Evolution of two Acts, RTI and Lokpal, tells us the evolution of the political corruption in India. Like the struggle for these pro-public Acts, decades old, political corruption in India has always been a reality since the independence.
As the time moved on, consumerism increased. Commercial interests became paramount and started dictating the geopolitical stakes. Saturation of markets forced the developed world economy to look further for big markets. The global policymaking intended to pressurize the developing countries that were ready stocks to serve as the big markets. Among others, China and India were the natural options owing to their huge population stacks.
Forced by their internal conflicts and the external pressure, China and India including others adopted liberal policies and opened up their economies. Like others, India, too, has seen the big gains since. Initially, the country served as a market. But now it is a manufacturing hub with a thriving knowledge economy based on the services sector.
The country has seen rapid growth in economic parameters since the opening up of the economy in 1991(the subsequent growth in the social indicators has been and is a matter of concern – and corruption of the ruling class is the major culprit behind this dent). Inflow of the foreign capital has been regularly on the rise. Multinationals are coming to India. Indian companies are going transnational.
There has been flurry of activity on the policy front owing to these developments. And these policies are framed by the politicians in consultation (collusion should be a better term owing to the widespread misuse of them) with the senior bureaucrats under intense lobbying by the industrialists.
Though the growth began in 1991, we can say till 2000, it was the foundation period given the explosion some sectors saw in the post-2000 period; the sectors that have created new avenues of wealth generation. Spectacular growth in telecom and the services sector including the ITES led to the creation of huge chunks of jobs in metros and big cities. That forced migration of multitudes. That subsequently led to the related infrastructure boom. Land prices increased astronomically. Increased migration and demand of more investment created an atmosphere to develop a robust public infrastructure investing heavily (unaccountably in this case) in projects like highways, civic amenities and power generating plans.
All these were policy issues. Policymakers were to decide on telecom policies. Policymakers were to define the land categories to satiate the demand created by the boom. Policymakers were to chose (tender process has been a big sham) whom to award the contracts of the public infrastructure spends.
The nexus (politician + industrialist + bureaucrat) saw a big opportunity and started milking the cow. The rapid explosion in the sectors mentioned above scaled up the magnitude of their scams manifold.
Now when we go back to the trajectory of the RTI Act and the proposed Lokpal Act, we see some basic differences based on the common thread of the corruption of the ruling elite.
The RTI Act has been in force since 1997 when Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan enacted their versions. Other states followed. Then there was Freedom of Information Bill (with much diluted provisions) of 2000 which became a law in 2002 but the rules were never notified.
The civil society that had been struggling to enact a strong access to public information law meanwhile, continued with its struggle that ultimately forced the government to enact and notify the present RTI Act of 2005.
Now, when the government was enacting this law, it would never have expected of the consequences that is facing now given the empowering nature of the RTI Act. The direct corollary that makes it evident is the government’s attitude towards the Lokpal Bill.
What the activists are demanding would be a much stronger tool than the RTI Act available to the public to make the ruling class a real serving class, making them directly accountable to the voters who elect them.
That has led the government to frame a Lokpal Act (unlike the RTI Act) with provisions that would serve their purpose in place of making their lives vulnerable due to the continued tale of the widespread corruption they are a more than a willing partner of.
Prior to 2005, we had not heard so loudly of something like RTI activism and the column of activists armed with nothing but a law requiring simple documentation and almost negligible monetary threshold to proceed and demand empowering the ordinary man to access and make information public where public fund and government machinery were involved.
Policymakers have always underestimated the potential of the voters in this country and they have been right most of the time except few occasions like the JP wave or the failure of the ‘India Shining’ mirage of the National Democratic Alliance.
In 2005, while enacting the RTI Act, the policymakers thought something like this probably, the way Manmohan, his team, his political party and his coalition partners, have been making mockery of the spirit of democracy and are resorting to the shameless denial of their shameful acts of corruption, tells us this only. They are underestimating the collective response of the voters once again, probably (or arrogantly), baiting on the post-independence historical, ironical unresponsiveness of the masses in this country.
Back then in 2005, they had not expected such a widespread use of the Act by the people they always ruled (and underestimated) otherwise they would never have notified the Act before diluting it to suit their intent and purpose.
If the post-2000 era saw big ticket scams riding on the big ticket economic growth, it also saw more and more digging in about them post-2005 with the enactment of the RTI Act. Almost every talked about corruption case today owes a major share of revelations through the information accessed using the provisions of the RTI Act. And it has made the scamsters and the policymakers in their garb uncomfortable.
It is said one learns from the mistakes made in the past and so the corrupt ruling bunch is not ready to bite the dust once more by giving the ordinary man (the voter) a Lokpal that would be able to put the ruling class (including the ‘not-in-the-government’ politicians - collective unity of the political class across the benches in derailing the Lokpal Bill tells us this) in the dock on behalf of Manmohan’s ‘aam aadmi’.
Manmohan looks adamant to kill the empowering spirit of the RTI Act. So often he talks about how the RTI Act is being misused, but he seldom acknowledges the emancipation that the Act has brought across the cadres of unnamed masses of the Indians. Recently, his government had to drop a proposed amendment to the RTI Act after fear of electoral loss in the season of elections and the public backlash in the season of activists turning politicians.
RTI and Lokpal – either by the enactment, the subsequent use and the ruling class’s response (RTI) or by the efforts to derail the enactment (Lokpal) - these two Acts unmask the unitary character and double standard of the political parties across the party-line on issues of self-interest, probity and corruption. While they come together to derail the Lokpal Bill, none of them is ready to be put under the purview of the RTI Act.
In a world driven by the market economy, the Indian economy is poised to generate more, at least the in the near future, and so the ever increasing options to amass the disproportionate assets.
Like in the past, the ruling class will work in earnest to derail any such measure that would be potent enough to derail their corrupt march.