dir="ltr">The arrest of Amarmani Tripathi, a former minister in UP, on charges of murdering Madhumita Shukla, and the unabashed defense of the accused by chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav exposed the crisis confronting our criminal justice system as never before. The behaviour of two successive governments led by bitter rivals – Mayavati and Mulayam Yadav – is identical in a criminal case involving their political colleague. Tripathi switched loyalties and joined the BSP faction which defected to Mulayam’s side. Mulayam therefore felt obliged to come to the rescue of his new-found colleague. He went to the extent of saying that Tripathi saved UP, and even the country, by defecting and supporting his government, and therefore, for this act of patriotism(!) his party would stand by the legislator accused of first degree murder!
If the Tripathi episode and the response of successive governments show that politics and crime are increasingly indistinguishable, the fake stamp scam rocking Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, and involving several other states, shows how criminals are thriving in politics. Anil Ghote, a legislator in Maharashtra, and Krishna Yadav, another legislator and former minister were arrested for their involvement in this Rs 3200 crore scam. The Union home secretary went on record that the loss to public exchequer could be several times higher. Lakhs of innocent citizens might have bought these fake stamps and registered the sale deeds of immovable property. The scam, executed by Abdul Karim Telgi, is widely believed to be part of a conspiracy by ISI to weaken our finances, and the involvement of trans-national mafias is suspected. And yet, for years several state governments were unaware of the obvious gap between stamp paper sold and revenue realized! And police and governments were slow to investigate the scam unearthed years ago. In AP, there is evidence of gross neglect and delay, and complicity of senior police officials. It is the pressure of civil society in Maharashtra and judicial intervention which prompted the police to act in a case with such wide ramifications and major losses to the exchequer. Again public pressure forced ruling TDP in AP to expel Krishna Yadav from their party. And yet, they are reluctant to expel him from legislature despite clinching evidence on tape of his demanding and receiving bribes from Telgi to bless and protect the fake stamp distribution while he was a Minister!
But all our shock and consternation at these cases will not yield any positive results. If things are to change for the better, we need to answer three questions candidly. First, why are such politicians getting away with these heinous crimes including murder and anti-national activities? Why do state governments feel compelled to defend and protect such crooks in legislature? Surely, parties in power are aware of the damage they do to themselves! The answer is self-evident. A chief minister needs the continued support of his flock for his own survival in power. Excessive zeal in prosecuting crime and corruption will upset too many legislators, and the resultant mid-night coup will unseat the government. As long as the legislature in states determines the fate of the government, it is unlikely that rule of law will prevail. In our conditions, the parliamentary executive system does not allow durability of governments through honest governance. We need to separately elect the state executive, and insulate the government from the numbers game in legislature. The travails of the governments in UP, Maharashtra and Kerala in recent times show the compulsions politicians in power are subjected to in our system. At the national level, the political dynamics are different. Our diversity and fears of linguistic, religious and regional majoritarianism, coupled with the risk of authoritarianism necessitate the parliamentary executive. But in states no such compulsions exist, and direct election of the head of the government is vital to improve governance. All chief ministers and senior functionaries in governments are aware of the damage done by the legislators acting as disguised and unelected executives, interfering in all matters ranging from transfers and contracts to crime investigation.
Second, why do parties pick up known criminals as candidates? For instance, the criminal record of Krishna Yadav, and dozens of others, was exposed by Lok Satta movement in 1999 in AP in a transparent and credible process, applying objective and verifiable standards. And yet, the parties nominated and rewarded such persons with ministerial office! No major party is exempt from this behaviour. Krishna Yadav in AP, Raja Bhaiyya in UP, Shahabuddin in Bihar – the list is long. Again parties are helpless given the compulsions of our constituency-based first-past-the-post (FPTP) system, and lack of internal party democracy. In such a climate, “winnability” of the candidate is all-important. Whoever can spend more money, deploy muscle power, and mobilize his caste stands a better chance in gathering more votes than the rival candidates. No responsible party seeking power can afford to give up a seat, and therefore reduce the chances of legislature majority, just to make a political statement! All parties are trapped in this vicious cycle created by the FPTP system. Decent and honorable candidates – Manmohan Singh, Arun Jaitley, Arun Shourie and many more – are not “winnable”. Only a system of proportional representation (PR) whereby the overal voting percentage of a party in a major state, and not dependence on local oligarchies and modern political zamindars in constituencies, determines the legislative strength of the party can break this vicious cycle. There are many practical models which ensure best advantages of PR and minimize the risks of political fragmentation.
Third, how are politicians able to act with impunity? The daughters of George and Jeff Bush respectively were arraigned before courts for minor infractions, and Tony and Cherie Blair could be summoned by a mere police inspector to be reprimanded for their son’s drunkenness in public. How could even lowly politicians in India get away with serious crimes? The answer lies in the nature of our crime investigation. The police force combines in itself myriad functions, and the politicians control the fate of police officials. We need to separate crime investigation and treat it as a quasi-judicial function, making it independent of political control, but accountable to the legislature through an impartial commission comprising of jurists, professional police officials and eminent citizens. Under the current system it is envitable that political compulsions and boundless greed will undermine crime investigation and prosecution.
As long as our political system is trapped in this vicious cycle, and inexhaustible appetite for illegitimate funds and dependence on legislators elected through FPTP system continue, misgovernance and criminalization will only grow. We need systemic solutions to combat these dangerous tendencies. Economic reform and political reform are two sides of the same coin, and can no longer be treated in isolation. That is the lesson the shameful events in UP, Maharashtra and AP offer us. Are we willing to listen?