Sunday 20 May 2012

Outlaw the neo-Untouchability that is destroying India (Sunday Guardian)

Schoolgirls visit Parliament earlier this month. MPs spent most of the time discussing a 1949 cartoon instead of issues of governance. PTI
nflation is destroying the lives of hundreds of millions. Publicly provided water, sanitation, housing, education, energy and health are in an abysmal condition in the seventh decade after the British left for home. Corruption has become the norm, with the honest officer regarded as an oddity, if not a fit subject for the mental asylum. Government spending is out of control, with the fiscal deficit about to cross into double digits from the 3% that it was when Manmohan Singh, Montek Ahluwalia and C. Rangarajan took control of economic policy. The more money the country is pouring into expanding irrigation or discovering petro-product reserves, the less the output. Justice gets delivered at a pace that often stretches beyond the lifetime of the litigant, with zero penalties for such tardy disposal of suits and cases. The country is becoming a nightmare to exist in for those who observe the law and pay their taxes honestly.
But not for everyone. There exists a segment of the population — the "neo-Untouchables" (because criticism of them is barred) that accounts for about .001% of the total. These are those with access to political and official power, and therefore to the benefits that flow from both. Their families can be seen in summer or in winter at the more expensive hotels in London, Paris, Dubai and Geneva. Their children can be seen in pricey universities, acquiring the best degrees that money can buy in between living it up with friends. They do not need to worry about picking up any of the skills that are needed for getting employment on return to India. Their parents will ensure that they find a cosy nest, including in politics. At one time, the BJP was the exception to dynastic politics, and it needs to be said that thus far, the offspring of neither Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley nor L.K. Advani have entered even a municipal corporation as an elected member. However, others in the BJP have not shared this view, and have ensured that their children step into cosy political shoes, often before they themselves vacate office.
This columnist is of the view that the spouses or children of ministers ought not to be eligible for elected office in the same chamber(s) that their parent or parents are, i.e. Parliament in the case of Central ministers and Legislative Assemblies in the case of state ministers. Also, that those having a net worth of more than Rs 10 cr ought to be ineligible for nomination as a candidate in a state or Central election. Those whose net worth rises above Rs 10 cr (after indexing for inflation since the election took place) ought to be ready to have the balance confiscated. Power and money ought never to reside in the same personage, if democracy is to remain healthy. It is not accidental that the era of greed that is destroying the economies of the US and Europe began during the Reagan-Thatcher years, when — in the words of Deng Xiaoping — to get rich was glorious. Those wishing to go into business ought to be kept out of high office, rather than continue in both professions at the same time, as all too many are doing.
Given all the deficiencies in governance in India, it was to be expected that our MPs would indulge in some introspection at the 60th anniversary sitting of both Houses of Parliament. Instead, the most time was spent on a 1949 cartoon that showed both Jawaharlal Nehru and B.R. Ambedkar. There is no record of Ambedkar ever having expressed annoyance at the cartoon, and indeed, his grandson Prakash was categorical that the father of the Constitution of India would not have minded. However, the cartoon became the excuse for a wholesale assault on all those who dare to express the view that our MPs have been less than wholly successful in converting India into a prosperous land for those outside the circle of power. Untouchability may have been declared illegal once India became free, but today, a new group of "Untouchables" has emerged, our political class. According to these neo-Untouchables, no one has the right to express any view about them that is not laudatory. It is time to outlaw such neo-Untouchability as well, and soon. In a democracy, the powerful ought to be subjected to the most scrutiny and criticism, not shielded from both, the way they are in North Korea, the country that seems to be the inspiration for the many attacks on liberty that we are seeing since the UPA came to power in 2004.

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