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Politics -- now a closed, charmed circle

June 03, 2009 15:51 IST

Now that we have a near-stable government at the Centre, and hopes are being raised and half-expressed, not fully thought out intents are being hyped, one supposes that the 15th Lok Sabha is a cause for celebration. Yes, it is but for an altogether different reason -- it could have been worse. But a coalition government, by experience the country has gone through, is always precarious.

Precarious because the coalition, despite the so-called 'coalition dharma' which is nothing but putting political convenience before principles, are riddled by pulls and counter pulls. This was visible before the government was formed and the ministry crafted out of the diverse interest groups. That it is talking of its first 100 days ahead is, at this moment, cause for joy.

Not so laudable

However, the construct I put on this Lok Sabha and the government is quite different. It is not as laudable as the general perception across the country. It is perhaps not even truly representative of the people though, you may well ask, wasn't it elected by the people themselves? Yes, but what kind of people did the people send to the Lok Sabha?

One, it sent quite a large slice of rich people, more than ever. Of the 79 ministers sworn-in -- another compulsion of the 'coalition dharma' -- 47 are multi-millionaires, in fact, multi-crorepatis. I am not talking of just those who have a million rupees tucked away under the belt and a bit more stuffed inside the pillow away from the taxman's eyes but have oodles of money several times over. Two, there are people who are dynasts, sons, daughters, sisters, daughters-in-laws, sons-in-laws of former and even present members. Among them are those who are family members of senior politicians in the various states. And lastly, there are quite a few who straddle both categories.

Lurking dangers

This reflects the willingness of the people to overcome the lurking dangers of such representations that they have allowed the country to have. It also speaks volumes of the capacity to hold the people in thrall by politics of patronage and protection which would not be required had the country had good governance. Good governance would have allowed people who are beneficiaries of the law because of intervention of MPs and MLAs to become entitle recipients who get their due by rights.

Money begets cronyism; cronyism strengthens the networks which flourish amid wealth and is an exchange for deals and favours. That in turn creates a different stratosphere which is quite aloof from the common man. It is something far away from the best of the poor but aspiring person. The only way this is sustained is by more patronage, giving out of the government's coffers what may not rightfully belong to the claimant. In short, it leads to misgovernance because the MP is at the centre of it all.

He or she is not going to let go of that position of power and pelf and when the time comes to move on for whatever reason, the next in line is not a party worker or a well-meaning individual but someone from within the family. Former members have passed on constituencies and seats in Lok Sabha to their kith and kin on the specious argument that "if a doctor's son can be a doctor, why a politician's son shouldn't have the same rule applied to him?"

Point missed

This argument misses the point. If I don't like the doctor's son who is a doctor, the degree acquired from a name-only school of medicine for which a huge donation was paid or an MP's favour was sought and got, I have the option of going to another who is trustworthy. But in the case of a family stranglehold on a seat, the poor constituent has no choices to make; he is stuck. Going by the current trend, it is perhaps for life.

The other scary element is the number of mother-son, father-son pairs in the Lok Sabha apart from those who are members of Rajya Sabha having their kith and kin the lower house. For instance, you have Murli Deora and Milind Deora. There at least eight pairs, like the two pairs of Gandhis, the father-son duo of Gowdas in the Lok Sabha which all point to the country's highest deliberative, legislative arm of the arrangement that the country chose to have becoming a closed circle.

Actually, it is not limited there. You had four persons from one extended family getting elected in Andhra Pradesh -- one to the Lok Sabha and three to the assembly -- and in Maharashtra, you have Sharad Pawar whose daughter quits the Rajya Sabha to sit in the lower house, whose nephew is a minister in Maharashtra, the minister's brother-in-law is an MP! Any number of examples can be cited but it is for sure that the families' grip on public affairs is only tightening. Look at Tamil Nadu; it is now an alliance between Congress and M Karunanidhi's family.

Local republics

Scarce be the case that this only with the Lok Sabha. The seats there are at the apex of the family arrangements that are now made where politics is business and business means, of course, money; big money, in fact. This explains why the not-so-rich people became richer by getting into politics and one sees only more of the rich on the ballot. Social causes are not the draw perhaps. Power and pelf together becomes the politician.

If the Lok Sabha seat is the apex, surely there is a bottom to this pyramid, which unfortunately is not the voter but other layers of the families. I know of one instance in Jalna where a family of four controlled 36 elected positions from the cooperative society to the parliamentary seat at one point. In another, the family of the Mohite-Patils rules the roost that it would not be wrong to call it their fiefdom; there is nothing that the family does not control: primary cooperative society and gram panchayat upwards.

Dynastic democracy!

As long as patronage is the cornerstone of the system, even in a liberalised economic era, as long as vested interests get into positions of power and have the financial clout to use it to their advantage, as long as blood is thicker than water -- why, it is used for the genealogical extension of control from father to son, mother to son for control of political parties; no, it is not just the Congress, even Shiv Sena is of the same fabric -- this would happen.

These models are to be found everywhere. Such hold ensure a lot of benefits, influence to control, including access to contracts to informal partnerships. At this rate, it would not before the country from a constituted republic of the people of India would metamorphose into a dynastic democracy where some 600 dynastic families would rule the roost. The entire apparatus of governance would be out of reach of the people -- even of well-meaning gutsy people like Captain G R Gopinath -- and become a closed, charmed circle. If these were to happen and sure I think it would very well happen, then what guarantee that these would be benign dynasts?

Mark my words. That day is not far off. This distortion of democracy could happen probably in our own lifetimes.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Mumbai-based commentator and former deputy editor of The Hindu

Mahesh Vijaurkar