What Indians should learn from Americans: Accountability

  • Anirudh Bhattacharya, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Sep 17, 2015 12:20 IST

The systems in North America are conditioned to go after the glitches, even if they emanate from the most powerful. That level of accountability ought not to be missing in India. We have a self-proclaimed anti-corruption crusader who’s content to support a coalition that stars a leader convicted in a scam and out on bail

This week, the Canadian city of Calgary exhaled a sigh of relief. Some days earlier, an air quality monitor had thrown up a reading that one official said made Calgary’s air more polluted than that in Delhi or Beijing. Residents probably held their breath as the environment bureaucracy attempted to deal with the crisis. During investigation, they discovered the problem: A spider had crept into the machinery and fouled up the readings.

No, Calgarians aren’t quite in Delhi’s league when it comes to living in a smog. For them, this climax meant a breath of fresher air. But the episode is indicative of how systems in North America tend to correct themselves after debugging, in this instance, literally so. There are still far too many flaws, but none that is blatantly flooring.

A couple of recent examples show how the system reacts to the smallest deviation, trapping detourers within the web of accountability even for transgressions that may appear trifling to an Indian. One of them threatens to torpedo Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the US presidency, the other sink Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attempt at re-election.

In Hillary’s case, it’s the crisis over her use of a private email server for official communication while she was secretary of state. As the FBI gets on her case, and tries to glean data from a server that may have been wiped clean, the issue is whether she dealt with classified State Department information while sending urgent communications with the subject line: Gefilte fish. The ruckus over this unauthorised use has thrown as much cold water over her campaign as a rogue sprinkler that suddenly drenched guests at her recent campaign event in a tony New York suburb.

The meme of a begoggled Hillary holding a smartphone now comes with the words, “Delete, delete, and deny”. Her polling numbers have nosedived and US Vice President Joe Biden smells a chance to enter the race.

There’s precedent for this being not just so much noise. Former CIA director General David Petraeus pleaded guilty this year to a misdemeanour charge for ‘mishandling classified information’. That was because he leaked information to his biographer, Paula Broadwell, with whom he was having an affair. In April, he was sentenced to two years’ probation and fined $100,000.

The Clintons are so obsessively anal retentive that Hillary probably keeps her collection of colour-coded pantsuits classified. Canada’s Harper could be their grim brother. The stuff in his closet hardly ever gets an airing.

His problem is Mike Duffy, a Canadian senator, who claimed about Canadian $90,000 worth of expenses that appear to be unjustified. For that Duffy is currently undergoing a criminal trial, with investigations undertaken by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Since that amount was reimbursed to him by a Harper aide (which Duffy then handed back to the Senate), this scandal apparently reaches the prime minister’s office.

Think about it, the case involves about Rs 45 lakh — that was paid back to the taxpayers, not siphoned off — barely a blip of our scamometer that features numbers with more zeros than the Mangalyaan’s tripmeter.

Never mind. The Duffy affair has rubbed the electorate the wrong way and robbed Harper’s party of the slim lead it had in the polls leading up to the October parliamentary elections.

You may well ask, why is this a big deal? Because the system is conditioned to go after the glitches, even if they emanate from the most powerful.

That level of accountability ought not to be missing in India. We’ve had a cabinet minister and a chief minister cross ethical lines without consequences. The disruption of an entire session of Parliament is condoned. And a self-proclaimed anti-corruption crusader is content to support a coalition that stars a leader convicted in a scam and out on bail.

When you get such a roster of raw deals it’s all a bit much to swallow. And that really is a choking hazard.

(Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs. The views expressed are personal.)

also read

Concerns over Amma’s health: We’ve the right to know how our rulers are keeping
Show comments