Sunday, July 31, 2016

Money, Politics And Crime: Uncovering The Vicious Triangle That Plagues Indian Polity


"Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other," - Oscar Ameringer

Yes, this is one of the bitter truths that applies to our polity as well. We have all come to accept it as a norm - not an exception. And almost every party does it in varying degrees. Little wonder then that neither the Yamuna nor the Gomti caught fire when two otherwise little-known MLAs belonging to the Bahujan Samaj Party - Romi Sahni and Brijesh Verma - "disclosed" at a press conference in Lucknow earlier this week that their party was busy auctioning poll-tickets for money in Uttar Pradesh.

"We were called to Lucknow by the party supremo, Mayawati ji, and asked to pay Rs four and five crores for the Mallawan and Palia Assembly seats respectively", they said adding that, "all this happened in the presence of Behenji and her trusted lieutenant, Naseemuddin Siddiqui." It was hardly surprising then that the two rebellious legislators were suspended from the party within minutes of their expose.

Now, please take a look at the reaction of the BJP, which has been smarting under the heat and wave generated by Dayashankar Singh's abusive onslaught against the BSP supremo: "What the two MLAs have said only re-establishes the fact that Mayawati ji sells party tickets," BJP spokesman Shrikant Sharma thundered the next day. He conveniently chose to forget what his own party MP and former Home Secretary of India, RK Singh, had said in the run-up to the Bihar elections late last year.

"Tickets have been given to criminals and muscle-men in exchange for money," the BJP MP from Arrah in Bihar had said and held his ground even in the face of his party leadership's wrath. That the BJP and its allies were swept away by the Lalu-Nitish wave is a different story altogether. But RK Singh's charges had stuck.

The state of affairs within the BJP and the BSP apart, Tarun Gogoi, Assam's vanquished chief minister had come out with a damning allegation against the Asom Gana Parishad 20 days before the State Assembly elections: "The AGP is a sold out party. Last time, they had come to us for an alliance in return for money. But we didn't accept. They went to the BJP to fight polls."

Nobody can prove the veracity of Gogoi's vague allegations. But one thing is certain: that money and politics spin inseparably in a circle. And we all know about it. It's a different thing if it doesn't make a difference.

More often than not, politicians tend to take journalists' viewpoint lightly for two reasons: First, our knowledge is based on press conferences, statements and counter-statements and what "knowledgeable sources" want us to believe. And second, we are carried away by propaganda. We don't distinguish between truths and half-truths.

The "role of money in politics" is too serious a subject. So, let's focus our attention on findings of some research papers on the subject. One such paper, titled "Money, Muscle and Elections in India", written by Milan Vaishnav of Columbia University says: "Parties have an array of potential candidates to choose from. So why do they choose candidates with criminal records? A major reason motivating this calculation relates to money. Rather than viewing money and muscle as independent forces shaping India's electoral politics, these forces are inexorably linked. Parties place a premium on muscle, in part, because it often brings with it the added benefit of money."

Vaishnav further writes, quoting from James Manor's empirical analysis: "Parties recruit criminals because criminals bring in money and the capacity to raise it, often through extortion. Furthermore, legislators have gotten mixed up with criminal elements because such individuals can assist in generating funds to meet the soaring costs of elections."

Another noted author, P. Sainath, who never talks through his hat, wrote an article highlighting three rather startling trends in Indian politics: First, if you are worth Rs 50 million, you are 75 times more likely to win elections to the Lok Sabha than if you are worth under 1 million.

Second, as many as 23 out of 64 cabinet ministers' assets fall in the Rs. 50 million plus category. (The article was written before the recent cabinet expansion).

And third, the 543 members of the current Lok Sabha are worth Rs. 80 billion together.

These are some serious points to ponder. Where are we heading to as a nation? Can't say? Maybe, imagine? Yes.

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