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Lawless Lawmakers

It is time for politicians to face the brunt of their unlawful actions.

On Saturday, June 10, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned as a Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons. This decision came after a draft of the Commons Privilege Committee report against him was made public.

The Commons Privilege Committee is similar to the Privileges Committee of the Lok Sabha and has the authority to carry out any investigations related to a breach of privileges in Parliament. In this particular case, the Committee was investigating a series of Christmas Parties hosted in several government buildings, including 10 Downing Street, during a time of nationwide covid induced lockdown.

The ‘Partygate’ scandal, as it is now popularly known, was a key factor in the resignation of Boris Johnson as the PM of the United Kingdom in September 2022. At first, Johnson reassured the Commons that the allegations were false, but when evidence of several such parties came to light, Johnson finally submitted to the truth. The draft of the report accused Johnson of misleading the Commons, which he vehemently denied in his letter of resignation, claiming that the committee was biased against him.

The pertinent question now is - how many more such incidents - from extravagant parties to corruption to outright criminality - go unnoticed? How much can politicians, especially those in power, get away with? Britain is fortunate to have this report from the committee. Ask yourself, could anything like this, from the original evidence to this report, ever come to light in most other countries, including India?

Such issues are not one-off events in Indian politics. From the 1975 Emergency, where there was continuous exploitation of power for years, to even this century, where many leaders have faced claims of corruption and wrongdoing. This problem is a persistent one, one that is almost rooted in the idea of political power itself.

Several major problems lead to the extreme leniency of punishments those in power have to face in a nation like ours.

The first is the opaqueness with which all power-wielding institutions operate. Critical investigative journalism against politicians is a rarity in India; it should be a prerequisite for a free press. Often, this is due to corruption. Another reason is the relative cowardice of the Indian press. This is fueled by the strict action that is taken against those who speak against power holders.

After all, when was the last time any significant evidence against the actions taken by any government came to light? Where are the controversies? Where are those who question every law drafted and every decision made? Where are today's Carl Bersteins and Bob Woodwards?

To add to this, even when news against a power wielder breaks, there is little to no action taken. This was evident in a case last year, where an MP from South India 'accidentally’ opened an emergency door in an aircraft. Of course, the opposition tried to bring attention to the incident, but this soon faded away and is now a sliver of memory in the mind of the common man. No action was taken by the DGCA even though similar cases in the US and even in India have led to flying bans.

A reason for the forgetfulness of the public when it comes to politicians is the false image that is made by many. This was the case for a Chief Minister, who painted an image of himself as simplistic and ordinary. The image he portrays feels relatable to many, which is the reason for his popular support. However, it was recently revealed that the State Government spent almost 50 Cr Rupees for furnishing his house - an unthinkable price for such a task. This report has now faded from most people's memory - although it was only released in April this year.

The fact is, power holders have realised that prolonging a problem often ends the problem. A prime example of this is the ongoing struggle for justice by several Indian Olympic wrestlers, who have accused a current Member of Parliament of sexual harassment of the athletes. These protests have been going on for over a month, to no conclusion. India’s Olympic medal winners have been pushed to the ground, both figuratively and literally. It is a shame to see a simple ‘inquiry’ being floated, with no clear conclusive action in sight.

Last, but not least, is the issue of misuse of power by those who hold it. It is unconstitutional to use government resources to try to quell opposition, but that is what we see happening around us. Government resources are often used to the ruling parties' favour across all states, as well as to quell opposition parties. This has now been a major problem in India for several years.

The list is endless. There is a clear need for a return to order, where the press dominates the legislature, not the other way around. Today - as has been the case for many years - India’s press is only free by name. For true development as a nation, the power dynamic between the press and power holders must be reversed.

It is time for the fourth pillar to take its rightful place in India’s democratic power dynamic.

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