The parliament house building in New Delhi is a masterpiece as far as architecture and design is concerned. It is an imposing structure in more ways than one. So are many state legislative assembly buildings in different state capitals. These are not just buildings or structures of brick and mortar. These are symbols of national pride and honour steeped in history of independent India.
The elected representatives who grace these buildings are expected to do well by the nation at all times and ensure that the faith imposed in them by their electorate is fully paid back. Unfortunately in reality it is not so since the quality of our elected representatives seems to be moving southward continually in a steep dive over the last couple of decades. The parliament as well as the state legislatures are full of representatives who have no concern for the nation or the people they represent. The whole electoral system has been so corrupted over the decades that today bulk of the elected representatives are people who have made their way because of muscle power or money power or by latching on to someone in power. Traits like individual competency, willingness to serve the nation and nationalism are all things of the past. In most cases the best a voter can do is to choose the least obnoxious candidate available. No wonder then that once such people assume office the biggest casualty is the nation and its people. Someone said a long time ago ‘the worst feeling in the world is knowing you did the best you could and it still wasn’t good enough’. This is exactly how most voters feel today.
There appears to be a unique phenomenon in the political circles in our nation that seems to be gaining credence over the last two decades. It is indeed strange that once our leaders are elected they start believing as if they belong to an entirely different stratum of society. Majority of them are neither interested nor have any role to play in the running of the government, they are there only to make up numbers for their political party. They do not go into the details of any matter that may come up for discussion, their attendance in the parliament or state assembly is far from regular and they hardly, if ever, contribute meaningfully to any proceedings of the house they sit in. In fact many of them do not even have the educational background or professional experience to understand most of the issues involved. They only do what the party high command decides irrespective of whether it is right or wrong since they have no personal convictions to boast of. In a scenario like this there are two significant developments that have surfaced over a period of time. First, the top leadership of every political party has become very autocratic in nature that has resulted in the death of in-party democracy and increased political sycophancy. Second, most of these leaders who have very little to do after they are elected tend to become haughty, arrogant and demanding in more ways than one. Most tend to believe that since they have peoples’ mandate, it makes them unanswerable to anyone for all their acts of omission or commission. They swell in the belief that they are above the laws and rules that guide the nation and expect all government functionaries to be subservient to them. In short they develop a belief as if they are a law unto themselves. This may feel like an overstatement, but the fact remains that it is a reality today.
In 2013 Dr Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India initiated the food security scheme at the behest of the Congress President Mrs Sonia Gandhi. As an economist of international repute he knew that the nation’s economy could not support such a lavish largesse that was targeted purely to attract voters in the next general elections, yet he went ahead since Congress had the numbers in both houses to pass the required bills. Dr Manmohan Singh was also guilty of turning a blind eye on the fraudulent coal block allocations, loss to the nation notwithstanding, seemingly at the behest of Congress president and her advisers. Who can forget the famous Rahul Gandhi outburst at a press conference to denounce the ordinance that had been approved by the Cabinet Committee of the UPA government headed by Dr Manmohan Singh? Yet not a single Congress leader had the courage to raise a voice of protest, instead everyone made a volte face and lauded the Gandhi scion since being on the right side of the Gandhi family mattered more for most Congress leaders than any show of moral courage or propriety. This episode has probably been one of the more glaring acts of political sycophancy – an art in which Congress Party is miles ahead of all others. Fortunately for BJP, it has been in power for only a short time in the history of independent India and therefore not too many examples can be cited. But to its credit it does show more internal democracy than most other parties since it is neither family nor cult dominated. It may be argued that Mr Narendra Modi is some kind of a cult figure, but it does not stand to logic. Mr Modi caught the fancy of not only BJP party cadres but the nation as a whole; hence it may not be correct to attribute it to BJP alone. Some regional parties like AIADMK headed by Jaya Lalitha, Trinamool Congress under Mamta Banerjee, Smajwadi Party under Mulayam Singh and RJD under Laloo Prasad Yadav too excel in the art of sycophancy bordering to cult worship. Is it any wonder then that Jaya Lalitha is back as the Chief Minister of the state despite her conviction in court or that Laloo Prasad Yadav, who is out on bail after being convicted, still continues to call all the shots in RJD?
Then there are other elected representatives who are there just to raise their hands when directed by the party. When they are not doing that, they invariably are engaged in what is commonly termed as ‘dadagiri’ in Hindi and ‘hooliganism’ in English. We have had any number of cases where elected representatives have thrown tantrums on small things like paying toll tax on highways, so much so that some even brandished guns to have their way. In Uttar Pradesh, entire district police was deployed to trace the lost cattle of the Smajwadi Party leader who is a perpetual trouble monger. It is no secret that in last two decades many communal riots in Uttar Pradesh have been engineered by local political leaders for vested interests. In Bengal political cadres of the Trinamool Congress and CPI (M) come to blows and resort to street fights at the drop of a hat since they have the backing of their local political bosses. In Maharashtra Shiv Sena goons run amuck at the slightest pretext if they cannot have their way. In Punjab, Akali leaders went to the extent of seeking presidential pardon for known terrorists so as to please some sections of their society and hopefully garner a few more votes. There is a strong belief that the drug cartel in Punjab is controlled by the first political family of the state and therefore the inaction on this front by the state government. In Assam, the Congress Chief Minister continues to behave like an ostrich despite repeated communal clashes since political expediency prevents him from taking any meaningful action. In UP and Tamil Nadu where large number of people still struggle to put together two square meals a day, Chief Ministers distribute goodies like lap tops and coloured televisions to people at massive costs to the exchequer for the sake of votes. It is another matter that many of the recipients do not even have power connections in their homes. In Haryana, political leaders at all levels have played havoc with the principally agrarian economy by forcing or enticing farmers to sell their land for short term gains. The only real beneficiary of this exercise has been the politician and builder nexus. In Jammu & Kashmir, politicians and separatists have both benefitted from the troubled environment in the state. Neither side wants the situation in the state to normalise since that does not auger well for their personal interests. Finally we have another breed of some junior and middle level political leaders who specialise in fanning communal and religious fires. The sad part is that all parties are guilty of encouraging such elements within their ranks even though it hurts the nation in more ways than one.
Every state in the country has a story to tell; unfortunately none of the stories is in the interest of the nation. Every story shows how the elected representatives usurp government resources to further their personal interests and those of their party because of the clout that they wield. A constituency like Amethi, supposedly nurtured by the Gandhi family for last few decades, continues to remain one of the more backward areas in Western UP. This is so because unviable projects (politically motivated) are announced and commissioned at a huge cost to exchequer that invariably fail to deliver results. The Chief Minister of Delhi hikes the publicity budget of the state by 2100% with the sole aim of marketing himself and his brand of confrontational politics while the city continues to grapple with perennial problems that are begging for solutions. How is it that politicians get away with decisions that make no economic sense, are impractical and far from being in the interest of the nation? Surely the constitution does not give elected representatives any blank cheque to play around with scarce national resources. Is it any surprise that many of the social sector schemes are initiated mainly as means to siphon funds from the government for personal or party gains? Unfortunately the public has no control over such matters and those government functionaries who do have the authority in this regard are either party to such machinations or just turn a blind eye. The politician himself has lost all sense of propriety in his quest for personal power and riches.
The recent circular by the Maharashtra government laying down a code of conduct to be followed by all officers in state administration with respect to elected representatives has to be viewed in this context. It smacks of a deliberate plan by the politicians to subjugate every authority in the state so that no one can raise a voice against them. Such an approach only highlights the mindset of the politician and his insecurity when it comes to dealing with seasoned administrators, particularly those of the sincere and honest variety. Earning respect based on his work and conduct is not a mantra that any politician follows today. It is no secret that a high percentage of our elected representatives lack good education, sound professional experience and are severely deficient in their personal conduct due to various reasons. This is primarily because politics, at the junior and middle level in particular, has come to be seen as a vehicle for growth for those who otherwise have no qualifications to make a mark in their life in any profession or vocation. Is it any surprise that muscle power and money power have become two of the strongest pillars for success in the murky world of Indian politics? Today, in Indian political context, it is well known that money ensures power and power ensures money. No wonder then that every politician is ready to make his millions at any cost in any manner because that also ensures power.
It is well known that ‘power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. It is not surprising then that many of our politicians are epitomes of corruption – both in terms of money and in exploitation of power. Politics is no more viewed as a noble profession for those inclined towards serving the nation and its people. Today it is a business in more ways than one. A candidate may spend anything from a few crores to may be a hundred crores to get elected. On being elected, one of his first priorities is to recover this capital expenditure with a hefty interest? The only way such money can be recovered is by bleeding the national resources and pocketing money meant for the people in an unfair manner. Most politicians have no qualms in doing this and would even argue that it is quite legitimate to do that. Is it any wonder then that the majority of nation’s elected representatives are millionaires? The sadder part is that still they want the nation to pay for all their expenses, be it personal or official and even subsidise their meals. After all this ‘Political Glitterati’ is a modern parasite that has evolved ways and means to live off the nation and its people. History and nature have always found antidotes to counter parasites. The question is when India will find one to counter this modern day parasite so that the nation can march towards a path that holds promise for the hundred and twenty three crore Indians?
Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.