CROCODILE AND THE SACRIFICE OF SMALL FISH
Members of Parliament (MPs) accepting money for asking questions in the Parliament - seeing it on TV was shocking. Now to top it up, we have some more MPs accepting money for other sundry favours including disbursements from Local Area Development Fund.
Thanks to 24-hour news channels for bringing out into full public view a reality, which was known to one and all in the political arena. Probably, some naïve and gullible fools in the country believed that MPs and MLAs of India are upright, honest, virtuous persons who earn their livelihood through the sweat of their brows. It would have been understandable if some of these naïve fools expressed shock at the TV pictures of MPs accepting bribes. But we have politicians of different political parties expressing shock and anguish, putting on airs and climbing up on a high moral pedestal.
The MPs, who were 'caught' by the eye of the camera, have been suspended / expelled by their respective parties. Irrespective of the colour of the flag, each political party has acted as if it was an isolated aberration arising from the greed of the ones who were trapped and everyone else in the party is absolutely clean and honest. The political parties, who are fortunate enough to have none of their leaders trapped, are rubbing their hands in glee and are pointing fingers at everyone else. Discussion in the media has focused on various technicalities and on the individuals - what did he say; did he touch the money; did he ask for it or did he just shake his head and so on? Even the channels who took the lead in trapping the MPs have repeatedly said that they have full faith in the Parliament and it is only the individuals whom they are targeting. Surely, a news channel - which is a business like any other - cannot afford to antagonize the Parliament and invite proceedings of breach of privilege.
Targeting the individuals while singing praises for the system as a whole helps news channels as well as the political parties. It is also entertaining and exciting in this morbid age when crime reports and WWF fights are the modern equivalent of Roman circus, where gladiators and beasts fought to death while crowds cheered on. Sting operations like Duryodhan and Chakravyuh bring new gladiators into the world of entertainment and excitement. Everyone will enjoy it till some new game and new gladiators / beasts are brought into the ring.
No, this is not to sympathize with the MPs whose faces were seen on the TV. They deserve no sympathies. But, one cannot deny that the ones caught are small fishes of the Indian political ocean, while the crocodiles are the ones shedding tears.
Big ones do not indulge in petty deals of a few thousands. They have their regular corporate clients with deals running into millions and relationships that are nurtured for years. Every political party in the country gives special importance to the ones who have a good network of corporate relationships, or in other words, can arrange large sums of money at the drop of a hat. No marks for guessing the other side of quid-pro-quo that such money arrangement involves.
If any political party claims that it is surviving without large under-table donations, it is either too small to be of any importance at the national level or is lying. The lavish lifestyles of bosses of major political parties speak more than all their public statements. Political parties, as a group, are the largest customers for private aircraft and helicopters in the country. RSS vows by the Spartan lifestyle of its 'pracharaks' (officials). However, the leaders of the political organization, that RSS has given birth to, consider it below their dignity to fly in a regular airlines flight. They need a chartered plane at their service wherever they go. Not many corporate honchos, even in the developed world, can afford this luxury.
Surely, the political bosses know the source of money for their private aircrafts and helicopters. In 70's and 80's political parties used to collect donations of Rs. 5 and Rs. 10, but that custom has now been dropped. No political party collects money like that anymore. Big money is what all political bosses look for and get.
Small time politicians (MPs and MLAs) indulge in other tricks of the trade to collect money. Raising questions for a consideration is now well known. But MPs and MLAs can also make money by not asking questions. The modus operandi is simple - a MP/MLA submits a question about some department where corruption is rampant; the concerned department gets to know about the question; officers of the department strike a deal with the MP/MLA; and the MP/MLA withdraws the question that he submitted to Parliament or Legislative Assembly. There is also money to be made in lobbying for contractors working with Government departments. And for the really hard-pressed ones, the option of letting out a portion of the official residence is always an attractive one. Of course, substantial money, which almost every MP/MLA considers as a fundamental right, comes from Local Area Development Fund (LADF). An MP gets Rs. 20 million (Rs. 10 million for a MLA) every year to undertake development works in his constituency. Demanding 20 per cent as a cutback from beneficiaries is the norm (exceptions like Arun Shourie, who donated his entire LADF of Rs. 120 million to IIT Kanpur, are rare). Sakshi Maharaj, one of the trapped MPs, apparently, asked for 45 per cent to sanction a grant from his LADF.
Anyone, even remotely connected with politics or politicians in India, knows all the above facts. One needs to spend around Rs. 10 million to contest an election and become a member of Lok Sabha. The official limit is much lower but everyone knows how to spend more and yet remain within the limit. The irony is that if one adds up the remuneration that a MP gets over five years, it is less than the amount that he is supposed to spend officially to get elected. How will you like a five-year fixed tenure job for which you have to pay upfront more than what you are likely to get as salary and allowances? And of course, you have to pay even if you do not get the job. And you may be dismissed for no fault of yours at any time. If there are people queuing for such a job, it is only because of corruption.
This is a vicious circle. Job as an elected representative is not remunerative for an honest person. So, no honest person takes up the job. The corrupt take up the job and since they are the employers as well as employees, they modify the terms of the contract to suit the corrupt and further exclude the honest ones. In the process, the country loses.
The blame for bringing about this state of affairs rests on the shoulders of the political class as a whole, and no political party can claim to be not guilty. Till one decade ago BJP used to hold the high moral ground and blame Congress for all the ills. BJP was at that time the great hope of the country. Now BJP stands on the same ground as the rest of the political class. The only thing that differentiates BJP, which at one time called itself as "the party with a difference", is the arrogance and airs of self-righteousness that its leaders put on.
One might blame the BJP for its moral airs, which camouflage its hypocrisy. But no major party in the country is free from hypocrisy. Internally, political parties openly discuss the strategy of putting up a clean image. Every remunerative ministry (where large scale corruption is the norm) is given to a person who may be sacrificed without much loss of face. The person is given targets for collecting illicit money, which is shared as per pre-determined formula. But, as and when the person is caught in a scandal, he is immediately dropped like a hot potato by the people who appointed him and were too glad to share the exploits. A new person is appointed in his place and the story goes on. This enables the top bosses to remain squeaky clean in the eyes of the public while enjoying the luxuries afforded by illegitimate wealth.
My political friends are likely to squeal that making money the wrong way is essential for surviving in politics; elections are an expensive affair, you know. Absolutely true! Let us accept this reality and try to find a way of reforming this rotten system, which goes by the name of democracy but is anything but that. That is a tall order. Isn't it much easier to keep sacrificing all those small fish who are stupid enough to be caught? Jesus said that let one who has committed no sin throw the first stone. Now every sinner is in a hurry to throw the first stone just to prove that he has done no sin. Let us stop this madness. Let us think of fundamental structural changes to rid our polity of not just faceless creatures like Faggan Singh or Isam Singh, but of so-called giants who wear Italian suits and travel by private aircraft.
20 December 2005
Please write to me your comments about the above article.
ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer (and now a lawyer too) by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.
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