From UPA’s corruption to Modi’s governance : Swachh Shaasan Abhiyaan

Twenty five years ago, when we moved into our current residence, almost all the houses in the locality had their own well. Water availability was, therefore, plenty and there was no dependence on the civic authorities. A few years down the line though, due to rampant construction, the water levels in the wells started going down. Soon, due to faulty sewage systems, the wells started getting contaminated. What started as a problem for few houses became an epidemic in a few months.

Many of us tried getting our wells back into good shape. We brought in people who knew how to ‘clean’ the wells. They did their best removing the sewage and treating the water. However, in a matter of days, the contamination would occur again. Finally, almost all the wells in the locality had to be abandoned or closed down. The reason was simple – only the removal of the contamination wasn’t proving to be enough. The real issue was the inability to plug the source of the contamination. Too many faulty pipes and pits in the area meant the seepage was too deep and the water was getting contaminated at its ‘source’. The engineers told us – “Preventing new accumulation at the source is as important, if not more, to eliminate the problem of contaminated water”. We never succeeded in doing that.

The problem of corruption in this country is very similar to the problem of contaminated water. It is no doubt very important to identify acts of corruption, apprehend those who have done it, punish them and recover goods as much as possible. There are various opinions about how much the current Modi government has done on this front. The opinion is divided – to say the least. But what is equally important in this mission of removing or reducing corruption in the country is to prevent further corruption – or eliminate new contamination – to use the language of the previous analogy.

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This exercise of eliminating the culture of corruption has to, no doubt, begin at the top. After all, contamination at the ‘source’ is the real root cause. In the case of a government, this translates to corruption, or the lack of it, at the level of the cabinet and ministers. A clean government not only makes it difficult for the lower levels of bureaucracy and executive to practice corruption, it also serves as a role model for lower level officials and employees to follow. The words of Lord Krishna in the Bhagavadgita – “yadyadacharati shreshtah tattadevetaro janah – sa yat pramanam kurute lokas tadanuvartate” – “people do just as the best ones do; the world follows the examples set by the best” – aptly describe the need for a clean leadership.

Governments and Corruption

In the case of a democratic government, it is the example of the cabinet and ministers that are seen as a “role model” and “standard” by the rest of the executive, and indeed the entire country. If a government falters, corruption takes over all spheres of life. Nothing can explain this fact more than the atmosphere of rampant corruption that prevailed in the country during 2009-2014. Mega scams and corruption, rising prices and cost of living – the rise of terrorism – all were hallmarks of the UPA 2 government. And the role model for this state of the country was the government itself. Consider the following

  • Due to the multi-lakh-crore 2G scam, Telecom Minister A Raja had to resign from the ministry in 2010.
  • Textiles minister Dayanidhi Maran had to resign for alleged involvement in the same 2G scam in 2011.
  • Minister of State for External Affairs, Shashi Tharoor, had to resign in 2010 due to allegations that he was trying to gain a stake in an IPL franchise through indirect means involving his (then) wife.
  • Minister for Micro, Small and Medium Industries Virbhadra Singh had to resign in 2012 after a court framed charges of corruption against him.
  • Railway minister Pavan Bansal had to resign in 2013 over allegations that his nephew accepted bribes for promoting officials to the Railway Board.
  • Law Minister Ashwani Kumar was forced to quit after it became known he had vetted a CBI report prepared for the Supreme Court on the Coal Scam.

Thus, the Union Ministry itself was full of people tainted with accusations of corruption and nepotism. No wonder this malaise spread all the way to the bottom.

Anti-corruption crusades and betrayal

Even under such circumstances, when a new Government takes over, it is not necessary that the new administration will automatically provide a corruption-free rule. This is indeed a paradox, given that the change of mandate is most often sought on the basis of the previous regime’s corruption record. Consider for example the rule of the Aam Aadmi Party in New Delhi. The various scams of the previous Delhi State Government, by Congress, was a key campaign issue – and the Aam Aadmi Party succeeded in convincing the electorate of Delhi that it would offer a clean alternative. The foundations of AAP itself are based on anti-corruption crusades. With all this serving as background, here is what AAP has managed to accomplish in the past 3 years of its rule.

  • IT officials raid an AAP MLA and find unaccounted wealth of up to Rs 130 crores
  • Former Law Minister Somnath Bharti ended up with a case of domestic violence and was arrested.
  • Two AAP MLAs were booked in a case of rioting
  • Women and Child Development Minister Sandeep Kumar was sacked after a CD of him being in a compromising position with a woman emerged.
  • Many other AAP MLAs have fallen foul with law enforcement agencies in the past 3 years.

(I have intentionally clubbed incidents of crime and law-enforcement along with corruption because the former breeds the latter)

Refusal to learn from feedback

At the level of the Union Government, UPA 2 was receiving severe flak for providing a corrupt administration. In 2013, the public mood was such that the demise of UPA in the upcoming national elections was an absolute certainty. Yet, in spite of such a prevailing mood, the new state Government that took over in Karnataka refused to learn any lessons. In the past 5 years, there have been several incidents involving its ministers in both corruption and crime.

  • In 2013, the Minister of State for Information and Infrastructure Development, Santosh Lad, had to resign due to charges of corruption.
  • After a court ordered an FIR against him in the case of the death of a Deputy SP, Senior Minister K J George had to resign from the Karnataka Cabinet in 2016.
  • The Minister for Excise, H Y Meti, had to resign after a sleazy video of his came out into the public domain.
  • In 2018, the son of MLA NA Harris was arrested after beating a man in a pub in Bengaluru. Charges of an attempt to murder have also been slapped.

Thus we can see neither proclaimed ideological beliefs nor indictment from the electorate can really force a government to be clean and corruption-free.

What becomes obvious therefore is that a government remaining clean is really the result of a conscious choice and strict enforcement of such a principle from the leader(s) of the Government.

Track record of Modi Government

In the run-up to the 2014 elections, and immediately afterwards, Prime Minister Modi had famously declared “na khaaonga na khaane doonga”. Based on how the spirit of this slogan has manifested in the past 4 years, I think we can extend this slogan to “na khaaonga na khaane doona lekin khoob kaam karvaaonga”. PM Modi has definitely adopted a policy of carrot-and-stick at the highest levels of the government.

On the issue of corruption at the ministerial level, we can confidently declare that the present government has been the cleanest one in the history of Independent India. Not one serious accusation against any of the members of the Union cabinet. This is a huge contrast to the previous governments and a huge relief to the public. At the same time, there has been a conscious effort to promote performance within the ministry. Even the few instances of ministers being dropped from the ministry have been due to performance and age-related reasons. It has been nearly 4 years since the Modi government took over. This is a long enough duration for any corruption issues to have surfaced. The fact that there are no accusations of corruption even in whispers is a great vote for Modi Sarkar.

In addition to the focus on a clean, and hardworking, cabinet, the Modi Government has also taken several steps to permeate this new work culture to the lowest cog of the government machine. A similar ‘carrot-and-stick’ policy has been initiated with respect to the IAS, IPS, IRS and other officers operating the bureaucracy of this country.

Consider the following news reports that indicate a consistent pattern with regard to engaging with bureaucrats, especially new entrants :

  • “Think about common man, be quick: PM Narendra Modi to IAS officers” – 2017
  • “PM Modi urges young IAS officers to interact fearlessly with superiors” – 2016
    • This was in an inaugural session with new joinees from the 2014 batch
  • “PM to young IAS officers; Make the most of the first 10 years of service” – 2015

Besides these talks designed to encourage the bureaucrats, the present Government has also initiated several measures to provide increased opportunities for performing officers, such as an early stint in the PMO.

The assurance, from the top to bureaucrats that performance will be rewarded and courage will be supported will play a significant role in building the culture of honesty in governance.

All the while when this attempt is underway to bring in a new atmosphere of hard work, the government is also wielding the ‘stick’ to weed out corruption and non-performance amongst officers. A recent report shows how 357 bureaucrats have been punished in the past 3 years for non-performance. The punishment includes premature retirement and cuts in their remuneration.  A total of 37 Group-A officers, including 4 IAS officers have been dismissed or ‘compulsorily retired’.

On the 2nd of August 2017, a question was asked in the Lok Sabha (Unstarred question number 2917) on cases against IAS and other officers. The Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions provided some numbers as part of the response which gives good insights into the pursuit of clean-up of our bureaucracy.

Cases of prosecution sanction against IAS officers (2014-2017)38
Cases of prosecution sanction against IPS officers (2014-2017)3
Cases of prosecution sanction against IRS officers (2014-2017)22
Number of IAS officers dismissed since 20144
Number of IPS officers dismissed since 20141
Number of IRS officers dismissed since 20148

These numbers show clearly that the pursuit of governance hygiene at the bureaucratic level has not remained only in words but has translated into strict action.

Just for comparison purposes, it would be good to take a look at similar data from the UPA2 time period. On the 8th of May 2013, a similar question was asked in the Lok Sabha (Unstarred question number 6837) to the UPA2 government. Some statistics from the response to that question are as below.

Total numbers of cases registered against IAS and IPS officers between 2011 and 201331
Cases of prosecution sanction against IAS and IPS officers between 2011 and 20132
Number of officers dismissed between 2011 and 2013Data not available

The total number of cases registered against officers belonging to all cadres during 2011-2013 does not even match the total number of IAS officers against whom the Modi government gave sanction for prosecution. Further, the grand number of 2 cases in which UPA2 gave sanction to prosecute only shows that the will of the government to prosecute the corrupt was non-existent.

Conclusion

The task of eliminating corruption in governance requires a multi-pronged approach. While the cleansing process by virtue of registering cases, apprehending the corrupt and prosecuting them is one side, the other equally important task has been to eliminate the systemic corruption that exists in the bureaucracy and establish a culture of performance and honesty.

The transformation from corruption to honesty is not straightforward. As with the inculcation of any value, honesty first comes in as a mandate. It then becomes a habit. Habit then becomes an addiction and finally, it becomes part of the culture. But such a transformation takes time. It most certainly cannot be completed within 4 or 5 years. The long-term rectification of our governance infrastructure has started. It needs to continue beyond 2019. Only then will this new ‘culture’ permeate further down the pyramid.

“Swacch Shasan is a must for Swachh Bharat”

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