Dear chairperson of Jan Lokpal:
Congratulations. Today is your first day in office. You owe your presence here to an eminent group of India’s citizens—Gandhian Anna Hazare, Justice Santosh Hegde, lawyer Prashant Bhushan and activist Arvind Kejriwal. The leaders of Parliament, senior justices of India’s Supreme and high courts, Noble Laureates and recent Magsaysay award winners of Indian origin have appointed you to your five-year position, unprecedented in India’s (nay, the world’s) constitutional history. You are representative, policeman, judge and jury. You are expected to investigate and prosecute maladministration, misconduct, corruption and whistle-blower victimization by a public authority or public servant. The term public servant includes the prime minister, members of Parliament, Judges of the Supreme Court and all Central government employees. The fact that you have made it to this position means you are a person of unimpeachable integrity who does not hold an office of trust or profit. Your only fallibility is perhaps that you are graying at the temples since the law stipulates that you must be at least 40 years old.
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The weight of the country’s expectation lies upon your shoulders and that of the 10 others in the newly created office of the Lokpal. In that sense, the burden you carry is Sachin Tendulkaresque. Of course, you cannot have the coaches, the therapists, the endorsements, the contracts, the free land in Bangalore and the name and face recognition in all corners of India. While there will be more important cases and less important ones, you will have to play the fairest cricket day in and day out. No complaints about fatigue will be entertained.
As a citizen, let me give you a head’s up that you will be deluged. Every political campaign, each resource allocation, most public institutions and many government servants may well need to be investigated. Corruption is endemic to our society. If you add to it maladministration, misconduct and whistleblower victimization, that’s a full employment Act for thousands of people for years and years. Permit me to give you some practical advice. Please ensure that you have the input (resume) processing capabilities of India’s leading information technology companies.
An alternative will be to focus on only a few big things. Your success will depend on, well, your success. If you believe that your institution is subject to the same societal forces that have consumed the office of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Supreme Court, you may choose to keep it simple. If you agree with this principle, you will focus only on campaign finance violations, egregious large resource allocation, and stemming the decay of our institutions. These strike at three of the four major roots of corruption in our society. Collectively, they represent the “demand” side of corruption. What it does not tackle is the collective action problem that keeps corruption going in our society. This “supply” side to corruption means that each citizen willingly participates in everyday corruption because it benefits us—for gas connections, khata transfers, company registrations, cheating minority shareholders, obtaining cricket tickets and the like. My plea is that you stay away from this, for if not, it will drown you. A bigger reason is that we don’t deserve it because we are complicit.
In the spirit of the triumph of transparency that surrounds your appointment, I have a confession to make. I am one (among a few perhaps) who believes that the office of the Lokpal is not the right solution to all the corruption, misconduct and maladministration. You are a man of great moral rectitude, but what if the office is chaired by a (yet to be revealed) bad egg? The constitutional checks and balances that apply to the executive, judiciary and legislature apply very weakly to your office. While its conception appears to be the result of a representative democratic process, it creates a fourth branch that is in many ways superior to the other branches of governance. I do not believe we have the constitutional and practical safeguards in place for change of this monumental scale to our very system of government. As an erudite man, would you say it is justifiable to right a wrong with a wrong?
But let me not play spoil-sport. The country celebrates your arrival today. The collective angst and hopes of a billion people rest on your institution. We are all rooting for you to go nail a few big fish.
P.S. : As I am sure you know, the Lokpal is akin to the Scandinavian Parliamentary Ombudsman. Drawn from the Norse word umboosmaor, it means representative. The Sanskrit word “pal” is more encompassing as a protector or custodian. Roman poet Juvenal adds a note of caution with “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes”? (Who will watch the watchmen?)
Narayan Ramachandran is an investor and entrepreneur based in Bangalore. He writes on the interaction between society, government and markets
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