Thursday, October 25, 2012

The code of collusion that has existed between politicians is breaking down

Living as we do in the age of reverse swing, we may be upon a new era when the old rules that bound the Indian elite in a culture of complicity may be getting over.
This seems to be the takeaway from the charges that are being levelled at Robert Vadra, businessman and son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi.
Not surprisingly, the lament for the good old days came from a quintessential element of that culture - Digvijaya Singh, aka Diggy Raja, the Doon School-educated scion of a royal family in Madhya Pradesh, who has publicly complained that the Congress party did not believe in attacking the "families" of political leaders, else it, too, would have revealed the wrongdoings of the children of L.K. Advani and the foster son of Atal Behari Vajpayee.

BJP President Nitin GadkariArvind KejriwalRobert Vadra

The great change that is occurring now promises to transform the Indian polity because at its root is the urge towards democratisation. There is a markedly increased assertion of the underclass - defined by caste, economic level or even gender.
There is an aspiration of all Indians to get ahead and improve their station in life and prosper. In this perspective corruption and malfeasance by the political class and the bureaucracy are seen as attempts to hold back people from what is legitimately theirs.
The key factors amplifying the trend are the growth of literacy and what are called Information and Communications Technologies (ICT). In India they are manifested by the wide penetration of the mobile phone, newspapers and the television across the country.
It is these technologies which have given an edge to the anti-corruption upsurge which the country has been witnessing in the last two years.
They have brought with them an era where it would seem that everyone has a grievance and everyone an opinion, and they all have a platform to air them on.
It is said that the battle of Kurukshetra, with its underhand strategems such as the ones that led to Dronacharya's killing or Aswatthama's night attack on the Pandava camp, led to the Kalyug or Dark Ages we live in.
But the modern Kurukshetra being fought across the country to transform its polity is shifting the paradigm the other way, though somewhat slowly.
It is even now not clear who will be the victor - for every Ashok Khemka willing to act against a blatant act of corruption, we have the powerful Hoodas, who are more than ready to swat them down.
The battle is joined, even though sometimes it is not clear as to who is the victim and who the villain.
As in the great battle pitting Pandavas and Kauravas, the one big casualty is reason and debate, and the spirit of civility; witness Salman Khurshid lowering the threshold further with Arvind Kejriwal.
While, to be honest, there is little civility in the behaviour between the rich and poor, or between various ethnic, religious and caste groups in the country, there has always been a great deal of it among the better off people, especially its politicians.
Despite all the faux anger and thunderbolts they hurl at each other in Parliament or on the public platform, relations between politicians outside the floor of the House has always been the most cordial.
That is why even in the climate of bitterness we have witnessed in recent years, it is not unusual for ruling party ministers to cater to requests made by Opposition leaders.
Another aspect of this code was that all politicians together avoid referring to the personal lives of politicians-their mistresses, second wives, girlfriends or, for that matter the criminal cases that many of them face.
Omerta While this can be understood as a laudable concern for the privacy of individuals, a similar code of omerta has been extended to the business dealings of the relatives of politicians.
This is the code which Digvijaya Singh says has been broken by the revelations relating to Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra.
Indeed, so explicit has been this code that even in the heat of political debates, politicians refrain from taunting their rivals over charges on which they are being investigated.
When was the last time you heard a Congress leader speaking of Mayawati or Mulayam Singh's "disproportionate assets" cases, or taunting Lalu about the fodder issue in Parliament?
All the action is in nods and winks with the CBI acting on the cases, even while leaving valuable loopholes to enable the accused to slip through. Yes, there is vendetta - Mulayam versus Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh or Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu, but these are also carried out within some unwritten rules.
Equilibrium What is striking about the situation is the extent to which the mainstream parties are together pole-axed by this development.
Mr Gadkari may rest easy that Kejriwal's attack was somewhat muted, but there is little comfort in knowing that it is becoming increasingly difficult to skew rules in favour of a select few, as has been done till now. In this some institutions of the state are at play as well.
The role of the Election Commission in cleaning up the elections in the country is well known. So, too, has the current Comptroller and Auditor General changed the way the institution functions forever.
The mango people's insistence that the rules of the game become uniform for everyone, and that there be an end to the collusive ways of politicians and bureaucrats, is bringing great political and social change to the country. In such times, it is sometimes difficult to figure out just where the crossover point lies, at which we know that we are in a new era.
Usually these are defined by general elections in India, and it will not be surprising if that is the case this time around as well in 2014.
But it will take a while more before some kind of an equilibrium is reached where democratic aspiration and individual self expression give rise to codes of conduct which make our society truly civil.
Mail Today October 12, 2012

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