Appointment of CAG Vinod Rai was a mistake by politicians: Bhushan

Prashant Bhushan, noted lawyer and close associate of anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal, today said the government had mistakenly appointed a person like Vinod Rai as the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) of India, and would not make such a mistake next time.

Bhushan, who was answering questions about the new political party from Bangaloreans on Saturday, also sought to correct the impression that the new outfit would be against corporations or capitalism.

“We are not anti-capitalist per se, though the broad direction of the (thinking of the) new party would be socialistic,” Bhushan said in response to a question about the ‘ideological base’ of the new party, whose formation would be officially announced in exactly two weeks from now in Jantar Mantar.

Asked why many government institutions were unable to function as well as the CAG and the Election Commission, Bhushan said their current performance was largely due to the ability of those who head them.

“It is to be noted that the government has the right to appoint the CAG and the Election Commissioners.. Once in a while, by mistake, an honest officer like Vinod Rai would slip through the screening process,” Bhushan said. “I don’t expect them to make the same mistake the next time,” the lawyer said, pointing out that Rai has only one more year in his term as the head of India’s statutory auditing organization.

The CAG has been in the news in the last few years for its stinging indictment of government waste and its tendency to allocate natural resources such as radio waves and coal blocks to companies for a fraction of their market price.

Bhushan said while the finer details of the new party’s core ideology are still being worked out, Arvind Kejriwal’s book, “Swaraj”, gives a good glimpse of the overall thinking about economics and governance at the top level. Expanding on the capitalism vs socialism debate, Bhushan said the leadership of the new party believes that there are certain areas — such as healthcare and education — where the government must have a substantial presence.

“In such areas, we believe the government needs to be present, and not just as a regulator..,” he said, adding that private companies should not be allowed in areas which are monopolies. Kejriwal has been a dogged critic of the Delhi government’s recent move to privatize the distribution of electricity in the city state. The move has cut transmission and distribution losses to single digits from nearly half over the last decade.

Bhushan said the new outfit was in favor of private involvement in areas where competition was possible. “In such areas, there is no need for the government to be present,” he said. The outfit had recently made news by calling for the re-nationalization of all energy assets in the country, such as oil blocks.

Asked how many seats the new party would contest, Bhushan said the “tactical” decision is yet to be made. He, however, said the new party should not make the mistake of underestimating its popularity. “The Janata Party of 1977 won all the seats in the nine states it contested in.. If they had doubted their popularity, they might have fielded candidates in only half the seats.. and would never have been able to form the government,” he said.

Bhushan said in his opinion, the party must contest where ever it is able to have a decent local presence. He expressed confidence that the new party would be able to form the government in Delhi after elections next year.

He also responded to critics of the ‘direct democracy’ model, saying that today’s technology allows voting to take place very easily and at low costs compared to the traditional system, through machines that can be placed in public places. “Voting can be done almost daily, if there was a need,” he said.

He repeated the position that matters that affect only a village, or a district alone should be decided at that level, and not at the level of the state government or the central government.