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The stench of money in politics

By Mahesh Vijapurkar
Last updated on: November 05, 2009 17:05 IST
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When business interests begin deciding who will rule, democracy is in trouble, writes Mahesh Vijapurkar

When cash directs the course of politics and its display and use mark strength of the support base of a politician or his group, then it is the death of democracy.

The stench of money is coming in strongly from three states: Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand. And it is time we benchmark this as a horrific moment in Indian's democracy for the tipping point has arrived.

In Karnataka, the three Reddy brothers -- Karunakara, Janardhan and Somashekar -- have sought a change in the state's leadership on the simple grounds that their business interests are not being furthered under the B S Yeddyurappa government. They want their projects to be cleared fast and the entire Bellary administration be revamped.

In Andhra Pradesh, Jaganmohan Reddy, I am sure, enjoys support not because he is an able and proven administrator who has vision and experience but because he is also a strong-willed, very much a moneyed man. That ensures support, even in defiance of an experienced man like K Rosaiah. Every politician on a bandwagon knows the worth of 12 pieces of silver.

Madhu Koda, of course, is under investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigations for havala, cash transfers etc.; he has been a chief minister of a mineral rich state and the figures mentioned runs in thousands of crores. Of course, Jharkhand is where moneybags were opened to get support to PV Narasimha Rao's government and it is here that money is being made and how!

The interesting thing about these three sets of politicians is that all of them have the base of their wealth in mining but that is another issue.

If the last named made his money after coming to politics, the other two -- and here is the twist -- are using their monies to direct politics. Never in the past, as the Reddy brothers of Karnataka, have people made their political preferences so brazenly known in public. Here it is the use of business to direct politics.

So strong is the force of this money as leverage in politics that Yaddyurappa had to say he would change his ways!

There was a time when the country was aghast at the fact that businessmen directed policy and if not, they secured licences by corrupt practices. Businessmen were seen as a corrupting influence and industrial groups' names were used in the public speeches as pejorative expressions.

Then, with liberalisation, when business became respectable, they began to talk about what they wanted and it was limited to policy suggestions via their lobbies like the Confederation of Indian Industry, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Indian Merchants' Chamber.

Many entered Parliament, mostly the Rajya Sabha and it could be possible that their electorates had to be satisfied to get them the seats. But now for the first time, as in Karnataka, one sees the business interests seeking to determine who would rule the state.

A combination of wealth and political power can be awesome and it can help keep a distance between the ruler class and the ruled which is anathema to the concept of participatory democracy. But when currency notes win votes, one has to forcibly accept this negative development. This, in fact, has become more a rule, less an exception.

The fact that the voters -- that is their constituencies -- have been cast aside in favour of someone family's business interests is starkly evident, again from Karnataka. The state has been ravaged by floods and people are trying with difficulty to put the pieces of their lives back together, their MLAs who want a change in leadership, cavorted in luxury hotels in Indore, Hyderabad and Delhi.

This marks that distancing so detrimental to democracy which has been reduced to mere notional, token participation -- go to vote, if possible, convert into a note. That is the only gain he would stand to make during the inter-election period. That is the plight of the citizen.

This way, the political class, which promotes dynasties, has wealth to invest in politics to make more of it, have subverted democracy. But we in the country only talk of the 'demand for leadership change by dissidents' and ignore the basis.

And as long as public ignore this they are only careening towards the demise of democracy and wilful abrogation of their rights.

Let that not happen.

Mahesh Vijapurkar is a Thane-based senior journalist and commentator

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