Who does the buck stop with?

India is infected by a disease called ‘passing the buck’

trithesh

Trithesh Nandan | August 19, 2011



The US is facing a major financial crisis. Analysts feel it might even spark a recession. The bond rating agency Standard & Poor lowered Washington’s credit rating down a notch to 'AA+' from the highest AAA level. At the time of crisis the whole US sees a saviour in president Barack Obama. Rather than passing the buck, Obama accepted the blame for the mess displaying exemplary integrity. In a televised interview, Obama said he is accountable for the status of the US economy.

“The buck stops with me,” Obama said. “I’m gonna be accountable,” he told CNN in an interview this week. The message came at a time when he is preparing for a re-election bid in 2012. The politicians in the US have often displayed an evolved form of democratic obligation accepting responsibilities for failures, affairs, scandals, corruptions. This is what makes its democratic system so admirable. In the 1990s, president Bill Clinton first denied and then subsequently accepted having “improper physical relationship” with Monica Lewinsky who was working as an intern at the White House. In 2010, failed presidential candidate John Edwards admitted fathering a child with a mistress. Former house majority leader Tom DeLay was sentenced in 2011 for three years of prison on charges of money laundering.

Contrast this with India, the world’s largest democracy. Here politicians routinely disown glaring failures, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence. They often hide their failures and leech themselves on to their positions of power despite being charged of multiple wrongdoings. In the 64 years since independence, barring a few, none of the Indian politicians has accepted blame for any charge levelled at them - from corruption scandals to misdemeanours to crimes as heinous as rape and murder. UPA II leaders have been put in the dock in several scams like 2G spectrum allocation, CWG and Adarsh housing. But no politician accused in these scams resigned voluntarily. It was only after media pressure and stinging observations by the supreme court that the Congress and allies chose to act. After repeated proclamations of innocence, A Raja, Kanimozhi and Suresh Kalmadi are in Tihar Jail.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh and his office have not been spared of such charges. Singh might be an erudite, honest man and a well-known economist who initiated economic reforms and took the country out of a financial morass in the 1990s but what makes him so feeble is that he continually passes the buck when questions about his will to contain corruption and act against the corrupt arise. It has intrigued the common man, media, opposition parties and even the protesters who are currently fighting for a stronger Lokpal bill. The million dollar question remains whether Singh will ever mouth a “mea culpa” like his friend Obama.

Singh has made some of the weakest statements when the talk has centred on containing corruption. Recently he said in parliament, “I don't have a magic wand to deal with corruption.” No, Mr prime minister, you don’t need one. Keeping Raja in the cabinet despite demands for his ouster, the prime minister said his hand was forced by ‘coalition dharma’. Raja was jailed in February.

He sought to discredit the people’s frustrations with corruption when he alluded to “unseen forces” being behind Anna Hazare and the protests in his support.

Even in the case of inflation, the best that economist prime minister could come up with was, “I have no control over these variables, and no magic wand to reduce prices when international commodity prices are rising.”

Such responses only put him in poor light. The conclusion which can be drawn from this is that India is infected by a disease called ‘passing the buck’. That is why US is placed at no. 18 on the Transparency International list of countries by levels of corruption while India is ranked 87.

No wonder the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, replied to the PM’s weak excuses on Wednesday in parliament saying, “You don't need a magic wand to fight corruption, all you need is a political will.”

Former US president Harry Truman had a plaque on his office desk that read “The Buck Stops Here!’.

Obama has said as much.

Will Manmohan Singh stand up and proclaim the same or will his desk plaque continue to read, “The buck stops with BJP, RSS, coalition dharma, media, CAG, Anna Hazare, civil society, foreign hand, protestors on the street?”
 

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