Your humble servant: Jassi Khangura

January 11, 2010: The Indian Express

The high decibel furore surrounding the inadequate sentencing of former Haryana DGP Rathore has one striking omission: the distinct lack of statements by politicians, both from Haryana and from elsewhere. Apart from a few sentences from the Union law minister, the Haryana chief minister and a statement by Manish Tewari, the Congress spokesperson, politicians have kept a safe distance.

But why? Surely an issue that has resoundingly highlighted the incredible failings of our system and the remarkable ease with which influential persons can delay and influence justice should be of some concern to the 5000-odd MLAs and MPs that sit in our various legislatures?

Or is it the case that too many politicians are uncomfortable commenting, for they have themselves so frequently exerted similar influence and delayed due process for their own protection?

Far be it for a first-time state legislator to render any advice to those significantly more experienced in our august houses, but this writer cannot help but feel that to ignore this massive groundswell of public opinion at this juncture is not only bad judgment and hurtful to the victim’s family, but also an insult to the intelligence of the very voters that empowered them in the first place.

The deafening silence from politicians normally prone to shooting from the hip at every opportunity might have confirmed the suspicion that many might actually be more dependent for their political survival on the workings of the judiciary and the executive than on those very voters that they are meant to serve.

Were all the cases now pending in our courts against our politicians (including one against the writer for allegedly beating a government servant) to be transferred to special courts for time-bound summary judgment many would bite the dust.

Were all departmental inquiries against politicians and bureaucrats to be transferred to special investigating units supervised by our Central agencies for time-bound resolution, many more would be in the dock.

Public opinion has today hung ex-DGP Rathore high and dry, as it has numerous politicians in the past for their crimes of omission and commission. But that is only because of the media volcano that erupted after the smiling Rathore exited court following a sentence invariably deemed too lenient by all and sundry. But what of the thousands of cases involving our officers and politicians that do not receive such attention?

The overriding lesson of the 19-year delay in Ruchika’s family’s pursuit of justice and the current failure of our politicians to speak out is that our bureaucrats and politicians exist primarily to protect each other. This cosy relationship is one of the main reasons why we have had incremental degradation of public services over the 62-odd years of our independence.

Had our executive and legislative arms been acting independently in fulfilling their roles in our governance India today would not be the corruption-ridden place that it is. Had our judiciary stuck to its job of applying the law as opposed to interpreting it in a widely divergent manner, our justice system would enjoy a better reputation today.

If there is today an urgent need to fast-track anything, it is not VVIP cars through privileged passages, but the investigations and court proceedings concerning our politicians, judges and officials. These should all be centrally compiled and monitored, with regular updates on the Internet. Then the public would very quickly realise that for every one Rathore now in the public gaze there are hundreds of influential persons deep in a system that simply cannot hold them to account.

Politicians worldwide are used to the adulation or venom of the voting public. But it is really only in emerging countries where officialdom also occupies that high pedestal. The writer, having lived in the UK for 40 years, never had any reason at any time to think of that country’s bureaucrats as anything more than mere public servants; certainly not with the demigod-like status that most enjoy here.

The Ruchika episode may well finally call time on Rathore but the system will still allow countless others to escape with impunity or nominal sentences unless we fundamentally change the way we deal with our errant officials, judges and politicians. Sixty-two years of independence may have created many an ill-gotten fortune but if we are to truly take countless hundreds of millions of our citizens out of poverty we must legislate now to ensure that there is for this group of ¶servants¶ a real fear of prosecution and conviction.

Teflon-coated politicians, officers and judges that have till now by and large protected themselves in a symbiotic environment need to start thinking that they might actually go to jail. Perhaps we need to devise a punishment for these abusers of power that will act as a genuine deterrent for others considering erring from the true path of the public servant.

The writer represents Halqa Qila Raipur in the Punjab assembly


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