EDITS | Tuesday, June 14, 2011 | 2:03:11 AM
A Surya Prakash
The Congress’s fascist reaction to the anti-corruption movement shows the party still remains unchanged. Its misdeeds remind us of the 1975-77 Emergency.
The Congress-led UPA Government is sadly mistaken if it thinks that its ruthless Gaddafi-style midnight operation to evict Baba Ramdev and his supporters from Ramlila Maidan in the early hours of June 5 will crush the movement against corruption in the country. The Government’s action, which is reminiscent of the response of Mrs Indira Gandhi to charges of corruption in the mid-1970s, only goes to show that nothing much has changed within the Congress. It continues to function like a family-owned private limited company whose promoters have fascist tendencies and remain extremely vulnerable to charges of corruption.
Apart from ending the mass satyagraha at the venue in Delhi, the Congress has launched a vituperative attack on Baba Ramdev, calling him a “thug” and a “fraud” and raising questions about the funding of his organisation. There is nothing new in this. These very tactics were deployed against Anna Hazare and his team members in April. An identical operation is now on to paint Baba Ramdev in ugly colours.
The Government is rattled by Baba Ramdev’s movement because it strikes at the root of the problem — money stashed away in Swiss banks by politicians and businessmen. The Anna Hazare movement got confined to the limited issue of establishing a national ombudsman (Lok Pal) to deal with corruption at the highest level. But, the creation of such an institution is just one of the many initiatives that need to be taken. Since corruption is a hydra-headed monster that has affected all aspects of politics, governance and life, what is needed is a comprehensive anti-corruption agenda that seeks to tackle the problem at the root and throw up permanent remedies.
For example, money power has vitiated the entire electoral process since the beginning and the humongous amounts spent by candidates in State Assembly and Lok Sabha elections has made a mockery of the spending limits imposed by the Election Commission. Over the last two decades, the permissible spending in a Lok Sabha constituency in a large State has more than trebled.
Just three monmths ago, the Conduct of Election Rules were amended yet again to enhance the maximum election expenditure in Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies to Rs 40 lakh and Rs 16 lakh respectively. However, those who track election-spending are aware that even this revised limit will be observed more in the breach than than in the observance because in recent years the average spending by serious candidates in Lok Sabha constituencies is between Rs 3 crore and Rs 5 crore.
All of this is black money — some generated within the country and the rest brought back fromSwitzerlandand tax havens likeLiechtenstein. Therefore, any anti-corruption initiative must first deal with the issue of black money vitiating the electoral process and making a mockery of the democratic system. We need to accord high priority to this problem.
The second most important source of corruption is Government contracts. It is long established that those who run the Government and the ruling party get kickbacks on every deal. In the early decades after independence when the licence-permit-quota raj held sway, bribes and commissions were paid in Indian rupees. Later, after Mrs Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980, the Congress chose a new route for political funding — kickbacks from international deals which are paid into secret accounts in Switzerland and other tax havens.
Those who have worked in Government at senior levels — for instance, Mr BG Deshmukh who was Cabinet Secretary during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister — have noted that since the 1980s, the Congress has found it more convenient to take commissions from foreign companies in international deals rather than pass the hat around among Indian businessmen and industrialists to collect party funds. This way, huge sums can be collected to fund the party without any obligation to industrial houses within the country. It was presumed that there would be no whiff of corruption if discreet payments were made to Swiss bank accounts.
This grand plan, however, went for a toss when the Swedish Audit Bureau reported that arms manufacturer AB Bofors had paid ‘commission’ to certain individuals in connection with the sale of field guns to India in 1986. Despite that embarrassment, there is no indication of any change in the attitude of the Congress towards collecting funds. This is also the reason why the party is dragging its feet on the black money issue.
When the pressure from the Supreme Court became unbearable, the Government cleverly announced the setting up of a “high-powered committee” to keep the court at bay. This committee is supposed to examine the problem and outline a plan of action to bring back the loot. The Government offered a similar bait to Baba Ramdev the other day, offering to set up “a committee” to draft a law to bring back black money.
After making this offer, the Government claimed that it had met “all the demands” of Baba Ramdev and wanted him to end his satyagraha. When he failed to oblige, the Government responded with police brutality. The use of brute force to end a peaceful agitation is reminiscent of the Emergency days. This was exactly how Mrs Indira Gandhi responded to Jayaprakash Narayan’s campaign against corruption 36 years ago.
In fact, the parallels between 1974-75 and 2010-11 are striking. Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement began with the campaign against corruption in Gujarat and with the demand that then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi probe the allegations against LN Mishra, a senior Minister in her Cabinet. Mrs Indira Gandhi did none of this. Instead, she used brute force to crush the movement.
Mr Manmohan Singh, too, has resorted to an Emergency-style operation to crush the satyagraha at Ramlila Maidan. Also, in typical Mrs Indira Gandhi fashion, he has defended the midnight police raid and said the Government had no option but to resort to such action. There are other eerie coincidences. It should be remembered that Mrs Indira Gandhi imposed her dreaded Emergency in 1975 after a massive Opposition rally which, incidentally, was held at Ramlila Maidan and in June.
This only shows that more things change, the more the Congress remains the same. The party continues to be extremely vulnerable when corruption is discussed and the party’s fascist tendencies come to the fore whenever its Government is cornered on this issue. That is why all those who believe in democracy need to be on high alert after Mr Singh’s Ramlila Maidan operation. Needless to say, eternal vigilance is the price of democracy.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, LensOnNews
In the life cycle of elected governments, a time comes when the public support decisively swings from one of enjoying inherent trust to one in which people have lost implicit trust. In case of some governments, this happens very rapidly and in some others, it takes a very long time as was the case with the Left Front in West Bengal which had an uninterrupted reign of 34 years.
Usually, a major decision or action precipitates this dramatic shift of public perceptions about an elected government. In Left ruled West Bengal, the agitation in Singur provided the stimulus. In the case of the UPA government, the midnight crackdown on Baba Ramdev’s supporters – after meekly acquiescing to him and rolling out the red carpet at Delhi airport – has provided that spark.
I have been keeping tabs on public opinion for several months now and the extensive ground level feedback that we have gathered shows that the midnight crackdown on Baba Ramdev’s fast was the turning point and turned the supporting masses against the Congress led government at the Centre. Admittedly, it has taken many years in office and many scams in its wake to pierce the credibility of the Congress led government at the Centre. And, once the credibility of a regime is eroded, it is impossible to regain it. Rajiv Gandhi government never recovered from the Bofors scandal that broke out just two years after he won a landslide victory in 1984 and faced a humiliating defeat in 1989. Similarly, P.V. Narasimha Rao’s government never recovered from a series of scandals – securities scam, JMM scandal, Sukhram’s telecom scam, Urea scam, etc. –that led to its devastating poll defeat in 1996.
It is instructive to study how the governments in the past tried to recover ground when they were confronted with extremely adverse situations. Indira Gandhi imposed emergency in 1975 following Allahabad High Court’s verdict declaring her election to Lok Sabha as void; Rajiv Gandhi’s associates forged documents purporting to show that his principal challenger V.P. Singh had a secret bank account in a foreign bank in St. Kitts; V.P. Singh himself unleashed the anti-quota stir by implementing the Mandal Commission recommendations in 1990; P.V. Narasimha Rao raked up years old Hawala scandal to fix political rivals in 1995 etc.
Circa 2011, the Congress party facing an unprecedented crisis over corruption charges can be expected to do all that the past governments have done and much more to survive politically. But the UPA presently has a serious problem at hand.
First, it faces a multitude of scams and myriad issues like black money, corruption, price rise etc. With every passing week, new scams are coming out of the closet. Undoubtedly, 2G is one scam that has damaged the UPA government the most. The scale of the loot and its brazen manner has had a devastating impact on the public. Curiously, the 2G scam which has claimed many top leaders of the DMK hasn’t yet reached the Congress’s doorstep. The manner in which the Congress party stymied the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) probe led by the BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi and the tardy functioning of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probing the 2G scam have aroused suspicions about the Congress party’s motives and involvement.
Second, unlike in the past when governments faced one major scam and a clearly identified political rival, the Congress party is faced with a barrage of attacks from an active judiciary, a demanding civil society led by popular Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev, a rejuvenated opposition, vigilant media and statutory institutions like the CAG. Despite the Sonia Gandhi led Congress party’s best attempts to emasculate high offices of the Prime Minister, President by appointing pliable individuals to these venerable institutions, the Congress party has not been able to avoid public scrutiny as other institutions of the government have turned their heat on the government.
True to its habit, the Congress party will attempt some drastic actions to regain its lost credibility. It will unleash vendetta against opposition leaders and attempt to show that all those arraigned against the Congress are corrupt. It will create and exploit every opportunity to rake up non-issues to divert public attention.
It may even resort to dividing the electorate on caste, communal or some other lines to minimize the electoral damage. This may actually backfire on the Congress party that traditionally has had a wide appeal across various caste and other groups. Yet, a desperate Congress party may make some cynical moves to get out of the corruption rut. Attempts to link activists like Anna Hazare with the RSS are a part of this cynical strategy.
Take my word: nothing will help restore the present government’s credibility. Let me explain this from my experience as a poll analyst for two decades. When a government enjoys public trust, all its actions are generally seen from a positive perspective. And, when a government is seen to be inherently untrustworthy, all its actions become suspect. All actions of the Manmohan Singh government will henceforth be viewed from a negative perspective due to the credibility crisis that envelopes it.
The Manmohan Singh government, despite enjoying a parliamentary majority is a lame duck government. Whether it lasts the full term or dies a premature death will depend on its political survival strategies. For sure, in the public mind, it has already lost its mandate. Its defeat at polls, whenever they are held, is an inevitability that stares it in its face.
GVL Narasimha Rao is a noted poll analyst
22 August 2010, 10:01 AM IST
I was a MP not very long ago. I loved those six years. Everyone called me sir, not because of my age but because I was a MP. And even though I never travelled anywhere by train during those years, I revelled in the fact that I could have gone anywhere I liked, on any train, first class with a bogey reserved for my family. Whenever I flew, there were always people around to pick up my baggage, not because I was travelling business class but because I was a MP. And yes, whenever I wrote to any Government officer to help someone in need, it was done. No, not because I was a journalist but because I was a MP.
The job had many perquisites, apart from the tax free wage of Rs 4,000. Then the wages were suddenly quadrupled to Rs 16,000, with office expenses of Rs 20,000 and a constituency allowance of Rs 20,000 thrown in. I could borrow interest free money to buy a car, get my petrol paid, make as many free phone calls as I wanted. My home came free. So did the furniture, the electricity, the water, the gardeners, the plants. There were also allowances to wash curtains and sofa covers and a rather funny allowance of Rs 1,000 per day to attend Parliament, which I always thought was a MP’s job in the first place! And, O yes, we also got Rs 1 crore a year (now enhanced to Rs 2 crore) to spend on our constituencies. More enterprising MPs enjoyed many more perquisites best left to your imagination. While I was embarrassed being vastly overpaid for the job I was doing, they kept demanding more.
Today, out of 543 MPs in Lok Sabha, 315 are crorepatis. That’s 60%. 43 out of the 54 newly elected Rajya Sabha MPs are also millionaires. Their average declared assets are over Rs 25 crore each. That’s an awfully wealthy lot of people in whose hands we have vested out destiny. The assets of your average Lok Sabha MP have grown from Rs 1.86 crore in the last house to Rs 5.33 crore. That’s 200% more. And, as we all know, not all our MPs are known to always declare all their assets. Much of these exist in a colour not recognised by our tax laws. That’s fine, I guess. Being a MP gives you certain immunities, not all of them meant to be discussed in a public forum.
If you think it pays to be in the ruling party, you are dead right: 7 out of 10 MPs from the Congress are crorepatis. The BJP have 5. MPs from some of the smaller parties like SAD, TRS and JD (Secular) are all crorepatis while the NCP, DMK, RLD, BSP, Shiv Sena, National Conference and Samajwadi Party have more crorepatis than the 60% average. Only the CPM and the Trinamool, the two Bengal based parties, don’t field crorepatis. The CPM has 1crorepati out of 16 MPs; the Trinamool has 7 out of 19. This shows in the state-wise average. West Bengal and Kerala have few crorepati MPs while Punjab and Delhi have only crorepati MPs and Haryana narrowly misses out on this distinction with one MP, poor guy, who’s not a crorepati.
Do MPs become richer in office? Sure they do. Statistics show that the average assets of 304 MPs who contested in 2004 and then re-contested last year grew 300%. And, yes, we’re only talking about declared assets here. But then, we can’t complain. We are the ones who vote for the rich. 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! Apart from West Bengal and the North East, every other state voted for crorepati MPs. Haryana grabbed first place with its average MP worth Rs 18 crore. Andhra is not far behind at 16.
But no, this is not enough for our MPs. It’s not enough that they are rich, infinitely richer than those who they represent, and every term makes them even richer. It’s not enough that they openly perpetuate their families in power. It’s not enough that all their vulgar indulgences and more are paid for by you and me through back breaking taxes. It’s not enough that the number of days they actually work in Parliament are barely 60 in a year. The rest of the time goes in squabbling and ranting. Now they want a 500% pay hike and perquisites quadrupled. The Government, to buy peace, has already agreed to a 300% raise but that’s not good enough for our MPs. They want more, much more.
And no, I’m not even mentioning that 150 MPs elected last year have criminal cases against them, with 73 serious, very serious cases ranging from rape to murder. Do you really think these people deserve to earn 104 times what the average Indian earns?