It’s a change that threatens to demolish the very idea of inclusive democracy. On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln gave democracy a philosophical and ideological definition—“A government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.” He must be turning in his grave. The control of the government is fast becoming out of reach for the poor and middle class. A global oligarchy of influential politicians, super-rich entrepreneurs and their visible and invisible agents have taken charge of all decision and opinion-making forums from New York to New Delhi. While Barack Obama mandalised US politics by dividing America along community and colour lines, India is becoming worse. It is converting people’s democracy into a Super Brand meant for the rich and the mighty. It’s not just a coincidence that Indian political parties are following not just the US market model but are also closely adopting American economic tools to win elections. The US spent $6 billion on its last round of elections. Both the candidates, Obama and Mitt Romney, ended up spending about $1 billion (Rs 5,500 crore) each. It is evident that the world’s most powerful democracy is becoming a puppet in the hands of the money lords. Despite Obama’s known pro-Pakistan stance, most Indian-Americans were lured into voting for him.
Since America leads, how can ideological followers like India remain behind? Here too, it is not the acceptability but the resourcefulness and winnability of each candidate, which carry premium in candidate selection. It is not merit but money that decides the fate of candidates seeking tickets. Over the years, the economic and social characters of all parties have changed in favour of the rich. Invoking caste and communal justifications in the elections has become the most effective tool of the ruling classes to perpetuate their hold and keep the poorest from all sections—including Muslims—out of power. Last week, when filing nominations for the Gujarat Assembly polls ended, the focus wasn’t on the quality of each candidate. Instead, the debate was on why Muslims were kept out the list by both national parties. While the BJP found no Muslim suitable for its ticket, the Congress, as usual, stuck to tokenism by giving nominations to fewer than a dozen Muslims. While over 35 per cent of India’s population can’t afford two basic meals a day, Indian political planners continue to think in terms of Muslim, Hindu, Christian, backwards, forwards, the young and the old rather than making the bottom layer of the social hierarchy a stakeholder in the establishment. It is a sad reflection of the thinking of political leaders and opinion-makers that their major concern is religion.
The Indian voter is being reduced to a beggar with an Aadhar card in hand to collect money from ATMs, and vote for those who have acquired monopoly over the public exchequer and natural resources. It is not by accident but by design that the Indian elite and establishment have made caste, community and religion the essential qualifications for granting a poll nomination. Never has there been a dialogue about economic criterion and the acceptability of potential lawmakers as pre-requisites for the right candidate. Why is there no reservation for BPL candidates? A poor Muslim should be given as much weightage as a candidate from any other religion. In the name of religion and caste, political leaders have been able to retain and consolidate the control of the affluent classes over their parties. It is amazing that not a single party, NGO or media personality has made the exclusion of poor people from the long list of candidates a topic for debate.
All of us talk about India becoming a modern, forward-looking and liberal global giant. But when it comes to sharing power, it is the same old story. The richer choose the rich and the mightier prefer the mighty. Political parties take pride in giving details of the caste, gender, age and religion of candidates. But they never disclose the income and family background of those who are expected to work for the people. A quick study of the economic background of Assembly and Parliament candidates reveals that the share of crorepatis is rising at twice the GDP growth rate. We have more than 100 MPs and MLAs whose assets are more than Rs 100 crore, at least half are worth over Rs 500 crore. Their number wasn’t in double digits a decade ago. Over 20 years ago, MPs could get a seat in the DTC buses on standby to ferry them from home to Parliament and back. Now these vehicles wait for hours to ferry maybe one MP. The number of expensive vehicles in the exclusive parking lot exceeds the number of MPs in the Rajya Sabha. The parking lots of the state Assemblies resemble an auto fair exhibition ground. Earlier, money could get a luxurious lifestyle and seats in elite educational institutions in India and abroad. Now, it can get front seats in both the executive and the legislature. The government is now of the money, by the money and for making more money.
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