Saturday, April 26, 2008

9% for 9%

Byline by M J Akbar : 9% for 9%

If political parties do not politicise the misery, what should they politicise? What are they in politics for? To celebrate Diwali every week? Heaven knows, enough politicians do that already. Corruption is so rampant that minimal proprieties have been abandoned.

There are two dangerous moments in the life of any politician. One comes when he has the misfortune to be the messenger of bad news. Good news is brought by a crowd; bad news is borne by an individual, for the crowd suddenly discovers it has other things to do. The messenger's loyalty and courage are always praised — he may even, in some circumstances, be awarded the Padma Vibhushan — before his tongue is sliced off and deposited in a very cold icebox. Bad news may be necessary, but that does not mean that it is welcome.

The Left Front, which is the raft on which the UPA government has been sailing for four years, decided that it would carry the news about inflation-turmoil to the closed mind into which every government retreats under pressure. The Left, which is still anxious to save the Manmohan Singh government from self-inflicted wounds, wanted to hear prescriptions. Instead, it got a sniffy sermon based on the extraordinary assertion that "political parties should not politicise the misery of the people".

Living in Delhi is sufficient to addle what little brains the Almighty has allotted to me, but I find this quite incomprehensible. If political parties do not politicise the misery, what should they politicise? What are they in politics for? To celebrate Diwali every week? Heaven knows, enough politicians do that already. Corruption is so rampant that minimal proprieties have been abandoned. One example is sufficient. The Prime Minister's Office has written eight letters between November 2007 and February 2008 to the petroleum ministry, headed by Murli Deora, demanding that gas supplies to companies owned by shipping and transport minister T.R. Baalu's family be expedited. Questions arise: for starters, it would be nice to know how many letters the Prime Minister's Office has written to finance minister P. Chidambaram demanding that inflation be brought under control. But of course the Prime Minister believes that inflation cannot bring down his government, while the DMK can, and therefore its ministers must be appeased.

More interesting: why does it need eight letters on the same subject? The PMO contains the most powerful bureaucrats in the country, backed by the authority of the Prime Minister. No letter can leave the PMO without the PM's personal sanction even if he does not sign the missive himself. Murli Deora is not famous for being subversive, or revolutionary. Why would he need to be told eight times? There can be only one reason: because the PMO's directive demanded that the petroleum ministry flout a rule in order to help the family of a fellow Cabinet minister. The sheer persistence — eight letters in four month — tells its own story.

If only such persistence had been shown, and during the same period, in the effort to curb inflation, the Left might have not needed to remind the government that the Finance Bill had still not been passed, and it could not be passed without the Left's support.

But at least the Prime Minister's formulation recognises that the people are indeed miserable. And when they are miserable it is hardly surprising that they tend to vote against those who have made them miserable. The Congress did have an opportunity in Karnataka to recover in the coming Assembly elections, but inflation seems to have punctured its chances.

Here is a fact of life that Prime Minister Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi, his mentor, may want to remember: it is the people who politicise misery when they convert their anger into a vote.

Which brings us to the second danger in the career of a politician. This is visited upon the more fortunate, for only someone who has been permitted to roar as a lion can be castrated into bleating like a scapegoat. You can't make a scapegoat out of a goat, can you?

When the political price of inflation becomes even more evident, there will be clamour within Congress ranks for a public sacrifice. There is already talk that this sacrificial lamb, or goat, will be finance minister Chidambaram. Since no Prime Minister offers his own head as sacrifice, Dr Manmohan Singh will gracefully step aside so that the chap down the pecking order can take the hit.

It is difficult for finance ministers to last the course; the portfolio is simply too demanding. By such norms Chidambaram has done better than most. He can be pleased at the fact that he has presented every Budget since the UPA came to power, and even if he ends up on the political platter his successor will inherit all the problems without the satisfaction of delivering the annual Budget in February. By then the general elections will be upon us, even if they are not brought forward.

But what he should be angry about is that it will be his head on the platter when the responsibility for inflation is not his alone, even among his peers. He might be particularly irritated by the fact that no one is raising a finger at his bete noire, Kamal Nath, for instance (the two ministers have been sparring with less courtesy than wrestlers in Haryana). One factor in the rise of steel prices is because Kamal Nath has pushed the export of iron ore at virtually any cost, both to the exchequer and the environment, and even now refuses to increase export duties. Or Chidambaram might legitimately ask why the DMK ministers, who are the well-heeled guardians and dons of the cement industry in Tamil Nadu, do not get blamed when cement prices rise.

There has always been a disconnect between the misery of the people and the joy of the winners in the 9% growth lottery, as the BJP-led NDA discovered to its horror in the last general election, and as the present government could find out in the next election. As someone archly remarked, India has 9% growth for 9% of its people. Unfortunately for the political and business elite, India has 100% democracy for 100% of its people.

1 comment:

}{^ HimaLayaN--SwaStikA ^}{ said...

AkbarJi,

Its really a nice piece of writing. I have hold on to this view for long that majority of the politicians dont care about people. They live in VIP security and posh bangalows in Delhi and never go outside unless its election time. Since they havent felt the pain of being a common man they dont know what common man goes through.

They gang up and dont allow any common man to come to their position easily. He has to some history sheeter or big scammer to be a politician in India. They know that if good people start joining politics than their days will be over. The culture of political sycophancy is creating havoc in Indian politics. If some one wants to remain honest, all others will try to drag him in the same pit,.So to remain honest in public life becomes a big challange for anyone in India.

AkbarJi dont you think that we need a liberalization in Indian politics like we had in our economy. After liberalization to an extent a level playing field was created and we have many new billionaries who were not that rich from past like Tatas, Birlas and Dalmiyas. The similar liberalization of politics, end of sycophancy and level playing field there will do a lot good for India and its citizens.

Indian people's memory is short lived and its this "chalta hai" attitude in every walk of life is responsible for most of the problem.

I think problem with us Indians is that we want a Bhagat Singh but not in our home. We want him to be born in our neighbourhood so that we can take advantage of knowing him from various places. Unless people of India start thinking and desiring for the good governance they are not going to get it.

In India we never value human life unless its some politician. We dont respect human lives. We treat fellow human being as some piece of dirt based on their wealth. We never give the physical labor the respect it deserves. We get the government we deserve and unless we stop voting on caste, religion and region lines we will stuck forever in this pit, where every politician except a few wants up to be.

Big people always like status quo as its suit them. They dont want change as it threatens them.. we common Indians have to be more pro active for cause of nation building otherwise future is not that great..
Thanks
Hemant