A deceptive democracy and inequality in social and economic life
General election to Indian parliament is known as the biggest road show on the duplicity and double-speak of India's political buccaneers. However, it is also the biggest event management anywhere in the world, as one of the Election Commissioners mentioned to an English TV channel a couple of days ago in the context of the general election to India's 15th Lok Sabha.
It was not an exaggeration. The polling, spread over five phases lasting a month from April 16 to May 13, involved a mind-boggling 714 million voters, 0.83 million polling booths, 1.3 million voting machines, 6 million civilian and security personnel, and expenditure of several crores of rupees. What is relevant to ask in this context is whether this biggest event management has shown any significant shift in Indian democracy from a "functioning anarchy" as John Kenneth Galbraith characterised it, to a functioning democracy.
The answer is yes and no. It is yes because, despite unabashed show of chicanery by many politicians, the electorate exercised their franchise decisively. It is no because, the election lacked some of the major requisites of a political democracy.
Presenting the Indian Constitution, Dr B R Ambedkar, its architect, said in the Constituent Assembly:
On January 26, 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality... We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy, which this Assembly has so laboriously built up.
That India does not have equality in social and economic life even sixty years down the line is stating the obvious. That explains the expressions of social unrest in different parts of the country, which for political expediency and as a cover up to governance and political failure, are labeled as Maoism, Naxalism, and what have you. But did India have equality in politics when Ambedkar made his statement? Or for that matter does India have equality in politics sixty years after his statement? Either Ambedkar erred in his judgment; or his reference to India having political equality when the Constitution came into force was a mere emotional imagery.
For, the quintessence of any democracy is, it is by the people, for the people and of the people. All these three markers were dismally absent even in the latest election. If one may call India a democracy, it is as a flagrant one, as it is by the rich, for the rich and of the rich.
Of the Indian electorate at least one-third are below the poverty line struggling to eke out a living; at least another one-third live hand to mouth. As a result, many of them lack the inclination to participate in the electoral process even as voters; and their chances of contesting the election are remote as it entails spending several lakhs and even crores of rupees (the Election Commission's ceiling of Rs. 25 lakhs is hogwash).
That negates the notion of democracy by the people. This negation is confounded by the fact that the real contestants are from the affluent class, say the top ten per cent of the population, mostly with ill-gotten and unaccounted money, many of whom do not represent the polity. Their election is through wheeling and dealing with corporate houses, criminals, fixers, middle-men, and so on. During the no-confidence motion against the UPA government following the withdrawal of support by the Left parties, we have seen TV channels going overboard on the wads of currency notes of crores of rupees taken out in the Lok Sabha as bribe given or received and the ruckus about it, with hardly any tangible corrective action by parliament. We are also aware of the role of the unscrupulous master manipulator Amar Singh, who rushed to save the "UPA-damsel in distress" whom LK Advani dubbed as Dalal (broker). The upshot of all these is even now Indian democracy is not by the people, for the people and of the people, but a transmogrification of many evil, undesirable and lethal forces.
Going by a report in The New Indian Express of May 12, irritated by affidavits of many national leaders, who in fact own assets worth crores of rupees but declared that they do not even owned a car, J Mohanraj from South Chennai Lok Sabha constituency deliberately filed a false affidavit declaring his assets worth Rs 1,977 crore to wake up the country as well as the Election Commission from their slumber.
The same newspaper ran an important editorial "Polls '09 show it's a game of the rich, and infamous" on May 18. To refer only to the rich (they are also mostly infamous, but the reference to the infamous in the editorial is to MPs having criminal past):
The National Election Watch examined the nomination-time affidavits of 533 winning candidates in a House of 543 elected members and found that 300 of them had assets worth at least a crore. Two-thirds of the newly-elected Congress MPs 138 of the party's winners are worth that much. Of the 116 BJP members, 58 have that kind of money. SP with just 22 MPs has 14 crorepatis, BSP 13 and DMK 11. The number of crorepatis in the House has almost doubled from the 154 in the last Lok Sabha. The richest MP this time is TDP's Nageswara Rao, elected from Khammam in Andhra Pradesh and worth Rs 174 crore. In fact, among the 10 richest MPs now, four are from the state. The other three, all Congressmen, are: I Rajagopal (Rs 122 crore), G Vivekanand (Rs 73 crore) and Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy (Rs 73 crore). But the largest number of crorepati MPs is from UP 52 of 80. Maharashtra (37), AP (31) and Karnataka (25) follow.
On May 30, Aditya Sinha, Editor-in-Chief of The New Indian Express wrote an even more scathing article, "The most bogus election". To confine only to the part on the money power of the candidates:
The most famous rigged elections in India's history are probably the 1987 Jammu and Kashmir Assembly polls ... The 2009 Lok Sabha polls in Tamil Nadu were not rigged but purchased. No prizes for guessing by whom. Cost estimates run around Rs 1,000 crore; the talk is that approximately Rs 600 crore contributed by "A. King", the rest by a man who even our mild-mannered prime minister wants to keep at arm's length. Sources say the operation to purchase voters began on May 10, and continued till the last vote was cast on May 13 ... More important than how the DMK confounded everyone's expectations is how no one got wise to the money being spent even though one of the earliest irregularities detected in TN was the Rs 500-note-in-the-mail. The EC took action against some low-level cut-outs, but the real beneficiaries presumably laughed their way to Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The upshot of all these is in a poor country where many might not have seen even a five hundred or thousand rupee note how come some have such mind-blogging unaccounted accumulation of assets, and what is the big deal in the EC insisting on affidavits in the absence of follow-up action, and even if there is any follow-up action how frustrating it could be in the welter of an overburdened judicial system which grinds like god's mill.
To his own question, "What is property?" French socialist-anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), answered famously, "Property is theft!" Going by the profundity of this answer, all the above crorepatis and their ilk are thieves. The implications of their being in governance of the country are pernicious to the polity and society.
While the foregoing account is about part of the seamy side of Indian democracy as revealed by the recent election, the outcome of the election is not without its bright side.
Prof P Radhakrishnan
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