On 10th December, 2014, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Shri Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary in a written reply to Shri Vivek Gupta in the Rajya Sabha informed that government has decided to delete Section 309 of IPC from the Statute book. Suicide is no longer a criminal offence. Apparently, this was based on a report by Law Commission, endorsed by 18 States and 4 Union Territories. We need not know specific names of these States and UTs. The Law Commission, in its report no.201, titled “Humanisation and decriminalisation of Attempt to suicide” (October, 2008), says, “Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code provides double punishment for a person who has already got fed up with his own life and desires to end it.” In this 38-page report, the Law Commission details reasons and justification for its recommendation – “Section 309 needs to be effaced from the statute book because the provision is inhuman, irrespective of whether it is constitutional or unconstitutional. The repeal of the anachronistic law contained in section 309 of the Indian Penal Code would save many lives and relieve the distressed of his suffering.”
The decision is taken. This is probably one of the series of changes BJP has promised in its manifesto to ‘review and change anachronistic’ laws in India.
Be that as it may, a conversation with one of my journalist friends brought me the realisation. What happens to farmers suicides? We are aware that farmers suicides are happening for the past several years, increasing cyclically. The only authentic nation-wide source of such information is National Crime Records Bureau. With decriminalisation of suicide, this Bureau would not task itself with such collection anymore, and police stations would be relieved of collecting and recording suicides.
With governments not ready to accept recorded statistics of farmer suicides, by their own agency, for political reasons, they would be much more happier if there is no information collection at all. Presently, a serious issue of farmers suicides, with available statistics is buried and neglected by all the four pillars of Indian democracy. With no system of information collection, suicides can be easily be ignored and forgotten. No one can be wiser about the magnitude.
In fact, not just farmers suicides, it will be a issue for all kinds of suicides, if one sees suicides as a socio-economic problem and has policy and governance implications. In India, with a state which is ever distant from the poor and good governance, suicides are often termed as state murders, implying apathy and neglect of government. In the case of farmer suicides, the demand for compensation has been met by many State Governments half-heartedly. There are number of documents to be submitted, for the family to claim such compensations. One of them includes a record from the local Police Station. With the dropping of Section 309, the police station is relieved of such function, including filing of FIRs, investigation, and the responsibility of post-mortem. Unless, ofcourse, all suicides are recorded as suspicious deaths. Prior to the dropping of the section, affected families had atleast a suo moto procedure to rely upon. Not that it happens on its own at every place. But, atleast the police had a responsibility. Now, the onus will be on the families to get this legal procedures done, even while they are in distress over the untimely death. Which department would not collect these statistics? or record such deaths?Policy makers had a statistical burden to respond. What is the alternative?
For me, the answer lies in laws, rules and administrative systems related to collection of statistics in India. We need a thorough review of the same. We tend to rely more and maximum on Revenue Departments – anachronistic and outdated in its outlook and functioning. Like in United States and other countries, India needs to build a vibrant National Vital Statistics System. This system should be made independent of government whims and fancies and should be funded by autonomous, constitutionally acceptable financial support. Data collection and information systems at the State level are almost non-existent.
Suicides and other public healths statistics have to be made independent of the Revenue and Planning departments. As health, economic and social issues became more complex, the content of the information collected on the vital
records has to be expanded and measures to improve its quality are brought in. The function of producing national vital statistics has to be entrusted to a dedicated public research centre, and a system of regular collection, and not to be embedded in departments with bureaucracy breathing down their neck.
Indian political scenario has witnessed a sea change in the last more than fifty years, especially after Independence. Some say it reflects the change in aspirations of the polity that is the people. However, this is not peculiar to India. The world over this change can be seen. One important change is the political leadership, and the style of functioning. Political leadership is increasingly becoming devoid of ideological content. There is now an element of generality in every leadership, belonging to any party, region or country. Considering this situation, it becomes imperative to compare political leadership. This comparison is also necessitated because of the present conditions. Indira Gandhi and Chandra Babu Naidu represent this change of leadership style in their particular era. In both of their times, poverty has been on the rise, widening gap between rich and the poor, and accumulation of wealth at particular levels. There was a ‘threat’ to each of their political careers, and their responses have been the same and also different.
There are lots of things common among them. Both of them are autocratic, in the party and also in the governance. They have always never allowed anybody to speak except themselves. They ruled with an ‘iron’ hand, and talked very emphatically. However, both of them were vulnerable, like any dictator, always living under the fear that they will be thrown out. This fear psychosis prevented them from confiding in anybody, not to trust anybody. However, their ‘policies’ and responses are different. While Indira Gandhi nationalized major financial institutions, reflecting the supremacy of ideology in political decisions then, today, Naidu talks of privatization of everything reflecting the void in political decisions. Indira Gandhi tried to be populistic, Naidu armed with modern communication facilities is trying to popularize his approaches by adopting Goebbels strategy. Despite the ‘best’ strategies of both these leaders to hoodwink the democratic processes, both of them could not prevent dissent and revolt. Ultimately, Indira Gandhi had to impose emergency to safeguard her rule, which became her undoing. Naidu is using police, repression, secrecy, and media to browbeat democratic aspirations and processes. It is already becoming apparent that it would not be easy for him in future, and is looking into angry faces both in the party and society. Ms. Gandhi and Naidu both tried to take support from outside, and always wanted ‘certificates’ from everybody. They went to any length to win accolades and praises. While Indira Gandhi talked about Garibi Hatao, Naidu is bent upon ‘Garib ko hatao’.
Chandra Babu Naidu’s rule is coming under increasing scrutiny by supporters and adversaries. Supporters of his ‘policies’ have been looking at his leadership as a model, while adversaries are critical about the impact of his policies on the polity. His strengths so far has been his ability to utilise the media, Corporate power and the World Bank. This is a powerful combination with which he is able to fend off any criticism. Added to this, he promoted himself as a messaiah, talking of all the ‘good’ things in life. A novel approach, this has endeared him to the middle class and upper middle class sections. These sections have been ‘vexed’ by the vote politics and quibblings of other politicians and parties. Shrewd as he is, Naidu has always been careful not to antagonize these classes in his speeches and public posturing. He became a champion of modern, sophisticated technologies which made him a dear boy of middle classes and upcoming millionaire classes.
Modern communication mediums like newspapers and Televisions, full of middle class people, have been very supportive of his programmes, irrespective of the quality of their implementation. A feature of his time is that today politicians are now falling over each other to be seen in the company of big corporate leaders, unlike in the past, where meetings with them were almost private. Today, a politician with a vision is one who can be accepted by the corporate leaders in their clubs and meetings. It is increasingly becoming apparent that government policies are being framed in the corporate boardrooms than in Secretariat and legislature. Unlike the previous generation of politicians, Naidu is ‘openly’ championing the corporate interests in the name of globalisation and liberalization. The financial muscle of World Bank and other multilateral institutions can be clearly seen in the promotion of Naidu as ‘leader with a vision’. Principal support for him, not surprisingly, is only from outside. Today, a common man is not in a position to understand this web of deceit in the politics and policies, leave alone providing an opinion on the rule of Mr. Naidu. They are merely awed by the publicity he receives, but never misled by the ground realities of raising prices, increasing crime, deteriorating law and order, drought and water shortages, and unemployment.
Meanwhile, the World Bank through an army of consultancies and consultancy firms is ready to help Naidu by churning out studies and performance reports which show his policies in favorable light. Thus, the AP economy continues to be ‘bright’ while there are suicides and hunger deaths. World Bank-led reforms in power and irrigation sectors have nowhere been able to deliver the services promised in terms of efficiency and quality. But, people have now to pay for the same mediocre services through their noses. Tail end farmers are yet to be assured of irrigation water, under any dispensation, but the water cess has increased many more times. Consumers of electricity have to pay inflated bills, while there is no assurance of assured power supply. Overall, the mark of Naidu’s rule on APs economy is so deep that there are more number of people looking for employment, more industries are being closed down, more number of farmers are committing suicides, more number of people are being killed by police, or lathicharged, and there are more number of poor people and lesser number of millionaires. His vision of Swarna Andhra Pradesh helps a few sections of contractors, politicians, officials and consultants, while millions of children are under the threat of losing their vision due to malnutrition and food insecurity.
Overall, there can be no comparison between Indira Gandhi and Chandra Babu Naidu, basically because of their personalities, times and circumstances. Yet history, past and recent, has proved time and again that ultimately people and the democratic institutions will prevail over every powerful combination of vested interests. It is just a matter of time. Personalities never mattered before or even now.
Politicians have their own role models. Young and upcoming individuals follow some of the role model politicians. Obviously, the most successful politicians would be the role model. Success of a politician can be rated in many facets: money, income, networks, sustenance capacity, and floating always even in the most adverse political storms (like a sea float).
Common people are farthest in this network of income and expenditure, payments and receipts and balancing self and other interests. The most efficient means of reaching the people are the media and connections with persons, whom the people love (film stars, godmen and women, etc).
So, you have successful politicians, who can be businessmen, when they are in opposition, and leaders of businessmen, when they are in power. Their power remains the same, being elected or not elected. They can be influential in their own party, and also in the opposition party. They can decide who can be their opponent in their own constituency. In fact, they would promote their own opponent. Some are bigger than the party, of which they are a member. Party would be dependent on them, than the other way. It can be in the constituency or outside. The key is becoming bigger than the party is to accumulate more and more money and create ‘own’ networks (most often caste) independent of party cadre. In future, you may need to start your own party.
Best way is to have loads of money is to have a finger in the business, which is not linked with costs of production. Thus, usually it would be a business in natural resources which cannot be valued, and the value depends on the demand. Many made a killing out of deforestation. With trees on the wane, they turned to sand and stones. As business grew, this sand mining politician would grow into major minerals, such as coal, iron ore, etc. Funds from these would help them to venture into infrastructure projects. Roads and culverts are for small time contracts for followers. Now, it would be airports and 8-lane toll highways. Power projects would be an added advantage. Ofcourse, one can start with min-hydel, biomass (cutting trees) and then graduate to thermal. This graduation would bring them on par with corporate honchos. But, do not forget land. Start with cubic feet, grow to acres and hectares. Government land would be the best possible start, to do business with.
However, you have to be honest. You cannot earn money through extortion, harassing women, crime and anti-social activities. You cannot afford to go to jail on those counts. That would be very bad. Leave that to your followers, who need their livelihoods to follow and support you. You can go to jail on corruption and there is no bar. In fact, it would be an added advantage. Once your stars turn, you need not advertise your services. People with necessities would come to you. Price for your services can always be negotiated.
Heading a association of a particular business is now the latest trend. So, if you are a cabinet minister, and being the president of ‘xyz’ manufacturers association is a matter of pride and no shame. In fact, if you are in trouble, members of this association would come to your rescue, and you can always be their godfather. In fact, this way you can also connect with ‘opposition’ politicians, who have same business interests. You can be pally with them when it comes to business. But beware that necessarily you have to maintain political distance in the public domain.
Then, another phase of life begins. Becoming connoisseurs of art and artful living. Attending filmy functions and sports opening & closing ceremonies would give them the positive image. Being a President or office bearer of any sports association would be an added advantage, of removing them from the everyday grind of politics. Earlier, it was only boxing or wrestlers association. Class is also important – more classy sports are also advantageous. They would also do social work, through a trust or society. This would be the conduit for corporate tax savings and constituency development funds. Maybe it will help during and after the elections. It would give them an image makeover at the cost of state funds.
These days owning a news channel would be helpful. It can be an instrument, to cow down opponents, cajole the ‘subjects’, earn pots of money and keep regulatory authorities at bay. If you cannot, ensure that you have a relative or a supporter in the media. Starting a chain of colleges would also help. The formula is to ‘reform’ a sector, encourage privatisation and reap the benefits.
If you become a national figure, do not forget foreign lands. The best way is to support a existing a business group, foreign multi-national, or Indian multi-national. They can route some profits to you. Additionally, there are thousands of hectares of land up for grabs in Africa. There are tax havens, as well. You can always visit and monitor your business. However, be sure to link it with a official tour to study waste management, travelling in a metro car, traffic lights, etc. Do not select heavier topics, after all you need to enjoy the trip and manage your business. Back home, you may be ‘harassed’ with questions, as studies always involve reports.
You may consider what one Union Cabinet Minister did. Start a consultancy service in New York, and provide ‘intermediary’ services for approvals and permissions back home. Not to confuse your potential customer, name it after the party you are heading. No one can object, in the land of contradictions. Election Commission would be least bothered. This would help you in earning money, and also bring you closer to who is doing which business and how in India. Arm-twisting them later can get you more money later.
Leave nothing to anyone. Philanthropy, philosophy, press, power, people and pelf would all be part of the same. You would be a fool, if you think they will leave past ‘money spinners’. Jobs, transfers, small contracts, tenders, etc., are all done by their followers. All this requires trust and trusted people. Who can be more trustworthy than sons, daughters, wife and their relatives? But, they would not be enough. Identifying self interest of the other one and integrating with one’s own would be the key strategy. Caste, religion, region, etc would be additional helpful links.
In the following maze of success, you can begin anywhere. You can be a successful businessman, and enter politics and complete all the formalities of success. Or, you can be a film star, and become successful as above. However, the story is you have to complete all the links, to become successful, wherever you begin. However, you need to start with criticism, and end with ‘mysticism’, making people guess where you are in this complex political scenario. You would not have to worry about disqualification, or burning bridges, everyone knows that in politics, criticism cannot be taken personal. If you are successful, even your rivals would follow you, court you and would welcome you with open arms. It would be so thrilling to move between rivalry and friendship, as frequently as possible. It tickles everyone, more so the media, the intellectuals and the ‘fanatic’ followers. They all know you are doing it with a purpose. They would come up with a rational explanation of why you behaving like that.
But, ultimately, connecting with the people is important. After all, they provide you the bread and butter. No worry about dissent and disgruntled people. Do not worry about average citizen. They all know that you are beyond ‘repair’ and they would worry about themselves. You can keep connecting with different people, not the same set always. You can chose your constituency.Managing citizens should not be a big issue.
Ultimately, when you die, you need not be worried as well about those ‘four’ persons who can carry you to grave. Being a successful politician, you are entitled to government-organised funeral services, with 21-gun salute, etc. So, bingo, go ahead and do not look back.
It is striking that in the after so many years of India’s independent existence, there is no change in the political parties agendas. With growing levels of literacy even among the political class, competition has not improved quality. In fact, it has only deteriorated; deterioration to the abysmal levels. Manifestos lack the perspective to address various problems afflicting the society and the vision
to lead us into the coming Century. Last sixty years of experience has shown that in the name of economic progress and development we did cross some major milestones but in the process we have also depleted and degraded our resources, both natural and human. Even the gains achieved at the cost of our resources have been disproportionately shared among various sections of society. In general, the gains are oriented towards the industrial, trading and urban sections as well as the educated sections of the society, in that order, thereby disfavoring the lower sections of the population, and/or the people of the `inaccessible’ regions. The discussion now centres on the development `achieved’, who gained from such a development, what are the gains, and how those gains were achieved. The time has come to question the direction of development itself.
Modern development in the name of liberalization and automation accentuated the fissures in the society in the name of caste and religion. No doubt modern development had improved the GNP of the country, but this GNP has not only been at the cost of the natural resources. It has also emaciated the poor sections of the society. Today, poverty is on the rise both in urban and rural
areas. And worst, poor people are being robbed of their right to existence by alienating them from their resources in various forms: by industrial pollution, depletion and degradation and by laws. All in the name of development, modernization, liberalization and globalization.
Political parties preoccupied as they are in their internal bickering, one-upmanship and race to grab power have ignored these `fundamentals’ of the economy, irrespective of their professed ideological leanings: extreme right to extreme left. Instead the political parties and individuals in these elections are asking votes either in the name of caste, creed, religion, individual charisma
or in the name of development which is meaningless to larger sections of society today and tomorrow. The approach of almost all the political parties is sectarian in the sense that they are addressing only the divisible blocks among the community of citizens. Secondly they operate with a shortsighted outlook hence their policies and programmes are focused to achieve political mileage with immediate effect. Thirdly all these parties and individuals without exception are operating broadly in the same development perspective which is increasingly proving to be a failure for a third world country like ours. Fourthly all the political parties are endorsing the policy of globalization and liberalization to suit the big industrial classes and MNC’s without introspection into the genuine requirements of the country. Almost all the political parties are endorsing the need for investment of transnational capital, which brings together far-flung and heterogeneous areas and people (foreign) into an integrated, hierarchical division of labor. The consequences of this course could be the continuation of neo-colonial relations, technocratic management of a `materialistic’ economy, and a permanently unemployed underclass.
Finally none of these individuals seem to be promising an agenda with a vision to herald a more humane, more prosperous and more peaceful development, which can only be sustainable development. The factors of environmental degradation are necessarily the factors of modern development. Issues of environment intertwined with those of economic growth, equity and welfare, arise mostly out of the pattern of `development’ followed.
Advanced industrial development, in Europe and North America, brought to the fore problems of over consumption (of resources and goods), enormous amounts of garbage, acid rains, pollution, etc., with concomitant effects on living species’ survival and on environment. The world over,development resulted in disparities in terms of socio-economic conditions between rich and poor
countries. Besides degrading the environment through pollution and deforestation, present economic trends had benefited a privileged minority and had done little to meet the basic needs of the vast majority.
The cost of progress achieved so far, in terms natural resources had been very adverse. We have either depleted or deteriorated every possible natural resource, which is within our reach. The air, water, and land along with its flora and fauna of our country had been damaged and continue to get damaged. The air in almost all the major cities and their adjoining regions has been polluted.
The quality of water both surface and ground has changed drastically either because of industrial discharges or because of the intensification of chemical based agriculture. Due to depletion of renewable and non-renewable resources from the land and the rapid changes in the land use patterns has resulted in dangerous alterations in the landscape. In the following we will examine some consequences of our actions in recent past over the nature.
In the 1950s, faced with the problems of achieving development, thrust of the government policy has been to increase agricultural production by intensifying cultivation. Green Revolution as a policy prescription marked a distinct change in the history of agriculture and management of resources. Launched in the 1960s, it was hailed as a means to overcome hunger and poverty. Consequent changes in farming system and application of specific technology had a negative impact on food consumption, nutrition and production. Encouragement of monoculture and hybrid seeds eroded the species and genetic diversity of crops. Chemical fertilizers caused hardening of the soil, pesticides killed natural preys, resulting in attacks by pests and diseases not known before. `Cash’ came to represent the over-riding factor in agriculture, at the cost of the wholesomeness of food and life. One major consequence of the Green Revolution has been its negative impact on nutritional levels as a result of the decline in production of pulses. Genetic
erosion is equally evident in cereals, fruits, vegetables and root crops.
Green Revolution demanded enhanced capital inputs and investments from the farmer whereby governmental intervention became a necessity. But it led to dependency of farmer on government at every stage of agricultural activity. This dependency is not only at the production stage but also while marketing the produce. Further, the market oriented economy is heavily influencing the farmers to shift to cash crops like cotton, tobacco, oil seeds, mulberry, etc. Cash crops demand heavy fertilizer and pesticide inputs and the rates of agricultural outputs are decided else where thus farmer is forced to incur heavy losses which sometimes results in suicides of farmers as witnessed recently in Andhra Pradesh.
Expansion of irrigation sources was an essential activity of developmental programmes. It was believed that irrigation plays a vital role in enhancing agricultural production and in minimizing adverse effects of vagaries of climate, particularly in the arid and semi-arid regions where the rainfall being scanty, erratic and uneven. However, poor irrigation efficiency led to widespread water logging promoting excessive weed growth, impaired microbial activity, caused disorder in nutrient availability, affected soil health, exerting harmful effects on plant growth and had created unhygienic conditions for human beings. The yield of food grain crops in irrigated areas is less than the average yield level under well-managed irrigation systems. While the irrigated regions are facing galore problems the dry land region are continuously hit by drought conditions. Traditional water management systems are in a state of disrepair and mismanagement.
In fact, it was found that many villages, which had not yet benefited from government water schemes, had some water to drink as they still had their traditional systems intact. The `developed’ villages, however, are starved of water – tube wells had either no water or no electricity to pump it.
Forests, minerals, water, air and land have been meeting the needs of humans since time immemorial. While depending on these resources, somewhere in the history, humans have crossed the capacity of natural regeneration. Modern developmental processes enabled humans to exploit natural resources indiscriminately. Increasing rates of consumption led to faster depletion of resources. Even there is human interference in natural recycling processes affecting the continuous availability of resources. Illustratively, there is extensive deforestation of mangroves affecting the biosphere and depleting marine resources. Consequently, many fisherman families dependent on these are facing problems of survival. Extinction of mangrove forests, a natural barrier against sea erosion and cyclones, has exposed the land to devastation and degradation.
Presently, traditional systems are being recognized as extremely important even in this world of modern science and technology. Their ecological rationality remains valid in the modern context. A fresh evaluation of the traditional systems can also have major political and cultural repercussions. Indian Universities and numerous social science and scientific research institutions have totally neglected traditional knowledge systems.Effluents from industries of various categories are improperly treated or not treated at all, thus contaminating a large number of neighboring wells, lakes and streams. Major rivers of the country are polluted by sullage and sewage from towns situated along their banks. Even small streams are not free from pollution. There are numerous lakes which are polluted, occupied, reclaimed and are generally abused, and decimated. Sea is also being increasingly used to dump municipal wastes, refuse and industrial wastage. Industrialization along the coastline has serious connotations for the survival of marine resources and coastal environment. Air in the urban and industrial areas is laden with dust and other tiny particles. Particle pollution is particularly serious considering its effect on the lungs of children, women and old people. Liquid and gaseous materials of industrial processes have made the lives of residents miserable – asthma, bronchitis, and lung-related problems are rampant. In areas of excessive pollution, there have been reports of miscarriages of pregnant women, and delivery of stillborn children.
Ground water is polluted in various part of the country due to unplanned industrial growth. In fact, the present usage of mineral water increasingly indicates the extent to which the drinking water supplies are polluted in entire India. This is continuing and problem continues to grow. Automobile pollution is one of the accompanying problems associated with unplanned urbanization. Growth of cities has put tremendous pressure on urban transport services leading to proliferation of motor vehicles, and thus, air pollution. Yet the government and parties encourage increased usage of personalized transport and exotic automobiles.
The cost in terms of human resources is even greater in magnitude. There is near total erosion of values and ethics both in the public as well as private domain. The cherished virtues like honesty; humbleness tolerance and simplicity of lifestyle have paved way for dishonesty, intolerance, and arrogance born out of material possession and consumerist lifestyles. This resulted in all kinds of unethical means of amassing wealth, as visible in various scams being unearthed today. The self of the individual got corrupted irrespective of the fact that whether they are operating in the public or private domains. As a result, there is an ever-increasing level
of violence in the country today.
Several environmental movements, with the initiative of individuals, communities and institutions have tried to respond to the crisis of environment and the perils of modern development in different ways. Government has also initiated certain steps to correct the
situation. Environmental movements exposed the dichotomy between agriculture and industrialization, people’s participation and state control, laws and traditional practices, economic growth and ecological balance, inter state water disputes, etc., asking for a fundamental change in the patterns of governance. Freedom of information has become the basic slogan for every environmental action and movement. The main concern of most movements is about the use of the natural resources: how should they be used and who should use them and benefit. For sustainable development, it is very important that the voices of local people are strengthened and brought forward.
The need of the hour is to evolve alternate perspectives, which require a total shift in the policies and programmes and an introspection to understand the genuine needs of the larger sections of society of today and tomorrow.
Concept of Sustainable Development
Environmental problems arise both from the lack of development and from the unintended consequences of some forms of economic growth. An ecosystem is a concept from nature wherein there are patterns of interdependency, and a network of flow of energy. In human-made environment, this dependency is more to be seen in economic terms.
Environment and development are not separate challenges, but linked together in a complex system of cause and effect. Environmental stresses and patterns of development are linked to one another. Thus agricultural development policies are the causal factors of land, water and forest degradation.
Crisis in the development policies implemented during the last five decades coupled with the present recognition of environmental problems prompts a fundamental reconsideration of the policies in general and of planning in particular. Environmental policies are important for facing the ecological challenge. Local, national and international measures must be formulated and implemented; finding the most appropriate level of action necessary to cope with the various environmental threats is also important.
Policy Options for the Future – Requirements of A New Vision
Today, both the opportunities and the needs are greater than ever to make social, economic,environmental and other systems more compatible. We should address the need to achieve a political system that secures effective citizen participation in decision-making.
Incentives to develop and promote new, cleaner technologies can also contribute to sustainable development. There is also a need for society’s institutions to redefine their work to solve the problems of other institutions as well as their own. The best opportunities for improvement lie with people whose activities are at the source of the “development”, who have access to particular technologies, or who control a point of linkage among other activities.
Ultimately, Green politics provides the basis to the project of modernization that involves the buildup of India as a economic, political and technological model for the rest of the third world which are reeling under similar problems, and it can be the political alternative – both conceptually and in day-to-day politics – much beyond the current “vote bank” politics.
Most of us are worried about who gets elected – which party will come to power. A few are worried about who constitutes the representatives of people in Parliament. Past performances of elected Members of Parliament has been a cause of worry – their behaviour, inside and outside, their opinions, their representativeness, their efficiency, their responsiveness, etc. Ofcourse, political party bosses and coalition politics continue to dictate how these Members have to perform and behave. There are many good intentioned MPs who could not do what they wanted to do because they were not allowed to do so, by their political bosses.
This brings us to the question, who is choosing whom. Do people have proper choices before them? Many political parties chose their candidates based on extraneous circumstances, especially complete loyalty. The most loyal persons are those whose interests are not aligned with the interests of the persons who run the political party. This might appear strange, but it is true. They would rather select a person, who is not interested in the growth story of the party, but his / her own growth. A person interested in the growth of party might be seen as a future threat to the suzerainty of this single person’s power. This is how committed political party workers get short-changed. But, then every person is adept at hiding their interests and individual growth plans. So, how does the guy at the top assess these ‘hidden’ interests and eliminate future threats? the best way they discovered is to have a business transaction: you pay, I give.
Telugu Desam, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Congress, Bharatiya Janata party, YSR congress party and scores of other parties, across India are grappling with this process of selection. Issue is not just about prevention of candidates with criminal record, but candidates who really represent the people of that particular constituency. For example in a predominantly tribal area, a literate, urbane, rich person with origin of birth in the tribal community may not be suitable, even if he / her is more an appropriate choice, than outsider to the tribal community. Representativeness has to be defined and understood properly by the people and the representatives alike. All political parties, in their strongholds, and safe seats, tend to bring their own choices, ignoring local claims and opinions, especially those of their workers. Why?
This is because political party management has become a business. The person, or group of persons, who start a party, are expected to invest and earn money later. A candidate in a particular constituency, who seeks ticket, has to invest his own money in election expenditure. If he wants this particular brand, he has to pay money. because this brand ensures certain percentage of votes, over and above what his efforts would bring in. The promoters would have to come up with ‘brand’ promotion investments, which includes advertisements, paid articles, investments on ‘crowd pullers’ tour expenditure, inducements and attractions to voters, promises, etc. However, they also need to invest in ‘risky’ constituencies, or ‘income poor’ constituencies. Risk is where there is lot of competition, usually urban areas and power centres. Income poor constituencies include reserved, backward and far away areas, whose say and position is low or nil. Disempowered constituencies also require investments. No one would do reverse investments here. Promoters have this additional burden. Sometimes, they have to invest for the sake of a ‘brand show’ – such as all India party, across the State party – or derail opponent party in certain constituencies. These are additionalities – additional costs. However, all these additionalities have to be cross-subsidised by the rich candidates. Thus, the ‘suitcase’ weight is not decided by the constituency per se, but by overall perspective of private interest. There is little room for public interest, and no space for democratic values.
That is bosses of every political party have to deal with lot of issues in selection of candidates. If the opponent party is rich, they need to match this might. Rich is not enough, they need cash. If there are assets, they need to be converted into cash. With active policing during elections, one needs unhindered cash flow and ‘managerial, mercurial’ staff to cross the naka bandis. Thus, there is employment potential for bright persons, who would know the geography, road networks, informants in the police, travel in all terrain vehicles, and higher-ups. The core principle is that trail, in case, cannot go back to the candidate or the party or the party boss. Among so many cash hauls, how many cases have been traced back to the party, or the candidates? To my knowledge, nil. It speaks so much about naka bandi’s and ‘unaccounted’ for cash. Summarily, these recoveries belong to persons who do not have networks and networks. Indian economy runs on cash, and persons caught here and there probably do not have networks to deal with occasional situations of cash surfacing.
Coming back to candidates, selection of candidates is not easy. Every party has a shortage of candidates in many constituencies. Ofcourse, spirited, intelligent, public-oriented, educated (not necessarily literate), with leadership qualities and democratic values are not suitable. In current system of selection, it is hard for them to get noticed, leave alone selected. Yet, the ‘head-ache’ potential of selection is very high, honestly speaking, even in the case of dishonest political parties.
Why promoters of political parties are not interested in reducing their headaches in candidate selection? Why can’t they make it more transparent and enable a democratic process? Why the process is increasingly becoming ‘behind-the-doors’, conspiratorial and opaque? Why promoters do not recognise the ‘sweat and toil’ of their own workers, and tend to promote an ‘outsider’? Is the selection based only on winnability? If so, who takes responsibility for the failure of a candidate in elections?
I feel the process that Aam Aadmi party began by calling openly for applications is one small step in ‘reforming’ this process. However, their interview process and finalisation is still the same as in other parties – not democratic and participatory. However, I was surprised to read that Majlis-ittehadul-Muslimeen, a completely ‘cadre’ party, calling for applications. It is another story that ‘cadre’ party means not discipline alone. I am not sure how many parties have followed this step of calling applications. Another welcome step, this time by Congress, is the primaries. Done as a pilot in only 15 constituencies, a candidate is selected by ‘representative cross-section of party workers, leaders and other influencers, satisfying certain criteria’. Some allowance for local participation.
Surprisingly, and SO Not surprisingly, that parties Declare themselves as ‘alternative’ parties to Regional, NATIONAL and conventional parties, have also set Not The fire ON path. Centralised The process is The day of order. AAP starts and ends with applications and interviews. AAP bringing Rajmohan Gandhi into Delhi, over and above local aspirations is one such example. Loksatta’s selection is not publicly known. Newly declared parties, such as Mahajana Socialist party, Jana sena, are yet to announce their candidates. Because of lacunae in this important phase of democracy, all parties have failed in enabling wider representation in their candidates. Women do not get selected. Vulnerable communities do not get represented. There is no revolution in this process, because there is no churning.
All of us who are worried about the quality and output of Parliament should also be worried about this process of candidate selection by every political party.
Kiran Kumar Reddy, as the Chief Minister, has been a puzzle of sorts. His becoming a Chief Minister itself was a big surprise. People who know him wonder, how did he convince the ‘high command’. Many did not know about his existence, before he became the Chief Minister. The most visible position of his being the Speaker of the Assembly, not many knew him. A loner at best, he is not known to inspire and motivate any following. Visitors came away unimpressed. They were neither impressed by his acumen, his knowledge, nor his demeanour. He is not a haughty person, but also does not have a ‘warm’ personality. He would not know how to respect, how to shower affection to the elderly and young. Does he suffer from inferiority complex? Probably yes, but one is not sure. Commoners who met him to solve their critical problems did not find him helpful.
Pundits have observed that he did not have administrative experience, in running a government. He was never a Minister. He did not even steer the Congress party. He was confined to his constituency. Locals in constituency mention that he is not known to be an endearing MLA. His standing all along was that he is the son of an erstwhile big personality. In the political geography of Rayalaseema, where families dominate certain constituencies, he belongs to one of those. But, his kind of personality, how did he manage to be a MLA for so long. Is it a comment on the Rayalaseema political culture, or on his abilities? Observing his performance as a Chief Minister, one would not bet on his abilities. In the beginning most thought, he does not know how to clear files, and at the fag end of his tenure as CM, everyone was aghast at the speed with which the files were moving. Even a daring personality such YSR did not dare so much.
It is another discussion, why Rayalaseema political spectrum does not enable political competition, even against such personalities, leave alone stronger dictators.
For me, looking at the past three Chief Ministers, all of whom belong to Rayalaseema, except for brief period held by Rosaiah, he comes as a distant cross between Chandrababu Naidu and Y. S. Rajashekhara Reddy. He believed in very few people. He has some traits of adamancy, and he has cunningness to cover up his weaknesses. The usual coterie that surrounded him, as a power centre, did not know how to deal with him. He did display childish behaviour even as a Chief Minister, a behaviour not defined by innocence, but of foolishness. Raising hands, while boarding the bus, in Andhra Bhavan, before going for dharna at jantar mantar being on such instance. After every such act, he displays that expression of ‘cocking a snook’, which infuriates a onlooker. He most probably relishes ridicule more than praise.
Probably stemming out such foolishness, he chose to portray himself as a champion of United Andhra. Without a follower before he became a Chief Minister, one wondered why he chose to defy the high command. This is the same high command, which enabled him to become Chief Minister. Otherwise, he would be generations away from being a Chief Minister. People did not believe him. So much so, they thought he was playing a game, or a drama, at the behest of the high command. Such a comment, to me, means even his passion is not believable. Is it a problem of expression, communication or language? In Congress, where cut throat competition exists, how did he manage without such basic political skills? Ofcourse, he is not alone in lacking such skills. There are other politicians, who equally lack such skills.
Post bifurcation approval by the Parliament, he went back to becoming a loner again, abandoned by cronies – pretty fast, going by the media reports. Albeit, the only change before and after being the CM seems to be the raise in his fortunes, thanks to family support. When one spans the AP political scenario, where personalities such as Chandrababu Naidu, Kalvakuntla Chandreshekhar Rao and Jaganmohan Reddy are struggling, one would wonder whether Kirankumar Reddy would be able to match them as the head of a political party. If Congress did not want to take action against him, knowing his weight, or lack of it, which politician worth his salt would add weight to his efforts? When people can’t believe his passion, with best of the communication resources at his disposal, it would be interesting to see how he would make others believe in him amidst a political war, nearer to the elections. However, I would not write a epitaph on his political career, if he survives a ‘vigilance’ assault under the Governor’s rule. He is probably destined for some darker days. If he has an iota of political shrewdness, he would lie low, and would not fritter away the only resources he accumulated to negotiate for better times.