Continued from Previous Page
Criminalization of Polity – Fault Lines of Polity
Naïve indeed, in retrospect, were our leaders who had cut their teeth in service of society under the morally uplifting influence of Gandhi, who believed that those who offer themselves to serve the country as legislators, will be men and women of character, imbued with missionary zeal to transform this society.
That the scum of the earth will emerge at the helm of affairs was, in the years immediately following independence, utterly unimaginable. Perhaps Gandhi had instinctively realized how the process of erosion had set in and the great party he had once led, been taken over by brazen self-seekers. That explains his proposed draft which he finalized hours before his assassination, to wind up the Indian National Congress as a political party. After he was gone his followers couldn’t ever think up winding up a party on the back of which they had rowed to power.
Thereafter the working of the polity developed some disgraceful attributes; the chief among them is criminalization of our politics. Half a century and more, when you met an MP you knew he occupied an exalted position in national life as a Member of Parliament. Now if you ask someone what does the abbreviation MP stand for, spontaneously comes the reply: Murderer in Politics.
Did Dr. Rajendra Prasad have a hunch when he cautioned his compatriots that it would have been better to lay down strict qualifications before someone qualified to contest as a representative of people?
Criminalization of Polity
Criminalization, today, is a fact of Indian electoral politics. The voters, political parties and the law and order machinery of the state are all equally responsible for this. There is very little faith in India in the efficacy of the democratic process in actually delivering good governance. This extends to accepting criminalization of politics as a fact of life. Toothless laws against convicted criminals standing for elections further encourage this process. Under current law, only people who have been convicted at least on two counts can be debarred from becoming candidates. This leaves the field open for charge sheeted criminals, many of whom are habitual offenders or history-sheeters. It is mystifying indeed why a person should be convicted on two counts to be disqualified from fighting elections. The real problem lies in the definition. Thus, unless a person has been convicted, he is not a criminal. Mere charge-sheets and pending cases do not suffice as bars to being nominated to fight an election. So the law has one day to be changed accordingly.
A dozen bombs blasts that shook Bombay on March 13, 1993, had involved the collaboration of a diffuse network of criminal gangs, police and customs officials as well as their political patrons. To calm the spontaneous public outrage, a committee, headed by the then Home Secretary, N. N. Vohra, was instituted to investigate this nexus.
The Vohra Committee found deep involvement of politicians with organized crime all over India. So embarrassing were the findings regarding the conduct of politicians and their deep links with the world of crime that the Government in its profound wisdom refused to make the Report public. Here, for my readers, is a specimen of some of its findings culled from the published citations from the Report:
“In the bigger cities, the main source of income relates to real estate - forcibly occupying lands/buildings, procuring such properties at cheap rates by forcing out the existing occupants/tenants etc. Over time, the money power thus acquired is used for building up contacts with bureaucrats and politicians and expansion of activities with impunity. The money power is used to develop a network of muscle-power which is also used by the politicians during elections.” (3.2)
“The nexus between the criminal gangs, police, bureaucracy and politicians has come out clearly in various parts of the country. The existing criminal justice system, which was essentially designed to deal with the individual offences/crimes, is unable to deal with the activities of the Mafia; the provisions of law in regard economic offences are weak (...)” (3.3)
“Director CBI has observed that there are many such cases, as that of [mafia boss Iqbal] MIRCHI where the initial failure has led to the emergence of Mafia giants who have become too big to be tackled.” (3.4)
“Like the Director CBI, the DIB has also stated that there has been a rapid spread and growth of criminal gangs, armed senas, drug Mafias, smuggling gangs, drug peddlers and economic lobbies in the country which have, over the years, developed an extensive network of contacts with the bureaucrats/Government functionaries at the local levels, politicians, media persons and strategically located individuals in the non-State sector. Some of these Syndicates also have international linkages, including the foreign intelligence agencies.” (6.2)
“The various crime Syndicates /Mafia organizations have developed significant muscle and money power and established linkages with governmental functionaries, political leaders and others to be able to operate with impunity” (10.1.ii)
“The various agencies presently in the field take care to essentially focus on their respective charter of duties, dealing with the infringement of laws relating to their organizations and consciously putting aside any information on linkages which they may come across” (11.1)
“In the background of the discussions so far, there does not appear to be need for any further debate on the vital importance of setting up a nodal point to which all existing intelligence and Enforcement agencies (irrespective of the Department under which they are located) shall promptly pass on any information which they may come across, which relates to the activities of crime Syndicates” (13.1)
Dacoits in Parliament
One of the findings of the Vohra Committee was how our elections involve a lot of black money and it is the use of this black money in elections which has brought about the criminalization of politics. After all, the story of the Hawala scam started by the police stumbling on the Jain diaries in their effort to trace the money received by the Kashmir militants. The scam brought out the linkage between the corrupt businessmen, politicians, bureaucracy and the criminals. Over time, the money power thus acquired is used for building up contacts with bureaucrats and politicians and expansion of activities with impunity. The money power is used to develop a network of muscle-power which is also used by the politicians during elections.
The most telling commentary of the above phenomenon is the award-winning movie, “Paan Singh Tomar” – a biting critique of the impotent system and the benumbed society that forces people to rebel. The Olympic long-distance runner-turned a dacoit because was grossly wronged while the powers-that-be helplessly watched. He says in a press interview “Chambal ke baaghi hain, hamari bahut izat hai. Dakait nahi hai hum. Beehad mein baaghi hote hain, dakait milte hain Parliament mein." (We are rebels hailing from Chambal. We’ve a lot of self-respect. We aren’t dacoits. Beehad is the abode of rebels. You find dacoits in Parliament.)
Supreme Court Judgment
One fallout of the spontaneous public outrage at the finding of the Vohra Committee was the Supreme Court judgment of May 2, 2002, which mandated that candidates disclose their criminal antecedents, if any, as also their financial and educational background. The Election Commission had proposed amendment of statutory rules and the format of nomination papers, to give effect to this judgment of the Supreme Court. With this order, 93 MPs and 10 ministers in Manmohan Singh’s ministry are under the scanner on various criminal charges. Isn’t this appalling? It is ironical that the executive and legislatures who make and implement policies and guidelines for the development are themselves acting as stumbling block in the development of the nation.
The role of Supreme Court becomes very important here. The Apex Court as custodian of constitution should take all necessary steps to strengthen democracy in the country. The legislature and executive have been complaining about the Supreme Court’s intervention on their domain, but it becomes imperative in such kind of unwanted situation. The Supreme Court of India upheld a PIL which made it mandatory for everyone seeking public office to disclose their criminal, financial and educational history. It was a way to ensure that the voters knew the important details about their “honorable” leaders.
Bleeding the Exchequer White
Another very disconcerting attribute of the polity is how the functioning of our parliamentary system is bleeding the Exchequer white. In any profession you choose to earn your living it’s your employer who decides your occasional pay rise after assessing your performance. The only exception to this universal rule is in India. Our Members of Parliament (who relish, most undeservedly, the honorific prefix Hon’ble) can, and indeed do, give themselves a pay rise on their own, and – hold your breath – whenever they feel like. And they are terribly clever to involve other state dignitaries who, like them, seldom do an honest day’s work to earn their living. In this category are included the President of India, the Vice-President, the Governors of States and their likes.
Let me cite the most recent case. On August 27, 2010, Indian Members of Parliament voted themselves a threefold hike in their basic salary, from Rs 16,000 to Rs 50,000 and doubled the constituency and office expense allowances to 40,000 each. MPs will thus receive an assured income of Rs 1.3 lakh (a salary of Rs 50,000 plus constituency allowance of Rs 40,000 and office or stationary allowance of Rs 40,000) a month.
And all this works out to be a three-fold hike in salary, now earning 68 times the country’s average salary. But no conditions of service have changed. In the USA, for example, members of Congress cannot earn more than 15% from outside of their Congressional salary. In India, the average assets of 304 MPs who contested in 2004 and then re-contested in 2009 grew 300%! What miracle occurred in five years?
The repayable advance for purchase of a vehicle – do MPs ever pay their loans back? – will go up from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 4 lakh with cheaper interest rate on the loan. The pension for former MPs (who unfortunately failed to get re-elected) will go up from Rs. 8,000 to Rs 20,000 a month. Elsewhere in the world pension is earned after a couple of decades of service. Our MP’s earn life pension for looting the treasury even for a year or two.
The increase in the salaries of MPs and pension to former MPs would cost the government an additional Rs103.76 crore every year. The increase in the daily, constituency and office expenditure allowances will cost the government an additional Rs 38.50 crore every year.
Additionally, an MP’s wage is tax-free and comes with additional perquisites such as free petrol, free telephone calls and free housing, some of it in the most expensive real estate Lutyens City. Most household expenses – furniture, electricity, water, laundry – is also paid for by the State. MPs can travel anywhere in the country by rail, first class, and get 34 free air tickets every year for themselves or a companion. Spouses of MPs can travel – to check what their dear husbands are up to – free by air from their residence to New Delhi eight times a year when Parliament is in session and unlimited number of times by rail.
MPs also get a daily allowance of Rs 1,000 per day to attend Parliament – which they do – if at all – for about an hour, leaving almost immediately after question hour. Most importantly, they pocket Rs 2 crore a year to spend on development of their constituencies as they deem fit, a practice that many consider unconstitutional though the Supreme Court (in its profound judicial wisdom) has upheld it.
Interestingly enough, during the debate that preceded the passing of the Salary, Allowance and Pension of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 2010, some parliamentarians voiced the opinion that an independent body should be set up to decide on the future pay of MPs. This is a prearranged melodrama. They happily pocket additional salaries and allowances thereafter.
Compared to developing countries, Indian MPs alone have the freedom to fix their own salaries and perks. In France and Japan, salaries of MPs are determined in relation to the salaries of the highest paid bureaucrats. In Germany, Article 48 (3) of the Basic Law says that the members of Bundestag will get remuneration adequate enough to ensure their independence. In Switzerland, parliamentarians do not get any salary or allowance. They just get paid leave from their employers on the days of session.
In Mexico, MPs are paid handsomely, but they cannot do any business or practice any profession. They cannot even be the office bearers of any political party. In the USA, members of Congress cannot earn more than 15% from outside of their Congressional salary. There is no such bar on the MPs or MLAs in India. Worst of all, MPs do not even have to answer for any conflict of interest. An MP who has a defense equipment business – few professions are more lucrative – is allowed to be on a defense committee which formulates defense policy and a parliamentarian who has aviation interests to be on a civil aviation committee, thereby making policy changes which benefit them individually.
Writing in the Times of India, journalist, filmmaker and one-time Rajya Sabha MP, Pritish Nandy, estimates that today, out of 543 MPs in the Lok Sabha or Lower House, 315 or 60% are crorepatis or millionaires. Forty-three out of the 54 Rajya Sabha MPs elected last year are also millionaires. Their average declared assets are over Rs 25 crore each. The assets of the average Lok Sabha MP have grown from Rs 1.86 crore in the last House to Rs 5.33 crore, an increase of 200%. Nandy also says that MPs become richer in office. The average assets of 304 MPs who contested in 2004 and then re-contested in 2009 grew 300%. Over 33% of those with assets above Rs 5 crore won the last elections while 99.5% of those with assets below Rs 10 lakhs, lost!
How long can this racket continue?
Yes, 'n' how many times can the aam admi turn his head
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer, indeed, is blowing in the wind.
To be continued