Battling Political Corruption : Mission Possible ?

Calvin : Do you believe in the devil?You know, a supreme evil being dedicated to the temptation,corruption and destruction of man?
Hobbes : I’m not sure that man needs the help.

On the eve of 2011, Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar,announced that he was mandating asset declaration for public servants including ministers in the government.Since then, the personal assets of all the ministers has been uploaded on the Bihar government website. While political adversaries have termed this as an eyewash, neighbouring states which are mired in corruption, have started advocating the same formula to their government for battling corruption.

Acquiring assets that are disproportionate to one’s known income, is the most apparent outcome of any case of corruption.Which is why, mandatory decalartion of one’s assets by public servants is definitely a step in the right direction.Public scrutiny of their wealth and assets, will surely keep our babuwallas on their toes, and ammassing wealth will probably become a more difficult art.Asset declaration is already a compulsory step for politicians when they run for elections; however doing this on an annual basis will be more effective as at the end of 5 years, the damage done would probably be too huge to undo.

But the cynic in me tells me to take this development with a pinch of salt. Firstly ,having minister’s declared assets available as public information, lays the onus on vigilant citizens to uncover any discrepancies.Are we not lacking a statutory independent monitoring agency dedicated to keeping an eye on assets of public servants?Secondly, asset declaration although made mandatory has not been made a constitutional law ; so nothing prevents the next government from doing away with it and likewise nothing prevents the current government from breaking their own rules if political opportunism demands so.Thirdly, the announcement is silent on punitive actions for the guilty.For if we were to look at history, then for all we know, either the tainted politicians will escape jail term or would be out on bail and once the public memory fades would be reinstalled in the cabinet.Isn’t legislation that bans corrupt politicians from being inducted in the government , the need of the hour?

The announcement is a baby-step at best and hence should be welcomed with gaurded optimism.There have been too many corrupt politicians, too many scams and too many coverups in the history of independent india ;public confidence in the government’s sincerity to take strong anti-corruption measures has reached rock-bottom.Instead of clamouring for one another’s heads as is the political fallout of any corruption scandal, it’s high time that political parties of all hue and faith come together and enact strong legislation to combat this monster.The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 can do with much needed reforms. The LokAyuktas and the CVC can be given more muscle eg. suo moto powers to look into cases of corruption and power to ensure that their recommendations to the Government are acted upon.At the end of the day, it’s anti-corruption legislation that will help to nip the problem at it’s bud and not simply lip service or political blame game.It’s high time that we changed the debate from “Who all are guilty?” to “Why don’t we reform our ancestral anti-corruption laws to take stock of today’s realities?” This indeed would be the ultimate acid-test for judging the sincerity of our politicians.Because the people of this country have tolerated the political soundbites following any scam for far too long.

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The great IPL tamasha

For $2.4 million, to Kolkata Knight Riders, he is (gap) sold (followed by a bang on the table).Thank you!

This was the first time that the IPL auctions were being telecast live (the IPLwallas have no dirth of ways to make some easy moolah) and even though I am not a IPL diehard fan, I coudn’t resist the temptation to waste some hours watching the tamasha.Of course, my curiosity arose not from the game of cricket, but all the headline grabbing controversy surrounding IPL in the last season. And yes, I also wanted to see what a live auction is really like.

As the auction progressed, KKR bought Gambhir for a whopping 11.04Cr, Yusuf Pathan and Uthappa attracted some aggressive bidding, the dashing Dhoni lookalike Saurabh Tiwari created a mini ruckus between RCB and Punjab, our very own dada found no takers and The Wall almost went unsold, not to mention that highly reputed pardesi players went either unnoticed or got sold for comparatively paltry amounts.This was an auction that defied well-established norms and logic regarding player selection, but most reputed cricket jounalists and commentators actually managed to find a method in all the madness, saying that IPL4 was a vote for youth over experience.

The fact that IPL bidding prices are disproportionate to player ability and reputation is something that is well known and extensively debated since the first season.The twenty-twenty format of the game does not require strategists, experience, survival capability and a flair for good shots as much as agility on the field and the rudimentary ability to hit the ball hard.With it’s loud marketing and hired bollywood glamour, the IPL brand and business model , that relies heavily on fanbase strength for it’s profits, has already started spelling the death knell for the Test and ODI formats.

Entertainment over cricket, glamour over fundamentals, youth over experience;one cannot but help asking whether or not this is sustainable in the long run?Won’t the constant brouhaha surrounding IPL ultimately lead to fan fatigue? And what kind of culture are we endorsing by paying astronomical amounts to youngsters while brushing aside experienced elders?Are we nurturing genuine cricket talent or are we too preoccupied in conferring celebrity status on match-winners?The million dollar question remains, is the game of cricket going to be the only casualty in the long run?How much would have been lost by the time the glitter and shine comes off?

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India’s foreign policy : Is it in trusted hands?

A secret US diplomatic cable titled “Iran manipulating Indian elite opinion-makers” exposed by Wikileaks reveals that K.V Rajan, then Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board(NSAB) had requested an urgent meeting with the US embassy Charge d’ Affaires to apprise him of an all expenses trip that Iran was organising for Indian “politicians,scholars and commentators” to which he too had been invited. Rajan suspected that this trip was part of an Iranian Government effort to encourage anti-American, pro-Muslim scholars and think tankers in India to influence PM Singh’s supporters to take a more pro-Iranian and anti-US view.Fearing that his own presence in the delegation would hand Iran a PR coup, he cancelled his visit at the last moment. The cable says that to counter Iran’s efforts, Rajan proposed that he visit US in his NSAB capacity and hold talks with officials, think tanks and intelligence community to discuss ways to better understand US assessments of Iran which he expected would later feed into NSAB discussion on Iran policy options.

The NSAB consists of persons of eminence and expertise outside the GOI who provide inputs to the National Security Council (NSC), which is the apex agency looking into the political,economic, energy and strategic security concerns of India.The National Security Advisor (NSA) is a member of the NSC who is also the primary advisor to the Prime Minister, the Indian Cabinet and the NSC on internal and international security issues.

Since then Rajan has rubbished the US cable.Considering that the cable is correct,it clearly indicates an attempt by Rajan to manipulate opinion making in NSAB by deliberately trying to create grounds for allowing US assessments of Iran to creep into India’s Iran policy making.His request for security discussions on Iran with US officials were prompted not by genuine security concerns but in order to negate any influence Iran’s soft power might have on Indian opinion makers.

Personally , I would really doubt that this is a one-off incident and if one looked deeper, probably many precedents would be revealed. Also, it’s likely that foreign policy crafting in any country would be vulnerable to such lobbying acts.This begs the questions, Are our policy makers acting solely in the nation’s best interests or Are they proxies trying to influence Indian policy making with the interests of another nation? Can we really pin our hopes on them to do an unbiased job? Can we trust them?

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