A MATTER OF ECONOMICS
Dr R. Balashankar
—There is nothing more difficult to arrange, more doubtful of success, more dangerous to carry through than initiating changes… The innovator makes enemies of all those who prosper under the old order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new.
—Nicolas Machiavelli, The Prince
Public memory is short. At a time when mind boggling figures of political corruption is routinely tumbling out in the public domain, nobody keeps track of any particular scandal. Only that there is a collective surmise: sab chor hai. This is a crude comment, which this writer doesn’t subscribe to. But this, unfortunately, is the public refrain and the space for political discourse has infinitely shrunk, with the common tendency to paint every politician and party with the same brush.
The atmosphere of “manufactured consent,” as Noam Chomsky, would describe, has discredited the system too much. Politicians will conveniently point to the high voter turn out in polls to convince us how popular they are and any criticism of the prevailing political culture is brushed aside as cynical reaction of the anarchist fringe. A discomforting thought that nags the cozy existentialism, however is, why do our politicians need so much security, especially if they are so lovable?
Should our MPs be so touchy about public criticism? As a nation we are the proud inheritors of a legacy of Sri Ram who bowed before a solitary voice of reproach when he was a sovereign monarch. After all, on an average a whopping Rs.5 crore is spent by the tax payer annually on each of our MP. The President’s foreign jaunts which cost the exchequer Rs 209 crore hit the headlines. The most powerful politician of the ruling party allegedly made 84 foreign trips in chartered private aircraft, during this period at our expense, according to some reports. Coalgate, Commonwealthgate, 2G gate, Armsgate and tax haven sleaze taunt us on a daily basis and we have lost count of the national wealth looted and stashed away with political patronage. Team Anna has hit the hornet’s nest by rudely knocking where it hurts the most.
We are being repeatedly lectured about the supremacy of Indian parliament. Those in doubt have to only open the first page of the Constitution to see who is supreme in democracy. The ruling party should have been the most vociferous in shouting down Team Anna. For a change however, the opposition took the lead. Last Lok Sabha was almost paralysed by the opposition alleging that Dr Manmohan Singh had inducted over a dozen criminals (mostly from Lalu’s and Paswan’s party) in the union cabinet. Another half a dozen were serving jail term. This present Lok Sabha has seen almost the same number in Tihar Jail. For our common sense a criminal is a criminal, whether he is inside or outside the house. But Parliament offers him special privileges and high immunity.
People choose their representatives in good faith. The French Revolution that guillotined the nobility, constituted Assemblée Nationale (National Assembly) so oppressive and corrupt that resulted in the dictatorship of Napoleon. No system is above reproach or redemption. There is no full stop in politics.
Wisely, the Parliament stopped short of moving a resolution censuring Team Anna. Even the sudden ruckus could have been avoided. Movements that fail to strike a chord die a natural death. But such ventilation of mass anguish does a lot of good to the society.
Are the parliamentarians not protesting too much? The Iron Lady of British Parliament Margaret Thatcher famously said, “Power is like being a lady… if you have to tell people you are, you aren't.” It was amusing to watch the Indian parliamentarians last week waxing eloquent on their privileges and the supremacy of Parliament.
A similar scene was enacted during the winter session as well, and leading the assault on the Team Anna was interestingly the members from the Janata Parivar like Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sharad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav. It’s a pity that these politicians, the products of mass struggle, the JP movement, have become so lame and mellowed. Ironically, democracy has a way of co-opting and corrupting great radicals. If in doubt listen to the speeches of Marxians these days. Team Anna provoked them all so much, not the back breaking tax proposals, price rise and public loot and political extravaganza that kill our daily life.
Memory takes me to two by-elections in mid-1970s—as a college student I also joined the campaign– that defined politics for the next three decades. They were Govindpura (Bhopal) assembly by-election in which the Jan Morcha candidate Babulal Gaur defeated the Congress and Jabalpur Lok Sabha by-election where Sharad Yadav as Jan Morcha candidate defeated the Congress. JP movement was against corruption and Congress was at the receiving end. So when JP spoke of total revolution and right to recall politicians who betray public trust, then Congress leader Indira Gandhi termed it an affront on parliamentary democracy and accused the agitation as designed to create anarchy in the country, inspired by some foreign hand. Indira Gandhi’s muddled response ultimately led to the formation of the Janata Party and the rise of a new political creed.
Anna Hazare may not have the political savvy or leadership potential of a Jaya Prakash Narayan. And the times have changed. JP had to fight only a corrupt, dictatorial political establishment. Today, Anna’s task is much more daunting. He has to fight a system, that has become the order of the day. Dynasty politics, corruption, arrogance of power, greed and the ruling class mentality are no longer confined to Congress. Anna calls his movement non-political, civil society. But no change is possible without being part of the political system. And the civil society is so politicised that its influential sections are part of the establishment. Team Anna’s rhetoric reflects this frustration. The political response is the same haughty Indira syndrome.