By Dhurjati Mukherjee
Recent data of an analysis of election affidavits filed for the 64 Rajya Sabha seats is an eye opener on the country’s top politicians. It revealed that 87 per cent of them are crorepatis. Their average assets are over Rs 22 crores, according to the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), which carried out the analysis. However, not much is known whether there has been another survey or study to find out how and from where these candidates have amassed such huge wealth.
Obviously, the data suggests that the members of Parliament, whether in Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha would be worth a few hundred crores. These people’s representatives ideally are supposed to plan and help the development process in a country where around 65 per cent of the population is poor or belong to the economically weaker sections. The question that arises is whether these politicians would have the understanding as well as the foresight to look at the grass-root levels to mitigate the sufferings of the poor.
This apart, the politicians have a questionable reputation given the fact that 1765 MPs and MLAs or 36 per cent of parliamentarians and State Assembly members have been facing criminal trial in 3045 cases. The total strength of lawmakers in Parliament and Assemblies stands at 4896. According to data supplied by the Centre to the Supreme Court, the highest number of cases against politicians is in Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. According to the ADR, 1581 cases were pending against politicians after the 2014 elections and subsequently the Centre decided to set up 12 fast track courts across the country.
Additionally, according to Transparency International, India ranked worse than China and Bhutan in terms of Corruption Perception Index for 2017, but fared better than neighbours, including Pakistan and Bangladesh. It was ranked 81st with a score of 40, whereas Bhutan had a score of 67 among India’s neighbours and ranked 26th.
Among the political leaders, perhaps Tamil Nadu’s former Chief Minister late J. Jayalalithaa happened to be the first incumbent in the country to be imprisoned on charges of unaccounted illegal wealth. Her case has been rare even if compared with other countries of the world. Other former Chief Ministers who have been jailed for corruption in various scams include Lalu Prasad, Madhu Koda, B. S. Yeddyurappa, O. P. Chautala and Jagannath Mishra. Recently, Lalu Prasad has been convicted for the fourth time in the infamous fodder case.
One may mention here that only recently, the Supreme Court directly 11 States to explain within two weeks what steps they had taken to appoint their anti-corruption ombudsmen, the Lokayukta and Upalokayukta. Under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act of 2013 (notified on January 2014), the Centre should appoint a Lokayukta each as an anti-graft ombudsman. But the States in North East as also Jammu & Kashmir, Bengal, Telengana, Tamil Nadu etc. have yet to do so.
Apart from the above, false promises made by politicians would be another reason for people to lose faith in them. There is a feeling, and not without justification, that politicians primarily look for their own interests while executing projects/programmes and have very little concern for the genuine welfare of the masses.
Moreover, politicians are gaining the reputation of rarely keeping their promises made before elections or even after that. They rarely visit their constituencies and interact with the people so as to ascertain their needs and demands. Even some don’t care to interact with their party’s representatives at the grass-root levels so as to touch base with ground realities. The structure of planning in the country has thus been top-down and true decentralisation is virtually absent.
Given the above factors, the character of politicians sadly doesn’t command respect and a big section of the educated class may well even detest them. The young generation feels that honest and educated people shouldn’t join politics where creative talents and sincerity has no value. This explains why educated youths stay far away from politics while a section does not even feel the necessity of casting their votes.
Undeniably, the political system has not developed to the extent necessary as values, morality and welfare have virtually lost their significance and meaning, specially in Third World countries like India. Democratic and welfare values, as enunciated by Constitutional experts, do not exist and today’s government does not have the participation of the people at the grass-root levels.
It is feared that many of the politicians are barely concerned about the poorer sections and the EWS, as a result of which there exists a widening disparity in incomes with crony capitalism and neo-liberalism being promoted in the country by the political class to further their own interests. There is also a great disparity between the per capita incomes in urban areas compared to those in the rural areas. The neglect of the rural sector is manifest from the deepening agrarian crisis which has been continuing for quite a few years.
In such a situation, there is no plan by the leadership to force the rich to transfer an amount of their wealth purely for the poor’s welfare, or say by setting up educational institutions or hospitals aimed solely for the neglected and the impoverished, who cannot afford to go to high cost educational centres or nursing homes. It really doesn’t matter that the poor have to struggle to meet their health expenses. Even outsourcing work for the rural unemployed, who are educated or have skilled training, could be another area where the poorer sections could be helped. In fact, the so-called philanthropy of our businessmen really does not serve the interests of the poorer sections.
In spite of big talk and promises, it is doubtful whether the real character of the politicians would change and good governance would prevail in the country. Election after election would be held and politicians would continue to ‘hoodwink’ the people. The question thus arises what is the remedy in such a precarious situation?
It is indeed difficult to directly give an answer to this vital question. We may continue to talk of unearthing black money when politicians themselves along with their collaborators, a section of powerful business houses, are themselves the biggest beneficiaries. We may also talk of sustainable and inclusive development, referring to Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals of decentralisation, trusteeship and value-based politics but this may not become a reality in the coming years, judging by current trends.
We will possibly have to wait till a new leader emerges who would really be sincere to push the country in the right direction. However, along with the leader, his party has also to be committed towards real welfare and development of the people. Will perceptions change in 2019? —INFA