The Indian economy needs vital laws to be passed to restore lost vigour: for a harmonised Goods and Services Tax to replace inefficient, cascading indirect taxes, to raise the foreign investment limit in insurance, to smoothen land acquisition that has become a stumbling block for most new projects and to scrap an obsolete, anti-people coal nationalisation law instead of forcing the govt. to act fast on these issues, as a responsible Opposition should, the BJP disrupts the House on some pretext of the other, thwarting any new law.
This is bigger a scam than any being bandied about.
Does this mean that the public should condone all scams in the name of rebooting growth? Doesn’t loot of the nation’s resources by cronies of politicians deserve to be exposed, checked and penalised? Of course it does. But subject to two caveats.
One, saving the life of a patient on the operating table is more important than the post mortem of an unfortunate soul in the morgue. Two, corruption is not just the foul pus oozing out of virtually every pore of our body politic but also its life blood.
Indian democracy is funded almost exclusively by the proceeds of corruption and all parties drink at the same fount, how much they guzzle being a function of their share in power.
The fist caveat is self-evident. Protesting against past scams and exposing those responsible should not be at the expense of tending to the urgent needs of the economy. The second one calls for elaboration.
Political activity costs money. Party offices have to function, full-time workers have to be paid,leaders must travel, publicity material has to be printed, meetings and rallies held. The reality is that parties spend tens of thousands of crore rupees, and not just in election years. A leader from Punjab said that a candidate typically spent, on average, Rs 20 crore in one assembly constituency in the last Punjab assembly elections. The money spent tends to be much lower in a state like Kerala, where a candidate can limit his spending at Rs 50 lakh, according to a leader from Kerala. The expenditure in Parliament elections would be higher, naturally — never mind official caps.
But how much money do parties claim to have received?
A paltry few hundred crore a year each. For the seven years, 2004-11, the Congress reported receipts of 2009 crore: an average of Rs 287 crore a year, with a peak income of Rs 497 crore in 2008-09. The BJP is even more modest in its means. Over the same period, its cumulative income was Rs 995 crore: an average of Rs 129 crore a year, with a peak income of Rs 258 crore in 2009-10 (these figures are available, thanks to the sterling work done, by using the RTI Act.)
Clearly, the bulk of political funding is unaccounted. The practice of not declaring the source of political funding probably has its origins in the freedom movement, when those funding the Congress were wary of their patriotism drawing any special attention of the colonial government. But the practice has become a tradition. While such anonymously collected funds went only to finance political activity in the beginning, these became the building blocks of personal fortunes of individual politicians over time.
Mobilisation of political/politicians’ funding takes three forms: loot of the exchequer, sale of patronage and plain extortion. Diversion of development funds, commissions on state procurement and contracts, diversion of subsidised products are examples of looting the exchequer.
Allocation of mining leases, acquiring and transferring land, toleration of crime ranging from petty theft of power to organised racketeering and land-grabs are examples of money-spinning political patronage. Being forced to cough up to obtain any sort of clearance or a power connection or to register land is an example of extortion, apart from the more violent kind indulged in by certain regional parties.
Corruption, in other words, is not opportunistic in India, but systemic. If all corruption were to stop, Indian democracy would grind to a halt. Unless we institute radical reform of political funding, to make it completely transparent and every paisa of political expenditure accounted for, as the Aam Admi Party is trying to.
Is there no party that is not corrupt?
The Left parties are relatively clean, but relativity, let us face it, does credit only to Einstein. Are there no politicians who are individually non-corrupt?Of course there are. But they remain in politics because their party is funded by wheeler-dealers. The lack of stain on their character makes them the white squares on the chess board: without the black ones, there would be no game.
Blaming Manmohan Singh for the coal scam is hypocrisy at its worst. He proposed auctions for allocation of captive mines. Every Congressman was aghast at this scandalous move to scuttle a trusted revenue source. Luckily for them, so were political leaders of states with mining interests. BJP-ruled Rajathan and Chhattisgarh and Left-ruled W. Bengal opposed auctions. The mining law had to be amended for auctions to have a sound legal footing.
So the states and the Centre agreed to continue with allocation by a screening committee comprising representatives of the Centre and the states. The traditional mobilisation of political funding continued. Why blame the PM, who threatened to put a stop to this?
|Nation First||Business Minds|
GS Export Ltd.
(author is in foreign trade; and much interested in India’s economy.)