banerjee,either in the West Bengal Assembly or in the Lok Sabha. The police who were reprimanded will be demoralised. They will know that their job is not to enforce the law but to be constantly at the mercy of an irascible chief minister and all the TMC MLAs plus no doubt their friends and relations. And,of course,the corruption of power trickles down from the top to the bottom across the executive. It is this arrogance which allows the powerful to get away with murder.

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It is interesting in this respect to read the recent biography of Chaudhary Charan Singh—An Indian Political Life: Charan Singh and Congress Politics,1937 to 1961 by American political scientist Paul Brass. This is the first volume of a multi- volume biography he is writing on Charan Singh. The fear of corruption was as prevalent in 1946 as it is now. Brass quotes Ram Manohar Lohia recounting how Nehru told him “with some vehemence how low Congressmen had fallen and… that Congressmen violated every single section of the Indian Penal Code in their fights with each other.”

The key difference in 1946 from before was of course that Congressmen,previously freedom fighters,were now in power with patronage at their disposal. Patronage after all involves bending rules to your own advantage to reward someone who would be of use to you in the future. The more permits you have the power to give away,the more corrupt you can be. There are few checks,few audits to expose the corruption. Of course if someone does turn out to be honest and vigilant,it is very easy to frame him.

Charan Singh was honest and ready to defend his reputation but he constantly worried about his colleagues misusing their power. Over the years,the ability to misuse office just got bigger as did the rewards of corruption. When Indira Gandhi split the Congress and made her party a personal possession,there was no one within the Congress to check her. Also the chances to extract money multiplied as permits and licences did if you played along. When the Congress hegemony broke,the habit of misusing power spread to all political parties.

The answer is not a Lokpal. It is to find the key to how the executive’s hold on power can be challenged. When chief ministers can no longer scold the police for doing their job,you won’t need Lokpals.