Friday, July 25, 2008
In the aftermath of the UPA government winning the trust vote, many questions remain unanswered about the charges of bribery raised so dramatically by three BJP MPs in Parliament on Tuesday. The truth behind the allegations must be thoroughly investigated and exposed. However, the shock waves that the incident has justifiably generated should be tempered by the fact such things are not unknown in Indian politics. Fifteen years ago, four Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) MPs, including Shibu Soren — who was once again a key figure in boosting the UPA’s tally in Parliament — were given money to help defeat a no-confidence motion against the Narasimha Rao government. More recently, 11 MPs were expelled for accepting money for raising questions in Parliament. Clearly, MPs on the take — even if they are a minority — are a problem. The investigation of the allegations made by the three BJP members could conceivably be kept out of the hands of investigating agencies on the ground that Article 105(2) of the Indian Constitution gives MPs immunity ‘for anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament’. The Supreme Court reiterated this in a 1998 judgment in the JMM bribery case where it said bribe-takers were immune from prosecution whereas bribe-givers had no such immunity. It is questionable whether the immunity given to MPs was meant to shield them from bribery charges. Indeed, the minority judgment in the JMM bribery case said immunity could not be extended to MPs who had taken a bribe. Several constitutional experts believe that in spite of the charges by the BJP MPs being made inside Parliament, this should be the subject of a criminal investigation. They say an FIR could be lodged under the Prevention of Corruption Act since the Supreme Court has clearly said MPs are “public servants”. But that itself won’t solve the larger issue of MPs being open to corruption and lobbying. There must be a move to document money being given to MPs by interest groups or lobbyists. This is done, for instance, in the US where details of contributions from lobbyists to elected representatives are recorded. This not only legitimises giving funds to legislators but also enables voters to track which interest group is backing whom. In addition, there must be greater transparency in the way parties and MPs raise money for election campaigns. Unlike many other democracies, the source of funds for political parties in India remains murky. Unless this is made more transparent, we could well see a repeat of what happened during Tuesday’s trust vote.