Wednesday, May 05, 2010
Yatha praja tatha Raja
How steep has been our fall as a nation!
Bapu taught us simple living, high thinking. We must practice it. Then only will the nation progress… We have to do that.” And after quoting Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, after preaching the lofty principle of simple living and high thinking, that is, after donning the garb of moral integrity, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav, the leader of Rashtriya Janata Dal who used the most innovative methods to loot the treasury of Bihar till there was nothing left to steal, gave the reason why he and his party had decided to support the UPA Government against the Opposition’s cut motion on the General Budget. “It was the BJP which instituted cases (of corruption) against me and (my wife) Rabri Devi. Congress did not set the CBI on me,” Mr Yadav said, asking rhetorically, “And you expect me to vote along with the BJP?”
That was in the Lok Sabha during the debate on the Finance Bill on Thursday, April 29. Our honourable MPs listened to Mr Yadav explain why he did not support the cut motion. People in our wondrous land who elect Mr Yadav and his ilk to Parliament heard him. There are parliamentary records to prove that he said what would be considered shocking and outrageous not many years ago — that political support can be leveraged by not proceeding against corrupt politicians. Today we have come to accept it as legitimate mobilisation of support in Parliament; adharma has become the dharma of coalition politics.
The BJP/Left-sponsored cut motion was defeated by the Congress through the expedient means of cutting deals with three tainted leaders facing prosecution for amassing wealth beyond their known sources of income. The first to fall in line was Ms Mayawati who instructed the BSP MPs to back the Government. She would. Look at the sequence of events. On April 16, the CBI told the Supreme Court that it had witnesses on affidavit to prove that Ms Mayawati had forcibly collected bribes and would like to press ahead with prosecuting the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. This was reported widely in media. A week later, as the Congress struggled with stacking up numbers in its favour, the CBI told the Supreme Court on April 23 that it was willing to consider Ms Mayawati’s request for a closure of the case against her. By Monday, April 26, BSP MPs were enthusiastically supporting the Congress. “We are part of the Government. After all we support it from outside. How can we vote in favour of the cut motion?” a senior BSP MP asked. On April 27, the BSP formally announced its support for the Government and opposition to the cut motion.
Similarly, the Congress used the CBI, or rather promised not to use the CBI, to ensure the support of Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, the two leaders of the unwashed masses who would like to see India slide back to the age of lanterns and bicycles while their kith and kin prosper on slush money, hush money, tainted money. In Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav’s lantern-lit Bihar fictitious cows chewed on imaginary fodder; in the benighted Uttar Pradesh of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ms Mayawati, children feast on mica-laden lumps of clay and then cry themselves to sleep.
The Congress, of course, has no compunctions about sleeping with the tainted and the sullied. After all, the pot can’t call the kettle black. With a hugely corrupt Minister raking in millions of rupees by handing out 2G spectrum in a Cabinet headed by a Prime Minister whose publicists insist he is the epitome of honesty, integrity and probity in public life, and having mocked at the law of the land to exonerate an Italian crook known as Ottavio Quattrocchi who was caught with his snout in the trough called public exchequer, the Congress really cannot claim to be any cleaner than those with whose support it remains in power.
It would, however, serve no purpose to point fingers at those who brazenly flaunt their taint or misuse agencies of the state for political gains. That they are elected to Parliament is a reflection of the larger rot in our society, the cancer that is eating into the innards of our nation: We the people have voted for them, we have done so because we accord caste, community and faith greater importance than national interest. The end result of our cynicism is there for all to see.
Mrs Indira Gandhi had famously sought to gloss over — her critics would insist she was seeking to justify — corruption by insisting it was a “global phenomenon”. Between then and now, we have internalised corruption and made it a part of our lives. Earlier there was this perception that poor salaries forced babus and policemen to indulge in corrupt practices. Salaries have increased by leaps and bounds, so has the level and quantum of corruption. This is primarily because politicians whom we elect to sit in State Assemblies and in Parliament, to govern the nation, are not above corruption and see politics as a means of self-aggrandisement.
And so the nexus remains secure and safe. Politicians collude with babus. Babus collude with contractors. Contractors collude with criminals. Criminals collude with politicians or, better still, decide to become politicians. The vicious cycle is seemingly cast in iron and cannot be broken; it has come to represent the ‘system’. Sadly, the people want it this way. Or else they would have voted out the whole lot and, drawing inspiration from the good governance instituted by Mr Narendra Modi, insisted that all of India, and not Gujarat alone, must shine.
Tragically, that won’t happen. Voters will remain polarised along caste, community and other such faultlines that divide our society and help perpetuate the raj of the corrupt. The self-seeking and expanding middle-classes will insist its interests are protected. The poor will be led like so much cattle by those who shamelessly feed on their misery to live in comfort. It is in no politician’s interest to bring people above the poverty line, so the number of those below the poverty line keeps on increasing: Nearly two-fifths of our people are now categorised as ‘BPL’.
Soon after he became Chief Minister, EMS Namboodiripad was asked by a journalist: “By when will the Communist Government keep its promise of taking electricity to every home in every village?” Namboodiripad looked aghast, and then shot back: “The day every house in every village has electricity the people will stop voting for us. You must be a fool to expect my Government to keep this promise.”
That was many, many decades ago. Much has changed in India since then. But voters, in a sense, remain unchanged. They still vote for politicians who they know will never keep their promise, who will lie through their teeth, who will stand up in Parliament and quote Gandhi and then sell themselves to the highest bidder or trade their vote in exchange of the CBI being called off from prosecuting them for theft and worse. If you don’t believe me, go back to the first paragraph of this column.
[This appeared as my Sunday column, Coffee Break, in The Pioneer on May 2, 2010.]