If the Jan Lokpal Bill united the Congress and BJP in opposition to it, recent statements by AAP leaders while addressing corporate houses have squarely placed the AAP in the same camp as the Congress and BJP on the question of neoliberal economic policies. In fact, in the tussle over the Jan Lokpal Bill, the most crucial aspect of the debate was rendered invisible. Both the Lokpal law enacted by Parliament and the Delhi Government’s Janlokpal draft are silent on the question of bringing corporate corruption under the ambit of the Lokpal legislation. Given that the most massive scams in the past two decades have benefited corporations above all, this omission is quite glaring.
The question of gas pricing illustrates the point amply. The gas pricing scam, after all, is not only one of blackmail and arbitrary raising of gas prices. The scam originates from the policy of handing over precious natural resources for private profit and plunder. It was the NDA regime that signed the contract with RIL in 2000, allowing it access to the precious KG Basin gas reserves. Since then, NDA and UPA both have colluded time and again with RIL to benefit the latter, in the process increasing the subsidy burden on the Government and the burden of higher fertiliser and power costs on farmers. The Radia tapes showed how even in Parliament in 2009, Mukesh Ambani could ensure that the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee would propose a tax exemption to benefit RIL alone, and could ensure that BJP leaders would not oppose it! The tapes showed that Ambani could ensure that the Government appointed pliant Petroleum Ministers and sacked less pliant ones; and that the main Opposition party would field pliant leaders to speak on issues relating to gas pricing in Parliament!
The gas pricing scam illustrates graphically how price rise and corruption are Siamese twins, born to the policy regime of pro-corporate privatisation. Governance and democracy are held in the stranglehold of corporations, thanks to this policy regime. Corporations have had a free hand to plunder natural resources and extort profits from basic services that ought to be publicly available people’s rights. Not only have the worst scams occurred in this backdrop, the worst state repression in the country’s poorest forest areas, too has taken place in defence of this policy regime of plunder. While tax waivers and handover of precious natural resources to the tune of several lakhs of crores are not termed ‘subsidies’, the neoliberal regime has sought to curtail entitlements like food rations on the pretext that subsidies to the poor are a burden on the exchequer!
With this being the case, how can corporations – the biggest beneficiaries of such scams – be left out of the ambit of the Lokpal? How can price rise or corruption be tackled without reversing the policy regime that creates it? How can one usher in democracy without ensuring that people, rather than corporations, have control over natural resources?