I must admit a particular fondness for former External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh’s biweekly column in the Business Standard. I was not a great fan of him as a politician, and was happy to see him go when he was accused in the Iraq cash-for-food scandal, but there’s a certain freshness and honesty in the column that I’ve learnt to appreciate. Having had a colourful political career, he has a lot of stories to tell, and though some of these are already well-known, there is value in reading the way he narrates them.
This makes me crave for more such pieces, but the unfortunate fact about Indian politics is that there are few retired politicians. Unlike in developed countries where most politicians go out of office before they are seventy, and then hang around making money by giving speeches and critiquing their successors, the people here continue in active politics even after they’re well into the proverbial seventh age. Look no further than LK Advani who, well into his eighties, still harbours the hope of becoming India’s prime minister one day.
While one result of this is that senior citizens occupy all the posts that matter in a country like ours that is so young (in terms of median age), this also means that there are no retired politicians. This means that there are few people who have seen it all, from the inside or the outside, who are now free from any contractual or political obligations, and so can afford to educate us about all that they’ve seen.
Now that makes me think that our political parties are afraid of people who are still around but out of the system, since their personal and party incentives are not aligned any more. Hence, it might be a possibility that political parties give out posts to senior party members as a sort of dole, so that they don’t retire and tell the wider public all that they know.
Following my previous post and comments and countercomments and discussions on twitter and facebook and google groups and various other forums, I’ve been thinking about this whole corruption thing. Random thoughts. The kind that comes to you when you’re traveling across the city by auto on a hot summer day, watching the world go by.
Ok so this is for the people who claim that the supporters of Anna Hazare are a large enough group that they probably represent “most of the people”. If this were the case, we have a simple solution to corruption – all these worthies can band together in the form of an “anti corruption party” (when was the last time we had a political party being formed on a solid ideology?) and contest the next elections. And if they can work hard, and ensure that they keep up the kind of efforts they’ve started, they’ll soon be ruling us. And hopefully they’ll continue with their zeal and be actually able to eradicate corruption. (on my end, I promise that if a credible party gets formed with an anti-corruption stand, I’ll get over my NED, get myself registered as a voter and vote for them).
But there are reasons to doubt something like this will happen. A look at the list of nominal supporters Anna Hazare got suggests that a lot of people were there just to be seen and get footage, rather than really wanting to weed out corruption. Again, given the political spectrum across which Hazare’s supporters last week came from, it might not be that easy an idea to form this “anti-corruption party” that I suggested.
Thinking about it further, there is a scary thought – that a large part of our population is actually pro-corruption. And looking at the political parties across the spectrum, it doesn’t sound implausible. So if a large number of people are actually pro-corruption, what are we to do?
Let me put it another way. How many people do you think are really anti-corruption? On all fronts? How many people do you think exist in India who haven’t paid or received a single bribe, however small that might be? Basically I want to estimate the number of people who are against corruption of all kinds, and my sense is that this number is likely to be small indeed.
I think one needs to think about this further before actually figuring out how to weed out corruption. From what I’ve read so far the Lok Pal bill simply adds one extra protective layer, and am not sure of its effectiveness. More about this in another post.
- Recently I read this joke, not sure where, which said that the American and Indian middle classes are feeling sad that they cannot take part in a revolution, unlike their counterparts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and other similar place. Instead, they can only vote
- There needs to be some sort of an antitrust law for political parties. There is currently little to distinguish between the policies of various political parties. For example, all parties favour a greater role for the government (more govt => more opportunity to make money on the side => more corruption, etc.) .
- Given the homogeneity in the political spectrum, there is little incentive to vote. This scoundrel may be only marginally better than that scoundrel, so why bother voting. So we have this large middle class which essentially removes itself from the political process (confession: I’m 28, and I’ve never voted. When my name’s in the list I’ve not been in town, and vice versa.)
- Now this Anna Hazare tamasha has suddenly woken up people who never bothered to vote, and who are pained with excessive corruption. So they’re all jumping behind him, knowing that this gives them the opportunity to “do something” – something other than something as bland and simple as voting.
- Supporters of Hazare care little about the implications of what they’re asking for. “Extra constitutional bodies”? “Eminent citizens”? Magsaysay award winners? Have you heard of the National Advisory Council? You seriously think you want more such institutions?
- The Lok Ayukta isn’t as useless an institution as some critics have pointed out. But then again, this is highly personality-dependent. So you have a good person as a “lok pal”, you can get good results. But what if the government decides to appoint a compliant scoundrel there? Have the protesters considered that?
- Basically when you design institutions, especially government institutions, you need to take care to build it in such a way that it’s not personality-dependent. Remember that you can have at TN Seshan as Election Commissioner, but you can also have a Navin Chawla.
- So when you go out in droves and protest, you need to be careful what you ask for. Just make sure you understand that.