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Religion of Corruption: ANY WONDER, THIS KOLAVERI DI!, By Poonam I Kaushish, 15 Nov, 2016 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 15 November 2016

Religion of Corruption

Any wonder, this Kolaveri Di!

By Poonam I Kaushish


18th Century French Queen Marie Antoinette famously quipped, “Give them cake if they don’t have bread.” Three centuries later, Prime Minister Modi has turned this on its head: Eat banned notes if you don’t have dal roti! As the three queues: one to exchange notes; one to deposit notes; one to withdraw money totals a harrowing zero sum game!


True to style Modi stretches his 56 inch chest preening that the demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes for rooting out black money, ending corruption and counterfeit currency notes and stopping terror funding is his “biggest Swachh Abhiyan. The Opposition yells blue murder. Annus Horribilis and a political farce on corruption.


While Congress’s Rahul Gandhi gets his Kodak moment by posing in front of a dysfunctional ATM, the three regional Ms’ Mulayam, Mayawati and Mamata alongwith the other satraps whine that the currency ban is timed to financially wipe them out prior to the five State Assembly polls. Obviously, hinting of stashed cash. Queries of from where, whom and which deals were met with stony silence.


Undeniably, the Prime Minister’s intentions and motive is laudable. In one fell stroke the economy’s dynamics have changed. However, its implementation is abysmal with poor cash flows which has brought life to a standstill for the aam aadmi, labourer, farmer, housewife, businessman, trader et al. Serpentine long queues are seen at banks as millions scramble to exchange currency but only a few strike gold that too after waiting for several hours resulting in chaotic situations across the country and five deaths.


Alas, there are no signs of immediate relief as cash-strapped people return penniless as bank servers at several branches collapsed and Finance Minister Jaitley confessed that ATM would not function for three weeks as the machines needed to be calibrated to accept the new Rs 2000 note. As tempers flew thick and fast the RBI asked people to be “patient”. Sic.


It is all very well for the Government to take the scourge of corruption by the horns but why not start at the top: Politicians, the fountainhead of sleaze. Be it Congress, BJP, SP, BSP, AIADMK, RJD etc all are tainted by the same brush whereby their dhanda thrives, notwithstanding many being indicted by the Supreme Court in various disproportionate assets cases.


Questionably, without working a day in their lives how has a cowherd, sepoy, teacher, wrestler, farmer and actress amassed great wealth, jewels and unaccountable luxurious goodies?


It is no rocket science to see where the monies come from. The surfeit of scams gives the game away. From the chaara ghotala, 2G spectrum scam, Adarsh Housing Society scandal, Coalgate to the infamous Nira Radia tapes encompassing industrialists, media, netagan, babudom etc.


As to funding of Parties the source is an enigma wrapped in mystery hard to unravel. Almost all Parties receive cash ‘donations’ read black money from “unknown” sources. Primarily, an easy way to launder black money since disclosure of sources is not made mandatory.


Undoubtedly, corruption along with crony capitalism will continue to strive till Modi strikes at its three roots: Politician, funding of Parties and electoral reforms. Arguably, how does one explain the phenomenon of an over flowing donation cup whenever a Party is in power, at the Centre or in States?  Are these on the basis of simple quid pro quo by corporates, fixers and wheeler-dealers? 


Donations for 2003-04 show how the fortunes of the ruling Party differs from the one out of power. While the Congress ‘officially’ received just Rs 2.81 crore, the BJP managed over Rs 11.69 crore. Money was paid through little-known trusts, or in some cases, directly by business groups.


Interestingly, a cursory glance of affidavits filed with the Election Commission reveal the bizarre realities of politics. It showcases significant contributions from several business houses that have directly benefited from the Party in power. A metal and mineral baron who had funded the BJP in 2000, became the proud owner of 51% of Balco, the PSU aluminum major. This was sold for $121 million by the NDA Government sparking off protests for its alleged undervaluation.


Perhaps taking a cue a steel magnate paid Rs 50 lakhs to the Congress in 2003 and within months was inducted into the Party.  However, in the 2004 Lok Sabha poll he was one of the highest donors to the BJP even though he contested on Congress ticket and won. Truly, playing both ends against the middle. Scandalously, the BJP was also funded by a Delhi-based builder, who was rewarded with highway construction contracts.


It is no secret that Parties spend huge amounts for elections. But the economics of running an election campaign are a hush-hush affair because they use elections to amass wealth for their Parties, themselves and future elections. Like politics, elections have become a business --- like businessmen the politicians in the election business balk at the idea of controls and regulations. That is why no Party, however vocal about the matter while in opposition, has made a sincere attempt at stanching the flow of black money into the electoral arena.


Sadly, there is brazen hypocrisy and humbug in what transpires under the framed rules. Today, a candidate spends over Rs.50 crores per election instead of Rs 70 lakhs allowed by the Law. Hypothetically, the minimum amount needed by each Party for the 545 Lok Sabha seats would be a mind-boggling Rs 27,250 crores. Multiplied by 10 candidates per constituency, it adds up to a mind-boggling Rs.2,72,500 crores. Are we expected to believe that this amount will now be collected by cheques? What would happen to India’s parallel economy?


True, over the years the Government has tried to bring legislation to regulate Party funds -- distribution and spending during non-elections and elections. Getting them to maintain regular accounts and make audited accounts available for inspection. It even held out threats of de-recognition if Parties filed false and incorrect election returns. But nothing worked. Even as poll costs continue to increase.


Not a few economists assert that instead of fighting the menace of black money Modi should concentrate on the country’s “black economy” which  entails terror funding, money laundering, drug peddling and ‘round tripping’ – routing illegal funds through foreign institutional or portfolio investors (FII/FPI) back into the country for investing in shares, bonds or other instruments.


Thus, how does Modi intent sweeping clean the political dirt? Demonitization can be a start but till our netas play ball things will continue c'est la vie. The way out? One, State funding of elections, a proposal the Election Commission has been crying hoarse for decades. Two, the fund to be apportioned on the basis of votes secured by candidates in the election.


Three, amount be released to individual candidates, not Parties. Four, 50% fund released as advance before election, on the basis of previous performance. Five, Party donations should be evenly spread out, not necessarily equally, but perhaps in some proportion to seats in Parliament.


In sum, given that our netas and Parties function as private limited companies, each with its own secret war chests, Modi has a long way to go before he can make Mera Bharat Mahan swachh. True, a beginning has been made. But the licence for brazen corruption and political ghooskhori is far from over. Any wonder, this Kolaveri Di!  ---- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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