Times of India

Will ‘tyranny of cousins’ decide who’ll rule in ’14?

Andimuthu Raja, former telecom minister, having spent 15 months in jail under trial in the 2G spectrum scam, received a hero’s welcome in Chennai a few weeks ago. The ecstatic crowds burst firecrackers for a man who was largely responsible for his party's defeat in Tamil Nadu’s election, demolishing India’s image in the eyes of the world, and bringing the government of India to its knees. Even bigger celebrations are planned next week when he visits his Nilgiris constituency and his hometown, Perambalur.

Don’t waste a good crisis, learn from the 1991 lessons

The arrest of Jagan Mohan Reddy, MP from Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh, is another reminder of a lesson that Indians have failed to learn so far. And this is that the root cause of corruption lies in the excessive discretionary authority in the hands of politicians and officials. The reforms in 1991 took away some of that discretion but many sectors of the economy are still unreformed.  Thus, scams happen in the dark alleys of unreformed sectors such as land transactions, mining, and government purchases. So, the answer to corruption may well lie in actions of the 1991 variety.

This crisis of authority does not have an easy fix

The sight of a weak prime minister humiliated repeatedly by a coalition partner has been too much for most Indians. Time and again Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of Bengal, has undermined actions of Manmohan Singh’s government that were approved by the Cabinet and patently in the nation’s interest. They have ranged from an agreement with Bangladesh over the sharing of waters of the Teesta river, foreign investment in the retail sector, a reformist Railway Budget, and more. The latest embarrassment has been over the setting up of a counter-terrorism centre.

The government is not above the rule of law

It takes a lot of doing to make the economy fall from a 9 per cent growth rate two and half years ago to 6.1 per cent in the quarter ending December. A fall of one per cent means the loss of almost 15 lakh jobs and so there is a lot of pain, mostly inflicted by the UPA government. Corruption scandals also refuse to cease. But the real tragedy is that the rule of law, one of India’s strengths, is crumbling.

Don’t be my favourite friend, be my most favoured nation

With time we come to realize that the only reliable pleasures in life are the smaller ones. The big sources of happiness--success, fame, marriage and religion—often fail us. Among the smaller enjoyments are things like friendship and humour. What is true for individuals can also apply to nations. Instead of nationalism and military grandeur, a modest delight in trade is more dependable, and this was underscored by a happy piece of news on February 29th.

Think of the spectrum like the village commons

In a shock ruling ten days ago, the Supreme Court cancelled 122 mobile phone licences that had been deceitfully awarded in 2008. The ruling sent the telecom industry into chaos, confirmed dreadful corruption in the government’s decision-making process, and damaged the reputation of our nation in the eyes of the world—especially foreign investors. There was much euphoria inside the country, however, for justice had seemingly been served.

A liberal but strong state is need of the hour

The mistake is to think that the current paralysis in decision making in Delhi is limited to politicians. Gutless bureaucrats, risk averse at the best of times, have done as much damage. India’s economy has sound fundamentals and is today one of the world’s strongest, but its confidence has been badly shaken by a weak state that cannot enforce its own laws, let alone enact its legislative agenda. Partly to blame is the Anna Hazare movement which has led to contempt for state institutions.

When democracy won but the people lost

The past two weeks witnessed a remarkable spectacle in which India’s democracy won but India’s people lost. On November 24, the government announced a bold reform to allow 51% foreign stake in retail. It triggered off a storm of protest across the political spectrum, and eventually forced the government to back down and suspend the reform. During the entire debate no one asked why China and dozens of countries welcome foreign investment in retail.

Duty or revenge, no one is above the law

On a sweltering afternoon on September 29th principal district judge S. Kumarguru began to hand out sentences. There was a hushed silence in the packed courtroom in Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu. He began at 3.30 but could not finish until 4.40 because he had to read aloud the names of 215 government officials. Among those convicted were 126 forest officials, 84 policemen and 5 revenue officials. Seventeen were convicted of rape and they were sentenced from seven to 17 years; others received from one to three years on counts of torture, unlawful restraint, looting and misuse of office.

A primer for the corruption fighter

The dust has settled and a degree of calm prevails. Anna Hazare has returned to his village after conquering Delhi. He ought to consolidate his gains now before letting loose another storm. He would do well to sit down with his advisors in this lull and draw up a result oriented, longer term agenda to fight corruption. To this end, I offer Team Anna a primer on what we know about corruption--what works and what doesn’t--a sort of corruption fighter’s manual.