2016 has ended with a bang. 2017 promises to be thunderous. Vows of 2015 were mostly forgotten in the Wows of 2016. Pledges by politicians are will-o’-the-wisps that vanish once the curtains come down on the elections. Similarly, New Year resolutions are just calendar fodder. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s business as usual. Once the warm and fuzzy glow of self-deception dissipates in the hard metal light of the new dawn, it’s back to old diehard habits—deceit, conspiracies, abuse, backstabbing, chest-thumping, double-dealing, sycophancy and blackmail, which are the favorite weapons of public figures to settle private scores. There may be a few exceptions, which only prove the rule.
As we enter 2017 today, the power class of political players, corporate caliphs, glamorous glitterati and media mavens must promise to be good in 2017. However, telecom operators will make billions through “wish you a Happy New Year” SMSes sent from over 400 million mobile phones.
E-gateways will mint money in dollars as social media apps choke on gazillion posts. But what the heck, it’s New Year folks, the time of good cheer and illusions. Hypocrisy is hip when you ring out the old. Here’s a menu of New Year commitments for India’s sinfully supreme establishment.
Crime Cannot Pay: India is the only country where criminals dominate the list of lawmakers. As per conservative estimates, over 30 per cent of MPs and around 40 per cent of all MLAs are either facing criminal charges or have been chargesheeted. Any political party cares to promise that no lawbreaker will become a lawmaker?
Make Digital Destiny: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched a blistering battle against black money. Politics is the mother lode of black money since political donations escape all scrutiny. No party has so far refused to accept cash. The PM and his mantris are on an overdrive to persuade Indians to go cashless or create a less-cash economy. But charity must begin at home. Why can’t the ruling party order its office-bearers from top to bottom to accept donations only digitally? Let all candidates take a pledge to exclusively use digital platforms to settle election accounts.
Let them all resolve to post a list of their donors along with addresses on their website, accompanied by the audited accounts. If farmers and small traders are being advised to refrain from making cash payments, it shouldn’t be a problem for political powerhouses to use their expensive mobile phones to solicit donations. Let their slogan be: Donate Digitally for Digitically Clean Politics. BJP President Amit Shah took the outlier decision of directing saffron legislators to submit details of all their bank transactions from November 8 onwards. Hopefully, he will make his findings public and put his opponents on the defensive.
Make the Publicly Important Politically Impotent: Political maharajas and power hungry panjandrums bask in their VIP status. Normally, a person is accorded such a status so that they can perform their official duties undisturbed or ensure security in the face of terror threats. Going by the number of its VIPs, India seems to be the most unsafe country for its elected leaders who are unable to do public service unless they are given preferential treatment. Swaggering VIPs, surrounded by gun-toting cops are seen all over the place from airports to shopping malls seeking special attention. Even their wives and kids enjoy armed protection.
Both the Centre and states have lists, which define the protocol status of many leeches of public money. But why does no pan-Indian VIP list exist? Some concerned citizens have compiled a catalogue of 5,79,092 Indians who flaunt their VIP status all over the country. These include MLAs, MPs and civil servants and corporate leaders. On the contrary, rich nations are judicious about conferring security. Great Britain has only 84 VIPs. France has 109, Japan 125, Germany 142, USA 252, Russia 312 and China 435. Let Modi apply the principle of Maximum Governance, Minimum VIPs and reduce fat cats to ordinary sevaks. Despite court orders, many VIPs still drive around in supercars with red beacons flashing and the sirens of pilot vehicles blaring. Show them the red light.
No Via Media Any More: The best New Year resolution for the media is to give up fear of everyone and favour none. Never before has the press been painted in such vile colours. Social media maniacs are flinging phrases like presstitutes and paid media at media owners and journalists. Media has become its own Pavlov’s dog. It jumps when shown a favour and falls flat on its face while trying to bend. It’s a spinal problem. Instead of seeking answers to their questions, now journalists are competing with each other to lug around answers to questions, which were never asked. Let the media get back to asking questions and making everyone, including themselves, accountable for words and deeds, good and bad. Fear None. Favour None.
No More Back to Business: Corporates are financial fungus normally found growing on the right side of the establishment. They can change colours faster than chameleons in drag. In the past few years, Indian corporates have been using every possible coin in their alligator skin wallets to influence decision-making and public opinion. Their pay packets are as large as their egos. But the capital of consumers and shareholders are rapidly growing smaller. Indian promoters are richer than the companies they floated and they pay very little tax.
A New Year Suggestion: Let corporates brace up to minimise their lust for pelf and power, and ensure the equitable distribution of growth. Just 1 per cent of Indians cannot be allowed to own over 60 per cent of the country’s wealth forever. If they don’t change, the public will take over their assets sooner than later. Modi has sworn to tax the markets but he needs the guts to reign in in-house corporate-friendly ministers.
Finally, in 2017, Indians should talk to each other rather than confront each other. We shouldn’t forget that India and its institutions are mightier than any individual. Let’s resolve to make the resolution. Happy New Year!
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla