The people of the country have lost trust in politicians. Indeed, politics has become a speculative business. A candidate invests in the elections. If successful, he recovers his investment in the form of bribes. The voter also is engaging in a business. He gives votes in exchange for the promise of certain facilities like roads or a gas connection. The candidate and the voter are both trying to outwit one another, just as businessmen try to do in the market. The balance, at present, is in favour of the politicians. They are reaping good returns on their investments, while the voter is losing. The task is to turn the balance in favour of the voter.
This can be done by increasing the level of competition in the electoral process. Presently, competition exists mainly between two or three political parties. This is really like a friendly match because all the parties have a mutual understanding to themselves engage in corrupt practices and also not to rake up the corrupt practices of their rivals. The honest Independent candidate has virtually no chance because the amount of money required for making a dent in the electoral process is too large. Thus, there is a need is to facilitate honest Independents to come into the reckoning.
This can be done by providing special assistance to the Independents. We can take a cue from the schemes to provide assistance to small businesses. They are provided with tax exemptions. Before, they were also provided with capital subsidies. The idea was that smaller businesses would be able to enter the market only if given such protection. They were likely to challenge the might of established players once established. We must consider creating a similar intervention in the electoral market. Independent candidates could be provided certain funds for contesting elections. This could be done on the basis of votes garnered by the candidate in the previous election. Another way could be to provide all the voters with a voucher that could be given to an Independent candidate only. A serious Independent candidate could collect these vouchers and exchange them for money. The entry of serious Independent candidates would push the ‘corrupt’ party-based candidates on the backfoot.
The second problem is that we have converted democracy into ‘party-cracy.’ The candidates are really dummies. They cannot take any view of the problem at hand. They have to obtain the green light from the high command before they open their mouths in public. The voter actually gives his vote to a party, rather than to a person. Each party comes with its manifesto. The voter can decide which manifesto to support, but he cannot create his own manifesto. He cannot seek modification of the manifesto. This rules out many reforms, since all parties are in agreement that certain corrupt ways have to be protected. For example, no political party would be willing to introduce a system of public rating of senior IAS officers. The reason being these are the key players in sustaining corruption.
A way of breaking this logjam could be that a group of Independent candidates contest elections on the platform of ‘Controlling the Politicians.’ Their manifesto may be to remain outside power and to exercise control on whosoever be in power. The government may be reduced to minority if a sizable number of Independent candidates win elections. In that fortuitous case, the government will have to seek a support of few of the Independents. A true discussion of the issues will then take place among the Independents. The position taken by these Independents is more likely to be closer to the people’s welfare because they would not be bound by the party line.
The record of Independent candidates in the last sixty years, however, has been dismal. But we should not be discouraged by this. Most Independent candidates today are actually disgruntled elements from the parties. They are not Independent in spirit. They have no special ideology. The task is to present the people with a real alternative. This alternative may be ‘control of politicians.’ The Independent candidates need not agree on particular policies, say on WTO, or caste-based reservations. They must agree only on upholding honesty. Persons like Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev may contest as such Independents. The presence of sizable number of such Independents will come as a breath of fresh air to our democratic setup.
The third aspect of controlling corruption among politicians is managing appointments to constitutional offices that have the responsibility of controlling corruption. These include the President, Comptroller and Auditor General, Chief Vigilance Commissioner and so on. The problem is that individuals are appointed to these offices by the same politicians whose corruption they are expected to control. Exceptions notwithstanding, they speak the language of the politicians. Just as a sepoy appointed by the thief cannot control thefts, so also a Chief Vigilance Commissioner appointed by the politicians cannot control corruption by the politicians. This is the main pitfall of the Lokpal Bill, with all its permutations and combinations. The Lokpal will be appointed by the same politicians. The participation of the opposition in the process of appointment to these offices will not make much of a difference because there is a consensus among the major parties to sustain corruption. We have seen that persons of doubtful integrity have been appointed to these offices, despite objections voiced by the opposition.
The need is to create a system of appointing individuals to these offices that is within the ambit of law, but outside the ambit of the government. For example, the CAG can be appointed by a Collegium of Chiefs of Institute of Chartered Accountants and Chambers of Commerce of all states. Such a Collegium will not be easily manipulated by the government in power. Or the chief vigilance commissioner can be appointed by a Collegium of the four Shankaracharyas and heads of Christian, Muslim, Jain and Sikh religions. The President can be elected directly by the people, as done in the United States. Such a President will owe his loyalty more directly to the voters and not to the party in power. The chance of honest individuals being appointed to these constitutional offices will be much more through such a process. Indeed, the political parties will be able to influence these appointments indirectly. Yet, they will not be able to singlehandedly decide the appointments. They will have to interact with a large number of individuals to influence the selection process. This will dilute their control over these appointments.
It is clear that the simple democratic process has failed to deliver honest governance. The problem is systemic. We should experiment with new institutions to deliver good governance.