Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa said on Friday that honesty as a policy “always comes with a price”. He made the remark in an opinion piece he wrote for The Indian Express.
“Honesty as a policy always comes with a price,” Lavasa said. “It demands a premium like an insurance policy, although it might appear not to command a premium or provide any insurance.” He added that the path of honesty is straight but not simple.
“The honest, however, go on regardless, perhaps driven by an inner force that borders on recklessness,” Lavasa wrote. He said that a society that creates hurdles for the honest paves the path for its own utter ruin.
Lavasa and his family have been accused of evading stamp duty. Earlier on Friday, reports said that the Income Tax Department asked the Haryana government to further investigate the allegations of stamp duty evasion by Lavasa’s wife. Novel Lavasa had allegedly not paid the stamp duty while transferring an apartment in Gurgaon to her sister-in-law Shakuntala Lavasa.
Lavasa wrote that when an individual is faced with the dilemma of making a choice, he either responds instinctively or makes a well-reasoned decision. “For instance, an auto driver finding a passenger’s purse in his vehicle, may decide to look for the passenger, deposit the purse in a police station, or report the matter to his owner,” Lavasa wrote. “As long as he doesn’t keep the money with him, he may have acted honestly.”
Lavasa said that in this case, the auto driver may not get any material reward for his honesty, but he has chosen the comfort of his conscience over the pleasure of pocketing another’s money.
However, Lavasa added: “Honesty is not a fetish to be preserved and worshipped without being practised. It is like keeping a toilet clean without using it. Toilets are meant to be used; if kept clean they will be used more.”
The election commissioner also said that society should not interpret honesty in a narrow manner. “No system can be productive if it is obsessed with defining the idea of honesty narrowly and subjecting everyone to a hidebound, arbitrary ideal,” he said. “The outcome of such a narrow approach would be a society of persons with their chastity belts seemingly intact but with little else to show.”
Lavasa said that the essential characteristic of an honest person is that he or she is truthful, and his or her action is based on an “inner voice” that guides him or her to make a distinction between what is right and what is wrong. This distinction is made on the basis of the laws of the country, morality and the person’s own ideas, Lavasa added.
“There is a price for honesty as for everything else in life,” Lavasa said. “Being prepared to pay that price, directly or by way of collateral damage, is part of the honest act.” The election commission said that while it claimed that honesty pays off in the long run, this “long run” could be unpredictably long in the real world.
“It is naïve to expect those that have been opposed by the honest to meekly accept the ascendance of the meek,” Lavasa wrote. “They strike back and the price for the honest could be in the form of lonely suffering, even noticeable isolation.”
Differentiating between those who remain silent and those who are honest, Lavasa said honest people are those who have courage. On the other hand, those who stay silent may empathise with the honest, but lack courage. “They may watch the protagonist suffer, even shed a tear at his plight, offer a silent prayer in his favour and wait for the denouement before they laud his part,” he said. However, the protagonist, as in a play, is convinced that his honest deed is the best policy, the election commissioner said.
Lavasa’s ‘minority decisions’ and the action that followed
Lavasa made headlines in May when he had opposed five clearances that the Election Commission gave to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party National President Amit Shah in complaints of Model Code of Conduct violations during the election campaign.
The commission cleared Modi in six such cases but Lavasa’s dissent was reportedly not noted in the poll panel’s orders. The rift within the three-member Election Commission came into the open after Lavasa wrote an explosive letter , in which he said he was staying away from the meetings since “minority decisions” such as his were not being recorded.
In November, it came to light that the Indian government wrote to 11 public sector undertakings asking them to verify their records to check if Ashok Lavasa had exercised “undue influence” during his tenure as special secretary in the Ministry of Power between 2009 and 2013.
Later in November, there were reports that Ashok Lavasa’s son Abir Lavasa and a company in which he is a director are being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate under the Foreign Exchange Management Act. The Enforcement Directorate is probing the Rs 7.25 crore raised by Nourish Organic Foods Pvt Ltd in March from Mauritius-based investor Saama Capital.