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Published in the 16-31 May 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

No tainted ministers

By Rajindar Sachar

The Milli Gazette Online

"Whose country is it any way", is the persistent question being asked by average citizen when he watches with pain squabbles of politicians regarding Laloo Yadav continuing to be a minister not withstanding Court having framed charges of corruption against him being met with the contrary taunt as to why Advani etc. did not resign after being charge-sheeted for the vile act of sacrilege like the demolition of Gods abode (Babri Masjid).

This approach can only shock the nation’s conscience because it seems to suggest as if the country belongs to these political parties and the masses are like dumb driven cattle.

I agree that boycott of Parliamentary proceedings by any party for whatsoever, reason (whether in the matter of Laloo Yadav or George Fernandes) is unacceptable in a Parliamentary democracy. But this misconduct cannot justify the retention in Cabinet of a tainted minister. Defence of Laloo Yadav is also being put forth by suggesting that because of new emerging social classes, the distinction between the public good and private good does not come easily to the public. It would indeed be a sad day when corruption in public life is to be judged by the social origin of the individual minister. I thought our Constitution had abolished privileges. Secularism is not an apologist for corruption – rather the latter if tolerated will be a danger to secularism. 

To an average citizen both these actions are equally alarming and a set back to campaign against politics in the country becoming criminalized and crime become politicized, as recently warned by the present Lok Sabha Speaker. 

We no longer look for Lal Bahadur Shastri who resigned because of rail accident. But are we being politically partisan when we expect as Ivor Jenning in his book "Cabinet Govt." says "that the most elementary qualification demanded of a minister is honesty and incorruptibility. It is, however, necessary not only that he should possess this qualification but also that he should appear to possess it". 

In our country we have had the examples during Pt. Nehru time when he asked T.T. Krishnachari and K.D. Malviya, ministers of undoubted efficiency to step down because of the adverse findings given by informal enquiry. No one raised the question as to why they were being asked to resign when even the inquiry did not hold them personally responsible for any misfeasance but only of being constructively liable because of lapses by their departments. Recently, a powerful Home Secretary of British Govt. had to resign because he asked immigration department to hurry up a case of maid for a lady friend. There was no corruption, no money was taken but it was felt that ministers interest in a pending matter in other department was an act of impropriety – and yet he resigned to uphold integrity in public life -Even the judiciary which for some time past has had to accept many uncomplimentary disclosures has not taken cover under technicalities. Allegations even prima facie correct have led to resignation by High Court Judges without taking the plea of lack of conviction or absence of impeachment proceedings.

Members of All India Services like IAS and IPS are liable to be suspended even when the Govt. contemplates taking disciplinary proceedings. If such is the rule in all other spheres to take action at the preliminary stage, by what logic can a minister be allowed to continue in spite of fact that a Court has after hearing detailed arguments from the concerned minister come to a prima facie view and has framed charges of corruption against the minister.

What is so special about legislators that while the highest in executive and judiciary are expected to resign even without a formal conviction, but the minister should claim the status of absolute irremovable monarch and free to indulge in corruption and nepotism. I thought we had left behind the era of King Louis XIV of France, who proclaimed "I am the state" which presumptuous remarks led to the end of his dynasty and guillotine. 

How expediency blends the political parties is proved by the fact that in 1997 when charges were framed by the Court against Laloo Yadav, the present constituents of UPA Govt. (though not in Govt.) held public agitation and forced Laloo to give up Chief Ministership of Bihar - why this somersault. If it is the fear of Laloo endangering the stability of UPA Govt. I would suggest that NDA which is purporting to take its stand on moral grounds should publicly pledge that if Laloo is asked to resign and on failure to do so is dismissed, NDA will not destablise the Govt. on this issue. 

Centuries ago in 1695 the British House of Commons passed a resolution whereby it resolved that "the offer of money, or other advantage, to any Member of Parliament for the promoting of any matter whatsoever, pending or to be transacted in Parliament is a high crime and misdemeanour and tends to the subversion of the English Constitution.

"Membership of Parliament is a great honour and carries with it a special duty to maintain the highest standards of probity. Immunity from dismissal even when prima facie corruption charges are framed by a criminal Court (like in Laloo case) would in the words of Lord Salmon lend to "charter for corruption" so to elevate Members of Parliament as "super-citizens, immune from criminal responsibility". Such a situation is untenable in republican country like ours.

The immediacy with which the UPA Govt. gives quietus to this demand by forcing Laloo to resign will be the measure of their bona fide in their declaration and faith in the democratic tradition of the Constitution. Let heed be given to the lament of J.P. which is pregnant with a warning "I know politics is not for saints. But politics, at least under a democracy, must know the limits which it may not cross. Otherwise, if there is dishonesty, corruption there can be no government, no public order, no justice, no freedom, no national unity, in short, no nation." 

Govt. has given out that it is planning to call a meeting of the political parties to take out a consensus on the question of legislation regarding tainted ministers. I do not know what would be the outcome. To me it is inconsequential because the convention that tainted ministers should resign is a well settled convention in all democracies including the past instances in our country. 

It needs to be remembered that obedience to law is a fundamental duty; it is less frequently realized that obedience to convention is also among the political virtues, a maxim which all political parties can ignore only at their political hazards. 

The writer is a former chief justice of Delhi High Court and now heads the 7-member high-level committee to prepare a comprehensive report on the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community in India. 
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