Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Money, Votes and Indian Politics

As we are aware the Congress-led UPA government won the vote of confidence in the Parliament last night. The numbers for the government stood at 275 and 256 against, with 10 MP's abstaining. The numbers give away the fact that there was cross voting from both sides, MP's who defied party whip to vote for the other. But for those following newspapers and indulging the predilections of our Honourable MP's, this was only to be expected. Experts, real and imagined, had predicted a significant amount of people crossing over in the days leading to the vote as well as during the voting.

The display of money in the Parliament, by a group of BJP MP's, who alleged that individuals in the UPA alliance offered to bribe them to cross vote, appears to have shocked the country. The media, the political class especially those in the opposition, it appears, have just discovered that money plays a big role in our public life. In the past two decades, we had many instances when our political class has been caught with cash in their hands, a few of these have been recorded on camera. The first allegation was made under similar circumstances when during the 1992 vote of confidence, the incumbent Congress government was accused of bribing the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MP's for support. Since then, we have had the Tehelka sting operations in which members of the BJP-led NDA alliance were seen accepting money to push for an imaginary defense deal and the most shameful one wherein, Member's of Parliament demanded money to ask questions in the Parliament.

Such reactions on part of the media and the political class are ridiculous. For instance, examine this pretentious and moralist tone adopted by The Times of India in their front paged-editorial interjection titled, "Times View",

"Over the past several days, there's been a flood of stories of MPs on both sides being bribed to switch loyalty. The payoffs are reported to have ranged from Rs 3 crore for abstaining to Rs 25 crore for cross-voting. On Tuesday, when three MPs started to disgorge stacks of money from a bag on the table of the House, allegedly given to them as ‘advance’ for a much larger bribe, our worst suspicions seemed to have been confirmed. We are a nation proud of our democratic traditions. But along the way, our political class has brutally and systematically subverted every institution of democracy to a point where it has all but lost the faith of the people it was meant to serve. If the allegations made in Parliament are true, then the guilty must be made to pay a very serious price. And if they aren’t, it would imply an extremely cynical conspiracy, for which there should be severe retribution, too. The facts need to be established, and exemplary action taken. Anything less would be a betrayal of the nation’s faith in democracy".

It makes one wonder about the origins of such a blighted and ostrich-ed view. The Times of India and its website kept latest updates of who was being wooed and what were the offers made. It would take some stretch of imagination to suggest that The Times of India was not aware that money was not being offered and accepted. Similarly for the political class, it almost seems laughable when one reads about Prakash Karat describing it, as a 'shameful day in Indian democracy'.

This post is not motivated by the desire to justify the bribery but it tries to highlight the double speak of the political class and the hypocrisy of the media. The intervention of money in Indian public life has a long and chequered history. Apart from the instances mentioned above, we have ministers of the government subverting the office for family, friends and lucre. The rot, it is suggested, is deep and all pervading due to the nature of the political system and marshalling of resources needed to participate in the electoral system. As this abstract writes,

"Electioneering is an expensive affair in every democratic polity which plays a more vital role in India. A prospective candidate in each constituency has to spend millions of money towards transport, publicity and other essential items of election campaign. In recent years the election expenses have increased beyond any limits due to the desire on the part of every political party to spend more than their rivals in the fray. Initially the elections were not costly, when the ideals of service and sacrifice were very much in the air. Political leaders and workers considered it unethical to work with a desire for any reward. But scenario now has changed. The elections in Indian polity are becoming increasingly expensive and the gap between the expenses incurred and legally permitted is increasing over the years. The observers are watching the system that requires unbelievably enormous expenditure collected through to dubious means by political parties and their candidates. The adoption of planning and of mixed economy with a large armory of control, regulation, licenses, permits and quotas in free India provided enormous opportunities for political corruption and resulted in an unethical nexus between the electoral politics and the business sector of the country. This seems to be continued even today with more disastrous consequences of an overflow of black money into the corridors of political parties despite the liberalized economy induced to the political system of country" (Sharma and Sharma 2007).

It is also this salience of money that has also lead to the criminalisation of politics. The outrage expressed by the opposition to the use of money is merely to score political points even though it is couched in moral/ethical tones. The concern about the UPA getting support of MP's who have been sentenced in a criminal case is yet another salvo that smacks of the political apathy and opportunism that plagues the ruling class. The CPIM has long partnered Laloo Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janta Dal in Bihar and at the national level, the political party which has criminals in its ranks who voted for the government.

Most observers of Indian politics interpret, the deterioration of the quality of Indian public life by communal/caste/criminal and money, as the success of democracy. People from different parts of the country use their respective strengths to make their way into the system and bring grievances, thereby legitimising the system and making it broad based. But this is a highly inefficient form and it imposes heavy costs in the system. There is consensus on the fact that this state of affairs have to change but few have an idea where to begin. And in most circumstances, it is events like the confidence motion or garnering of a majority to form government which subvert the efforts to make a start along the path to cleanse politics. All parties across the political spectrum are part of the rot but they all blame their adversaries. Thus, the opposition's outrage is moral only because morality is politically expedient, especially after the failure of their efforts to dislodge the Congress-led government.

SHARMA, A. K. and SHARMA, A. (2007, Jan) "Role of Money Power in Politics and Elections : A case of India" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, Hotel InterContinental, New Orleans.


svety said...

I completely get ur point Satya...I mean to act as puritans after not only seeing but creating this environement for so many years is seriously so spaced we are at a stage when and where it just doesn't matter for so many of us...laaloo singing and asking for a narco test in a house of parliament is applauded...we are talking TRPs..its money man...and that is what it is...No justifications, a tragedy but one that we will need to accept and move on...for now.

Citizen Shaker said...

I buy your point. You seem to be slightly more involved than me, but frankly, does anything in politics shock??

Today's media can be intrusive, but obvious things like money for questions, or even the pious left goon's in nandigram would not have seen the light of the day in earlier days.

what it does show india inc. is sort of immune to anything happens in politics. the 2 national parties - bjp & cong - almost mirror each other in broad policy terms. who cares about temples and bridges then??

Silent Screamer said...

Nice blog!
The BJP did make a fool of themselves that day,and it was pretty shocking too.I personally lost all my respect for them,when I was actually thinking that BJP was a more sensible side!I mean,showing their frustration,this way,was apalling,ridiculous and senseless.Indian government and politics,I guess will always be unpredictable.