Why do politicians think they have immunity against the law, when ordinary folk have to submit even to the most trivial regulations? This belief is partly the result of an entitled culture that has developed over the years. In fact, an adverse court judgement even caused Indira Gandhi to impose emergency on the country. This has had the effect of criminals taking to politics as a parallel career to stay out of the clutches of the law. This is also one of the reasons why the political system is sanguine about the weaknesses of the Indian Judiciary and there have been no sweeping reforms.
It is true that, in the course of a lifetime of activism, many politicians have a large number of cases filed against them for having participated in agitations and such like, mostly in the public interest. They are usually booked under provisions dating back to British rule that were designed to prevent even legitimate dissent. It was natural, therefore, to overlook such ‘unlawful’ acts when considering a politician’s possible criminal background. However, this evolved into a catch-all umbrella for real criminality.
Now that a large number of politicians are being seriously pursued by various agencies with a consistency that overcomes the sluggishness of the judicial process, there is a lot of ‘whataboutery’ being offered as defence – why aren’t ruling party leaders also being prosecuted? The implication is that the entire political class must sink or swim together. This overlooks the fact that this is not the defence of the innocent – innocence is!
Matters are made worse by the shortcomings of the investigating and prosecuting agencies, which themselves are in need of sweeping reforms. In fact, the basic structure needs to be changed so that there is no overlap in their functioning. The conviction rate needs to be much higher for their actions to become more credible. They may be ‘overactive’ in pursuing cases involving opposition politicians but, for their own sake, they should practice due diligence for more successful outcomes. This would ensure that when it comes time to chase after those presently in power (when they are in the opposition) the sins of today will be accounted for. The message needs emphatically to be communicated that the politicians cannot have carte blanche to do what they like when in power or out of it.