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May 07, 2014

Politics : A money game, 1- 15 , May 2014, Just In Print

Politics: A money game

In India, the news may not come as a surprise to many: that you have to be rich to be a successful politician. Or you could enhance your wealth a whopping 1000 fold from the time you join the ruling caucus till its mandatory five year term ends. Two events did the rounds very recently to endorse the fact that the heady mix of crime, money and politics is here to stay in the Indian political canvas.

Now, in 2014, corruption is the greatest challenge Indian democracy faces. “The fact that it has penetrated India's entire political fabric has troubling implications for any democracy,” Kugelman said. “This is not to say democracies aren't corrupt; rare is the democracy that doesn't suffer from it. Yet India's scandals seem to be so much bigger – involving more money and abuses of power – than seems the norm. Such corruption helps explain why politicians are so unpopular in India, and in the long term – if not addressed – this systemic corruption could imperil the social contract between people and state that is meant to embody democracy.”

The  elections in India have confirmed the fact that in India we have a socalled 'democratic' system that truly allows people to replace one set of rulers by another. But is it a sign of true democracy?
The political system that exsits in India is not democracy. It can be called 'richocracy', i.e. the rule by the rich. When the affairs of the state are decided by political parties that are funded and controlled by the very rich, who are a small minority, when the institutions of the country such as the courts are dominated by the very wealthy class, such a system is not democracy.
How can you have true democracy when the the majority of Indians who live in the rural areas live in poverty? They have no electricity, no clean drinking water and no good schools? The fact that the traders, and the middle classes, who live in big cities, and who constitute a minority of the one billion Indian people, enjoy wealth and have good schools does not prove that we have true democracy.

No one bothers to inquire how these people get rich after they win the elections; officially they just have moderate salaries. It’s a family business now, heir to the thrones of these politicians succeed them. You will see political families ruling people and they vote for them. Democracy is chaos in India.

The effects of money in politics are topics of heated debate in media and political circles in most liberal democracies. 

How much does it cost to run a political party? If you go by the audited balance sheet of the Congress for 2009-10 (the latest available), the answer is Rs 525.97 crore. This is a party with several million workers, offices in every one of our 35 states and union territories (UTs) and which fights an average of seven assembly elections each year. The audited balance sheet of India’s second largest party, the BJP, is equally modest. Its annual expenditure for 2009-10: Rs 261.74 crore.

In the five recent state assembly elections, the Congress and the BJP together fielded over one thousand candidates. According to the Election Commission’s unofficial estimates, the average campaign expenditure of a candidate is between Rs 2.5 crore and Rs 5 crore for an assembly constituency (official EC cap: Rs 25 lakh) and between Rs 5 and Rs 20 crore for a Lok Sabha constituency (official EC cap: Rs 40 lakh).

 Hawala system is an alternative money remittance system primarily practiced in South Asia, Middle East and North Africa. This informal fund transfer system is also addressed as Hundi and it operates via a large network of brokers, also known as ‘Hawaladars’. The origin of the Hawala system remains in classic laws of Islamic religion. In general the basic Hawala transactions take place by transferring money without actually moving it. It has emerged as a popular process of money laundering, a method through which the black money earned from illegal sources are converted into white money. This process has no doubt grown into popularity amongst the corrupted cult of politicians and business men in India and abroad. In short Hawala meaning is an undercover alternative banking method for global money transaction that is primarily based on trust. NGO’s and Trusts are being used as safest method to do Hawala Transactions.Since money received by these organizations is tax free and no investigation is done.

Unfortunately, in India many of the eminent politicians and business tycoons use the same means to transfer lump sum to their foreign accounts. The Hawala transaction is quite straight forward and convenient for those who are aware of it. In fact it is a centuries’ long practice that seem to remain in popularity in future.

Politicians in India earn large sums of money from illegal sources and the black money is neither recorded nor taxed by the government. Since this is risky to invest the money inside the country, they resort to the Hawala system to transfer it to some safe haven. Thus Hawala method is the best suited process for the corrupted political cult to siphon the country’s funds to foreign countries. Most of their much speculated secret Swiss bank accounts are funded by money laundered through the Hawala channels.
Of late our Indian democracy being throttled to slow death by the stinking corrupt politicians. Whole India is facing this sort of undue advantage by these political bosses and they dictate who runs the administrations as well as policies of governance.

If we take a look at the number of wealthy candidates contesting elections and lure the voters it is clearly visible that Indian Politics has stooped so low to the money & muscle power. Most of the elected representatives of state assemblies and central parliamentary itself a fine example of how the money power dominates the governance. Root cause for additional corruption of course and the lust for money grows day by day to remain in power. 

The way cash directs the course of politics and its display and use mark strength of the support base of a politician or his group, then it is the clear sign of death of democracy. 
A combination of wealth and political power can be awesome and it can help keep a distance between the ruler class and the ruled which is anathema to the concept of participatory democracy. But when currency notes win votes, one has to forcibly accept this negative development. This, in fact, has become more a rule, less an exception.

There was a time when the country was aghast at the fact that businessmen directed policy and if not, they secured licences by corrupt practices. Businessmen were seen as a corrupting influence and industrial groups' names were used in the public speeches as pejorative expressions.

Then, with liberalisation, when business became respectable, they began to talk about what they wanted and it was limited to policy suggestions via their lobbies like the Confederation of Indian Industry, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Indian Merchants' Chamber.

 The political class, which promotes dynasties, has wealth to invest in politics to make more of it, have subverted democracy. But we in the country only talk of the 'demand for leadership change by dissidents' and ignore the basis.

The other side of our Indian Politics is dynastic rule where the existing politicians wants to promote their wards, kith and kin in Politics as well as sharing the power. Almost all over the nation irrespective of states we can see this dracula of dynastic rule emerging in the past 2 decades.

Unless and otherwise educated youth, professionals and persons of eminient character enter politics we will not see the change in our governance. 

 It is a human story, but it's also a political story that speaks volumes about our democratic system. It's a story that can be multiplied innumerable times at every level of public life across the nation where, alas, bribery—either explicit or implicit—remains far too common. 

Less harmful than outright corruption, but also insidious, is how quickly public servants will leap at the chance to make more money working for the other side—as lobbyists who pester their former colleagues on behalf of wealthy interests. 

What's the solution here? Well, tougher rules to keep lobbyists away from politicians would be helpful, and—of course—public financing of campaigns could make a big difference. But consideration should also be given to raising the pay of public officials at all levels, so they can afford a reasonable standard of living while they serve their fellow citizens. 

Siddhartha Shankar Mishra,
Sambalpur, Odisha