Politicians who mastermind corruption usually manage to stay out of the reach of the long arm of the law. That they can get officials and underlings to do the dirty job is often sufficient protection from prosecution for those elected to public office. When a special court of the Central Bureau of Investigation convicted 55 persons in a teacher recruitment scam on Wednesday, the most striking aspect was not the scale or size of the crime, but the nailing of former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala. Both Mr. Chautala and his son Ajay were found guilty of conspiring to replace the original selection lists with fake ones to fill over 3,000 teacher vacancies. Special CBI Judge Vinod Kumar took into account file notings and a “chain of circumstances” that implicated the former Chief Minister as the “main conspirator” in the scam. Mr. Chautala thus joins the few politicians who have been convicted of corruption. Other than Sukh Ram, R. Balakrishna Pillai, and Bangaru Laxman, not many top politicians have had to see the inside of a jail on being convicted of corruption. Of these Mr. Laxman, who as president of the Bharatiya Janata Party was caught on camera accepting a bribe from an undercover reporter, held no public office. Most cases against politicians in high office come to naught, as they meander to a tame acquittal after years of investigation and prosecution. Those that end in conviction usually do not involve the conspirator-politician, but only lowly officials.

Interestingly, the CBI court threw out the objection that the CBI was biased in the case and was working at the instance of the Congress, a rival of Mr. Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal. That the CBI has often served as the handmaiden of the party ruling at the Centre is undeniable, but this is no argument against the verdict in a case that was taken to its logical conclusion on the basis of available evidence. The recent increase in the rate of conviction of politicians for corruption could be on account of the activism of sections of civil society for a strong Lok Pal. Indeed, the scam is another reminder about the importance of having strong institutional mechanisms to prevent and punish corruption among persons holding public office. The importance of a free and empowered Lok Pal is evident now more than ever before. In a scenario where political motives are attributed to investigators and prosecutors, the independence and credibility of the investigating agencies and the judiciary will have to be protected at all costs. Instead of using parliamentary procedures and select committees as delaying tactics, the government must push through a Lok Pal Bill with teeth.

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