Where there is a will

A CHINESE proverb says, “One picture is worth a thousand words.” The latest picture of Bo Xilai —the disgraced angel — said it all. No narrative was necessary. The photograph hit the wires. The media transmitted it all over the world. Handcuffed, shamed and flanked by two even taller policemen told us the story: how the mighty hath fallen.

Once a promising political leader of China, the upwardly mobile and talented Xilai had the right pedigree being the son of Bo Yibo, a close associate of Deng Xiaoping. Thus, was he not only a ‘princeling’, but also a member of China’s Politburo of the Communist Party. Yet, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for accepting bribes, stealing government funds and obstructing the investigation of a British citizen’s murder, of which his wife, Gu Kailai was an accused.

The new leader of China, Xi Jinping succeeded in delivering a tough message. He had earlier promised to “swat flies” ( book small time dishonest officials) and “strike down” tigers (bring to justice big-time corrupt leaders). “The resolute legal punishment of Bo Xilai fully demonstrates that there are no exceptions before party discipline and state law,” screamed a commentary in the People’s Daily. “No matter who is involved, they will all be investigated to the end and will all be sternly punished according to the law.” Amen.

Xilai, 64, the former party secretary of Chongqing, in southwest China, projected himself both as an ideological purist and as an able administrator. He was a rising star. But power made him heady and got the better of him. Investigative and judicial processes proved that Xilai accepted, through his wife and son Bo Guagua, bribes from Chinese businessmen that totalled about $3.3 million — a figure I believe is grossly understated. The court found that Kailai and Guagua milked a Chinese businessman, Xu Ming for their travel expenses, credit card bills and various fine things in life.

To add a twist to the tale, Kailai was convicted of murder and given a suspended death sentence. She will probably spend the rest of her life in prison. The new Chinese government, under Xi Jinping, firmly believes that the punishment of Xilai and other convicted officials will send out a strong message against corrupt practices. It has changed the tone at the top in one bold sweep.

While we in India may indulge in the pastime of criticising China’s human rights records and “kangaroo courts”, the tough measures against corruption should make us wake up and smell the coffee. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had vowed to hang the hoarders and black marketers from the nearest lamppost. But nothing really happened presumably because we had a short supply of lampposts.

We blame the lack of tough laws and our slow judicial processes for our numerous frauds and scams. But is it not a case of lack of political will and firm determination? The fast-track court’s death sentence to all four convicts in the Nirbhaya case proves that where there is a will, we can find a way.

Let us examine what happened in this despicable case. Last year on December 16, a 23-year-old young woman was raped and brutally assaulted by six male “human beings” in New Delhi. She died of her injuries 13 days later. The incident caused an unprecedented public outrage across the nation. After her death on December 29, protests were staged all over India, including cities such as Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Mumbai and Vishakhapatnam. Many of the mourners held candle light vigils, wore black dresses and covered their faces with black cloth. The following day, a large number of people staged protests near Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. The rage and fury of the civil population made the administration sit up and take notice.

The culprits were arrested and tried in a fast track court. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2013 was promulgated by President Pranab Mukherjee, on February 3. It amended the Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence Act and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 on laws related to sexual offences. The ordinance provided for death penalty in case of rape. The changes were made on the basis of recommendations by the committee headed by the late Supreme Court chief justice Verma.

One of the accused, Ram Singh, allegedly hanged himself in police custody. The juvenile criminal received a light sentence in conformity with the prevailing law. On September 10, the four adult criminals were found guilty of rape, murder, unnatural offences and destruction of evidence. All four men faced the death penalty.

The administration, the police and the fast track courts all worked diligently and round the clock to set an example of how justice can be done swiftly, but fairly without bending any rules or putting in jeopardy the principles of democracy or human rights. What was different this time? It was the huge public outrage before which the political class had to bow its head. Public rage is a deadly weapon in a democratic polity.

Corruption is gnawing at our vitals in India. It is creating a society that is unjust and unfair. It is the tone at the top that must change. There should be zero tolerance to defrauding the nation and stealing from the public. When Indians are determined to fix corruption, they will find a way. Corruption stands in the way of inclusive growth. Therefore, fighting corruption is an idea for which the time has come.