A deceptive democracy - Indian politicians are unscrupulous self-aggrandising pragmatists. Call it robbery, stealing, and what have you
Proudhon as an anarchist-idealist might not have cared for worldly riches. But Indian politicians are unscrupulous self-aggrandising pragmatists. Call it robbery, stealing, and what have you, as Proudhon had done, they not only zealously guard their huge assets but also try every trick in the trade augment the same. That may be one explanation for the difficulty in tracking the sources and ramifications of the assets of many of our crorepati politicians.
Readers might ask with so many crorepatis swamping the 15th Lok Sabha can it be justifiably called a democratic Parliament. This is more so, when the fundamental and foundational principle of Indian democracy, as envisaged in the Indian Constitution, is ensuring individual and social equality, and through distributive justice reducing inequalities. Understanding the complexity of this problem calls for a wider look at the how and why of the crorepatis in terms of their electioneering splurge, and asset creation. This will also help place in perspective what was mentioned earlier "the bright side" of the outcome of the election.
On March 25, 2009, The Economic Times reported under the title "No recession for Indian election spending":
Election season means spending season in India, where the world's largest democratic exercise triggers a cash splurge on everything from leasing private planes to buying individual votes. According to a survey by the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), the month-long general election will witness an outlay of something like Rs 10000 crore ($2 billion). Of that total, about Rs 2000 crore will be spent by the national Election Commission and state governments on organising the actual polling . The rest will be spent by official parties and individual candidates, with the CMS estimating that as much as 25 billion rupees has been earmarked for "unofficial" cash purchases of individual votes on the eve of balloting [emphasis added] Hi Flying Aviation, India's oldest air charter firm, said it had rented out its entire fleet of helicopters and executive jets to campaigners at prices between Rs 75,000 and Rs 150,000 an hour. "There's a huge demand for helicopters and political parties don't mind the cost," said R. Puri, the head of Air Charters India, another plane rental firm.
In a bid to add some glamour to its campaign, Congress spent an undisclosed sum to secure the exclusive right to use the Oscar-winning song from "Slumdog Millionaire," "Jai Ho" ("Victory"). The BBC reported that the party paid up to $200,000 to the song's copyright holder, T-Series. The BJP, meanwhile, has been buying up prime-time ad spots on mushrooming FM radio stations, whose broadcast footprint extends across 280 parliamentary constituencies. With campaign spending effectively doubling at every election, there is growing concern among some observers that India's democratic process is being hijacked by the sort of spending-power politics associated with US elections.
The important issue which this raises is which section of the population has the spending power otherwise known as money, muscle, and mafia power -, an issue which casts serious doubts on the reliability of India's electoral processes as democratic.
The National Election Watch (NEW) and the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) made comparison of the assets of some 300 MPs from 27 states and Union Territories based on analysis of affidavits filed by them for the elections in 2004 and 2009.
As on May 11, the average individual asset increase of these 300 re-contesting MPs was 287 per cent or 2.75 crore.
The highlight of the analysis of asset comparison of 71 re-contesting MPs is that the maximum percentage increase in assets among the analysed MPs was 980.64 for Naveen Jindal from Haryana, 898.30 for Hannan Mollah from West Bengal, 491.30 for Raghuraj Singh Shakya from Uttar Pradesh, followed by 478.39 for Selja from Haryana and 423.27 for Shafiqurrahman Bar from Uttar Pradesh.
Based on the asset comparison by the NEW released on May 02, 2009 for 229 re-contesting MPs, on May 4, The Economic Times published a report "298% rise in average income of sitting Lok Sabha MPs" Politics seem to have become a huge money making business, next to none and remains unaffected by recession of any kind. The average individual asset increase of sitting Lok Sabha MPs contesting the 2009 Lok Sabha is a whopping 298% or Rs 2.67 crore, according to an analysis of affidavits filed in 2004 and 2009 for 229 MPs from 24 states and UTs . Mohd. Tahir of Bahujan Samajwadi Party [BSP] from Uttar Pradesh had reported Rs 116,697 as his total asset in his affidavit while contesting in 2004 Lok Sabha poll. In his affidavit filed with nomination papers he has shown his assets at Rs 10,779,346, a whopping increase of 9,137%. Similarly, the assets of CH Vijayashankar of Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] from Karnataka have shot up from Rs 263,999 to Rs 17,493,189, i.e., a staggering rise of 6,526%. Interestingly, even the CPI[M] MP Susmita Bauri seeking re-election to Lok Sabha from West Bengal is a close third in the list with assets increased from Rs 33,000 only in 2004 to Rs 1,073,000 in 2009 up by 3,15%. "With no barriers, and none answerable to, politics seems to be the only business not affected by recession of any kind," Prof Trilochan Sastry, Dean of IIM Bangalore and founder Member ADR said. Corroborating Prof Sastry's observation, former Director of IIM Ahmedabad and founder member of ADR Prof Jagdeep Chhokar, says, "Clearly, these politicians are not serving the common people but several of them are working only to improve their own economic status. There needs to be lot more transparency in where and how the assets of these elected representatives are going up"
Like corruption and politics, criminality and politics are Siamese twins. Though much has been written about both, especially as part of the March 2002 Report of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, constituted by the AB Vajpayee-led NDA government, the nexus between criminality and politics needs some mention here. Important among the findings of the NEW from 6735 affidavits in the first four phases of the general election 2009 include the following:
1042 candidates with criminal records constituting 15.47% of total candidates in the fray; fielding candidates with criminal records by major political parties, with Congress (108), BJP (106), BSP (100) and SP (47) as the top four; 1295 criminal charges of heinous nature including, murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, extortion, etc.; most states having candidates with criminal background with Jharkhand at the top with 51 or 29.82%, followed by Bihar with 177 or 27%; 175 Red Alert constituencies with three or more contesting candidates having criminal background;
Bihar having 33 such constituencies followed by Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, each with 27 such constituencies. No wonder, while one write-up on the web had its title "Criminals, 'crorepatis' to rule India", another had it as "Parliament is now a den of criminals". Will the UPA manage to expunge these and similar opprobriums from the minds of the public, in the same spirit of expunging portions from the Lok Sabha proceedings? Henceforth the measure of all measures of the UPA ministry will be not only its performance but also its ingenuity in introducing "clean politics" and "self-cleansing" mechanisms in Indian democracy. Will it measure up to the expectation? Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has already started dropping hints, as for instance, his mention that "The growing use of money power in elections, muscle power, these are developments which need to be tackled if we have to maintain the health of our democratic polity," in his speech in the Lok Sabha on June 9, 2009, following a debate by members on President Pratibha Patil's earlier address to members from both the houses; which he would not have probably mentioned during the election when both the Congress and its allies were in need of both money power and muscle power.
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