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Poll Campaigning: DEMOCRACY OR OLIGARCHY?, By Proloy Bagchi, 8 December 2018 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 8 December 2018

Poll Campaigning


By Proloy Bagchi


We are in the midst of election season, with as many as five States results to start pouring out early next week. And then the General Elections for Parliament are looming over the political class. These will be held sometime around next May. With Prime Minister Modi seeking re-election, the fight is going to be tough, as is already being seen in these Assembly polls.  


The elections for the five State Assembly seats have witnessed vigorous campaigns. Candidates of the both the major political parties, the BJP and the Congress, are going hell for leather for a win at the hustings. The campaigns have increasingly become jarring, acrimonious and abusive of politicians or their families. This was seldom seen earlier unless, of course, one takes into account Sonia Gandhi’s description of Modi as a “merchant of death” in the 2007 Gujarat elections.


This time the level of political discourse has plummeted to a new low. While the Congress President Rahul Gandhi called the Prime Minister a thief another petty politician, a newly-elected member of Gujarat Assembly, called him “haramkhor”, a term in Hindi, the English translation of which even Google could not find. The best it could do was to suggest that it could mean a rogue or a rascal.


Taking up Rahul Gandhi’s abuse of Modi as a thief, it must be mentioned that there was credible evidence against Gandhi’s father about transfer to him of moneys from kickbacks from purchase of Bofors guns. And yet, no one ever called Rajiv Gandhi a thief, which, from all evidences, perhaps he was. Senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani had even mentioned in the Rajya Sabha the amount that was transferred to a German bank in the account of Gandhi’s father. Besides, everyone knows how a Central minister sat on the relevant file to allow Ottavio Quattrochi, a co-accused in Bofors bribery case and a close friend of Gandhi’s mother, to escape from the clutches of Indian Police. And yet nobody ever called Rajiv or Sonia Gandhi thieves. That nobody during the UPA regime pursued these matters is another matter.


More recently, the elections in which Modi swept to power in 2014 the issue for BJP was basically massive corruption indulged in by Manmohan Singh and/or his Cabinet colleagues. While in the Coal scam Manmohan Singh himself was involved, large scale corruption in sale of spectrum, purchase of a VIP chopper, the Commonwealth Games etc. took place and several ministers were and perhaps are being still investigated. As many as nine scams were discovered in the nine years of UPA Rule.


While Manmohan Singh presided over those scams as they were being committed, strong rumours were circulating during its rule as to where the proceeds of the scams were being channelised to. The destinations for the loot was mostly said to be the residence of one family. It is also believed that this family and the Congress Party are, therefore, the biggest critics of demonetisation carried out in 2016 as they lost all their ill-gotten cash.


This time, there is another peculiarity noticed in the campaigns and that is about inclusion of the parents of Modi in the speeches of Opposition. While earlier Modi’s mother was brought into the speeches, the latest is somebody seems to have made a mention of Modi’s father. Justifiably Modi has taken umbrage. While none so far from the BJP has brought in Rahul Gandhi’s parents into the campaign which is good as long it does not happen, its spokespersons have in debates and press briefings done so to buttress their argument and at times in poor taste.  


Speechifying should be on the basis of ideology but in India these days ideology takes the back seat. The elections are all personality-oriented and one will hear the Congress President taking the name of Modi in every address to the people in different towns and put sharp focus on the Rafale aircraft ‘scam’. Modi too returns the compliment.


The skirmishes and the wars of words continue and the people, the voters, are mere mute witnesses. In fact, there is hardly anything in the elections for them. Their only role is to go and press some keys on the EVMs and then everyone forgets about them. The kind of democracy that we seem to be running is only for the politicians and their next of kin and certainly not for the general public.


There is enormous stake in the elections for the politicians. They seek the instruments of power and once they get hold of these pelf follows. Most of the MLAs and MPs are billionaires and they reportedly made their billions working the instruments of power. A recent newspaper report said that in Madhya Pradesh while the per-capita income rose by 50-odd percentage points the ‘per-MLA’ income rose by 153%.


The feral fights that take place during the elections are all because of the State’s resources that are at stake. They are all there for the taking as one becomes an elected representative. It is true of every level whether it is a panchayat election, or a municipal election or an Assembly poll or the General elections, the game is basically the same – the public resources the candidates see at the end of the fight; it is the rainbow that beckons them. People are shut away from these goodies. This is how billionaires are made and every five years there is a jump in the numbers of political billionaires.


A large amount of resources, energy and time are invested in an effort to catch the rainbow. The successful ones have their lives cut out – conjuring up wealth seemingly from nowhere. While the dynastic politics of the Nehru-Gandhis is condemned some start their own dynastic line introducing their next of kin into the game. Over a period of last few decades such closed units of political families have proliferated, facilitated, as it is, by the wealth that is made from public life – in actual fact, by purloining public resources. Such families, knowing the ropes, throw everything into the contests including their ill-gotten wealth knowing that much more could be made if they swung the elections in their favour.


India, therefore, is no longer a democracy; it in actual fact is an oligarchy. Only because of the large population the oligarchy is somewhat inflated. In the States, however, because of the scale becomes smaller, it is only the few members of the oligarchy that call the shots.----INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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