The Real Source of Corruption in the Big, Bad, Dirty Picture
By Prabhu Chawla *
In this day and age of competitive cacophony to capture primetime eyeballs, the real source of corruption gets drowned. While serial exposures of scams are tumbling out of political closets on an hourly basis, the debate on funding elections and lifestyles of our politicians has been conveniently swept under the carpet. Since most scandals involve either politicians or the corporate sector, it is evident that there exists a commercial link between the two. Why aren’t our social activists, industry leaders and political philosophers talking seriously about election funding?
From the Gandhi Parivar to Nitin Gadkari, politicos have been targeted for their alleged misuse of power to raise funds. All of them have stoutly refuted the charges and blamed their rivals for diverting attention from the real issues confronting the nation. Scam exposure is turning out to be a political T20 match in which viewers are waiting for either a wicket to fall or a sixer to be hit at every ball. Unfortunately, every ball is now being declared a no-ball or a dead one, with the scorecard not moving ahead. This scenario is visible in business as well.
The dividing line between politics and entrepreneurship is getting blurred. Gadkari calls himself a social entrepreneur, as he feels raising and promoting a business empire could be one way of looking after the poor farmers in his constituency. He has realised that it is not his reputation or political work but his assets that will get him the votes. In Delhi, the Congress party doesn’t see anything wrong in giving huge amounts of money to a privately owned company to run a newspaper. The real source of income of both Gadkari and the Congress are shrouded in mystery.
The Congress and Gadkari are not exceptions. Both occupy the top of the mind because they failed to master the art of political cooking. BSP supremo Mayawati created an innovating recipe for financial gastronomy when she disclosed huge amounts as contributions from well-wishers for her birthday celebrations. Most of them are yet to be located. A study of the value of assets disclosed to the Election Commission by political candidates reveals that each winning legislator has become richer by 100-1000 per cent during their tenure as a member of the state assembly or Parliament. Quite inexplicably, the law drafted by the NDA government, which made it mandatory to disclose assets, conveniently forgot to make it compulsory to disclose the sources of income as well. Even Cabinet ministers are not expected to provide details of their incomes to the Prime Minister or the chief minister concerned. Here lies the conspiracy to keep all political income away from the prying eyes of public scrutiny.
The current silence over the need to make election funding more transparent and accountable is quite serious. Almost all national parties have opposed the move to bring their sources of income under the RTI Act. None of those fighting for a strong Lokpal or the eradication of corruption are raising their voice against this practice. Reports on electoral reforms written by veteran political leaders like L K Advani and Indrajit Gupta have been confined to the dustbin of history. The BJP forgot to take any major move to plug the loopholes during its six-year regime. In fact, the recent trend to expose individuals while ignoring the breeding ground of corruption poses a much more serious threat to the survival of clean democracy.
One of the many fallouts of the much-touted economic reforms has been the entry of political entrepreneurs into all the political parties. As a result of crony capitalism and tax-free income from the stock markets, the ones with the resources needed to win an election have replaced poor and middle class candidates. Research shows that the percentage of candidates with assets worth over Rs 1 crore has risen from a meagre 10 per cent in 1996 to over 30 per cent in 2009. The income of most political parties has risen by over 1000 per cent in the past two decades. The definition of desirability and winnability of each candidate has been redefined in favour of the rich and the mighty. The maximum number of criminal cases and the massive amounts of unaccounted wealth are now pre-requisites for contesting elections. Since most of our current leaders are beneficiaries of the unaccounted economy, they would be the last ones to initiate any kind of electoral reform. For them, investing in politics yields better dividends than from genuine business ventures.
During the past two years, scams worth over Rs 4 lakh crore have hit the headlines. All of them have been linked to political leaders and entrepreneurs. Therefore, it is not in the interest of the politico-corporate nexus to talk about cleansing the dismally corrupt electoral process, in which over Rs 1 lakh crore are spent every five years. The Indian democratic system is a revenue-led model. The rich finance wealthy candidates, who in turn formulate policies to make the rich much richer. The circle completes itself when the super-rich further bankroll the victory of much wealthier political leaders and also join political parties. The need of the hour is to break this circle and not just to expose a few rotten individuals.
* Prabhu Chawla is Editorial Director of The New Indian Express Group and hosts Teekhi Baat, a talk show on IBN7. He was awarded Padma Bhushan in 2003 for his journalistic achievements over the years. In his 40 years as reporter and editor, he has written extensively on events that have changed the political course of India and the people who engineered them. This column first appeared in The Sunday Standard and The New Indian Express dated November 4, 2012.