would be dangerous to believe that politicians are a different
breed of people, and their perfidy and villainy are the
causes of our problems.
an analysis is in fact counterproductive: it repels the
best in the country from politics; it does not give us levers
to change political behaviour through new incentives; and
it leads to greater cynicism and despair, promotes anti-political
attitudes, and encourages a search for non-political solutions.
the people will not do either. What can people do in the
face of the perverse rules of the political game? In Goa,
after years of instability, they elected a stable government.
And yet legislators resigned their office, converting a
majority into minority, and were rewarded with plum ministerial
offices in the new government! In Jharkhand, much of the
attention was focused on the Governor's action, and who
should form the government. Mr.Arjun Munda finally won the
battle, but had to form the first cabinet with five independent
legislators, and none else! In such a situation, it hardly
matters which combine is in power. Nor can we blame Arjun
Munda or Shibu Soren, who are mere victims of a vicious
cycle than villains. In Bihar, against all conventional
wisdom, people rejected economic stagnation and caste rigidity.
But LJP, which emerged as the king maker, has more criminals
as legislators than others! In such a case, whoever wins,
the people have lost. In Haryana, people gave thumping mandate
to Congress Party, and a clean politician became the Chief
Minister. But Bhajan Lal's revolt almost precipitated a
crisis, and he was rewarded with a cabinet berth and a possible
Deputy Chief Ministership for his son and he is tipped to
be a Governor!
Sawant rightly condemned the tendency to condone corruption
on grounds of escalating election costs. But we need to
critically examine the process of power to find answers.
It is undesirable that vast amounts are spent on elections.
Some estimates suggest that in a cycle of five years, about
Rs 8000 crore is spent for Lok Sabha and State Assembly
elections. In several states, expenditure of Rs one crore
or more by major candidates for an Assembly election no
longer causes surprise. In many cases - Saidapet byelection
in Tamilnadu, and Kanakapura Lok Sabha byelecton in Karnataka
- the expenditure is astronomical. Even in poverty-ridden
Bihar, Rs 2 to 3 crore expenditure by Lok Sabha candidates
is pretty common.
large expenditure needs multiple returns to sustain the
system. The interest, return on investment, risk premium,
provisioning for next election, and building a family fortune
- all these mean political corruption amounting to ten times
the investment over five years. Transfers and postings,
contracts and tenders, crime investigation and prosecution
- all become playthings of politics in this vicious cycle
of election costs, misgovernance and corruption.
of the election expenditure is illegitimate and unaccounted
- for vote buying, bribing officials and hiring hoodlums.
Mercenary attitude of cynical party 'workers', who have
no illusions about what power is about, also contributes
to huge expenditure. Clearly, this problem cannot be addressed
by campaign finance reform alone. In fact, the 2003 amendments
to election and other related laws are extremely positive
and progressive. The loopholes under law were plugged (Section
77 of RP Act), all individual and corporate contributions
have been incentivised by tax exemptions, and free air time
in public and private electronic media is provided by law.
The last one is yet to be implemented (rules are not framed),
but it is a giant step which most countries (including US)
could not take despite decades of effort.
several people, including the PM, have argued, there is
a case for direct public funding of parties. And elegant
models are available. But all this does not change the electoral
reality much, because the incentives in politics are unaltered.
us face it. Politics has now become big business. The dependence
on marginal vote to win a constituency in our first-past-the-post
(FPTP) system means that parties rely on political bosses
with money bags (often illgotten through political patronage
and corruption), caste clout, family connections and increasingly,
muscle power. Decent politicians employing fair means have
very little chance of being elected, given the definition
of victory in FPTP system. No wonder, some of the best talent
has to come from Rajya Sabha. A Manmohan Singh or Arun Jaitley
is unelectable whereas a Pappu Yadav or Arun Gawli is an
electoral asset! In such a situation, elections may change
governments, but not governance. If a Chief Minister tries
to give clean administration, he will invite the wrath of
legislators who seek their pound of flesh.
need to address three questions: how do we create conditions
for the best to be elected through fair means? How can survival
in power be compatible with honesty? How can delivery be
improved through competence and probity? The answers lie
in changing incentives in politics and redefining victory.
For instance, proportional representation with adequate
thresholds to prevent political fragmentation will radically
alter the nature of power game, and bring probity and competence
into government. Direct election of the leader of government
in States will eliminate instability, misgovernance and
arbitrary exercise of power.
all know that politics can no longer be run as business
as usual. We need real legitimacy combined with competence
in delivery, fair representation, and probity. To achieve
these we need to alter the political incentives and change
the rules of the game. Politicians-bashing is nice as a
spectator-sport, but wisdom lies in looking at practical,