The Echo Of Fascism

Vigilance and Corruption

S G Vombatkere

The Supreme Court has directed union and state governments to constitute a Civil Services Board (CSB) to manage transfers, postings, promotions, etc, of civil servants, to insulate bureaucracy from interference by politicians. This welcome direction is based upon a PIL, which seeks to minimize if not eliminate one aspect of political corruption in governance that impinges upon effective delivery of services to the people. In view of the judiciary having to step in to issue a directive that implicitly speaks of failure of the political executive and legislators, it is well to take a close look at governance and its bases. Further, since governance is by people and is supposed to be for people, the individual and instutional aspects of corruption and vigilance that affect governance need to be examined.

Governance, or the control and direction of State functioning, consists of formulating policies and issuing orders and directions to implement them. These are or should be based upon laws, rules and regulations created on the foundation of the Constitution of India. The executive Council of Ministers is to be collectively responsible to the House of the People, and hence the political executives and the legislatures are both responsible for governance. This responsibility is declared by them in the oaths of office as Minister or as Member of Parliament. A Minister swears to "do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will", and a Member of Parliament swears to "bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India and that I will faithfully discharge the duty upon which I am about to enter". The Prime Minister takes an oath to abide by the Constitution and the laws, while the President of India has a more onerous role, swearing to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Even a casual observer of daily affairs would find that the majority of official functionaries have taken their oaths of office rather casually.

The State consists of members of the political executive and the legislatures, and civil servants, populating a constitutional structure. It needs to perform its duties according to the directive principles of state policy, using the politics of discussion, debate, consultation and consensus, in order to deliver to the people, social, economic and political justice; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; and equality of status and opportunity. The State is also duty bound to promote fraternity among the people, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation. All this is meant to make the Nation function as a "sovereign socialist secular democratic Republic".

The citizens however cannot sit back and expect good governance from the State, because the Constitution also prescribes the duties of citizens in a participative democracy. Besides being charged with the duty to abide by the Constitution, protect the sovereignty and integrity of the Nation and defend it when the need arises, the citizen is also duty bound to promote harmony across religious, linguistic and regional diversities, and renounce practices derogatory to women's dignity. Further, every citizen must preserve the cultural heritage, protect and improve the natural environment, safeguard public property, abjure violence, and notably, strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement.

Thus the Constitution not only directs what is to be done by whom in which sphere of activity, but also prescribes the purpose or aim. The Constitution is India's primary strategic document, the Nation's "holy book" according to which governance must be delivered.

But in recent years, and especially after the New Economic Policy (NEP-1991), the economics of privatization and liberalization has been driving politics, rather than politics using economics as a tool to deliver good governance to the people. There are huge failures in governance at union and state levels, innumerable protests by people (especially the poor), rising public discontent and militancy, and widespread disillusionment and disgust with the political class and with civil servants. A large proportion of civil servants is complicit with corrupt politicians, with rare courageous and principled exceptions such as Sanjiv Chaturvedi (IPS, Haryana), Sanjiv Bhatt (IPS, Gujarat), Ashok Khemka (IAS, Haryana) and Durgashakti Nagpal (IAS, UP). There is general ignorance about and public disdain for the Constitution. Political and economic corruption has risen to unprecedented levels, and this has been accompanied by precipitous drops in moral and ethical standards of public persons in their public and private lives.

Political Corruption
Political corruption in the electoral sense is well-recognized, since political parties do not function with internal democracy. With the exception of elections, democracy is generally a false facade, and democratic opposition and dissent in public life are violently attacked verbally and physically. When the nation's sovereignty is supinely allowed to be compromised, or its socialist or secular character violated, it should also be termed as political corruption, since it violates the Constitution. Representative examples are in order concerning sovereignty, socialism and secularism.

Rather than objecting to USA's NSA spying-snooping on India, its strategic partner, the union government condoned it as scrutiny, as if scrutiny of India's governance and spying upon its people and leaders by USA is acceptable. Thus political leaders have accepted India's subordination to US machinations and compromised political sovereignty and national honour. The socialist character of the Republic is possibly the most violated, since NEP-1991 unabashedly leads to policy preference and priority to capital investment over poverty alleviation, and to the urban-industrial sector over the rural-agricultural sector. The secular character has been violated by deliberate ineffectiveness to prevent, contain and prosecute religious violence, notably the 1984 violence against Sikhs, and the 2002 pogrom against Muslims. Thus 63 years down the road, while this "sovereign socialist secular democratic Republic" remains in the text of the Constitution, it is mostly missing in action.

Effect of Political Corruption
Apart from the four major characteristics of Indian Republic being mostly on paper, there are other significant political failures of both the State and citizenry in daily life. First, nationalism is increasingly being worn as a badge of honour by right-wing Hindu fundamentalists, as if those who do not subscribe to their ideology are less patriotic, even unpatriotic or enemies. Second, the armed organs of the State as well as armed or militant civil society groups are increasingly resorting to extreme physical violence, thereby displaying their utter contempt for human rights. Third, Muslim and Hindu fundamentalist groups view the "opposite" community as enemies, and use that as the means of recruitment and rallying. Fourth, domination of Indian society across religions by the male sex remains undiminished. The khap panchayats at rural levels, sexist business advertisements and cultural policing at urban levels, and unabated rape-assault-molestation cases indicate the rise of sexism and the macho male. The sexual escapades of so-called godmen degrade legitimate religion and social morality. Fifth, corporate control of mainstream print and electronic mass media produces profit- and TRP-oriented news and views that are fed to the reading and viewing public. Glittering advertisements for high-living, soap-opera serials, endless sports matches and frothy entertainment programs keep the public sufficiently dumbed down so as to care for little else unless it concerns them at a personal level. Sixth, the so-called war on terror and militancy (based on PM Dr Manmohan Singh's statement that militancy is the greatest internal security threat ??) has resulted in anti-people, mass public surveillance by shadowy organizations like NATGRID and CMS. Seventh, Hindu rituals (poojas) are conducted in government offices, haj travellers are provided financial help by the State, temples are granted public funds for their 'development', places of worship in public places are not demolished as required by the Supreme Court, Government of Karnataka grants Rs 50,000 "shaadi bhagya" to Muslim brides, etc. But the demolition of Babri masjid at Ayodhya and its bloody aftermath infamously exemplifies the unholy nexus between religion and politics, against the true spirit of secularism. Eighth, corporate power influences State policy formulation and implementation. For example, the revenue foregone in the budget by tax concessions to corporate business and industry far exceeds the budgetted amount for NREGA or help to poor farmer. And land is extracted (acquisition is the polite word) from poor adivasi and rural people against environmental and forest laws for handing over to mega-industries according to secretly-signed MoUs. This is unsurprising considering that a majority of legislators are crorepatis and 'represent" the "best interests" of the majority of Indians who live on under Rs.20 per day. Ninth, labour and public protest is suppressed. The brutal repression of the workers of the Maruti-Suzuki Gurgaon factory is typical of government using the police to protect the interests of business and industry. The filing of hundreds of false "waging war against the state" and sedition charges against peaceful protestors at Koodankulam in addition to brutal police attack while legislators remain silent, is merely another recent example of the repressive State. Tenth, there is disdain for intellectuals and the arts. The recent murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, the harrassment of painter M F Hussain, the banning of books and speeches that "hurt" the over-sensitive sentiments of various segments of society, vandalizing the Bhandarkar Institute Library in Pune, are all quick examples of social degradation by contempt for freedom of expression and intellectual diversity, and intolerance of difference of opinion and democratic dissent. Eleventh, growth of rampant cronyism and corruption in governments across political parties is undoubtedly the general public view, needing no amplification. Twelfth, despite herculean efforts of the Central and State election commissions, elections at panchayat/ULB, state legislature and parliament levels are still subject to violence, intimidation, booth-capturing, and vote-purchase. Further, political parties in India's parliamentary democracy are aping the American presidential system by fraudulent campaigning on the basis of so-called prime-ministerial candidates (chief-ministerial candidates for state elections), and confusing the electorate about their programs and public commitment.

The twelve points above do not merely indicate the social degradation of Indian polity but, when read together, reveal a disturbing slide towards fascism, which is the anti-thesis of democracy. Many of these conditions were obtaining in Europe of the 1930s, when Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy came to power. The decline of democracy and the slide towards fascism is primarily due to political corruption, and all political parties are to blame for the failures. But the citizens, particularly the educated ones, are not free from blame of not having performed their constitutional duties.

Economic Corruption
Political corruption is often driven by economic greed as part of the quid pro quo. Economic corruption which fuels illegitimate money-and-muscle political power seriously affects good governance. Economic corruption concerns the secret exchange of movable and/or immovable property and/or services for unauthorized, unfair or illegal benefit of both parties to the act of corruption. Obviously not all people in position of power and authority or possessing money-power are corrupt. A cynic might say that most people (common citizens) are honest because they have little opportunity for stealing and no power or authority for "exchange-corruption", a much smaller number who have the power and authority of office are honest because they are fearful of being caught out and punished, and the smallest number are honest by personal principle.

Stealing is also a form of corruption. Stealing movable or imrrovable property results in the victim being the loser and the thief being the gainer. Not giving what legally needs to be given, such as income tax, property tax, commercial tax, etc., also amounts to stealing because the tax avoider gains while the public exchequer loses. However, in "exchange-corruption", both the giver and the receiver are gainers, while the loser is the organization, society or nation, through moral and ethical degradation and financial or material loss. Thus, there can be little hesitation in averring that corruption, besides being illegal, is anti-people, anti-social, and anti-national. Corrupt persons and those who protect them are enemies of the State, and considering the astronomical levels of corruption scams regularly coming to light, corruption can be termed as India's greatest internal security threat.

Vigilance and Leadership
Vigilance simply means watchfulness or wakefulness. Interestingly, the Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary provides another meaning: "a planned effort to uncover and punish corruption and bribery (India)". This is probably a result of rampant corruption and bribery rooted in British India, flowering in the seventh decade of India's independence. Thus in the Indian context, "corruption" refers to "exchange-corruption" as failure of integrity, and vigilance has the limited meaning of exposing and punishing it. Political, professional, moral and ethical integrity are rarely if ever considered or referred to in the public discourse. In order to take a more holistic and constructive view of vigilance, one needs to consider vigilance both at individual and organizational level.

It is a given of human behaviour that every individual within any organization, casually or motivatedly, directly or indirectly, observes or watches every other person. Motivated watching up-the-line may be to collect information in "self-defence" or to silence or thwart vigilance, or even to actively gain relative advantage or bargaining power, or for blackmail. But on the other hand, persons of principled honesty may also watch their organizational superiors for wrong-doing. In every public or private organization, persons are leaders at various levels, entrusted with responsibilities and duties, and vested with appropriate powers and authority. It is part of the leadership function to be vigilant in order to execute those responsibilities and duties by guiding and directing the members of the team for better individual and team performance, to ensure safety at work, etc. In a nutshell, strive for excellence as a citizen's constitutional duty.

Watching happens in the most fundamental social organization, the family. Children watch parents as part of the learning process and imbibe their values and attitudes from observed behaviour, heard speech and adult conversation. Children also watch their siblings to get competitive advantage of parental attention or affection. Indeed, vigilance in its holistic, constructive or positive interpretation can be likened to a mother's watching over her children for their safety and health, and to help, teach and guide them for their physical, emotional and social development, including correcting wrong-doing, and scolding or punishing them when necessary.

Public vigilance
Citizens participate in democracy by voting persons into positions of power, authority and responsibility. After that, citizens need to watch persons in governments and legislatures, so that constitutional and legal power and authority are used to enhance their freedoms and not misused to deny citizens their rightful and lawful dues. This vigilance on the performance of public servants is also part of active participation in democracy.

Hitherto, active citizens used information of official wrong-doing obtained by word of mouth or from the news media, to lodge complaints in appropriate fora. The Right to Information Act, now expands the extent of citizens' vigilance, and sting operations and investigative journalism by courageous media persons provide evidence. With reference to the limited aspect of exchange-corruption, and noting the reality that an "honest official" is not necessarily honest all the time and a "dishonest official" is not necessarily dishonest all the time, citizens' vigilance reduces corruption by making officials wary of getting caught. Since public vigilance is a threat to corrupt politicains and officials, there are political and bureaucratic initiatives to reduce the effectiveness of the RTI Act by motivated amendments and changes. And RTI activists and others who question governments' policies and decisions are targeted for harassment and even elimination.

The demand for electoral reforms includes the "right to recall" an elected representative who performs badly or inadequately in the interest of his constituency. This is nothing but a form of public vigilance. Civil society groups like NAPM, PUCL, PUDR and APDR are, at least in part, vigilance-oriented, even if their primary focus is on specific fields. Members of these groups are also subject to the predatory attentions of governments which arrest them and file false criminal cases against them.

Corruption of institutional vigilance
As a part of mandated checks and balances, governments have institutionalized vigilance at union and state levels in the form of auditors and accountants, vigilance commissions, election commissions, lokayuktas and enforcement directorates. These bodies watch governments and quasi-government organizations not only with reference to economic and political corruption, but also for effective performance. They are therefore the positive and constructive, constitutional tools of vigilance.

Governments also need to watch certain places like railway and bus stations for general public safety, and certain people like criminals or terrorist suspects. This necessary targeted vigilance is carried out by police and intelligence agencies, while special investigations are carried out by the CBI and enforcement directorates.
However, in the name of keeping citizens safe from terror attacks, governments are widening the scope of vigilance to general mass surveillance. This consists of collecting biometnc data of all residents in India to assign a so-called unique identification (UID) number. This UID (Aadhaar) number forms the link between hitherto independent information silos of the election commission, banks, food and civil supplies, police intelligence, life and general insurance agencies, regional transport authorities, passport office, income tax offices, etc. Together with IT-based advanced biometric recognition techniques and enormously enhanced digital data repositories and processing power, government has the technological basis required for mass surveillance. The structural basis for mass surveillance is provided by creation of the National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid) and Centralized Monitoring System (CMS), both highly secret, shadowy organizations.

Even though its technological and structural bases are in place, mass surveillance does not have legal sanction and cannot have constitutional legitimacy. Worse, some laws have been enacted to enlarge the scope of misuse of government powers of surveillance, while there is no privacy law in place to protect individual freedoms. This unaccountable and intransparent power in the hands of self-selected, anonymous, unapproachable officials and non-officials is dangerously undemocratic and can be the primary tool for arbitrarily profiling individuals and groups for political, communal or commercial purposes. Besides watching ordinary citizens, mass surveillance will watch all persons in government, legislature and judiciary, and the vigilance agencies, all of whom will become open to unconstitutional and illegal influence in their official functioning, making their oaths of office and secrecy irrelevant. Governments "of the people" will come under private control.

This is vigilance gone haywire and is constitutional corruption, in which the People will be watched by unconstitutional or extra-constitutional entities for political or commercial gain. It is not an overstatement to say that such mass surveillance is a huge Orwellian step towards the decline of democracy and the rise of fascism.

Future tense
There is a joke doing the rounds, on failure of the pillars of the Constitution. Gandhiji in heaven asks Chitragupta as to how the three monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) are doing in India. Chitragupta replies that all three are doing well—andha bandar kanoon ban gaya; behera bandar sarkar ban gaya; aur goonga bandar vidhayak ban gaya. The desperate helplessness and frustration of people in political jokes precedes anarchic violence.

Corruption, whether political or economic, moral or ethical, or some combination of them, stands in the way of people's political, economic and cultural progress. Corruption, the nation’s greatest internal security threat, needs to be controlled by vigilance. But vigilance clearly is a mixed bag. Too little of people's vigilance leads to mis-governance and mal-governance, while institutional vigilance extending to mass surveillance can be fatal to democracy and the constitutional rule of  the People.

Whether India slips into fascism or manages to keep the ship of democracy afloat will depend on several factors—possibly the most important is the quality of leadership. There is dire need of political leadership of unquestionable integrity, which has empathy for the majority poor and is strong without being dictatorial, with strategic vision based solidly on the Constitution, capable of handling and enabling civil servants, and capable of managing dissent and opposition without capitulating on principles. Only statesmanship displayed by political leaders can pull the nation out of the depths of its political corruption created in recent decades by little men and women with bloated egos, little vision of national strategic goals, enormous personal greed, glaring ignorance or contempt of the Constitution and their sworn constitutional responsibilities, and a penchant for pettiness. Whether such statesmen-leaders will emerge from the present political churning will determine the direction that Indian Republic will take at the 2014 general election crossroads.

Vol. 46, No. 21, Dec 1 - 7, 2013

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