| Manmohan Singh
New Delhi, Aug. 16: The call rang out clear from the ramparts of Red Fort — it was time politicians worked out a code of ethics.
In his first Independence Day speech as Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh made it clear that ethics, transparency and accountability in governance were as important, if not more, than policies and programmes.
“The time has come for us to consensually evolve a code of conduct for all political parties, a code of ethics for all individuals in public life and a code of best practices for the government at all levels,” he said.
“On this solemn occasion, let us resolve to work together to develop such a code of conduct in a consensual way so as to uphold the values enshrined in our Constitution.”
The Prime Minister’s plea came a day before Parliament reassembled after a three-week recess. If the budget session’s first half was turbulent because of the Opposition’s insistence that the government throw out “tainted” ministers starting with Shibu Soren, the second part threatened to become as volatile with the BJP training its guns on another minister, Mohammad Taslimuddin.
While a non-bailable warrant in a massacre case had forced Soren to step down as coal minister, a court had issued a non-bailable warrant against Taslimuddin in an attempt to murder case. However, on Saturday, the Bihar government dropped charges against the junior agriculture minister.
By stressing on a consensual approach to ethics in public life, Singh signalled that the onus lay as much on the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance as the ruling United Progressive Alliance.
“We must also look within our parties, and ourselves and ask ourselves what is the root cause of the decline in values in public life,” he said. “How do we reform our public institutions, our political parties and our government at various levels'”
The BJP picked up Singh’s posers but not quite in the spirit he sought. Sushma Swaraj, deputy leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha, said: “The continuation of these ministers is shameful and a mockery of the government. Only if the PM removes all of them together, his words will have meaning, his image will remain clean and his government will not face embarrassment every now and then.”
Singh’s allies welcomed his proposal. Slamming the Opposition for targeting party ministers, Rashtriya Janata Dal spokesman Ram Deo Bhandari said: “The code which the PM suggested should put an end to such mud-slinging.”
“It (the proposal) is good in the light of the present controversies,” said CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan. “In law, a single chargesheet is not proof of guilt…. It should be left to parties to decide if they want to put up chargesheeted persons in an election.”
If ethics formed one strand of Singh’s address, the other was derived from the experience in the post-Independence era spanning the careers of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
Recalling Nehru’s first Independence Day speech in 1948 with its emphasis on “love and service and productive and creative work”, Singh said: “Our nation is what we are. It will become what we make of ourselves.”