Saturday, July 31, 2010

The power of one: Can good men at the helm save public institutions?

Justice Verma said that an institution can rise to its strength only if it is run by who has no past and no greed for anything in the future. It is tough to find such people.We can feel proud of the Election Commission and Supreme court. Those are the two institutions which we can really be proud of, because of some remarkable people. At the same time CBI and CVC had made news through rotten controversies. This article by Shekhar Gupta was published in the Indian Express on July 31st 2010.


It was something that Justice Verma said, while explaining the challenge of institution-building, that should get us all thinking. An institution can rise to its true strength, and truly play the role the founding fathers mandated for it, only if it is led by a person “who has no past, and no expectation (of any reward) from anybody in the future”.

Someone who has no past and no greed for anything in the future? Simple enough, you might think. But it isn’t as simple as that. It is tough enough to find many people with nothing to hide in their pasts, so they are not prone to blackmail, or pressured by IOUs conceded.

How many of our institutions do we really feel proud of today? That we trust fully to protect our constitutional rights and liberty? Your count will not go beyond two, the Supreme Court and the Election Commission. In both cases, we were fortunate that just a couple of remarkable people came to lead them at some crucial junctures of our history.

Today nobody dares to mess with either the EC or the SC. One can still countermand an election in Bihar or Kashmir and the other can set the CBI on the Sohrabuddin case. Both have survived sabotage, subterfuge, allurements and vilification by the political class. All because a few, just a few, good men came to lead these at some providential moments of time.

Can you imagine how much stronger we would have felt as a nation if just two other institutions, the CBI and the CVC, had also been similarly fortunate? The sad fact is that the Supreme Court has repeatedly enhanced the powers and autonomy for both these institutions and the law places the CBI under the CVC’s superintendence, to give one autonomy and the other investigative muscle.

But neither has been blessed with a leader who would be willing to embrace this power of institutional autonomy. Instead, an entire succession of our CBI directors have only made news through rotten controversies, and have spent their tenures “fixing” cases politically, one way or the other.

A clean-up of the CBI is probably too much to ask for in today’s political climate. But maybe, with some luck, if only we could get a strong and wise CVC.

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