Good intentions do not a good government make. As many as 8 out of 44 Modi ministers have serious criminal charges against them (Association for Democratic Reform report, May 27, 2014). The existing laws do not bar such citizens from either becoming MPs, or ministers thereafter. However, the test of a government committed to good governance is if they are bold enough to push the frontiers of public probity. This opportunity has been missed.
Admittedly, our judicial system does not help with its in-built opportunities for process delay. Our law holds that no one is guilty unless convicted. This is based on the principle of Natural Justice which allows an accused to plead her case before conviction. It is a much needed protection for innocent victims, wrongly accused; sloppily investigated against by the police; complicitly prosecuted by our civil prosecution architecture and usually, wilfully charged by the lower judiciary. Politicians too, can be victims of such a system especially when they are out of power, as BJP and supporters were for long.
However, there is a difference between legal eligibility to be an MP and the minimum requirements to be a minister. An MP becomes a minister only if the PM selects her. Modi, who enjoys a gargantuan majority in the Lok Sabha, was under no compulsion to elevate MPs, charged with serious criminal offences, to ministership.
Consider the degrees of political freedom available to him today. He has the fire power to keep Advani hanging. He has ignored the claims of Murli Manohar Joshi- a powerful BJP satrap. He only needs to pay lip service to the BJP party President, who may soon be his acolyte: Amit Shah. This illustrates his leverage with the party and the RSS.
It is unconscionable, in this context, for him to have made the eight MPs charged with serious crimes into ministers. Imagine the shock to his good governance image if any of these is convicted and then, by law, has to resign. Nothing illegal here. But good governance is mostly about the ability to claim the high moral ground, as Modi has done and then walk the talk. He has not done so.
Viewed in the larger context of distancing himself from Godhra and breaking fresh ground for rapprochement with the minorities, he has done himself a disservice by appointing as minister, an MP, who is associated with the sorry episode of the Muzzafarnagar hate crimes of 2014. The MP does not have a serious criminal charge against him. But perception matters. The MP, who has little else to commend himself, seems to have been “rewarded” for being the BJP front man in Muzzafarnagar.
All the eight ministers have obviously been put in place with an eye on forthcoming state elections; Ram Vilas Paswan (the Dalit face of the NDA in Bihar); Upendra Kushwaha, a BJP ally from Bihar; Uma Bharti (the Hindutva face of the BJP in UP); Maneka Gandhi the Punjabi face of the BJP in UP Terai; Vijay Kumar Singh from Ghaziabad, UP; Nitin Gadkari and Gopinath Munde from Maharshtra and Dr. Harsh Vardhan in Delhi.
Pursuing good governance is like being on an escalator. There is no escape from constantly elevating yourself and pushing the envelope. Modi elected to ride the good governance escalator. Now, there is no escape from being judged on the elevated standards he has set from himself.
Admittedly, no previous government, in the recent past, has sacrificed the political returns from rewarding politically convenient appointments but remaining committed to creating a political environment for good governance. But then, we did not vote for Modi to get more of the same. We voted for Modi because we thought he was different.
Earlier, in 2004 we voted for Manmohan Singh because we thought he was different. We were wrong in his case.
But please Mr. PM, do not prove us and yourself, wrong. There is more riding on you and your government, than the blossoming of saffron pan-India. Your decade as PM can only be useful if you leave behind a political system which respects and uphold, by personal example, the Rule of Law and the principles of good governance.
Every ministerial appointment made on a purely political calculus sacrifices merit, fair play, efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability. These are preconditions for inclusive growth.
(Photo credit: dailymail.co.uk)