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The Entitled Lot - Our Political Class

The Entitled Lot - Our Political Class

India got political freedom from its colonial masters on August 15, 1947. Indian National Congress, which led the freedom struggle, replaced the British as political masters of the country; it chose to ignore the sage advice of Gandhi Ji to disband INC which had been an amalgam of people of all thoughts that came together to fight for country’s independence from the British. In a note dated January 27, 1948, three days before he was assassinated, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that the Congress having “outlived its use” in its ‘present form’, should be disbanded. However, the pull of power and pelf was too strong a magnet and, our political class succumbed to it. Ideology, political or economic obviously had little importance in the eyes of our new political class. There were, in the initial years of our political independence, a few people of strong moral fibre with well-defined views on both political and economic direction ideal for the country but this class soon got overshadowed by the new crop of ‘power chasers’ that joined the political elite, post 1951-52(first General Election in politically free India). As the pre- Independence era stalwarts faded away, they were replaced by power hungry charlatans, pygmies in stature when compared to the pioneers. Several amongst them were plain ‘strongmen’, including the likes of GM Bakshi(J&K), PS Kairon (Punjab), YB Chavan and SK Patil (Maharashtra) and Biju Patnaik (Odisha). It has been a downhill journey since, mostly, with people of questionable motives and background making ‘politics’ their source of bread and butter.

The war debacle of 1962 with China dealt a heavy blow to the prestige, ego and health of Pt Nehru, the much-vaunted first Prime Minister of India. To help him discharge his duties, Shastri Ji was later inducted as Minister without Portfolio. This was the time entire country was asking,” After Nehru Who”? In a tell-tale observation (mentioned by Kuldeep Nayyar, the well-known journalist in his books), Shastri Ji is reported to have remarked,” Unke dil mein to sirf unki ladki hai,”, meaning thereby that Nehru wanted to pass on his political mantle to his daughter (Indira Gandhi) only. This was a signal that got picked up across the country as politicians in power, at any level, also wanted to ‘leave their legacy’ to their children only! The politician-businessmen- babu nexus also emerged in Nehru’s time only – VK Krishna Menon Jeep Scandal (1948), LIC Scam involving the Finance Minister TTK Krishnamachari(1958), Dharma Teja Shipping Scam( 1960), to name a few.

As politicians tasted power and pelf that goes with it, they started patronizing goons and musclemen to enforce their writ and to ‘capture votes’ during elections. This happened with every political party across the spectrum, from the Congress to the ‘cadre based’ Communists to every in-between shade of political opinion. Between the 1960s and 1980s one saw the strengthening of this nexus. By then, the ‘goon class’ started realizing that they could venture into politics directly, instead of operating in the ‘shadow’ of politicians. In the current Lok Sabha (May 2019 elections), as many as 43% members (233 out of 539) have criminal cases registered against them. The honourable Lok Sabha Member from Idukki, Kerala has 204 criminal cases registered against him. That Phoolan Devi, the dreaded bandit, with 48 crimes, including multiple murders, plunder, arson and kidnapping for ransom registered against her was elected to the Lok Sabha twice is a tribute to the ugly vote bank politics prevailing in India which practically makes a mockery of our claim as world’s largest democracy. That also is a comment on the gradual moral degradation in Indian society in general.

One of the most shocking realities of joining politics and becoming a minister at any level is the lack of minimum eligible educational criteria. As per constitution, anyone above the age of 25 can fight elections. No mention of any educational qualification or work experience requirement. For a Class IV job, government sets out a list of requirements, including education and background character check. None for the people who are set to rule us and draft our laws. There might have been some justification for flexibility when our constitution was drafted. Literacy rate was just 18.33% in 1951 and we were just coming out of centuries of slavery. However, seven decades down the line, when literacy rate has touched 75% (2011 census), why should our lawmakers not fulfil a minimum educational criterion or face a qualification examination before standing for elections? Or, a minimum administrative and work experience prerequisite for ministership. We had the infamous case of Mr Tulmohan Ram, member of the 5th Lok Sabha; when caught in a corruption case, his defence was that he did not know what was written on papers he had ‘signed’ since he was ‘illiterate’. We also have the famous advice that late Mr Kanshi Ram, BSP founder gave to a young Dalit girl Mayawati: Join politics instead of aspiring for IAS – you shall rule the IAS. She followed the advice and, became the Chief Minister of UP in 1995 without any administrative experience whatsoever! That she had to rely heavily on her bureaucrats for running her govt as well as the party is another story.

We now have the sorry spectacle of politicians directly or indirectly controlling every institution where power, influence and its fruits are on offer, including sports. Almost every sport governing body has a politician or his family member in control. Cricket has the combination of Home Minister Amit Shah’s son Jay as its all-powerful secretary, Anurag Thakur’s brother Arun Singh Dhumal as Treasurer, MP Rajeev Shukla (from Congress) as Vice President running the show of BCCI. It has seen deep involvement of Sharad Pawar, NKP Salve, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Madav Rao Scindia, Farooq Abdullah in running of the Board or its affiliates. Even Narendra Modi, our current PM and Amit Shah, Home Minister could not resist the temptation of running Gujarat Cricket Board for some time. Late Mr RK Khanna controlled the Lawn Tennis Association of India for decades till he handed over the baton to his son, Anil; the Association also had the patronage of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, C Subramanian, Natwar Singh, Yashwant Sinha, to name a few leading politicians. Sh VK Malhotra, ex-MP was controlling Archery (44 long years), Chess Associations besides being a power in Indian Olympic Association. This could be one reason why Indian sports continue to wallop in obscurity and poor standards!

Last couple of months, pre-elections to five state assemblies have seen Indian politics at its ugliest low. It is a naked display of pandering to selfish interests, of putting self above everything else, of political animals speaking with forked tongues. Politicians today are insisting that ‘tickets’ for elections be first be distributed to their kin and only then the ‘leftovers’ can be handed over to ‘others’. Primacy of the Candidate, his credentials, vision, ideology, moral integrity, stature are simply not important enough requirements – who’s relative you are, is important. We had the spectacle of Punjab CMs brother rising in revolt because his ‘claim; was overlooked – he has entered the fray as an independent, I believe. Son of a BJP MP decided to support another party because, in spite of his mother’s clout, he was not selected as a candidate. Such farces are played out daily and every such person, raising the flagpole of revolt, talks about injustice meted out to him. Makes me nauseous, such behaviour. I wish to ask such ‘leaders’ who on earth has given you this divine right to rule us? What makes you so entitled? What are your credentials, pedigree apart?

Almost every political animal has made politics a business, a source of income. Naturally, every politician wishes his/ her progeny to carry forward the ‘family business’ of ‘service to the nation’. The grooming starts quite early – even during the ‘student’ days when the young crown prince/ princess is allowed to head the ‘youth wing’! The trend started from Nehru, who groomed his daughter for takeover. She in turn started grooming her younger son – he unfortunately died in an air-crash so the older son was drafted in to fill the family seat! After his tragic demise, his wife held the fort as Bharat Mata till her progeny came of age. In my native state, Shiekh Abdullah handed over the ‘throne’ to his son Farooq – for a couple of years a tyrannical son-in-law (GM Shah) tried to break the hierarchy but soon ‘natural’ justice was restored. In turn, Farooq handed over the throne to his son – Omar. Chaudhary Charan Singh, a Kisan Leader and one time PM of India recalled his son Ajit Singh from US (he was a computer professional there) to handover the ‘gaddi’! Ajit Singh has handed over the reins to his son, Jayant. Ram Vilas Paswan, a famous Dalit ‘neta’ was grooming his son before death intervened and now we have the ugly spectacle of his son and brother fighting over Mr Paswan’s ‘legacy’! Our polity, unfortunately is full of such examples – Mulayam Singh Yadav and his clan, Laloo Yadav and his brood, Prakash Singh Badal and his family, M Karunanidhi and his sons, Y Rajsekhar Reddy and his son Jagan (Andhra), KCR and his family(Telengana), Biju Patnaik and his son Naveen( luckily, Naveen is unmarried!) from Odisha, Ashok Gehlot and his son( Rajasthan), Kamal Nath and his son( MP), family of HN Bahuguna ( Vijay and Reeta, UP-UK), Sharad Pawar and daughter Supriya Sule( Maharashtra), HD Deve Gowda and his sons( Karnataka), Jharkhand Tribal leader Shibu Soren and his son, Hemant, Madhav Sinh Solanki(Gujarat) and his son, Bharat, the Thakre family of Mumbai with the third generation already enjoying political clout and power. It really is depressing, the naked, shameless lust for ‘power’ in the garb of ‘service to the nation’ – cutting across party lines.

Once in power, our political class insulates itself against ANY SORT OF PUBLIC LIABILITY. No criminal charges are possible against them for whatever venomous words or wild, unsubstantiated charges they make while speaking in legislature. Political class has made politics such a lucrative career – excellent perks for attending the legislative business on a day-to-day basis, free travel for self and at least one companion, priority for train and air travel bookings (quota), free phone calls and healthcare facilities; lifelong pension if they complete their five-year term. There is no ‘performance review’ for these leaders – no questions asked about what they did in the legislature as representatives of people, number of speeches they delivered or bills introduced by them on the floor of the house! In fact, the new trend is that ‘performance’ is judged by the ‘disruptions’ they cause on the floor of the house, and the frequency at which they create ruckus through unruly behaviour within the legislature! Our founding fathers of constitution would die of shame on seeing such ‘performance’ of legislators! They live in spacious bungalows at the cost of public (occasionally rented out, too). Whatever nominal ‘rent’ is charged from them is rarely paid. Mostly, they retain their bungalows for years, even decades, even after having lost their elections or having completed their legislative term. Periodically, they sanction increments in salary/ allowances/ facilities for themselves – at such times, they all vote on the same side, irrespective of political affiliations or ideology!

Another remarkable thing among Indian political class is the capacity to stick to their chair till death claims them! There is no retirement age! Nehru suffered a brain stroke in January 1964 but refused to let go of power till the angel of death claimed him on May 27, 1964. Farooq Abdullah is +82, with several health issues but continues as a MP. Manmohan Singh at 90 is carrying on, physical infirmities notwithstanding! Karunanidhi clung to power till death intervened at 94. Prakash Singh Badal of Akali Dal is going strong at 94, Sharad Pawar survived cancer and, at 81, considers himself a Maratha youth icon! Mulayam Singh Yadav at 82 has to be helped while walking but he continues to be an honourable MP. Comrade Jyoti Basu continued as Chief Minister of West Bengal for 23 long years; luckily he retired at 86. Politicians don’t think of retiring, like all professionals do till death or severe ailments make them unfit to continue. Deprive a person of power or ministerial perks and he starts clamouring – as we see the spectacle created by Yashwant Sinha at 84. The grand old man of BJP – LK Advani (94) is miffed that he was forced to retire from active political life by his own protégé Narendra Modi. Murli Manohar Joshi at 88 is another ‘disgruntled’ leader, forcibly retired by Mr Modi. In our Indian style democracy, unfortunately, we do not have a constitutional limit to the number of terms a person can have as a minister or Prime Minister or Chief Minister – US presidents can’t serve for more than two terms. It is so refreshing to see Barak Obama, former president of USA, retiring at the age of 55 and leading the life of a normal citizen, post retirement! However, not in India. Political people just don’t want to let go. Each person wants to remain glued to his/ her position or seat of authority till death intervenes.

Mr Narendra Modi has tried to introduce two reforms in his own party – retirement from active political office after the age of 75 and discouraging evolution of political families within his party. He is facing stiff resistance on both counts and party members are out with their knives for him for such audacity, albeit a shade muted. So far, he has met with a decent amount of success but then, such a norm needs to become a national movement. I recall, one of India’s noblest thinker-politicians, Bharat Ratna Nana Ji Deshmukh once suggested that political leaders should retire from active politics at age 60 and devote the rest of their lives to social service and uplift of poor in rural areas. He set an example by refusing to be part of Morarji Desai’s cabinet in 1977; instead, he retired from public life in 1980(age 64) and till his death in 2010(age 94), devoted his energy to rural development. Obviously, such examples are rare! I am now eagerly waiting for Mr Modi to turn 75. It shall be interesting to see if he applies the rule to himself as well! Yes, rules need to be created, precedents set; moral ethics need to gain primacy in public life. Only then can India rise to be a morally upright society, capable of giving leadership to the world!


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