Fighting Corruption Should Be A Common Cause
The Accountability Court of Pakistan has convicted former prime minister of the country Nawaz Sharif and sentenced him to seven years in prison for corruption. The court also imposed a fine of $25 million on him. Sharif’s conviction is the culmination of investigation launched against him by Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau after his name figured in the Panama Papers more than two years ago. It is rare to see politicians in the Indian sub-continent being convicted in cases of corruption and other crimes. Though there are allegations made by Sharif’s supporters of a witchhunt against him, such claims of innocence are common among supporters of political parties and politicians in the region. It is worth noting that while the ‘once mighty’ Nawaz Sharif has ended in jail following his conviction, the Indians whose names figured in the Panama Papers have not been probed and penalized yet.
The progress of ‘investigation’ against Indians whose names figured in the Panama Papers has been very slow and circumlocutory. The Income Tax department last month sent notices to people whose names figure in Panama Papers asking them to explain why the details of the funds were not shown by them in their tax returns. Those served notices are from the list of about 500 prominent Indians, including film personalities and businessmen, who were named in the Panama Papers. The probe agencies are believed to have found that most of the people who have been served with notices created offshore accounts in the British Virgin Islands where unaccounted funds were deposited by them. They sought the help of a law firm in Panama in their clandestine money transfers. The funds were thereafter invested in real estate or other assets in London, United States or Dubai. It remains to be seen whether the conviction of a high-profile Pakistani leader would shame the central government and the investigative agencies of India to go after the men named in the Panama Papers and seek their conviction in courts of law. The Panama Papers cases offer a great opportunity for the Indian investigating agencies to prove their mettle and consolidate people’s trust in them by ensuring solid and speedy investigations against the accused.
The Supreme Court of India was recently informed that more than 4,100 criminal cases (including corruption) were pending against sitting and former members of Parliament and state assemblies, some of which have been going on for more than three decades. There have been very few political leaders who have been convicted. The list of political leaders convicted for corruption includes Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sukh Ram, V K Shashikala, Bangaru Laxman, B S Yeddyurappa, Amar Singh, Suresh Kalmadi, Om Prakash Chauthala and Ajay Singh Chauthala. Two politicians of Goa, Churchill Alemao and Francisco Xavier Pacheco also figure in the list of leaders convicted from criminal activities. The conviction of these leaders was, however, a tedious process and came after prolonged litigation after cases were filed against them. Many politicians get away with their crimes as the probes against them are half-hearted with loopholes left by the investigating officers. In view of the cases against politicians lingering on for decades the Supreme Court has directed several states, including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, to set up special courts to try the accused politicians and dispose of the cases against them in a time-bound manner. The states have been dragging their feet on the subject.
Corruption has been a major issue in India for long, which for decades has not been more than a stick in the hands of political parties to beat their rivals. All political parties have been promising to root out corruption from public life, but none of them has kept the promise after winning the elections. Though parties have managed to grab power using corruption as an issue during elections, they have not taken the cases booked against their opponents to a logical end, despite having all the agencies and information at their disposal. For long Indians have been demanding that the politicians against whom charges have been framed in heinous cases should be barred from contesting elections. As of now, there is a bar on convicted politicians fighting elections, but they can get bail and become eligible again. The Supreme Court refused to bar convicted leaders from contesting and told the government to enact a law to provide for such a punishment. In order to bring about probity in public life it is necessary the political parties make fighting corruption a common, rather than selective, cause.