P V Indiresan

Blame the system, not the politician

| Updated on: Apr 06, 2012
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The state should meet the entire cost of fighting elections and pay winners and losers. Then, politicians would not need money to contest elections and be free of the clutches of the crooked.

These days there is much news, much bad news. There are complaints about the Army Chief and about his Minister. A very rich NRI who owns a major defence enterprise is under threat of arrest.

A case has been registered against a very, very rich son of a past Chief Minister for unaccounted wealth. In all these cases and in many others, money is at the root of the trouble. There is a view that all politicians are bad. Actually, politicians are of various types. At the top are the owners; many of them are unscrupulous or are not much concerned how they get their money and from where it comes.

The next group are their coterie. Some of those are unscrupulous both in the way they collect money and how they use it. There are also some among them, who do not use politics to enrich themselves and lead an honest life, but are dependent on money gatherers. They are the ones who give a political party its weight.

Finally, there is probably the largest group in India who are totally subservient to their bosses and also ruthlessly selfish in the ways they make money.

Two-pronged strategy

This kind of distribution is common in all democratic countries except that in India the bad lot have increased intolerably and the good ones have shrunk. It is also a fact that all good ones are turning a blind eye to where their money comes from. That is the fault of the system. We need to make changes in the laws of politics to ensure that the good ones prosper and the bad ones do not profit, or profit so little that unscrupulous ones choose other professions to make money.

There are two ways of tackling the situation: One, as suggested by Team Anna, punish the culprits. Two, follow the Christian path of Archbishop Tutu who was inspired by the Biblical saying “But for the grace of God go I”. So, he persuaded the rulers of South Africa to establish the Truth Commission where culprits could confess and be forgiven.

I suggest we learn to forgive and forget and follow the South African model. There is a reason why I suggest that model. Strictly speaking, what we want is a better set of politicians. Let us appreciate that not all politicians are bad. After all, as a community, they have held the nation together (almost); they have also made the country pretty prosperous. Hence, it is best to let the good ones grow in numbers and by the same token let the bad ones shrink.

Further, to forgive and forget is wise. Once we start punishing politicians we virtually start a civil war; cause enormous bitterness. When we forgive and forget, many of the currently powerful politicians lose their flavour. We can also get along with the much more important task of nation building.

Illicit Money

However, politicians should not be allowed to indulge anymore in making illicit money.

Hence, we should have a system where no politician has to need money to contest elections or even function in politics. Then only will politicians be free of the clutches of the crooked.

That will happen only when the state meets the entire cost of fighting elections and also pays politicians — both winners and losers — well and according to purchasing power parity. That is the first and the most crucial step.

Three, objections will be raised against this proposal: One, people will take the help from the state and add it to their illicit money rather than be satisfied with what the state provides for them.

Actually, marginal value of money shrinks. There is the story of an ice cream vendor in the US who made such a large one that he was willing to give away a second one free.

Very few took the offer because few people had the appetite for a second helping.

That will happen with money, too. Let us recollect that though politicians have lots of unaccounted money, they almost never buy a Rolls Royce. Political crime may not vanish but it will come down.

The second objection is that politicians will use illicit money to bribe voters. When candidates have to participate several times in TV debates, voters will not be all that easily swayed by thousand rupee notes.

Certainly, the temptation will be virtually nil when they are free to vote for as many candidates as they wish. The third objection will be that state funding will increase the number of candidates. That could be reduced by having primary elections with local taxpayers as voters. Make only those who get at least 5 per cent of the total votes eligible for state support.

That will eliminate the power of families controlling the selection of candidates. Alternately, the Security Deposit may be kept so high that only serious candidates will dare to contest.

Remedial steps

Deterrence too is useful. If the criminal investigation system has the same protection as the higher judiciary has and is also remunerated well, criminal activity will shrink.

Hence, I suggest the following steps to remedy our political illnesses:

Forgive and forget the crimes politicians have done in the past.

Let the state meet the full cost of contesting elections.

Pay both winners and losers well on a Purchasing Power Parity basis.

Provide crime investigators, as also the judiciary, attractive salaries and also offer them high professional security.

Ask local taxpayers to choose eligible candidates. They may vote for as many candidates as they like. Only those who get minimum 5 per cent of their votes be given state support. Or, keep the price of the Security Deposit really high.

(The author is a former Director, IIT, Madras. Responses to >indiresan@gmail.com and >blfeedback@thehindu.co.in )

Published on March 12, 2018

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