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22 August, 2011

Corruption: AHRC points to foundational weakness of Indian state


The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

Given the primacy of combating corruption to breathe life into the concept of democracy, the anti-corruption movement in India is indeed the country's second movement for freedom. Given the magnitude of the problem, the complex and interlinked inroads corruption has made into all aspects of life in the country, it is not mere lack of interest, political differences and sheer snobbishness of the country's political elite that has united them in opposing more sober proposals, sans 'camps', suggested by the civil society as opposed to the nonsensical draft law proposed by the government. The fact that not a single political party of the world's largest multi-party democracy has supported the civil society initiative against corruption illuminates the lack of morale of at least one of the country's democratic institutions.

The unwelcome reality for the political parties in the country that do not have what they believe in as their 'manifest destiny' to decide everything in India and for Indians, understandably will be bitter, but a refining pill for the country's politicians to swallow. In that, India is also witnessing the defining moment and thus the process of maturing of its democratic framework. Dislike by most parliamentarians about the fact that the parliament they are seated in does not have a writ beyond the collective wisdom of the people who sent their representatives to the legislative house is understandable. Nor can they act according to the will of the people, since should there be a strict anti-corruption framework in the country, a substantial number of the country's parliamentarians would find their abode being shifted from their palatial houses within their fiefdoms into the narrow rooms within prisons. Disgust upon the public appeal for a 'biting' law against corruption by the country's political elite is thus understandable, but they have no other choice.

The civil society's model anti-corruption laws, or the one proposed by the government are indeed not the best legislations out there. Both versions of the future law have scope for improvement, in particular, the one drafted by the government, the weakest and the most recent visible specimen of the disrespectful attempt against the constitutional writ that the government is mandated to protect. However good the legislation is, without a proper implementing framework the law cannot deliver its legislative writ.

Kallipolis will not follow once the law is in place, no matter how well meaning it is. If not at any other time in the past, it is now a moment in the country's history that the members of the India's civil society must put their differences behind and speak in one voice, against corruption and not to make use the public space they enjoy to pass comments about how bad is one form of campaign from the other or how good is a particular proposal as against the others. Comments by some of the leading civil society activists reported through the media paints a disappointing picture of the lack of thematic consensus and confirms the worrying public perception that the human rights movement in India is divided between different camps, some of them formed on the basis of who have received what decoration and who aims for what more in the form of recognitions. In that some of the civil society leaders in the country are not immune to intellectual corruption. The last thing the country can afford now is a 'blue ribbon jury' within the civil society.

There are relatively successful models of anti-corruption frameworks in the world, within Asia itself. The system that is in place, for instance in Hong Kong, is of relatively high efficiency. That a unique territory like Hong Kong is not a true democracy underscores the fact that a parliamentary form of democracy is not required to contain corruption. That there is parliamentary primacy over the acts of the government is more the better though. The Hong Kong model of corruption prevention takes within its sweep non-government entities, including human rights groups and business establishments. The United Nations Convention Against Corruption, AHRC provides a comprehensive theoretical and practical framework against corruption, a model that must be studied by anyone who is serious of fighting corruption. Unlike all other international conventions the UN has produced, the Convention against Corruption provides an extensive implementation framework.

Equally important is the government's effort to maximise wider consultancy in the process. Engaging in consultations with a single individual is not what is warranted under the circumstances. A consultative process is not the government's prerogative to offer, but a citizen's right to be fulfilled.

For now the government and the non-government groups have had their chances to take their shots at the target. The question then is what next?

Assuming that eventually there would be a law in India against corruption, probably the best of its kind in the world, without drastic reforms of the justice institutions it would be like owning a radio without means to electricity. Of the manifold problems that India face today, arguably, corruption would be one in the 'top-ten' list. Of equal importance is the non-functioning justice apparatus. However, the country's civil society is yet to wake up to this reality or is pretending to sleep over this issue.

The potent evil in India is not the façade made up of some of the reckless and globalised business interests, but the foundational weakness of a state, that still lacks the understanding of and refuses to accept that its justice regime has stopped growing and has instead started putrefying. Without incorporating debates concerning the urgent requirement for a complete overhaul of India's justice framework, corruption will continue to flourish in India, no matter what law is eventually legislated.
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Cartoon provided by Mr. Satish Acharya. The cartoonist's page could be viewed at http://cartoonistsatish.blogspot.com/

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