Balbir Singh Ragi, Silicon Valley

IN recent months, we have been hearing a lot both in the American and Indian news about commissions. The word set my curiosity process moving, so I decided to consult the Webster dictionary as to what does this word really mean. The word commission as described in the Webster dictionary seems to have quite a variety of meanings, but the most interesting description being “the act of entrusting someone to perform a certain task or function”.

If commission is the act of entrusting upon someone to perform a certain task or function, surely then the legitimacy of the particular commission is a direct reflection of the intentions of the person or persons calling for the commission.

So, do commissions really serve any purpose as to bring the truth to light, or to bury the truth, to point the finger at the guilty, or to protect the innocent? The answer to all of the above questions to my mind would have to be yes on all accounts. For commissions are acts of entrusting certain persons to perform a certain task. That task may be to perform a Godly duty of reaching the truth or a clever way of covering the truth and protecting the guilty.

Two cases of two different commissions come to mind, although both set up in two different countries and by two different governments, they serve as good case studies of what the outcome of a commission will be when it is conducted in a secular and democratic society on one hand, and by an autocratic and dictatorial government hiding behind the veil of secularism and democracy on the other.

By now, you have no doubt realized that I am referring to the Tower Commission set up by the U.S. government to investigate the wrong doings by its elected officials or their appointees in the Iran Contra affair. The other is the Mishra Commission set up by the Indian government to investigate the 1984 riots in New Delhi and other cities around India, and to uncover the truth as to what actually happened and who was responsible.

Let us then look at some of the events of these two separate commissions and their impact on their respective societies.

  1. The Tower Commission was set up within months after the Iran Contra affair became public. This thereby supported the view that in a true democratic society the citizens truly govern and it is their right to know the truth about its elected officials as soon as possible. The Mishra Commission took two years in the making, thereby expressing clearly that in an autocratic society things only happen when they suit the autocrats.
  2. The Tower Commission’s progress was made public almost on a daily basis, indicating that in a democratic society the citizens are the ultimate judges of the political process. It is they who must finally decide what went wrong in the process and force the corrective action.


The Mishra Commission’s progress was kept secret and low key which points to the view that nan autocratic society colored view of truth is spoon fed to the general masses. It is the autocrats who decide if it is going to be medicine or poison, most cases being the latter.

  1. The Tower Commission talked and interviewed all concerned and issued a report without bias, holding the ideal of democracy and the national integrity above any personality or party, thus citing the President’s lack of control over his appointees as the direct result of the whole Iran Contra affair.

The Mishra Commission holds biased hearings and presents a report in which the government is held not responsible for the actions of its appointees or subordinates. This thereby cites them innocent of any wrong doings.

In examining the effect of the two commissions on their respective societies, the following has happened. In the case of the Tower Commission, the President goes public and on record, accepting full responsibility for all that has happened. This has strengthened the democratic process and won back the confidence of the people, for a truly democratic society is also a very understanding society. It is a society that is based on mutual trust and understanding, it is a society that recognizes the shortcomings and faults of men and is willing to forgive when asked to do so. This very virtue of understanding and forgiveness is from where it draws its strength.

In the case of the Mishra Commission, it succeeded in pleasing its masters and served in further polarizing an already volatile situation. It has expressed very clearly that the only kind of truth that exists in an autocratic society is the truth that is manufactured and created by the ruling body.

By finding the ruling body faultless, the Mishra report has clearly stated that in an autocratic society justice has many faces, that the scales of justice are never balanced on the fulcrum of truth, but rather on the pivot of political convenience. It has shown that the law and order body of the system, be it the courts of law, or the police, become tools and weapons by which the government punishes those who dare ‘to ‘question ‘its authority.

In a democratic society, if the police fail its duty to protect the citizens, it is the government who must shoulder the full responsibility. To say that the police were responsible for allowing the massacre of citizens and the government body had no hand in it, is like saying that the murder of six million Jews was the handiwork of the S.S., but Hitler and his goons were innocent of any wrong doing.

Commissions then, are like firearms, in the hands of a soldier, they are the pious tools that protect the lives of its citizens. But, in the hands of criminals they become instruments of death, destruction and fear.

Article extracted from this publication >>  March 27, 1987