The expression "Coalition Dharma", which was coined by the former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has rapidly gained currency in political discourse. It is a convenient expression that can conjure illusions of sanctity to cloak the unprincipled compromises and accommodations willingly made by leaders of coalition governments desperate to hang on to power and its perquisites. No wonder that invocations to Coalition Dharma are being heard with great regularity in the context of the 2G Scam.
As coalition governments have become the norm in our fragmented polity, it is imperative to evolve a new Coalition Dharma with a clearly enunciated set of commandments to be adhered to by all coalition partners. The new Coalition Dharma must prohibit the appointment of Ministers and allocation of portfolios to them on considerations other than merit, uphold the principles of collective responsibility of the Cabinet and primacy of the Prime Minister and penalize the allocation of public resources for partisan and parochial ends. Let these commandments be inscribed on a stone tablet and implemented by a vigilant and ruthless enforcer, who countenances no transgression.
The time has also come to vest catch phrases like Zero Tolerance for Corruption with meaning and substance. Are we equipped to meet the challenge of a rampant corruption, which has spread to all our structures of governance? All governments past and present, single party or coalition, centrist, left-leaning, or rightist, have been remiss in their duty to institute systemic reforms to minimize corruption, exercise due vigilance and punish public servants, howsoever highly placed, straying from the path of probity.
The existing anti-corruption institutions are either sclerose, or severely compromised. There is no independent overarching body to exercise superintendence over their functioning. Governments across the political spectrum have been making a blatant use of their control over agencies of investigation to browbeat political opponents and obdurate public servants. The United Progressive Alliance government, which professes Zero Tolerance for Corruption, needs to establish a credible and effective institutional framework to combat corruption and ensure the passage of the relevant laws with the same determination, sense of purpose and political savvy that it had shown in securing the ratification of the 1-2-3 Agreement and enacting the Nuclear Liability Bill,
Let this enterprise begin with the enactment of an effective law on Lokpal based on civil society's Jan Lokpal Bill, which is a great improvement over the different versions of Lokpal Bill ritualistically introduced in Parliament by eight different governments and allowed to lapse. The Lokpal envisaged in the bill now being readied in secret, without seeking any public discussion or inputs from civil society, is seriously limited in scope, jurisdiction, means and effectiveness. Enacted into law, it will only add to the numbers of ineffective statutory bodies, which, more often than not, are used to provide sinecures to the favourites of the establishment, who can be trusted to serve its interests. An independent, empowered Lokpal is needed to mete out swift and exemplary punishment to corrupt public servants, extend protection to whistleblowers and redress public grievances. Concurrently, the diverse state laws on Lokayukta should be reformed on the lines of the central Lokpal legislation.
The prevarication and procrastination over operationaliation of the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act of 1988, enactment of the Corrupt Public Servants (Forfeiture of Properties) Bill proposed by the Law Commission, ratification of the United Nations Convention on Corruption and implementation of the reforms recommended by the Election Commission to cleanse electoral politics must end. The UPA government should also undo the damage done by the NDA Government in restoring the infamous Single Directive, through an amendment of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act governing the Central Bureau of Investigation, to negate the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Hawala case. There is now a statutory bar to the CBI's competence to investigate allegations of corruption against senior public servants without prior approval of the central government.
An objective analysis of the reasons for unconscionable delays in sanctioning prosecution of public servants accused of corruption is also called for. The controversy over the appointment of the incumbent Central Vigilance Commissioner, in whose case prosecution has not been sanctioned eleven years after a request in this regard was made by the state government, has served to highlight the dysfunction of the extant mechanisms. Evidently, the power to sanction prosecution of public servants on charges of corruption should vest in an institution independent of the executive, which tends to be swayed by subjective considerations.
Leaders of the UPA have been speaking of our shrinking moral universe and lamenting that the prevailing atmosphere saps our confidence and spoils the image of India. It is indeed true, but who is responsible for this sorry state of affairs? Those who have assumed the responsibility to govern cannot talk of a governance deficit, or indulge in an academic discourse on corruption. It is incumbent on them to guarantee the effectiveness and probity of the dispensation presided over by them. They are called upon to be vigilant and act decisively at the first whiff of corruption, before irremediable damage is done on their watch. If it entails the break-up of the coalition, so be it. Self-preservation at any cost is no virtue. Longevity in power, per se, is no achievement.