I don’t usually watch video forwards on Whatsapp lest I get FIRed by some cop in Hathras, but last week I did view two, and I’m so glad I did. The first was a short speech in his Parliament by the Prime Minister of Singapore in which he succinctly explained how elections even in democracies are becoming more like auctions. The second was an even shorter one by our Finance Minister announcing the decisions of the GST Council. At one point she alluded to a new tax on ” horse trading” but quickly corrected herself and revised it to “horse racing”.
Most observers attributed it to a Freudian slip. But a Freudian slip is more revealing than you would think, it is indicative of what is going on in your sub-conscious mind, a temporary revelation of thoughts you are keeping a tight lid on. Like the priest who blessed the newly married couple with: ” May the two of you have a very sexful life.” He quickly corrected it to a “successful” life but the cat was out of the bag. Or take the case of the Sikh gentleman who was giving a job interview. When the interviewer expressed some doubt about his qualifications the young Punjabi retorted: “Would you like to see my testicles?” He meant “testimonials”- or did he?
So I’m not sure that Ms Sitharaman did not actually have horse trading on her mind. Remember, this was at the same time that the Shiv Sena horses were being led to the feeding trough in Maharashtra; the govt. desperately needs money what with the fiscal deficit going north, and the states screaming blue murder for their share of the GST. A tax on horse trading can be a reliable and substantial source of revenue for the govt., what with the BJP specialising in this economic activity and promising much more of it in the run up to 2024.
Just consider the potential. A friend of mine who tracks the LSE ( Legislators Stock Exchange) on a daily basis tells me that in the last eight years at least seven state governments have been brought down by defections. He estimates that, at about Rupees 30 crores per MLA, this amounts to a market capitalisation of about 3000-6000 crores. A GST of even 18% on that would have netted about 600-1200 crores ! That would have covered the cost of the senior citizen concession on the railways, now discontinued, presumably to raise funds for the Bullet train ( shortly to be rechristened the Canon Ball train given the pace at which the project is progressing).
In the age of neo-liberalism the market decides everything, so why not let it decide the elections too ? In an earlier blog I had theorised that elections have now become irrelevant since the BJP will form the governments anyway, by hook or by crook, before polling or after. Maharashtra has confirmed the validity of my hypothesis. The people’s vote does not matter any longer- they may vote in legislators from party A but in a few months, once a deal has been finalised, all these johnnies will simply walk over to party B, who will then form a government the people had never wanted in the first place. So why not do away with elections altogether, and replace it with an IPL ( Indian Political League) modelled on cricket’s Indian Premier League ? It’s a business model that cannot fail.
This, I think, is what the Singapore Prime Minister had in mind. Let there be an IPL ( Indian Political League) every five years. Candidates throw their hats into the ring and political parties bid for them. The party which is the first to garner a majority in that state gets to from the government. There would be a minimum bid price for each state, decided by the CAG ( Comptroller and Auditer General) who badly needs to be given some work to do. This would be like the Circle Rate fixed by the states for registration of real estate transactions, to ensure that there is no tax evasion. After all the cricket IPL too has a floor price.
Each party would submit its return to the IPL Commissioner, since the Election Commission would have been disbanded. (There would no longer be any need for it under the new system. Nobody would miss it since it has been missing in action for the last eight years in any case). Mr Lalit Modi could be offered the Commissioner’s post, with or without Sushmita Sen, since he knows all the ins and outs, ups and downs and ifs and buts of the game. These returns would be kept confidential lest Mr. Elon Musk learn of the massive business opportunity available and makes a bid for it too. Were he to do so, with the US$ 42 billion now available with him again after the collapse of the Twitter deal, he would be able to form the governments at the Center and in all the states too, with the possible exception of West Bengal which doesn’t take kindly to car makers. We certainly can’t allow that, not while our own double engine A+A are around, can we ? And since there cannot be an IPL without cheer leaders, I would be happy to suggest the names of certain anchors of well known TV channels for the role; they have the required experience as cheer leaders of a political party for the last eight years, and though they may not be very good at kicking their heels, they are superb at bending the knees.
At one fell stroke, we would have done away with all those pesky issues of EVM tampering, Code of Misconduct, election petitions, defections, booth capture. The govt. would save thousands of crores in election expenses. The courts, freed of the baggage of election petitions, could finally get down to deciding the 100,000 pending bail petitions they seem to have no time for. Admittedly, the voter would no longer be relevant, but then he has had no place in the democratic process in any case since 2014. Polling booths have already been replaced with 5 star resorts, governments are formed in Raj Bhavans and not in Vidhan Sabhas. The IPL would exemplify the apogee of the ease of doing business: instead of bribing millions of voters, it would be so much easier to strike a deal with a few dozen candidates. It would be cheaper too.
With horse trading now becoming legit, Mrs. Sitharaman could now move in with her GST. I would suggest that the tax be kept at the maximum slab of 28% applicable for “sin goods” since there is no greater sin than selling your conscience to the highest bidder. My earlier mentioned friend (who could have been the CAG if he had taken a greater interest in coal mines or 2G Spectrum, like Mr. Vinod Rai) tells me that in just one general election the govt. can rake in about Rs. 5000 crore from this tax. And here’s the beauty: the Central govt. would not have to share this with the states as they can impose a similar tax on horse trading in state elections! This would be one horse race where there cannot be any losers ( except, of course, the voter but he’s been a loser since 1947 and is content with his fate).
Indian democracy would finally have come of age, and our tryst with destiny would be complete. Who says you can take a horse to Wardha but cannot make it wink ?
|The author retired from the IAS in December 2010. A keen environmentalist and trekker he has published a book on high altitude trekking in the Himachal Himalayas: THE TRAILS LESS TRAVELLED.
His second book- SPECTRE OF CHOOR DHAR is a collection of short stories based in Himachal and was published in July 2019. His third book was released in August 2020: POLYTICKS, DEMOCKRAZY AND MUMBO JUMBO is a compilation of satirical and humorous articles on the state of our nation. His fourth book was published on 6th July 2021. Titled INDIA: THE WASTED YEARS , the book is a chronicle of missed opportunities in the last nine years. Shukla’s fifth book – THE DEPUTY COMMISSIONER’S DOG AND OTHER COLLEAGUES- was released on 12th September 2023. It portrays the lighter side of life in the IAS and in Himachal.
He writes for various publications and websites on the environment, governance and social issues. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla.
He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/