Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why Politicians Amass Wealth?

Vinay Sahasrabuddhe

Can this be a question? One would ask. But beyond greed, one of the fundamental human weaknesses there are other reasons too that make corruption indulged in by the political leaders a phenomenon worth analysing.

Corruption is not new to India. Right after the independence Mahatma Gandhi had advocated dissolution of the Indian National Congress as he believed that Congress has outlived its purpose and if it has to continue to function, it should convert itself into a voluntary social service organisation of sorts. Mahatma Gandhi firmly believed in ethical and disciplined functioning of all Congressmen, especially party legislators[1]. He had also approvingly welcomed a draft declaration to be signed by all those holding public offices, mooted by one Brijlal Nehru.[2] However, no institutional set up to ensure disciplined, ethical and value-oriented functioning of party organization was mooted during his times. In the last over sixty years, the nation has paid a heavy price for this absence of any institutional set up ensuring cleaner electoral politics. This has also facilitated percolation of corruption further. Little wonder then that sometime in sixties, Shri Prakash, then Governor of Maharashtra openly admitted the deterioration of the moral fiber of our society when he said that ‘I can resolve that I will not take bribe, but I cannot resolve that I will not offer bribe’.

What could not happen in the lifetime of Mahatma missed the functional agenda of the party almost forever thereafter. Mrs. India Gandhi, in fact; tried to rationalize corruption when she had openly stated that it has become a Universal Phenomenon. It was during her time that the nation witnessed Tul Mohan Ram and the Nagarwala episodes. Thereafter, we had seen affairs after affair. Until Bofors, digging out cases of corruption involving crores of rupees used to cause some turbulence in the society. There were times, when people used to discuss these issues on their dining tables, family gatherings and at work places like college staff rooms. But later, looks like our society internalized corruption. People started pretending and hypocrisy quietly entered our personal lives. Understandably, we started shying away from discussing issues about morality and ethics. To each other, we kept on convincing that morality, like character; is simply a personal matter. With concepts of individuality and privacy gaining firm and disproportionate ground in our collective societal values, we almost stopped raising morality issues. Consequently, we pushed the element of answerability or accountability even from within the four walls of our homes and within our once famous close-knit families. What was externed from our personal lives soon got suspended from our public life as well. What more fertile ground was required for a bumping crop of corruption?

Besides it is a fact that our governance systems and our judiciary are devoid of effective and timely grievance redressal mechanisms. In a situation like this, our street-smart politicians could easily make money dispensing a La Robin Hood justice, acquiring immense nuisance value as well. Add to this the near total absence of moral leadership and the picture becomes complete.

Three other factors added to the worsening of the conditions. They were diminishing importance of austerity, growing sense of alienation and insecurity in our political leadership and most importantly; our overall inertia in respect of bringing in massive political reforms to cleans our body politick.

When it comes to austerity, today hardly anyone even refers to this value let alone practice it. Carried away by mindless consumption, GenNext India probably finds it to be a worthless and irrational concept. Since “Be Seen” is the mantra of modern management, then “Be seen as Smart as possible” is its logical extension. Popular approach to the concepts of luxury, comfort and necessity also has undergone a drastic change. Yesterday’s luxury is today’s comfort. Besides, life in the fast lane today has become far more competitive and hence ‘life style one-upmanship’ also has become the order of the day. More importantly, since austerity as a principle or high human value has apparently lost recognition, many apprehend that simple living is likely to be misconstrued as a sign of weakness. Obviously then, nobody likes to be seen as lacking in anything. Add to this the difficulties in defining as to what is austere and what is not.

When it comes to discussing the importance of taking due care of their family relations, some of my younger friends, who are MLAs, Municipal Councilors and political activists, often realise how they have always taken their close family members for granted. Emotionally detached from their loved ones, suspicious of their colleagues and unsure about their own political future, many politicians end up as loners at the top. When this feeling of being alone gets acute, political leaders give needless free hand to their progeny who often land in deep trouble. When they realise their mistakes, they cannot help but feel trapped. The fact that they just cannot share their agonies and apprehensions with anyone adds to the severity of the crisis. Many psychiatrists say that this deep sense of insecurity motivates several of our politicians turn unscrupulous and amass illicit wealth.

The third and the most important factor is off course our inertia for -- forget introducing but even discussing -- political reforms. Lack of internal democracy in most of our political parties has made organisational decision making arbitrary. With no mechanism like primaries as in the US, factors such as personal likes and dislikes and artificial proximity in interpersonal relations often dominate political decisions. Lack of objectivity also impacts candidacy decisions in several ‘unorganised’ political parties.

In fact, majority of our political parties are unstructured and un-institutionalised. Many have stressed urgent need for a comprehensive law for political parties. Election Commission has repeatedly recommended bringing a new law for regulating the functioning of political parties but the government refuses to pay heeds. True, that politicians and more particularly parties can do a number of things to check factors that promote corrupt practices; but certainly it is not the making of political class alone. It is because of this that parties need to be considered, what two American researchers Andrew M Appleton and David S Ward have described as "unwilling victims, attempting to adjust their organisational patterns to the vagaries of an undisciplined electorate.” Although most of the factors that have contributed to this degeneration of political parties are embedded in the system itself, the fact remains that the very system creates an inertia leading to a passive approach towards even simpler reforms, on the part of the political parties.

An important point for everybody’s consideration here is the fact that in flawed systems contributing to the process of perversion of democracy; parties get an escape route. While looking into the systemic solutions, the objective is to explore ways and means of plugging this escape route. Once this is done, parties could be held squarely responsible and that may pave way for reforming the party system and thereby prevent the degeneration of political culture in India. If we are able to make this happen, chances are that the systemic checks and balances will deter politicians. If not total eradication, this may lead at least to a substantial reduction in political corruption. Eventually, this also may reinstate the credibility of the political class. With more credible political parties, popular confidence in India's democratic system could also be reinstated.

[1] M.K. Gandhi, ‘Indian National Congress’, in ‘India of My Dreams’, p.288

[2] M.K. Gandhi, Chapters 7 and 8 in Section 3,”Members of Legislatures”, Gandhiji Expects. P.15, 16, 17



Blog writing is the expression of personal thought process. Views expressed in the blog are the writer's personal views. Organisations with which a writer is associated may not necessarily subscribe to these views.


1 comment:

  1. Very nice. Perhaps this too may be seen: