Looking Ahead: Bringing back morality in politics
Politics today is a dirty term. If a person is fighting elections we assume that he would belong to a political family, be a strongman or have huge funds at his disposal.
A survey by Patrick French shows that 156 of the 545 Members of Parliament have a family history of politics. That’s over a quarter of the whole House! What is interesting is that this trend of HMPs or Hereditary Members of Parliament cuts across party lines.
Significantly, French observes, there is a direct linear relationship between age and hereditary MPs. A larger proportion of younger MPs have a family political background compared to others. For example, all MPs whose age is less than 30 years are hereditary politicians. Not surprisingly, 69.5% women MPs came into politics through family connections – Sonia Gandhi to Kanimozhi to Agatha Sangma.
As per the study about 6.4% of the MPs made an entry due to their business background and connections.
While Rahul Gandhi may be seen as making valiant efforts to bring in more democracy in youth Congress and talent hunting across the country, the fact remains that most new faces in his brigade have some political background.
Inclusiveness must not be a slogan. We need to encourage youngsters to contemplate public life as a serious career option. For this, election needs to be made more uncomplicated and less at the mercy of one’s financial prowess. If less moolah impairs campaigning, then a transparent system in required wherein donations can be sought and accounted for, much like the US system.
A good move by the Election Commission has been the raising of the limit that a candidate for Lok Sabha seat is allowed to spend for canvassing from Rs 25 lakh to Rs 40 lakh.
Electorate must be made to realize that development is the sole criterion for electing a candidate, and not his religion or caste.
Corruption in politics may decrease if we draw some lessons from Singapore, where democracy does not mean a license to do just about anything. Politicians are very well paid but also accountable for their performance and conduct just like executives in a business firm.
Civil administration should be autonomous and completely outside political influence, just the way our judiciary is. Politicians should have no power to transfer officials at their whims, or made to wait on them. Our laws should entail that only educated and clean candidates are allowed to contest. In the 15th Lok Sabha, 150 MPs have criminal background.
PM Manomohan Singh, with his squeaky clean image and honourable account of personal integrity, could have been expected to bring some semblance of morality. But the compulsions of coalition politics tied his hands. First he had to accommodate the tainted Shibu Soren, who incidentally also bailed him out during the confidence vote on the Indo-US nuke deal. To keep DMK in good humour, A Raja had to be given berth. He made hay while the sun shone and broke all records of venality. And now, the PM is sitting on the CVC mess. Whether PJ Thomas first agreed to step down and then changed his mind is another matter. His appointment has brought the question of propriety right to the PM’s door.
National politics must be like an umbrella which takes into consideration the concerns of the country in toto. Areas such as Northeast must not be neglected. We have let the demography of the Northeast to change, but not checked infiltration from Bangladesh because it serves our political ends.
An example was the economic blockade of Manipur by the All Naga Students Association of Manipur (ANSAM), which started against the holding of ADCs polls in hilly areas of the state. It later merged with the NSCN(IM) cause and the state was cut off from the mainland for over two months, only because of the apathetic attitude of the Centre as well as the state government.
We need to build a political consensus on certain national issues across parties. But with Mamata thumbing her nose at the Centre over the “incorrect” killing of Maoist Azad or Digvijay Singh questioning Hemant Karkare’s death, how are we supposed to crack the problems of Naxalism and terror, when politicos are too busy safeguarding their votebanks.
Development is slowly emerging as the new caste and class of politics. Bihar is a shining example of this. Let the fruits of development reach the people, and the electorate will know the value of their franchise. The change has been slow in coming, but it is coming. (This piece on Politics is part of the Looking Ahead series.)